The best church planters are in our jails!

How the roughest of the rough are being transformed, leading others and multiplying disciples!

Great to be with the DMM ‘Multiply’ Summit here in Chicago. Amongst many stories, hearing the story of how Disciple Making multiplication is working in prisons is amazing. In a ‘break-out’ group (apt name for prison ministries!) I had the humbling privilege of sitting with a group of ex Con’s who had become disciple makers. Man, it was so good to sit and listen to these ‘no-more-than-ordinary’ guys speak, thoroughly unpolished, about how they had not simply become disciples but viral disciple makers. 

Promising settings are hurting settings’ was something they said as I listened, captured, as some mumbled their story with little airs and graces. These were really rough guys, drug dealers, murderers, you name it. Many were young men, sharing about how they had been in and out of jail over their whole life. Starting life with no Mum and Dad, institutionalised from childhood and never being able to be free from the cycle of drugs and prison. Until now.

Facing life in prison with a 40-year sentence,  ‘Carl’ had created his own little kingdom dealing drugs in jail. He was well known in multiple institutions. One day his friend went to a ‘God Pod’ and came back and shared with him what he had learnt. He was really suspicious and resistant thinking he was going to be betrayed … but after a while, Carl was ‘caught’. He to become a disciple-maker! After some time his transformation was so clear and evident to those in authority, that even though he was not seeking release, he was paroled radically early. Since that time, on the outside, he has baptised between 500 to 700 ex-cons, and this transformation has spread to whole families both inside and outside the jails.

I have got to admit they had my attention from the word go. I was moved at the transformation and freedom that was evident. As each con shared their story, it was deeply moving…. stuff that made me tear up, (even as I write this it’s hard to hold back the tears) … something I cannot capture in a simple blog post like this. It has the fingerprints of God all over it.

They wouldn’t fit into churches. But why would you want them to be locked up in traditional Churches? They were prepared soil for the gospel!

The best church planters are not in our churches, but in our jails.’ These guys were not ‘Christian’. Covered in tat’s, with a ‘rough’ look, there are a lot who would not feel comfortable with these guys sitting in a pew next to them. They wouldn’t fit into churches. But why would you want them to be locked up in traditional Churches? They were prepared soil for the gospel! They weren’t ‘Christian’, but they are clearly Jesus followers! This was a movement, messy and complicated, but full of one story of transformation after another.

Is it a movement? Well if you define a movement as over 100 churches, over 4 generations deep and with multiple streams, no. But they are pretty close! It isn’t simply among one group or community, the story is repeated in many jails in different locations. The story was also repeated with women’s groups as well as men’s. And was spreading, into jails over the USA.

Transition is full of temptation to re-offend. They had to work hard to handle the transition from jail to the outside. This is their biggest challenge. A group of ex-cons arrived at their friend’s house, who himself had just been released from jail. He had become a disciple-maker in jail and had invited them over to do DBS. They had never been to a bible study so bought with them the necessary supplies of slabs of beer and a stripper (of course!). When they realised that scripture was the first item, they politely laid aside the beer in the kitchen and all went to look at scripture together, including the stripper. One of the first ice-breaker questions they asked was ‘If Jesus was here what would you ask him?’.  The stripper broke down in tears in front of the whole group and sobbed ‘I would want him to change my life’.  He did.

So what are some keys that we can learn from these ‘unschooled’ disciple-makers? Read the next post

(Originally written September 2018)