“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve” (Mark 3:13-16).
It is possible to read this section of Mark’s Gospel and miss the real point. This is Mark’s account of Jesus’ selection of twelve men to be apostles; his closest associates on earth that were now called to share his life and ministry. As Mark says so succinctly, “He went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13). The emphasis here is that he called men whom he desired, according to his sovereign preference. He did not call these men because of what they could offer him or because of specific gifts or talents they possessed, but because he desired to have them in fellowship with himself. This is evident in the next verse when Mark describes the reason for his having chosen them—“so that they might be with him” (3:14). First and foremost, he called them into fellowship with himself.
What many miss in this account is from this moment forward, Jesus began to give himself completely to the training of these twelve lives. While he continued to teach and preach to the multitudes and perform miracles, he gave more time to the fellowship of the twelve. That is amazing especially considering that at this point in his earthly ministry, Jesus’ fame had grown greater than any time before. The crowds were larger at this time than at any other time with more and more people seeking his Presence. So we should be surprised to find that at the busiest and most successful period of his ministry when his crowds had reached the largest, Jesus left the crowds and focused almost exclusively on the training of twelve lives.
If Jesus were alive today, I can imagine him bringing in a Madison Avenue marketing company to advise him on how to maximize his apparent success. Key appearances were planned, guaranteeing maximum exposure. Only such events were planned which promised to build on the momentum he had already gained so that the crowds might continue to grow. The last thing they would advise was for him to pull back and focus on establishing a small leadership base to maximize that the crowds had men who were sufficiently trained to lead and care for the multitudes.
But that is exactly what Jesus did. Instead of building his movement on the shifting sands of the opinion of a multitude, he wisely chose to build it upon the powerful convictions of a few. And in order to form those convictions, he knew it was necessary to pour himself into some key people who would guarantee that the movement would continue into the future. For Jesus, this meant the careful, painstaking formation of twelve lives that would serve as a foundation of a movement that was unstoppable.
Few leaders follow that path today, choosing instead to grow their crowds rather than guarantee the movement’s longevity through the careful training of key leaders. Jesus seemed to follow the belief that the ‘breadth of your ministry base is only commensurate to the depth of your leadership base.’ F.F. Bruce said it best:
“This careful, painstaking education of the disciples secured that the teacher’s influence should be permanent; that his kingdom should be founded on deep and indestructible convictions in the minds of a few, not on the shifting sands of superficial impressions in the minds of the many.”
That’s why the Lord spent most of the latter half of his earthly ministry with twelve men rather than with the multitudes. That fact might cause us to wonder if Jesus really cared about reaching the multitudes at all. We might have to conclude that he didn’t because from our perspective, in order to reach multitudes, you need to have many public events where you can invite crowds.
But Jesus had a different vision; He had a big enough vision to think small. It was because of his vision to reach the multitudes that He gave Himself almost exclusively to the twelve. Eugene Peterson said it best: “Jesus, it must be remembered, restricted nine-tenths of his ministry to twelve Jews because it was the only way to redeem all Americans.” His plan was to thoroughly train these men and then send them out to do the same thing that He had done with them. His intention was not to grow a crowd but to start a rapidly multiplying Gospel movement.