CellChurch Magazine 

Volume One - 1992

VOLUME 1, #4-CELLCHURCH MAGAZINE-OUR SINGAPORE EXPERIENCE


Publisher's Note-Dr. Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr.

THE U.S.A. IS READY FOR CELL CHURCHES!

Here's a quote from an article in the Houston Chronicle, August 29, 1992, page 3E:    "Pollster George H. Galllup Jr. says 70 percent of Americans believe most churches and synagogues are not effective in helping people find meaning in life."    Gallup's report is in the 1992 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (Abingdon Press, $29.95). He said the ongoing vitality of American religious congregations depends, in large measure , on their effectiveness in responding to six spiritual needs of Americans as identified in his surveys.
Consider the six needs he discovered in his survey:

  1. To believe life is meaningful and has a purpose.
  2. To have sense of community and deeper relationships.
  3. To be appreciated and respected.
  4. To be listened to-and heard.
  5. To feel that one is growing in the faith.
  6. To have practical help in developing a mature faith.

This is a powerful indictment of the tepid, culture-soaked style of church life in our generation. It is astonishing to discover that 70 percent of Americans are now disillusioned with the traditional church! I have been following this Gallup survey for years, and the trend of Americans are now disillusioned with the traditional church! I have been following this Gallup survey for years, and the trend of American cynicism grows with each passing year.

What this means is that more and more church members are not going to return to their roots. The churches of America have two choices: either they can remain as they are and lose their already waning influence upon the world around them, or change!

Reread the list of things the disillusioned of America desire. Note how the concept of the Cell Church meets every one of the items found lacking in the traditional church.

In my brief trip back to the United States from my work in Asia, I held seminars in Los Angeles, Denver, and Cincinnati. In all three places I was delighted to discover that, unlike previous seminars held a year or two ago, about half of these attendees were already engaged in planting a cell church.

For the first time, I felt that a great truth has finally penetrated American Christians: there is a vast contrast between a church with cells and a cell church!

Let's bury Satan's lie that the cell church won't work in the U.S. It's a false conclusion!

Meeting these six needs will be crucial to the future of Christianity in our nation. The traditional church has not, and simply cannot, provide the sense of personal worth and value people desire. They use a structure that insulates believers from edifying (oikodomeo) one another, properly utilizing spiritual gifts.

God will not allow our nation to slump into decay because of old wineskins. The future is now. The Second Reformation has begun. Will you dare to be in the vanguard?


CELL GROUPS ARE FOR CHILDREN TOO-By Dr. Lorna Jenkins

When Jesus took a child and set him in the midst of the disciples (Matthew 18:2) he was doing more than making a point about status seeking in the Kingdom. He was also demonstrating something important about the nature of the family of God.

Children belong in the family of God. They are not potential member "when they grow up." They are not to drift around on the edge of the family of God, nor are they to be put into high class baby-sitting service to keep them happy while the adults do their "church" thing. The children need to be close to the church family so that they know they have a whole community of spiritual aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers who surround them with love. They need good models of what Christians are like: father models, mother models, teenage models, single models, senior citizen models. Every person in the church is valuable in the life and experience of the children. They can offer friendship, conversation, company, answers to questions, and prayer.

The adults also need the children. Like the disciples, we tend to get the life of the Kingdom upside down. We think that status is based on age, or education or spiritual maturity. Jesus reminds us that in God's eyes we are all children-children of the Heavenly Father and that status never changes, no matter how old we grow. Like children we are asked to honor and obey our Divine Parent.

If, therefore, children are a vital part of the church family, how do they fit into a cell group church? Why should the children's ministry have a different philosophy and method from the rest of the church? When you examine the important reasons for having cell groups as the core units of adult church life, you can quickly see that those reasons are just as valid for children. Like adults, children need to come to faith and grow spiritually. They need friendship and encouragement and support for their lives. They need a place to ask questions and share their troubles. They need a place to learn how to serve others, and how to pray for, and reach out to, their friends. Even though children have different levels of understanding and experience, they still need to be recognized as people and followers of Jesus.

There are two models of incorporating children into a cell group church. Both models work in different contexts. Both contexts are valuable. Different churches have chosen to use one or both styles of ministry at different times.

Model #1: Children's Cell Groups

Children need to have cell groups with their own peers. This means they can discuss their problems in the forum to which they belong. Children can minister most effectively to each other and pray for each other with sincerity and spontaneity. I have seen children praying earnestly for each other's school tests, families, sickness, bad habits, journeys, pets, and other unchurched friends. I have seen children give counsel to each other in problems in a way an adult could not have done; we don't live in their playgrounds with their contemporaries.

A children's cell group is marked by a sense of belonging. The leader is respected, but is also accepted as a member of the group. There is a different vocabulary. We do not speak of "Teachers, pupils, lessons, classes,: etc. That describes a schooling model. Instead we speak of leaders, members, studies, groups. The relationship is that of a family. The leader is guide, facilitator, model, pastor and equipper. The aim is not to produce Bible graduates but to produce Christians whose lives are dedicated and effective. It is "Life Knowledge: rather than "Head Knowledge." This does not mean there is no Bible teaching. Rather, the Bible is central as our great resource in growing in our faith and ministry. Children are taught to participate in discovering the Bible, and to get involved in working it out in the hard battleground of the school yard and the home front.

Children's cell group is flexible. They are not limited to one time-frame or one purpose. One children's cell group may be a nurture group for young Christians. Another may be a group involved in some ministry-perhaps worship, or a special project. Another children's cell group may be an outreach group-like a target group. In all cases, the relational element is essential. All the children must have the chance to report in on what is happening in their lives and to find help, prayer and understanding. If we do not know the children's needs, how can we minister to them?

If Sunday morning is a difficult time for some children, a children's cell group can be held on Friday afternoon, Sunday after lunch, or any time a group of children can be gathered round a leader. Some churches have children's cell groups at the same time as adult cell groups, with joint worship and sharing.

Children's cell groups have the same growth dynamic as adult cell groups. The ideal size for a children's cell group is an attendance figure of eight. If that number grows beyond twelve, the group should divide. This means we need to plan to divide. Every children's cell should have a trainee leader- an intern in training. This parson learns leadership through watching and modeling the work of the leader. The leader should spend time explaining what is happening and letting the intern take leadership under supervision. Then, when the time comes to divide, there is a leader ready who already knows the children so they do not feel they are being sent off with a stranger. One thing that has been proved in churches which use children's cell groups is that they do grow. Children love to come to a group where their Christian lives and service are taken seriously.

When a child who does not come from a Christian home comes to the group, it is essential for the other children to realize they have a responsibility towards that child. Children should not be embarrassed because they do not know much about the Bible. Their attendance should not be criticized. It may be hard for them if they come from a divorced family or a family which has other priorities on Sunday. The children need to be taught to make their group a loving welcoming place for new children.

CHILDREN'S CELL GROUPS ARE NOT JUST A DEVICE TO KEEP THE CHILDREN HAPPY...THEY ARE A VITAL PART OF YOUR CHURCH.

Some of these problems can be handled well if the children in a cell group are of mixed ages. This often frightens the leaders at first, but once they have tried it, most leaders are delighted with the results. Discipline is easier in a group where the ages are mixed. There is not as much tendency to gang up against one or two children or against the teacher. There is less aggression. Children are usually happy to minister to children one or two years younger than themselves. They will come alongside to help. Younger children look up to the older children and try to be like them. The children are usually more sensitive to children with special needs.

Curriculum is often a problem in this area because it is age graded. But then, most existing curricula are not designed for
children's cell groups. That is why many leaders are experimenting with their own material. Faith Community Baptist Church in
Singapore is developing their own, and I am writing some for churches in New Zealand. However, ordinary curriculum can be
adapted if the leaders have a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve. Dealing with children across a wider age group
works very well once people are accustomed to the idea. (This topic really needs its own article.)

Model #2: Integrated Adult/Children Cell groups:

The group meets together and has some time of worship and sharing together. Everyone prays for each other. The children then go to another activity-their own cell group or maybe sleep or homework. At the end, they come back together to report in and eat together. Sometimes they have a children's evening. That night, they meet earlier and do things that the children can enjoy-drama, storytelling testimony, singing, music, drawing etc. Sometimes they plan a "child-free night." Every-one in the group gets a baby-sitter.

This model works well because the children really get to know the adults of the cell group. They are not just their parent's friends. The cell group is often enriched by the contributions of the children. Often they challenge the wisest heads. The children learn that other adults apart from their parents love and follow Jesus. It also makes it easier for new adults to bring along their children to the group instead of leaving one parent out. It is often a good thing for one adult to take special concern for the children and have a few special activities available for a moment of need. However, each adult will have something to offer the children and the children will minister to the adults.

Conclusion:

Children's cell groups are not just a device to keep the children happy. They are a vital part of a cell group church. They may be organized with a zone pastor and with training for group leaders. Children who grow up in a cell group need to experience the life of the church from their earliest years. You cannot keep them in a "school" atmosphere and then expect them to relate to the cell group congregation later. Jesus gathered the children around him. He did not send them off to a school. The children need to understand the loving community in which they are growing into mature Christian life.

Code of Ethics : FOR CHILDREN'S LEADERS

Believing that God is calling me to serve children in this community

  1. My first priority in leading children will be to seek the welfare of the children; physically, socially, educationally and spiritually.
  2. I will try sincerely to meet with the child's family so that we can get to know and understand each other, for the benefit of the child. I will also try to understand and respect the child's cultural background.
  3. I will give the parents or care-givers full information about the program I am leading and what time it begins and ends. I will CO-operate with the parents in seeing the child gets home safely.
  4. I will not do anything that will damage a child's trust. I will try to protect the child from all forms of abuse while he or she is in my care.
  5. If I suspect that a child may be hurt by the abusive actions or attitudes of another person I will report that suspicion to a responsible person so that it can be investigated.
  6. If I wish to talk to the child alone, it will be within the sight and sound of other people.
  7. I will answer a child's questions openly and honestly. I will tell the parents how their child is responding in attitudes, behavior, growing maturity and faith.
  8. I will work with the children to set some agreed guidelines for acceptable behavior within the group. I will expect the children to act on the basis of those guidelines and if a child consistently breaks them I will try to find out why.
  9. If a child is distressed, I will try to offer comfort and help. I will encourage them to find the appropriate help for their needs. I will pray for each child regularly and let them know that I care about them.

The Activity of a Growing Cell Church-Dr. Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr.

American pastors come to me with questions about how the structure of a Cell Church operates. More and more I see the grave danger of their queries. Those of us in this ministry realize that structure is nothing more than a tool to shape the activity involved. A Cell Church is a movement, not just the establishing of a "parish" of local communicants. While a traditional church focuses on erecting a building and inviting people in the immediate area to visit it, a Cell Church aggressively "targets" unreached populations and seeks to establish cells to equip and evangelize.

The only boundary a Cell Church recognizes is the Kingdom of God. Those beyond its borders are targeted to be "called out" (ecclesia), brought under the reign of Christ. Thus, the action of a cell church is cyclical:

  1. All worship at the Throne of the King of Kings in "Celebrations;"
  2. All Kingdom citizens are equipped to edify one another (oikodomeo), thus creating a supernatural culture;
  3. All "Cell Groups: are located within society's structures-to call those "outside" the Kingdom to "come in."

CELL GROUP ACTIVITY REQUIRES SPECIAL TRAINING:

Since 1961, I have been involved in writing and testing evangelism materials. Long ago, I became aware that most of them were methods to make a quick foray out of church buildings to "evangelize" the lost. Most of them give ways to share a database of scriptures to bring people to Christ. It isn't working very well! The reason? Becoming a Christian is not accepting a "formula." Instead, it's adopting lifestyle. That isn't taught: it's caught. It is for this very reason that the god who gave us the written word sent the Living Word to model Kingdom life.

IT'S A MATTER OF VALUES:

Happy Leman recently said to me, "we can never attempt another man's program unless we first learn and adopt his values." Jesus valued the harvesting of broken lives more than anything else. He befriended publicans, prostitutes, and tax collectors. He took a long journey to touch one wrecked woman in Samaria. If a Cell Church is to be effective in its activity, it will have to adopt the value system of Chris's activity!

First of all, we must realize His incarnation was His first step in reaching lost mankind. He came to "seek and to save" the lost. This aggressive activity marked His value system. Cell members must penetrate the lives of those who have none. They must exist to reach out to sinners, not fellow saints. To do this, they must be willing to spend time with and among unbelievers.

It is not enough to simply bring a person to a place of repentance and personal conversion. It is also necessary for each person to grow to spiritual maturity. We must provide the seeker with an environment, a community of believers, where biblical Christianity is openly accepted and lived. It is in such a community that the seeker is carried like an unborn child. The unbeliever observes the members of such a community, taking careful note of their spiritual, social, mental, and physical welfare and development. An unbeliever coming to Christ must have an environment in which Jesus is openly accepted as Lord, talked about and lived. If the person does not have this, his whole response will be weak and may even die away.

Second, our Lord made very few references about eternity to unbelievers. I doubt He would ever have started a conversation with a prostitute with, "If you were to die today . . ." Instead, He described His message by quoting from Isaiah's prophecy. With the Spirit of the Lord upon Him, H would bring sight to the blind, good news to the poor, set captives free, and lift up the broken hearted ones. I recently read a book on human values. It isolated 18 ultimate values held by people. One of the 18 was "salvation." When churchgoers ranked the 18, most gave "salvation." When churchgoers ranked the 18, most gave "salvation." a rating of 1,2, or 3. But non- church goers rated "salvation" at the bottom of the list every time! Our offer of salvation" presents to many unbelievers a future life they are not interested in. We need to see that sin's sting cries out for the Balm of Gilead. The half-dead man in the parable of the Good Samaritan didn't need the legalistic lectures of the Pharisee: he needed the oil and wine used by the Samaritan, a donkey ride to an inn, and constant care by others.

Jesus related to people, eating with them, earning their confidence. When they displayed their wounds, He healed them. That was "good news!" Who would turn away from One who brings peace? Our evangelism must include ministry, not just formulas. Third, Jesus demonstrated the supernatural power of the Kingdom as He evangelized. People thronged to Him because of His ability to restore broken limbs and lives. Those who come to Christ through power encounters mature faster than those who are converted through a brief explanation of how to be saved.

THE "TRILOGY" TO EQUIP CELL MEMBERS FOR THEIR ACTIVITY IS NOW READY;

It has taken me 23 years to write, test, rewrite, revise, and retest the equipping materials in the new series. Building Bridges, Building Groups, and Building Awareness. The Way Home, an investigative Bible study is also ready for use.

This six-month equipping experience is designed to follow the training in Knocking On Doors, Opening Hearts. Cell churches who are making these manuals a consistent part of preparing each member for ministry find a well tested strategy to help Christians learn and adopt new values for reaching the lost. The materials are to be used 5-10 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for six months. Those using the daily guidelines must simultaneously be reaching out to unbelievers through evangelism cells. These 9-person small groups meet apart from the weekly Cell Group meeting for 10 weeks, focusing entirely on the needs of the unreached.
If you are assigned to equip other believers, get a set of these books and block off a few hours to flow through them. You will quickly see a small group evangelism strategy interlaced with value- changing activities. Those who complete this ministry training will never be the same again!*

Each person and each team who undergoes this preparation will be ready for a lifetime of targeting unreached people-the activity of a Cell Group Church.

OUR SINGAPORE EXPERIENCE-Happy Leman, Pastor, Champaign Vineyard Christian Fellowship, Champaign, IL

An island that is famous for its beauty, Singapore Slings (a famous drink), and modern architecture, is about to become famous for something else-cell groups (small groups). The emergence of a true Cell Group Church under the leadership of Lawrence Khong and Ralph Neighbour has implications that will not only impact the island nation of Singapore but many places throughout the world.

In March of 1992, my wife Dianne and I had the opportunity to attend the Cell Group Conference held at Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore. It was one of those rare experiences that defines the remainder of our lives in a powerful way. This article will describe what we saw, what we gained, and how it will impact the American church scene.

To put everything in context, I've been a pastor of a Vineyard Christian Fellowship (in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois ) for a number of years. We began small groups in 1982 and have tried various models and ideas. Our interest in Dr. Cho's model has always been near the forefront, but we have been unable to completely understand what he was doing and how to proceed as a true Cell Group Church. In July 1991, a friend handed me Ralph Neighbour's book, Where Do We Go From Here? This friend stated that the book was profound and would have a significant impact upon me. Upon reading the book, I saw glimpses of something I had always longed for a church that was both committed to evangelism and discipleship. Yet for the next nine months my wife and I (and staff) struggled to get a handle on the book.

Then in March 1992, we attended the conference in Singapore. It was like the experiments we did in high school chemistry labs where we added several chemicals to a container. we then added one final ingredient which caused the entire solution to crystallize in an instant. Our week in Singapore crystallized all we had been struggling with for the last nine months and actually for the last twelve years. It was as though a divine impartation was given to us from the Holy Spirit as we encountered the people of Singapore.

WHAT WE SAW

In Singapore we saw people that were in love with Jesus Christ in a way we had never seen before. We were so stunned by the outward expression of love that we asked the leadership of Faith Community Baptist Church whether or not all Singapore people acted this way. They responded by simply stating that we should watch the people on the streets, in the subways, and in the shops. They asked us to see whether or not these people were full of the same kind of love. They obviously were not, as they were as worldly as any that we saw in America. Jesus had indeed done something to the people of this church that was beyond anything we had ever encountered.

As we dug deeper, we realized these people were committed to a vision of partnering with Jesus Christ. They were committed to doing His work. And winning the lost and building them into quality disciples. They were not doing the work of the Kingdom because Pastor Khong or Ralph Neighbour had told them they had to, but rather because of an intense love and passion for their Savior, Jesus Christ.

To illustrate this point, I met several men that had quit high paying corporate jobs to simply be involved in the church on a full time basis. I was stunned at the ease with which they gave up six figure salaries to become part of a church staff that paid far less. Upon asking them why, they quickly responded that this was an opportunity of a lifetime to be serving as a partner of Jesus Christ. The people of Singapore allowed their individual passion for Jesus to be molded into a corporate vision. That corporate vision was essentially to reach the island nation of Singapore with a Cell Group Church that would penetrate into every people group on the island. They saw the Cell Group Church as a vehicle to accomplish the dream the Holy Spirit had placed in their heart. They knew that the accomplishment of the dream would bring great glory to Jesus Christ. We also saw a people that were committed to prayer in a very unusual way. In fact, I believe my wife and I received all we did because of the enormous amounts of prayer prior to and during the conference itself. There is no other explanation for the profound experience that we had. They believe prayer is the key to overcoming the darkness that surrounds the island and keeps the people from receiving Jesus Christ.

In addition to what I've already stated, we saw people committed to the values of the Kingdom. They were willing to serve one another, live in community, and flow with the Holy Spirit in a very special way. All of these features came together to produce a church that would make any pastor in America a tad bit envious.

WHAT WE GAINED:

We gained so much that it is impossible to describe it in this short article. I will start by saying that the insights we gleaned came in an English speaking context. (Although the Singapore people are primarily Chinese, English is the official language.) Because of this English context, I believe we were able to understand and comprehend more fully than we have been able to with other models around the world that are in other languages.

The concepts that we gathered were priceless. It was as though God took them from theory and placed them in our hearts in reality. I can't describe it but I know it happened.

In fact, it happened so fully that we returned home with the ability to transmit what we had learned to others. It was as though God deposited something in our lives that we were able to give away without losing to many other people. As of July 1992, we have shared with over 50 churches with regard to what we have gained and have already seen significant impact. (In fact, we have started a separate ministry called North Star Strategies to help other churches learn what we are learning.)

One thing is for sure-we shortened the amount of time it takes to learn what they are doing in Singapore. This is not a quick process and therefore the conference was a valuable tool in helping us get a handle on what we need to do and where we need to go. We believe it probably took a full year out of the learning cycle of what we are doing because we were able to see things happening right before us.

SMALL GROUPS IN THE AMERICAN CONTEXT

Obviously the true Cell Group Church has rarely done well on a large scale basis in the United States. I believe several things have been at the root of this particular problem. The first of these is that we want to adopt the Cell Church Structure so that we can grow big churches. We are not willing, however, to dig out the underlying values and support mechanisms that make it happen in other cultures.

John Wimber has taught those of us in the Vineyard that we can never attempt another man's program unless we first learn and adopt their values. This is a profound statement that the Hold Spirit has reminded me of continually since the Singapore Conference. Many pastors have tried to grab the structural ideas without integrating the values. We believe the Cell Church must proceed from values to structure, rather than structure to values.

Therefore, we believe the American church must put the major emphasis on the side of value change rather than structural change. One toll from Touch Publications that has been helpful is Life Basic Training. Ralph originally wrote this material to help people locked in Program Based Churches to transition to Cell Group Churches. We have found it to be a profoundly important tool in transitioning our church.

We've also seen that the complete strategy of moving to a Cell Group Church has several major components beyond structure. While structure is important, the omission of these other strategy components will cause a breakdown in the implementation of the Cell Group Strategy. Following is a list of what I currently see are important in regard to the entire strategy.

Structure- The correct structure will not make the Cell Group Church happen, but the wrong structure could keep it from happening. Thus we do need to look at our structures and make sure they are compatible with the direction we are heading. By structure I mean the way we make decisions, allow ministry candidates to their potential, and transfer ownership of the entire congregation. Values- These are extremely important in that Americans say the right things but often don't do them. For example, we say evangelism is important but spend very little time doing it. In order for the Cell Group Strategy to work, we must not only say the right values but have them implemented in our lives.

Context- By this we mean that we must understand God's plan and purpose for this generation. His Word speaks of a great outpouring in the end times and His purpose through Abraham was to both bless him and to make him a blessing to all nations of the earth. It is time we as the church understand that God is also interested in fulfilling the second part of that promise - making us a blessing to the nations. This would best be seen in bringing them into relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ.

Relational Skills- We believe that relational skills are absolutely essential to implement this strategy. This provides for teamwork, and the ability to listen, confront and freely exchange ideas. Without these skills, the pressures are simply too great to make the transition.

Prayer- This must be birthed in prayer or we will not see it emerge.

The Holy Spirit- We believe that the gifts and leading of the Spirit are the ultimate ingredient that will make all the aforementioned flow together. The Cell Group Church Strategy is working in Singapore. Regardless of the skeptics, I believe it will also work in America. Why? This concept is scriptural and anointed - it appears to be God's idea for our generation.


Cellular Thinking-By Randall Neighbour

I rushed home from work last night, quickly downed a diet Coke, and began an all-out search for vacuum cleaner bags. After finding them, I stormed through the house with my "Dirt Devil" in a whirlwind effort to make the house presentable. I kissed my wife, fed the fish, brushed the dogs, washed the dishes, and then picked up the clothes. This was my weekly preparation for cell meeting at the Neighbours. After the meeting, my wife Etna asked me what I thought of the cell time. My blank stare summed it up well. I had spent the entire cell time wondering if we were going to finish promptly at 9 p.m.
With the exception of having a clean house, the evening was wasted. I had sat through my cell meeting solely because it met at my house. After all, telling everyone to make themselves at home and promptly leaving is a bit rude! But alas, I am a committed cell church member-whether I am apathetic or not!

In the bathtub this morning I was doing a little thinking about by actions last week between cell meetings. Do you realize that your attitudes and actions as a cell member can be easily paralleled to the bathing experience? You can grab a washcloth and soap and embrace the experience as a time of cleansing, just sit there in the hot water until your toes get all shriveled up like a prune, or just get in a dry tub fully clothed and never touch the faucet!

Recently our shepherd spoke to the cell about three edification factors:

Positive edification is an action by a Christian who lays down his hidden agendas, personal needs, desires, and lives a lifestyle of outreach to other believers (or as I call it, active bathing). Neutral edification is an action by a Christian who shows up to the meetings, sits around, doesn't act or react to anything, and just doesn't care (an apathetic prune-toed sloth, like I was). Negative edification is the action of being a self-centered Christian. "My needs are more important than anyone else's," "I think we should do this tonight. . . ,"etc.

As you prepare for your cell meeting this week, will you be negative or apathetic? Your decision begins right after your next cell meeting. Take a good hard look at your participation in the cell, and see how well you are doing in regard to the edification factors listed above.

You can build positive edification for everyone in your cell by participating in the following:

Your cell is your spiritual family and your "church." You share your life and bare your soul to these Christians. As you all become transparent to each other, ministry and edification will occur. It's the result of a selfless intent to see God work through you for the common good of the cell and its members. This kind of consistent cell activity fosters personal growth in the Lord, and builds cells toward multiplication. I'm learning to actively bathe myself in daily service and love toward others: how about you?


Why We Do What We Do-by Dan Tapp, Member of the Open Fellowship, Houston, TX

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you shall look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others." Philippians 2:3,4

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO:

If you've been exposed to Bible teachers or preachers for any length of time, you've discovered by now we like to key all the major points of a presentation from a single letter of the alphabet. If you hadn't noticed, use you car radio as a test instrument. Find a religious station. Tune in to a couple of different broadcasts between work and home next week. Sooner or later, a pattern will emerge: If they're going to give you twenty-two parenting precepts to ponder, each one will start with the letter "P". Or, you may get the five "J's" of joyful moments in a marriage or the eight "L's" for learning how to work with wearisome whiners.

Moved by the fond hope that we've actually said or written something worth recalling, we do it to give our audience a set of easy memory "hooks." (It also keeps us from having to glance at our own notes quite so often when we're presenting the sermon or leading the study).

So I build on an established and worthy convention as I use this space to present the first of the Three C's of The Open Fellowship: The Cell, Congregation, and Celebration. It's a guided tour of the way we think and work, and our first stop is the pivotal one. Cells are our basic Christian communities. We prefer to call them Family-Life Home Groups because the word "cell" evokes images of jail or, even worse, high school biology class. Yet, that's not all bad; our Family-life groups do behave a lot like cells in a body: Cells are small. The Open Fellowship cells don't number more than fifteen people. They tend to start off much tinier than that, and eventually attract members until they reach their maximum size. Gravitation of few folks toward a given cell can be influenced by common interest, mutual acquaintances, or simple geography. Cells are simple. No two Family-Life groups have exactly the same personality, yet they all take their strengths from the same fundamental concepts. Each contains a nucleus of one or more seasoned Christians who are committed to the walk of faith and fellowship patterned for us in the New Testament. As these folks systematically open their homes and hearts, they become visible and noticeable to truth-seekers in their spheres of daily contact. Attracted by the personal transparency, humility, and selfless service that are the choice benefits of spiritual maturity, these seekers begin to bond with the original group "nucleus" in an extended family of peers.

The bonding requires much prayer and patience. There are many hurting souls who have been so robbed of thrust that they must spend some time warily testing the group's character and intent before they reveal what capacity for intimacy they still have left. For that reason, a group must never indulge in a secret agenda, must never permit factions, and must never betray an individual's trust.

In time, a cycle builds: as former outsiders draw closer and open up, mature (and maturing) Christians are given more opportunity to serve at points of real need. More importantly, mature Christians sow the seed of mutual accountability as they recognize and quickly seek genuine forgiveness for service opportunities missed or ignored. The lonely, the emotionally abused, and those with low self-esteem learn that their fellowship is wanted, and that it matters when they're overlooked or trespassed against. They become willing, even anxious to forgive (lessons to those of us how should know better), and begin to hold themselves accountable for dysfunctional behavior in their own lives as their hearts are touched by example. As more of these incidents of fellowship, service, individual and group victories, forgiveness and general good times accumulate in the cell's corporate life and memory, Christ becomes more visible, the group dynamics become more attractive to those in its orbit. People surrender to Him.

It's not a secret agenda, but a very important one, calling for patience and gentleness. Group members are to be open to all questions and probes, ready at all times to give answer for the hope that is in them.

All lower-level structures are built entirely of cell (our multiple congregations and our giant Praise Celebration). Because the Family-life home group meets the basic needs of the believer, it replaces the many programs that go on inside the traditional church. The Open Fellowship has no official training hour, visitation night, or regular midweek prayer service. Instead, the extended families in each cell work together to meet member's needs twenty-four hours each day. These cells in turn congregate for the purpose of Bible application study and combined worship and Praise Jesus celebrations.

Cells multiply by dividing. This one hurts, but it's a necessary part of healthy living. As a Family-Life group's stable population gradually surpassed about fifteen, the dynamics change for the worse. People start getting lost in the shuffle. Favorites get played, phone calls go unreturned, birthdays get forgotten. If the group has been Christ-centered up to this point, the "nucleus" of mature Christians that planted the cell in the beginning will have seen evidence of maturity in the lives of some of the other group members. After careful prayer, consideration of practical logistics, and formal preparation of the entire cell membership over the course of several weeks, a percentage of the mature believers will say good-bye, and begin a new cell, generally taking some other members with them. The two groups thus formed are sibling groups and are not in a parent-child relationship. ( A "parent" group might rest on its laurels.) Each of the siblings now carries the pattern for growth imparted by New Testament doctrine and validated by experience. Each of the newborn cells now has the same opportunity and responsibility to begin the cycle again.

Family-Life home groups work hard, and they work well. We don't know everything there is to know about them. We're constantly amazed by the obstacles they overcome, by the personal growth they foster, by the God who works in the and through them. We think they're irreplaceable as a New Testament mandated part of the Christian walk. They are a vital part of the Second Reformation that is sweeping God's church today.

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Contents Copyright 1999 by TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc.