Engaging Churches in Caring for Incarcerated Persons and Their Families

Correctional ministry leader calls churches to care for the incarcerated as they do the sick.

What if churches treated prisoners with the same care and support that they treat those in their congregation who are sick? What if churches invested in the redemption of incarcerated persons with the same regularity and resources as they do the healing and restoration of those who are sick?

Both persons receive mention by Jesus in Matthew 25. Yet while entire congregations mobilize around the sick, ministry with and among incarcerated persons remains the domain of a select few volunteers. What if we could mobilize entire congregations around incarcerated persons and the families left behind?

Healing Communities USA trains and supports congregations around the country in this important work. The staggering numbers of persons in the criminal justice system makes it virtually impossible that an individual church does not have a family impacted by crime and incarceration. By creating a congregational culture of healing and restoration, a church can reduce the stigma around incarceration and help families come to grips with the ways in which they are directly impacted, and turn to the church for help.

One church in our network experienced this capacity for redemption in a powerful way. After hosting a Saturday training in the Healing Communities model, the next morning’s sermon dealt with the connection between the church and the incarcerated, acknowledging that:

  1. To stigmatize the incarcerated across the board would be to stigmatize biblical characters like Joseph, Jeremiah, Paul, and others who were imprisoned, and people like Moses, David, and Peter, whose acts of violence would have resulted in harsh sentences in today’s jurisprudence.
  2. Our belief that all people are created in the image of God brings hope for redemption and restoration.

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Healing Victims of Human Trafficking: A Long, Slow Road to Transformation

When we give our lives to the service of others, THEY will change US.

If you’ve heard or know anything about human trafficking, then you’ve heard the term “modern-day slavery.” And that’s exactly what it is. There are more slaves in the world today than any other time in our history. We should be facing this social issue—this human issue—dead on, not stopping until human trafficking no longer exists. Men and women, boys and girls all over the globe are being forced into both labor and sex trafficking, and the life for someone coming out of this type of exploitation is devastating.

I first saw and experienced what human trafficking looks like on the streets of Chicago. It was 2011 when I participated in street outreach and met women and girls who were being forced to sell their bodies. It changed me forever, and led us to pursue opening a home for women who have been commercially sexually exploited. Five years later, Naomi’s House opened, and we welcomed our first resident in December 2016.

I’ve learned so much over the past five years. When I reflect on the journey, most of what I’ve learned has come from the survivors themselves, who have taught me that they are more than modern day slaves.

Clearing Up an Important Myth

Most women who are being sexually exploited are not being physically restrained. In fact, many survivor leaders warn anti-trafficking organizations not to use pictures of girls in handcuffs or chains to represent the women and girls who are stuck in this life. If we believe that sexually-exploited girls are always chained up, we’ll miss those who are being trafficked before our very eyes.

The exploitation of women and girls is everywhere, many times in plain sight. Nita Belles, author of In Our Backyard: A Christian ...

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Sharing the Gospel with People Who Aren’t Thinking about Death or Eternity

How do we witness to people who don’t think about heaven and aren’t fearful of hell?

“That could’ve been me.”

We hate to be selfish and think about ourselves at a time like this, but we can’t help it when someone we know who is close to our own age dies. Death is unavoidable, and when it hits close to home, we can’t help but briefly wonder, What if?

The truth is, however, Americans are thinking about death and what happens afterwards less and less frequently, and this is especially true among young adults.

According to a somewhat dated (but likely still accurate) study done between 2006 and 2008 by Lifeway Research and reported on in Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them, 55% of young adults either never think about death or if they do, it’s only once a year. It’s just not on the radar for them.

Should this make a difference in how we try to share the gospel today?

There are several implications, but one thing is certain: many of us probably need to rethink our approach to evangelism because we are likely talking to people who don’t think about heaven and aren’t fearful of hell.

Factually, death is as present and inescapable as it ever has been, but it’s also an irrelevant topic to many, so we ought to approach it wisely. This at least implies to us that asking spiritually diagnostic questions about the eternal state of someone’s soul within the first 15 minutes of a conversation may not be the best idea.

Asking people if they know where they will spend eternity and why they believe what they do is as important as the topic of death itself and Christians should help people think about this.

However, as a rule for daily life in America today, pastors and leaders ought to spend more time helping the people we lead to ...

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Church-Planting Shifts, Part Three: Preparing Our People for Witness

How do we prepare the mission force for the mission field?

Read Part One, The Launch, and Part Two, From Nominal to Secular.

In the past few weeks, I have talked about some recent church-planting shifts that I have noticed, both through the lens of research and some though anecdotal observations.

The world today is still reasonably familiar for church planters; yet the scene is changing as secularism grows, presenting a new challenge to the mission and ministry of the churches. The truth is, we are seeing more ‘nominal’ Christian people self-identify as no faith (“nones”) instead of Christian. Since nominal Christians have been a key part of the church planting strategy for most Christians (see my last post on this topic), it’s a shift that’s both new and challenging.

If we are to succeed in this new (more secular) space, we need to do more than simply acknowledge this shift. Instead, we need to prepare for it, and this includes preparing our church people for the paradigmatic shift to come.

So how do we prepare the mission force for the new mission field?

It begins with teaching our people to engage in ways that they’re not now accustomed to engaging. This is easier said than done, but it is essential for new church plants and movements of Christianity in the years to come.

In today’s culture, it’s easy to compare church experiences and allow people to decide which church they would like to attend. Our job is to invite them to a good church. In the secular context, however, having any prior exposure to church life should not be taken for granted.

The shift here is from invitation to engagement.

It’s from an approach which says, “Would you like to come to my church? It’s a great church!” to “How can I answer ...

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30 Day Infusions to Be Better Followers of Christ

30 days and four essential practices

I have said it many times, “The local church can be like a black hole!” Don’t get me wrong. I love the local church, I am a pastor, and I believe that God’s people (both gathered and scattered) are the best hope for the gospel to impact lives and communities.

But the local church also has a massive gravitational pull that seems to draw believers inward toward each other rather than propel them out into the world with the love and message of Jesus. If Christians are going to have a transformative and lasting impact on the world, we must commit to a rigorous rhythm of infusing four critical elements into our hearts and lives. When we do this, we will be thrust out of the church and into the world.

Every Christian leader and influencer should seek to adopt a 30-day cycle of gathering with other believers and focusing on four essential practices. If we do this consistently and passionately, we will propel ourselves and others into the world with fresh expressions of love, articulations of grace, and revelations of Jesus Christ.

Inspiration

Share stories of evangelistic encounters. Celebrate people who have taken steps toward Jesus. Pray for each other. Remember what God has done in your life since you became a follower of Jesus. Spend time cheering each other on and challenging each other to be faithful, bold, and strategic in personal and church outreach.

Accountability

Ask each other how you are doing in your own walk with Jesus. Then talk about how much time you are spending with people who are still far from Jesus. Talk about the condition of your heart when it comes to evangelism and passion for the lost. Challenge each other to increase your outreach temperature and passion. Talk about the people you ...

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