God's Word for today

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Scriptural reflections on prison ministry (1)

During this past year we have been involved in prison ministry at SMMS, and one of our tasks each week has been to submit a reflection on a specific passage of Scripture.

I thought that I would share a few of these reflections on my blog, and I invite comments from readers. I'm particularly interested in any additional thoughts that you may have concerning the passages reflected on - especially if you have a different take on the passage concerned.

Enjoy, and be challenged!

Passage: Romans 12: 2 (NIV)
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.   Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - [God's] good, pleasing and perfect will."

How does this passage relate to prison ministry?
The concept of no longer being “[conformed] … to the pattern of this world”, and being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” resonates with the understanding of the term “correctional services”, where confinement of offenders goes hand-in-hand with rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into society, rather than “prison” with is connotation of being a facility focused solely on punishment.

A question that however comes to mind is this: If the length of sentence is based on the severity of the crime, i.e. more severe crimes carry longer sentences, is one saying that it takes a longer period of time to “renew the mind” of someone (i.e. rehabilitate someone) who has committed more serious crimes than those of a less serious nature; does the length of sentence contain a punitive element; or is it a question of considering the safety of the wider community when passing sentence? Or is it a combination of these three factors?

What relevance does this passage have for ministry?
In the case of prisoners, it is invariably the “conforming … to the pattern of this world” that has ultimately led to the offender turning to criminal activity, with the consequence of their subsequent incarceration. This places a major responsibility on the minister to ensure that comprehensive teaching (with practical application) around (a) identifying inappropriate “patterns of this world”; (b) understanding what it means to offer oneself as “living sacrifices” in service of Christ; and (c) undergoing a process of “renewing of [one’s] mind” as a means to doing God’s will.

How does this passage define serving for Christ?
Referring to the previous question, it would not be enough to teach in congregations on aspects covered in this passage – one need to also live out such practices in one's own Christian walk. This ensures not only personal integrity, but also integrity in one’s teaching.

1 comment:

markpenrith said...

Hey there,

"especially if you have a different take on the passage concerned."

Not sure if I've understood what you've written or if I've wrapped my mind around what I'm trying to articulate but:

This verse only finds application within the realm of spiritual transformation. To extract principals and then to apply them outside of the context to which they were written reduces the Bible to a self-help book. Romans 12 addresses the sanctification of a believer not the rehabilitation of a prisoner. Romans 12 only finds meaning when applied to the life of a believer (please understand I’m not implying that all prisoners are non-Christians but I am addressing the application of the text).

Are you picking up what I'm putting down?