The topic of discipleship immediately brings my childhood to mind. I was fortunate to be discipled by my parents. My parents’ lives modeled incarnational discipleship. The activities of the week and the family conversations around the table pointed each of us toward Christ. If there was a formal discipleship plan, we never saw it, but we knew the lessons by heart. It was who we were and what we did as Christians.
As I look back at my life, I can clearly see three patterns in the way my parents discipled us: presence, passion, perseverance.
My parents modeled the love of God to us by their personal presence. Their presence reinforced the belief that God is always with us, which brought us comfort and security. Our family prayer time assured us of God’s presence and involvement in every aspect of our lives – nothing is too trivial or big to bring to our Lord in prayer. Their daily involvement in our lives brought the voice of clarity and sanity into the cacophony of influences we faced outside the home. Their presence constantly assured us of God’s presence.
Years later, I read about the ministry of Rev. Eugene Rivers, a pastor in the inner city of Boston. He was frustrated that he was losing so many kids to the streets. So he asked a drug dealer why he was losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the kids. The drug dealer replied, “When Johnny goes out for a loaf of bread for Mama, I'm there—you're not. When he needs a new pair of gym shoes, I'm there—you're not. When he simply needs somebody to talk to, to unload what's on his mind, I'm there and you're not. I win, you lose.”
It is clear that Jesus knew the importance of personal presence to the discipleship process. He said, “if you want to be my disciple… you must follow me!” (Luke 9:23).
The second essential element of discipleship I experienced through my parents’ lives was their passion for God. God’s guidance was always sought and followed, even when the personal cost was high. The material sacrifices in our lives were viewed through the lens of love for God and others. While we, as children, did not always enjoy the sacrifices made, we never doubted the value of giving God first place in all things. By including the family in the sacrifices for others, my parents engaged us in the mission and the celebration of successes.
My parents’ presence and passion found fulfillment through their perseverance. Life was not always easy and rewarding in the short term. There were times as children when we witnessed the trials our parents faced. Nevertheless, while the path was not comfortable, my parents were determined to faithfully persevere. Repeatedly, we saw the fruit of their perseverance in the string of answered prayers and restored relationships. There is nothing like answered prayers after a long struggle to connect one to the presence and passion of Christ.
Presence, passion, perseverance: all essential qualities on the path of discipleship. Every program or framework that honors these three qualities will produce fruit that will last. I am grateful that I was blessed with parents who lived out those qualities before me. In addition, I’m indebted to the many others who encouraged them along the way.
Larry Morris is administrative director of Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International.
Holiness Today, March/April 2021
Please note: This article was originally published in 2021. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.