Why are the Foundational Principles of Jesus Important?
Have you ever thought about the structural integrity of a building before walking into it? Or worried about the stability of the pylons on a bridge as you were approaching it? If you’re anything like me, you probably unconsciously assume that both the building and the bridge were constructed correctly, so you’re not preoccupied with those thoughts. Maybe you’re a homeowner, and you understand the gut-wrenching feeling of finding a crack in the foundation of your house. Or maybe you’re a renter, and you don’t have to worry about that stuff. But if no one takes the time to consider the foundation (whether it’s a skyscraper, a huge suspension bridge, or a 2-bedroom, 2-bath home), we’ll have trouble.
A couple of years ago I was in Chile and a good friend of mine explained to me that I would most likely experience an earthquake during my visit because Chile is part of the “Ring of Fire”, making earthquakes a regular occurrence. He showed me a video of Chileans inside an office building that was swaying back and forth during an earthquake, and to my surprise, no one was freaking out or ducking for cover. The buildings in Chile are some of the most earthquake-proof in the world because they’re specifically designed to withstand regular seismic activity, beginning with their foundations.
If you’re trying to build an earthquake-proof building, you’d be wise to study the methods of Chilean architects. But if you’re trying to build a disciple-making ministry, wisdom would dictate that you dig deep into the methods of the greatest disciple-maker of all time – Jesus.
Like a master builder, when Jesus began his ministry, he started with the foundation. He knew that in order to build a disciple-making ministry and begin a disciple-making movement that would endure, a good foundation would be vital. He spent the first half of his ministry (18-21 months) focused on laying that foundation, and each aspect was meticulously well thought out:
- Longevity – the foundation would have to last the test of time
- Resilience – the foundation would have to endure constant attack from human and spiritual enemies
- Contextual flexibility – the foundation would have to be sustainable across all cultures
- Simplicity – the foundation would have to be reproducible by everyday disciple-makers, not requiring high levels of education or intellectual acumen
Jesus’ strategy for laying a solid foundation rested on principles that he established and modeled for his disciples. These priorities include dependence on the Holy Spirit, prayer, obedience, Word-centeredness, exalting the Father, and relationships of love and integrity. A cursory overview of the first half of his ministry reveals Jesus’ regular pattern of modeling each of these priorities for his disciples (Luke 3:21-22; Matthew 4:1-11; John 1:19-51, 2:1-25, 3:1-22, 4:1-54; Luke 4:16-30). Notice that each of these foundational priorities allows for longevity, resilience, contextual flexibility, and simplicity (from the list above). If you’d like to study these priorities in depth, I’d recommend Sonlife’s “Foundations” training or “Walk Like Jesus” (available in the Sonlife store).
Since Jesus started his ministry when he was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23), it’s safe to assume that these weren’t new priorities that he developed at the beginning of his ministry, but instead regular disciplines in his life that naturally became the foundation for the newly-launched ministry. As one of my good friends has noted, “as Jesus begins his ministry, his private disciplines become public practices.” Jesus simply lived consistently by continuing the regular practice of priorities that were present in his personal life.
But why are these foundational priorities so important? The simplest answer is that in order to build a disciple-making ministry, we have to start with a solid foundation. But if we carry the analogy further, we have to recognize that each of these priorities functions like a brick in that foundation — if we remove one, our ministries lose stability. For instance, if we remove dependence on the Holy Spirit from our ministries, we quickly become self-dependent or others-dependent, which has historically led to ministry failures (moral or otherwise). If we remove Word-centeredness, we immediately lose our compass and our ministries veer off of the mission (Colossians 2:8). If we remove any of these priorities, our ministries will at best limp along, sustained only by our ability to muscle through. We certainly won’t build healthy, disciple-making ministries.
Sometimes people look at the early church in the book of Acts and assume that those early church leaders were something special. But my guess is that they’d disagree with that sentiment. According to Acts 4:13, the distinguishing factor for Peter and John was not their intelligence or their speaking ability, but the simple fact that they had “been with Jesus.” He had rubbed off on them enough for them to imitate his methods, which is why the foundational priorities from Jesus’ ministry are present in the early church. They were simply reproducing Jesus’ character and priorities as he had instructed them to do (John 12:24, 13:15, 14:12, 20:21; 1 John 2:6). Let’s do the same!