In the United States criminal justice system, there are around two million offenders incarcerated in federal, state, local, and tribal systems at any time. According to PrisonPolicy.Org, “In a typical year, about 600,000 people enter prison gates, but people go to jail over 10 million times each year.” The United States is the frontrunner of incarcerated personnel, representing 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population. How do we turn this around? What is the answer?
MARRIpedia notes, “Those who frequently attend religious services are less likely to be arrested. According to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, only 5 percent of youths who currently attend weekly religious services have ever been arrested, followed by those who attended one to three times a month (7 percent), those who attend less than once a month (10 percent), and those who never attend church (11 percent).”
With men making up more than 93% of the incarcerated population, it becomes abundantly clear that men need to be discipled. Throughout Scripture, men are put in positions of authority and leadership. Based on their faithfulness and willingness to be obedient to God, those under the leadership of these men experience blessings or curses. While there is clearly an equal importance in discipling both men and women, I want to provide three reasons why discipling men is critical especially as we enter into June and Father’s Day.
Reason 1: Jesus commands it.
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
As Jesus was preparing to ascend to Heaven, He gathered His closest friends, the disciples, together and issued a charge to them. Like a general sending troops into battle, these are orders to be followed, not suggestions to contemplate. The command “make disciples” explains the central focus of the Great Commission.
The percentage of people who have experienced a salvific relationship with Jesus is shockingly small. Think of it this way, do you know if everyone in your neighborhood has heard and accepted the gospel? The answer is probably not. Are you okay with that? Jesus isn’t. As we are all made in the image and likeness of God and created to glorify Him in everything we do, sharing the Good News is required for all believers.
Reason 2: Changed men change culture.
Men are called to be culture setters for their homes, workplaces, and areas of influence. I did not grow up in a Christian home. My parents separated when I was young, and I grew up going to a different home every other day where any type of religion was not prioritized. As a result, I began to drift. This drifting carried over into all areas of my life.
In counseling, a man told me about Jesus. This moment changed everything. Once I truly accepted Jesus as the Leader, Lord, and Savior of my life, I began to lead with the authority and confidence that can only come from a realized identity of who I am in Christ. As a result, my marriage was transformed, my relationships changed, I discovered joy I’d never experienced before, and I began to share my faith with others. My life, my wife’s life, and my children’s lives were changed when a man saw another man without Jesus and took a step of faith in obedience to disciple him.
Reason 3: Men need relationships. Discipleship happens in relationship.
How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you— don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. I praise you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. I have recited aloud all the regulations you have given us. I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches. I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways. I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word. Psalm 119:9-16
America is a post-Christian nation. David asks the question in Psalm 119:9, “How can a young person stay pure?” One important way is by building a strong community of fellow followers of Christ for accountability. As a human race, we were not designed to do life alone. We are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), who existed in community with Jesus and the Holy Spirit before the creation of the world.
Men need other strong, Christ-centered men in their lives to teach them how to be a man of God according to Scripture. One of the most famous verses in all of Scripture says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV).
Worldly masculinity says to puff out your chest, hide emotion, and get the job done. Jesus is both firm and tender. He called out the Pharisees for their religious actions and wept over the death of His close friend. For men to embrace who they are in Christ, they need to be discipled and surrounded by a community of like-minded peers.
So, what now?
Men are the most likely demographic to fall into the cycle of criminal activity and incarceration. Yet, they are also the least likely demographic to have someone come alongside them and disciple them to change their way of thinking. We must realize and be aware of this vital need – in our lives and in the lives of others. We must not be scared away by unappealing statistics and constant failure scenarios. We must commit ourselves and do everything we possibly can to reach each and every one of them, even if it takes all day inside the walls of a prison.
However, I believe we can reach men before this cycle even begins. Discipleship is simply sharing what Christ has done in your life with another and helping them along the road of progressive sanctification (becoming more like Jesus). You are not called to do it in your own strength, however. The Apostle Paul says it this way, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
You can plant a seed or water it by taking a friend out to coffee (or breakfast, if you’re not into that type of thing) and asking a couple of heart-revealing questions. Start with “What does happiness look like to you?” or “How is your marriage/parenting going?” or “What are you doing on Sunday?”
A transformed man will help transform his home.
Then transform his workplace.
Then transform his community.
Then transform the world.
If God is stirring your heart toward incarcerated individuals, you can impact this important population. Your gifts to Courage For Life goes toward discipling men and women in prison and those who have those who have trauma, abuse, addiction, or dysfunction in their past or present lives. Give now.