USP Leavenworth Chaplain Offers Insight onLack of Effectiveness in Prison Bible Studies and Observations on Thinking Errors
Kendall Hughes has been a federal prison chaplain since 1998 after serving as a Church of the Nazarene pastor for three years and missionary for seven. Chaplain Hughes oversees the Life Connections Program at U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth, KS.
Many prisons and jails in the US have chaplains or volunteers coming in from the outside to lead Bible studies. Often, these studies are well attended and appreciated by the inmates. The ones conducting the studies are inspired by the scriptural injunction to visit those in prison. In addition to fulfilling that command they also seek to lead the inmates to faith in Christ and a life of obedience to Him. However, one area of concern is the failure of some inmate Bible students to live in accordance with biblical principles. This becomes especially apparent after they release from prison and recidivate. When an inmate leaves prison quoting scriptures learned in prison Bible studies and surrounded by the prayers and hopes of his fellow Bible study members it is a bitter pill to swallow to see him return to crime shortly after release. This leads some chaplains and volunteers to ask if there are prison Bible studies that are more effective in producing long term change.
I believe there are more effective lessons for discipling inmates. During my years as a missionary I learned the importance of applying the scriptures to the particular culture in which I was ministering. Simply taking an effective English sermon or Bible study from a US church and translating it into Spanish did not mean my parishioners in Ecuador would understand or apply its message. Ecuadorian Bible studies needed to address their fatalistic and often animistic world view. These issues were rarely addressed in the church in the US where I had pastored because the fairly well educated congregation did not struggle with Animism or fatalism on the same scale as the Ecuadorians. In the same way, Bible studies that we use in our churches outside of prison, may not be what is needed when ministering to criminals. All too often inmates can learn solid biblical truths, orthodox theology and be able to quote scripture and then turn around and steal and swear prolifically. It is our belief that while there is nothing wrong with many of the Bible studies offered in prison, there are some issues inmates struggle with which are not fully addressed in the Bible studies brought from churches outside of prison.
Just as many effective pastors follow the principle of not only exegeting the scriptures but also exegeting their congregations, prison ministers will be more effective if they deeply analyze the inmates. One of the attributes I have found in my congregants here at Leavenworth and the other prisons I’ve worked is that they think differently from responsible people. When I did my Doctorate of Ministry Thesis on how chaplains can reduce recidivism I read what I could find on criminal thinking. As I did, I found that what best seemed to describe their mindset was the work of Drs. Stanton Samenow and Samuel Yochelson. I have referred back to Volume 2 of their work, The Criminal Personality so many times that I’ve developed a new version of the old quote sometimes attributed to Barth that “We should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Prison ministers should preach and teach with the Bible in one hand and The Criminal Personality in the other.
This principle is what you will find in The Kingdom Thinking Bible Study Series. They are Bible studies designed to address the pressing need of inmates to stop their old, irresponsible thinking patterns and be transformed to think in a Godly and responsible way.
Truthought has published these studies in the same format as their research based, group curriculum, Charting a New Course, so that the Bible Studies synthesize with the Nine Thinking Error sections and fit seamlessly in the same binder.