Indigenous Churches in the Regional Jail

Redemption Homes is part of a very successful focus on planting indigenous churches in the local regional jail.

Rather than following the old model of always bringing outside ministers and ministries into the jail, we’ve been trying the Biblical pattern of starting vibrant fellowships where people live – which in this case happens to be the jail! – and showing them how to minister to each other.

The key difference is whether we make inmates dependent on always needing to be ministered to, rather than learning to minister one to another – as Scripture commands – using their differing individual gifts.

This dichotomy is amply illustrated by two ministries we’re involved with in the local jail. One is a highly structured, thirteen week program that provides intense teaching and scripted study materials to about thirty men who live together in a low-security, faith-based dorm. In that program, some of the strongest pulpit ministries in the county come to teach and minister to the men. With two meetings each weekday, they receive the best preaching and teaching imaginable – including from us!

The other ministry is an indigenous church we started a year and a half ago in another higher-security, general-population housing unit. That church is comprised of inmates who minister to each other in open, participatory meetings for an hour each day after dinner. See The Church in D Pod. All we do is join them on Sunday afternoons to encourage and lay the foundation for them to be the church – among themselves and throughout the week – without needing constant outside input as they gather daily.

The men in the jail’s indigenous church encourage each other to develop their spiritual gifts, and gather with the expectation that God will meet their needs as they minister to and edify each other. Even though men are always coming and going from the jail, God has always supplied solid leaders among the inmates who we then mentor in how to facilitate, rather than dominate, the meetings.

The indigenous church has a fraction of the input received by the men in the faith-based dorm. Nonetheless, the spiritual maturity that comes out of that multi-gifted church far exceeds the highly structured faith-based dorm, with its emphasis on excellent but nonetheless directed teachings and study guides.

We’re not arguing against structured programs, study guides, directed meetings or monologue teachings. We can see places for those, in limited circumstances that supplement (rather than supplant) fully-functioning, multi-gifted and participatory meetings of the Body of Christ. In fact, the jail’s faith-based dorm is a great program. It’s just that it, or any other ministry that fosters passive receivers (even if inadvertently), will never bear as much fruit as a fully-functioning, multi-gifted, participatory church. Far from it!

Nonetheless, in our culture today, passivity is very alluring and few have the courage to risk breaking out of those human traditions.

Why choose anything less than what we see throughout the New Testament? indigenous, participatory fellowships – in the jail or wherever people need Jesus – with a focus on developing indigenous leadership and ministry one to another, is bearing stunning fruit.

What is particularly great is how these indigenous churches provide a good foundation for God to continue working in these men’s lives – not as passive receivers but as active participants – through continued strong Christian community when they are released.

About Fulcrum Ministries

Fulcrum Ministries is a network of small, participatory churches that meet in living rooms, jail dormitories, coffee houses and other improbable places for fellowship and to share the joy of knowing Jesus.

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