When my two sons were young we went to Atlanta for the groundbreaking of one of the more famous skyscrapers. We had been reading about the project for months in the local papers and were excited to watch the construction of the “tallest building in the South”. As we arrived on the scene, the bulldozers were already clearing the site, but there was a viewing area for spectators with an architectural rendering of the completed structure emblazoned on the side of the construction fencing. “Wow!” my oldest exclaimed, “It’s humongous!” And indeed it was, soaring nearly seventy stories above Peachtree Street, it certainly promised to be a focal point of the city skyline. We faithfully trekked to the site and watched trucks haul away dirt and debris while other trucks delivered steel girders and other building materials. After several weeks of this vigil, one of the boys exclaimed in frustration, “Dad, when are they going to start working on the building?” (It was a question that I had pondered myself, because all that existed was a large hole and lots of mud.) Approaching a worker with a set of plans under his arm, I inquired, “Can you give us some idea when the building is going to begin?” His chuckle made it obvious the question had come up before.
“It’s hard to believe it,” he said, “but this hole is the most important part of the building. We have to dig down several hundred feet and build a solid foundation to support a structure that’s over seventy stories tall. It will take several months to pour the concrete and sink the steel pillars, but then we’ll start going up. Once we start, it will rise pretty fast!”
The Bible compares living the Christian life with constructing a building. Just as there are phases in building a building, there are phases in the growth of a Christian, and the first phase is: “laying a foundation.” Our initial salvation experience is the beginning of a process of growth that lasts a lifetime. The success of our spiritual growth is determined by the strength of our spiritual foundation. Matthew 7: 24-27 asserts that the Christian life built on a solid foundation will withstand the storms of life. The tallest building in the South is still standing today. Believers who lay solid foundations are more likely to stand tall than those who fail to establish a solid base for growth.
This foundations phase actually consists of four interconnecting parts:
- relating to God,
- relating to other Christians,
- understanding truth, and
- applying truth so that it transforms us.
Let’s explore these together!
Relating to God
Unlike other religions, the essence of Christianity is a relationship with God, not a set of rules. In John 17: 3 the Scripture affirms that eternal life is all about knowing God. It is thrilling to remember that God desires a relationship with us that will never end. The great news is that believers don’t have to wait for heaven to experience this. It begins the moment we accept Christ!
Having a relationship with God is not all that different from having a relationship with anyone else. As we relate to others, we get to know them better and the relationship deepens over time. There are specific situations that will help believers better experience a relationship with God. The first of these involves setting aside time for personal devotions, a quiet time each day devoted to prayer, Bible reading, and personal meditation. The Scripture promises in James 4: 8 that as we “come near to God, he will come near to us”. This “coming near to God” is not a religious duty, but a time for relational development. Of course just as good disciplines and habits can be beneficial in other areas of life, the more we remain faithfully committed to our quiet time, the more benefit we derive from it.
Another aspect of developing a relationship with God is attending public worship in a church that exalts him. Although we can worship God any place, any time, worshipping with other Christians deepens and develops our ability to relate to God. There are many different public worship experiences and not all churches structure them in the same way.
Worship that focuses on the greatness of God and includes times of singing praise, prayerful meditation, and Biblical preaching should be a priority. Ask God to help you find a church in your community and become a part of the fellowship. This leads to another important part of laying a good foundation: relating to other Christians.
Relating to Other Christians
God has placed us in his spiritual family, the Church, to encourage us, protect us, correct us, direct us, and provide for us. Again there are specific situations that help believers experience relationships with other Christians. Each of these plays a unique role in helping to form a spiritual foundation and each will require some effort. But they all are incredibly beneficial. Christians who do not have connections with other Christians tend to stop growing. (cf. Hebrews 10: 24-25)
In the first century there were very few church buildings. Mostly the believers met together in private homes for Bible teaching, prayer, and fellowship. There are benefits to meeting with large groups in public worship, but there is also an advantage gained from being part of a small group. The intimacy of the setting provides a place for relationships to flourish. Many modern believers have learned that meeting together in small groups helps to forge close relationships as members discuss Scripture, pray for each other, and share personal matters.
The term “mentoring” was coined by the modern business community to describe a relationship where a seasoned executive tutors a younger colleague in commercial practices. But long before mentoring was introduced to the world of commerce, it had already existed in the spiritual community as “one-to-one discipleship”.
In this case it describes an intentional relationship between a young believer and a more mature Christian who models the Christian life, answers questions, gives counsel, and helps the younger Christian stay focused on the priorities of spiritual growth.
One important priority for growth (and the third part of laying good foundations) involves developing an increasing understanding of God’s truth. The Bible is the Book of Truth for Christians, but it can appear overwhelming to a new learner. It was Jesus who proclaimed that knowing truth sets people free from the bondage of sin. Therefore, it is helpful to have a basic plan of study for learning the truths that we need to build upon, a plan that focuses on specific themes and principles of foundational development. A good beginning series of studies for young believers should include the themes mentioned earlier: truth that helps someone to know more about God, truth that helps people understand other people, and truth that helps someone to grow spiritually.
There are specific approaches to gaining an understanding of these foundational truths. The first is a curriculum of systematic instruction. This is the first of a series of “Pocket Principles” that are designed specifically for helping new believers lay solid spiritual foundations. If you received this “Pocket Principle” from a mentor or small group leader, continue to work closely with that person to discover and apply the other truths in this series.
Another way of gaining insights into living the Christian life is by reading. There are many excellent materials and resources available in Christian bookstores, libraries, and on the Internet. Your own informal reading will supplement your spiritual growth. But be sure to focus on the foundational themes mentioned above as a starting point.
Your local church is also an excellent source of content. Besides the weekly sermon delivered by the pastor or other teacher, many churches offer small groups devoted to helping new believers get established in the faith. Consult the churches in your area for opportunities to learn foundational truths.
But as important as truth is in the growth process, it is not the information alone that transforms us. In fact other parts of Scripture warn us that knowledge by itself can be dangerous, leading to spiritual pride and the deadening of our hearts to God. This particular sin characterized the Pharisees who were enemies of Christ. It is only truth that is obeyed or applied to our lives that changes us and causes growth. Romans 12: 2 reminds us that it is a life consecrated to obeying God that is impacted by truth. When our minds are transformed in this way we help establish the will of God on earth. This is more than just knowing the truth, it is actually doing truth.
A skyscraper is an engineering marvel, but soaring high means digging deep and laying solid foundations. A maxim of the Christian life asserts that “you can only grow as tall as you grow deep”. Laying good foundations takes time and effort, but the benefits are worth it. The new believer needs to embrace experientially the truths related to knowing and understanding God and other believers.
The Foundations of Spiritual Growth
Applying truth will require becoming involved in specific situations that facilitate foundational growth. Establishing a time for personal devotions, joining a small group, locating an older believer who can come alongside you as an encouraging mentor, setting up a systematic plan of study , and participating in public worship are layers of spiritual brick and mortar that form this foundation. But these situations without a heart commitment to obey the truth will not suffice. Blessings to you as you grow!
- So where are you laying foundations?
- Where do you find is the best place to find a mentor?
- Have you made time for studying God’s word?
- What are some of the things you have done to help lay foundations for growing in your faith as a Christian?
Robert D. (Bob) Dukes is the President and Executive Director of Worldwide Discipleship Association (WDA*) headquartered in Fayetteville, Georgia. He is the author/co-author of many educational publications and articles including: A Biblical Framework for Disciple Building; A Practical Strategy for Disciple Building; Disciple Building for Small Groups; and Disciple Building for Life Coaches . He serves as a founding member of The Steering Committee for The Pierce Center for Disciple Building at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, MA.
*WDA is an international training organization specializing in Christian discipleship. WDA establishes interdenominational training centers on university campuses, seminaries, and in communities around the world, and forges partnerships with other Christian organizations. WDA staff and associates equip current and emerging generations of leaders, and offer seminars and training resources to help local churches develop progressive discipleship strategies.
For more resources on digging deeper into a creative & restorative relationship with God through the gospel of Christ, check out Grow: Reproducing Through Organic Discipleship by Winfield Bevins.
For more free articles of applying the gospel to your everyday life, read: Making Disciples is Not Just for Super Christians by Nathan Creitz, Meditating on God’s Word – Memorization by Tony Merida, & Discipling the Disillusioned by Andrew Byers.