Title

Christian hospitality in the age of mass incarceration : a way forward at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens.

Author

Errol Cooper

Date of Award

5-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

School

Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry

Abstract

Incarceration has become commonplace in American family life. Families are confronted with unprecedented pain and hardships that separate children from parents, husbands from wives, and subject those who served their time to ostracism and discrimination as they seek a new start in life. This project focuses on transforming the way the leadership at the FBC sees, feels, and acts about those with criminal histories by reclaiming the ancient practice of Christian hospitality as a means by which the church can effectively address the phenomenon of mass incarceration. Christian hospitality as a means of addressing mass incarceration goes beyond the contemporary trends in church ministry, which emphasizes the establishment of individual ministries to participate in the work of salvation charged to the church (Matthew 28:18-20). Examples of individual ministries include marriage ministry, prayer posse, prison ministry, etc. Such individual ministries are important, but also suggest that participants require specialization or a "call" to a specific ministry in order to serve. The practice of Christian hospitality, however, as the underlying ethos of a church goes beyond specialized ministry, geared to individual talents, and involves the community of believers in the work of salvation in meeting the needs of a congregation and its community. First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens (FBC), located in Somerset, New Jersey has experienced the impact that mass incarceration inflicts upon its membership. To gauge its member's attitudes towards the issue of incarceration surveys were utilized to describe the congregation and explore the membership's perceptions toward those impacted by the criminal justice system. The survey results indicate that church members are willing to change their attitudes toward those affected by the criminal justice system. A strategy is proposed whereby the church leadership can minister to the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and their families by utilizing Christian hospitality. The hospitality modeled by church leaders would then trickle down to the wider congregation. However, to effectively engage the leadership of the church and thereby change the congregational ethos, their attitudes must be transformed through a three-step process that involves seeing the issues faced by the incarcerated and their families, feeling or empathizing with their hurt, and then acting. Moreover, to move the membership toward the practice of Christian hospitality there must be present biblical theology that serves as an organizing principle for practice, which must be incorporated into the senior pastor's strategic plan for the church. Christian hospitality as a strategy for addressing issues of incarceration at FBC can be replicated in other faith based institutions and non-profit organizations. To be sure, Christian hospitality is not limited to addressing issues of mass incarceration, but can be utilized to address various social ills that impact the Christian church.