A Case Study in Cross-Generational Discipleship
On the exact day I was born (July 13, 1985), Dick Knox celebrated his 57th birthday. You’re probably asking, “Who is Dick Knox?” For those who don’t know him, allow me to share several things about this extraordinarily ordinary friend of mine who had a profound impact for Christ upon my life.
It’s May 1995, and Dick Knox learns that his fellow church members Ross & Maureen Penix (my parents) are moving into his neighborhood. Rather than thinking, “How nice to have Christian neighbors. Hopefully, they’ll keep their grass mowed!”, Mr. Knox picks up the phone and calls my family to personally welcome us to the neighborhood. And this is where our friendship began.
Having served as a pastor and an evangelist in the States for several years and then as missionary for over 30 years in Lebanon & Cyprus, Mr. Knox could have easily convinced himself that he’d done plenty for the Lord and deserved a final season of leisure and relaxation in his latter years. On the contrary, he concluded that if Jesus had called him to be a fisher of men, he’d better keep fishing until he couldn’t fish any more. What became evident to me over the years was that Dick Knox saw me as one of his fishing projects. He loved people, so he took an interest in them.
Mr. Knox learned that I liked basketball, so he told me that the basketball hoop in his driveway was always available to me. He learned that I played the trombone just like he did, so he invited me over to play duets at his house. He taught me the importance of being able to sight-read the melody line out of a hymnal, and he told me dozens of stories about how he’d always bring trombones back to the mission field with him from the U.S. in order to give them to men in his church whom he’d teach and disciple.
He asked me to accompany him when he’d speak at the local Rescue Mission, so I could minister in music and occasionally share a short thought on some passage of Scripture. As I got older, I learned that he was accountability partners for several younger men who were struggling in their personal lives with various addictions. Even as an 80 year old man, he recognized his need to set his mind upon the things of the Spirit so he might not fulfill the lust of the flesh. And by allowing me into his life, I saw his faithfulness and gentleness toward his wife, his persistence in and love for prayer, his desire for God’s Word, his indiscriminate kindness toward everyone and his unwavering commitment to making disciples.
Now, you might be tempted to say, “Wow. What an extraordinary man!” And perhaps you should. He was, without a doubt, a hero of mine. But what made him so special was his love for the ordinary. He was not a noted guru in any field. He never distinguished himself as an intellectual elite. He never saw himself as a top-rate musician or anything of the kind. He simply lived his life with God’s priorities as His own.
Why do I share this story? Well, for two reasons.
First, Christians need not believe that age determines impact. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Knox was 57 years older than me and yet he had a profound impact on my life! If you find yourself ordering from the 55+ menu, the next time you are at church, observe the newborns and toddlers that fill the nursery. Do not think for a moment that you’re unable to directly and personally point them to the beauty of Jesus Christ. It’s my prayer that my boy Jude will grow up in a church where he is allowed a Mr. Knox of his own. He needs it and as his parents, we desire it!
Second, Christians are keepers of stories. Foundationally for every Christian, it is the Gospel story that is our only hope of being rescued from our sins and from the fury of God’s holy wrath (Ephesians 2:1-10, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). We must, by God’s grace, joyfully keep this story at the very center of our lives. But beyond this, we must recognize that as God grants years of life to His people, they accrue personal stories of how He has been faithful, trustworthy and dependable even through the most difficult storms of life. These stories are the very things that younger generations in the church do not possess. Even if they’ve been converted by the Gospel, living their lives for God is still mostly theoretical for them.
My personal story about Dick Knox is one that is dear to my heart. It’s one I treasure and think upon often for spiritual encouragement. But I don’t have nearly the number of stories that older Christians possess. Our teens do not have the volume of stories to draw upon when they are tempted by the allurements of this world. Our young adults don’t have the stories of God’s provision to draw upon when they are deeply discouraged by the seemingly insurmountable college loans they face. Our young mom’s and dad’s do not have stories of how the Lord grows our strength and teaches us to pray like never before after crying ourselves to sleep over a disobedient child or for our older parents, a teenager whose heart seems ice cold.
Consider taking the time to rehearse, privately and with another, the stories of your life in such a way that gives God glory for how His providential hand has been more at work than you give Him credit for. Younger Christians, pursue your spiritual parents and grandparents so you might learn of God’s faithfulness (1 Tim. 5:1-2). Older Christians, be encouraged from the life of Dick Knox. Even if you’re 60 years older than someone, your life can impact them for eternity!