We are asking various TGC Council members a simple question: Who was the first person who showed you the beauty of Jesus?
My earliest memories of hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ are closely connected with the love and faithfulness of my mother. I now recognize what a blessed providence it was to grow up in a Christian home in which my father and mother believed the good news of the gospel. Moreover, they were deeply invested in the life of the church.
Years before I could read, my mother, Pansye Elizabeth Pierson Dockery, read Bible stories to me and helped me memorize verses from the King James Version of the Bible. She was to me what Lois and Eunice were to young Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5).
I grew up in a working-class home on the western side of Birmingham, Alabama. Neither of my parents attended college, nor did their parents. My father taught me the importance of hard work. He worked long hours, six days each week. Still, we were always in church every Sunday. In fact, my name was on the cradle roll before I was even born. Sundays in our Southern Baptist home included Sunday school, morning worship, afternoon choir practice, Bible drills, Training Union, less formal church services in the evening, and then an after-church fellowship. Sundays were extremely busy days. And it didn’t stop there. Wednesdays included church suppers, prayer meetings, teachers and officers meeting, Sunbeams, Royal Ambassadors, Girls Auxiliary, committee meetings, and choir practice.
During the week, there were other church activities, sandwiched wherever they could be placed on the calendar. In so many ways, it was exhausting growing up as a Southern Baptist. My mother helped to shepherd me through these numerous activities, encouraging me to be properly prepared for each one. She made sure I read my Bible each day and studied my Sunday school lesson each week.
When I turned 9 years old, I was given a hardback Bible—a format more conducive to “sword drills,” where we learned to find passages located anywhere in the Bible, while memorizing numerous verses. My mother served as my coach and teacher. I loved those Bible drills and, with my mother’s support, I became a two-time Bible-drill champion of the entire Birmingham Association when I was 10 and 11 years old. In all of these things, my mother, who was largely self-educated, taught me precious truths that provided the foundation for the rest of my theological education: that God is love, that the Bible is true, and that Jesus saves. In addition, she introduced me to the Baptist tradition, telling me the inspirational stories of courageous Baptist missionaries.
During those early years I publicly professed my faith in Jesus Christ, which was followed by baptism. This public profession followed years of instruction from my mother, who led me to trust in the saving work of Christ. Moreover, she had prayed for me every day of my life, asking God not only to save me from my sins, but also to call me into Christian ministry.
My mother was a loving and dedicated follower of Christ, and she was also a genuinely committed Baptist. When I became involved with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) as a sophomore at the University of Alabama, my mother became concerned that I might be a part of a cult-like group. In my mother’s insulated world, she had hardly been introduced to anything outside of Southern Baptist life, apart from Billy Graham and his connection with the broader evangelical community.
During my college days, I had the privilege to attend a summer-long Institute for Biblical Studies, sponsored by Campus Crusade. Here I was introduced to serious Bible study and the basics of Christian theology and apologetics. Those weeks were truly transformational for me. When I returned home, my mother’s fears regarding the ministry of Campus Crusade had been put to rest. She rejoiced that her prayers had been answered. That summer not only brought me to a deeper understanding of the gospel, but also to a renewed love of the Bible, which pointed me in the direction of Christian ministry. My mother sought to encourage those directions by purchasing my first theology books as well as my first Bible commentaries.
Kindness of Christ
One of the verses Mother taught me as a young boy was Ephesians 4:32: “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Later, when I went to seminary, I learned that the Greek word for kindness (chrestos) in that verse was quite similar to the word for Christ (christos). As I now reflect on why I was drawn to my mother’s instruction regarding the things of Christ, I have come to realize it was her kindness that so readily illuminated the gospel of Christ for me (see 1 Pet. 2:3).
My mother was hardly perfect. Like all of us, she fell short in many areas. She was, however, the kindest person I have ever met. In her life I saw reflected genuine kindness and goodness, markers of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Such kindness was instrumental in leading me to repentance (Rom. 2:4), and pointing me to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
My mother went home to be with the Lord in 1999 at the age of 73. For her faithful life and immense influence in my life, I will always be grateful to God.
You can read previous installments in this series.