My wife and I have set out on a new ministry together. Being an Assistant Chaplain at the Elkhart County Jail I have been listening to many inmates opinion of the church and have some of the same reservations that many of us do with the church. I have consistently told these men that there is no such thing as the perfect church. Recently I was asked to come to Elkhart and start a Bible study with an inmate that had been released. I thought it over and I had decided that I was unable to set another time to start a Bible study with all that I was involved with at the county jail. One Monday night at my regularly scheduled Bible study, a couple of the inmates asked me if I had a church that I pastor. I told them no because God had not opened those doors for me but had instead opened my doors at the county jail. I had a vision that one day of starting a ministry for inmates, possibly a church, but had never had any of those doors open. I continued this discussion with those inmates to see why they thought that it was something that had been on their minds. I took everything that they were saying and decided that I would consider it and pray about it. That night I saw my pastor at a banquet that we were attending and mentioned it to him. He looked at me and said, "Why don't we just do it" I was in a little shock but decided to explore this further. He mentioned to start this as a house church, missional community. I talked it over with Staci and proceeded to find a house. I started with the ex-inmate that had wanted me to come to Elkhart and do a regular Bible study with him. Things fell through with that plan to use his place so I turned to another ex-inmate named John*. He agreed to use his place and with a little help from my church, we have launched a gathering that meets every Friday at 7pm in John's house. I have read on how to lead a missional community and am starting a book on how to develop am discipling community. We divide the evening between a time of fellowship while sharing a meal and Bible study. We had three people the night of the launch with just me, my wife, and John. The second time we had a couple more people show up to see it. I had a great conversation with Cory who is trying to move to this area and is struggling with walking the right path. I encouraged him to continue to come on Friday's and to participate in everything we do. The other person Matt does not want any part of God and was afraid that we would say something to him if he just ate and decided not to participate in the Bible study. His experience with Christians in the past has lead him to believe that they are judgmental. That night we all showed him that we were there to share Christ's love and he was in the room where we were doing the study for a while and when he got up to go to another room no one said anything. I later got the chance to tell him that I enjoyed meeting him and invited him to have a meal with us each week. There are seekers in this world that have had some very bad experiences with what they perceive to be the "church". Our goal as a ministry right now is to provide a place for ex-inmates to come and participate in fellowship and Bible study (if they want) in a place where they never have to worry about being judged. I am so grateful for what God has done already. This ministry is in God's hands and we are just going to see where it takes us. It is my hopes that it will grow and multiply and that the ex-inmates will be leading other groups. The vision that I have is that one-day inmates and their families will be able to be ministered to by those that have gone through the same experiences. I hope to start writing in this blog about those experiences on a regular basis.
* - I will be using first names only and at most first names and first letter of last name in cases where there are multiple people by the same name to protect the privacy of those I write about.