This issue of the Journal discusses a subject that touches a sore spot for most believers. Everyone knows too much debt can ruin your marriage, make you a nervous wreck or potentially make you homeless. But what effect does it have on your personal ministry and God’s unique calling on your life?
Take a good hard look at your current ministry to others and dream a little. In what kind of activities would you be involved if you weren’t forced to put so much time, energy and emotion into paying for stuff you purchased years ago?
This may not be easy to do. Let me explain.
A few years back, I was sure I’d come up with the perfect icebreaker for my cell meeting. I opened with the question, “If you could ask God for anything and be sure you would get it instantly, what would that request be?”
Before I had an opportunity to answer my question—modeling the kind of answer for which I was searching—someone blurted out “Win the lottery!” Then, one by one, every person in the meeting that night said the same thing. I was dumfounded. Some of these people were spiritual giants in my opinion and their answers left me speechless.
The week before, we had taken half the meeting to pray for the lost. We shed tears for family members and close friends. Yet, no one answered the icebreaker the very next week with “I’d ask God to visit Ray in person and bring him to his knees, finally believing God is real and worth worshipping.”
It may be hard for you to dream about ministry opportunities while you think about being free from debt. Why? Because we live in a very materialistic world, and we often consider a more comfortable way of life before we even think about enduring hardship or living simply in order to be a more effective minister of the Gospel. I know it’s my own greatest struggle.
I challenge you to read the cover article and spend some time with the Master. Ask Him to reveal to you what kind of expanded ministry you will do for Him when you get out of debt. Then, try not to be afraid. When I did this, God clearly described some unbelievable future tasks, and I felt like Moses at the burning bush. I never thought God had plans to use me that way! Like standing in line for a new roller coaster ride, I was simultaneously excited and scared. Being led by God isn’t boring, is it? (end of article)
Evangelism - Making Him Known - By Karen Hurston
Goals and Spiritual Parenting: How cell groups in
I was curious. Thousands of small churches dot the vast
Each time I had spoken with the gentle yet dynamic David
Mohan, New Life’s founder and senior pastor, he credited their cell groups with
New Life’s retention and rapid growth. Mohan further sparked my curiosity: in
the midst of a mainly Hindu country scattered with small churches, how has one
cell church won so many people to Jesus and grown so large? I wanted to find
out for myself. So when I was invited to speak to an annual gathering of Bible
college presidents in
DILIGENCE IN PRAYER AND FASTING
What I found during my week’s visit at New Life thrilled and challenged me. In each worship service I observed, Mohan gave substantial time to corporate unison prayer. During a weekly Tuesday evening meeting, I watched group leaders huddle and pray with their area staff pastors and other section leaders. During New Life’s weekly Friday night prayer service, I joined group leaders and others in lengthy sessions of ardent prayer, especially for salvation of the lost.
Each group leader I met talked of spirited times in his or her own devotional life. When I spoke with Vasantha, one of New Life’s nearly 500 section leaders, she quickly pointed to the importance of prayer and fasting, reporting several salvations, healings and miracles that had resulted.
During an early-morning prayer meeting at New Life I sat near the back, praying and pondering. Two nights before, I had talked with Sam, a sectional leader over three men’s groups that he had multiplied from his own group. Sam had excitedly shared about the power of prayer in groups. Three men had recently made salvation decisions. One group member, Raja, is walking again. Raja has diabetes that caused a sore on his ankle so severe that he often could not walk; after a month of their group’s consistent prayer his ankle was healed. Five formerly jobless men in one of his groups are now employed, and one man’s child was healed of typhoid fever the week after his group banded together and prayed.
Knowledge of small group dynamics is good, and reading numerous books about groups is beneficial, but nothing can take the place of a leader and group who join together in fervent, persistent prayer. Nothing brings breakthrough like diligence in prayer and fasting.
ACCOUNTABILITY THROUGH NUMERIC GOALS
Prayer needs specific focus. When I went to New Life’s expansive office to talk with Mohan and his wife Getzial, I walked into several cubicles, each one designated for an area pastor. Every cubicle I saw had one similar item: a listing of that area pastor’s numeric goals for the month.
New Life’s five regional pastors oversee 65 area pastors. Each staff pastor sets four types of annual numeric goals which are further divided into monthly goals: number of salvations; number of water baptisms; number of “Holy Spirit baptisms”; and number of new groups to be added.
But, I wondered, are these numeric goals necessary? Is it not enough to pray that God’s will be done, and do the best one can? When I shared my questions with Mohan, he paused and simply stated, “We Christians must be responsible. We must be accountable.”
New Life’s stress on accountability filters through its leadership. Because New Life’s pastoral staff is prayerfully goal-driven, so are those with whom they serve. Volunteer sectional leaders also set goals in the dynamic 5x5 geographical system, as do the group leaders and assistants.
Those numeric goals are the target of group prayer; many leaders joyfully tell of the salvations that have resulted. Consider Jude, the leader of a men’s group. Jude reminded me that every numeric goal represents people, each one precious to Jesus. He told me about Freddie, who had been a cocaine addict for ten years, and Nelson, an addict for eight. They started going to Jude’s group regularly, and within two months, they had not only given their lives to Jesus, but also now live drug free.
Later, as I spoke with some of New Life’s regional pastors, my thoughts wandered. If our prayers are general, without specific focus, could we be guilty of “sloppy agape,” saying that we want to see the lost saved, but only giving lip service to God’s chief priority? Shouldn’t every group have responsible and accountable Christians who prayerfully set numeric goals for reaching the lost?
TRAINED AND DESIGNATED “SPIRITUAL PARENTS”
Prayer and goals demand workable strategy. New Life’s
primary strategy is for every group to have two designated “spiritual parents,”
a practice they learned from Trinity Christian Centre, a strong cell church in
1. Target. While the group leader guides the entire group, the sole aim of the spiritual parent is to focus on two to three target unbelievers in his sphere of influence. Kanaparathenakumar (Whew! We’ll refer to him as “Mr. K”), a spiritual parent in a men’s group, noticed Srinivasan, a co-worker in his office, and put him on his target list.
2. Intercede. Mr. K started praying for Srinivasan, that God would bring him to salvation, rallying the group to do the same. “Prayer,” I was repeatedly told, “must bathe every effort, especially reaching the lost.”
3. Associate. Mr. K tried to talk with Srinivasan as often as he could. Mr. K soon discovered that Srinivasan’s superstitious upbringing had resulted in great fear. Everything seemed to frighten Srinivasan. The more Mr. K learned about his target friend, the more specifically he knew to pray for him.
4. Lead to Decision. During one conversation, Mr. K finally told Srinivasan, “I know the one God Who can solve all your problems.” He gave Srinivasan a Bible, and asked him to read it, even if he just looked through it casually. Nobody else had offered the fearful man such hope, so Srinivasan slowly read portions of Scripture. The Bible made life understandable to Srinivasan, and he began to accept what he read as truth.
When Mr. K asked him to attend the men’s cell group meeting, Srinivasan went.
Srinivasan found the group “friendly and hospitable.” He enjoyed discussing the Bible passages studied, and was especially interested when people gave reports of healings and the differences God made in their lives. He soon asked Jesus to be Lord of his life and became a regular member of the same men’s cell who had prayed for his salvation.
5. Nurture. But it is not enough only to lead one to salvation. Jesus told us to “make disciples.” Mr. K and the cell group kept encouraging Srinivasan. Within six months Srinivasan started training to become a spiritual parent himself. After two and one-half years, Srinvisan became the group leader’s assistant, anxious to soon lead a group himself.
What would God say to you through the example of the cell
Sidebar: A SHORT HISTORY...
Mohan and his wife Getzial, along with missionary David Stewart, Sr. began New Life in 1973, with seven members meeting in a small home. By 1987, nearly 2,000 people came to a new church building on one of Chennai’s main city roads. But all was not right. As much as Mohan wanted to disciple each person himself, he knew that he was limited. Many of the same people coming in through New Life’s “front door” were leaving through the “back door.” Mohan then began a three-year prayerful search for something that would incorporate people into the local church and to bring them to maturity in Christ.
In 1990, Mohan met Naomi Dowdy, pastor of
Four years later, under Mohan’s impassioned leadership, New Life had completed its transition into a prayer-based cell church. By 1994, New Life had 700 cells, an attendance that had climbed to 7,000, and a growing staff that would identify, develop and mentor lay leaders. By June of 2001, eleven years after New Life began its transition to a cell church, it reported 1,880 cell groups with 18,000 attending seven Saturday and Sunday worship services.
Karen Hurston, author of Breakthrough Cell Groups is an international consultant and speaker to cell churches, based in Gulf Breeze, FL. Visit her web site to learn about her ministry: www.hurstonministries.org
Toolkit - Practical Tips and Testimonies Written by Cell Leaders For Cell Leaders
The cell meeting is about to begin and you’re facilitating. Ted, your worship leader, is late again!
Already overloaded with management responsibilities at work, you were reluctant to take the group’s leadership. But you agreed when you were persuaded that the whole burden wouldn’t fall on you . . . Ted would be there to help.
“But what if I can’t count on him?” you complain. “Finally! There he is . . . Whew!”
“You left your guitar where? . . . And that will take how long?” With sarcastic anger you add: “I need to get you a planner!”
Or maybe it goes like this: You arrived at
However, you become irritated when he hurries through his prayer items — with the same perfunctory tone you’ve heard each week — and then, just as you are about to voice a prayer after taking a moment to listen for God’s direction, Warren cuts you off with a hasty “Amen!”
But it doesn’t stop there. Later during the worship time, you have a sense that God is about to do something incredible. Hearts are opening up to God’s Spirit in a way that’s rare for your group.
And what does
We’ve got to talk, or I’m out of here!
The “Ted-and-Warren syndrome” is not uncommon. It doesn’t take many months of cell leadership to experience some variety of the universal tension that exists between “the deliberate personality” and “the spontaneous personality.” (You know who you are!)
The shortcut solution for this problem is to cluster all of the deliberate folks together, and all those of the spontaneous persuasion somewhere else. Most likely though, one group would dry up, and the other would blow up!
There’s another solution which I think God would prefer learning how to work with those who are wired differently than you. I think it’s called love!
Are you up for reconciling the ancient “Ted-and-Warren” enmity? Let’s see if Wisdom can help us harness together the strengths of the deliberate and the spontaneous. Those you lead will be glad you took the trouble.
Let’s imagine God is the Principal and has called both Ted and Warren into His office.
1. “Ted, don’t use your creative bent as an excuse for
irresponsibility. I am quite creative Myself, but I can also handle details and
follow-through . . . and I want you to be conformed to My image. Believe it or
3. “Ted and Warren, you both need to be less convinced of your own sufficiency and more convinced of your own limitations. Until that happens, you will continue to function independently. That’s not my plan. Working together will require greater humility, but I’ll personally help each of you with that. If you
cooperate with Me, you’ll find a growing respect and even admiration for gifts that are different than yours.”
4. “Ted, preparation is not a bad word. You’re diligent in practicing and writing songs. Be diligent in planning for the meetings. I might even get you a new guitar if I see a greater faithfulness in you.”
6. “Ted and Warren, be patient with one another. Remember how patient I have been with each of you. And while you’re waiting on the changes to happen, be grateful. You’ll see more of Me if I can see more gratitude in you.”
The next day
“Well, it’s not in my schedule, but let’s meet for lunch. I’ll go with you to get one. I feel like doing something spontaneous.”
–Gerrit Gustafson, Wholehearted Worship
As I was reading the Toolkit article “Involve the CIA in Your Cell Group” (Summer 1999), I was reminded of a cell meeting where we were looking for creative ideas to help our cell to be an outreach to our community in the upcoming Christmas season. Many ideas were voiced and discussed.
A guy in our cell suggested we create a roving (traveling) nativity set. We all joked about it and threw it out as a ridiculous idea. Then he quietly said, “Hey guys, I was serious.” He went on to discuss how we could do it. We soon caught the vision he had put forth and made it happen.
That Christmas, we went door to door in our neighborhood. We knocked on the door, sang a carol and replayed the scene of Christ’s birth. We dressed up as Mary and Joseph. We had cardboard cutouts of some animals that our kids held in front of them. We had scripture readings and ended by singing another carol, leaving a salvation message at the door. Our baby Jesus was a little different...she was dressed in a snowsuit!
The next week, we received this note: “Thanks so much for coming to our house. It brightened my day. I was having a hard time that night with worry over the Christmas season. When you showed up, it brought things back into perspective. I really enjoyed it, and I haven’t stopped talking about it.”
Thanks Lord for being patient with us when you want to move in different ways! Help us to have open hearts and minds as to how You want to work in us!
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” - Prov. 4: 23
- Tom and
Choosing a new leader
As you consider those in your group who will soon become leaders, use the F.A.I.T.H. acronym to insure you’ve chosen the right person:
Faithful to commitments he or she has made. Can you depend on this person to follow through? “...the things you have heard Me say, commit to faithful men [Greek = persons] who will be able to teach others.” II Timothy 2:2.
Available with his or her schedule. Does this person manage their time well? Do they currently choose to invest time in ministry instead of serving man? “No one can be my disciple who does not carry his own cross and follow Me. But don’t begin until you have counted the cost.” Luke 14:27-28. Or as one anonymous author wrote, “No one has spare time; people just have different priorities.”
Integrity in his or her personal life. Does this person “have it together” in his or her family, business or professional life? “. . . an overseer must be above reproach.” I Timothy 3:2.
Teachable Spirit. Does he or she want to be in control as a coach would do, or be willing to work as a member of the team? “Obey your spiritual leaders and be willing to do what they say. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be seen as a joy, not a burden.” Hebrews 13:17.
Heart for people. Does this person have a passion for people’s spiritual development, or what is called “a shepherd’s heart?” “Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.” Philippians 2:4.
-George Hoherd, Spring Community Church, Colorado Springs, CO
Giving Birth to Love
A young couple was transferred to our town by the military. They were in their early twenties and she was over eight months pregnant. They had only visited our cell group a couple of times. After one of our meetings, the wife mentioned she was partially dilated and would be having the baby that week. The baby was to be born at home with a midwife and the mother-to-be was getting a little nervous because she had no family in town.
My husband is the leader of our cell group, so we told the
couple to call us when she went into labor. Two days later — well before
sunrise — we got the call. We contacted the other members of the cell to be in
prayer. My husband and I quickly made arrangements for our children and went to
the couple’s apartment. When we got there, half our cell members were already
there! These people took the day off
from work to
We all stayed for most of the day. We cleaned their home from top to bottom (even the a/c filter!). We cooked and washed loads of laundry. As the contractions became stronger and closer, the women were at the bedside coaching and encouraging while the men were in the kitchen listening to everything on a baby monitor. After several hours of labor, we all rejoiced with shouts at the birth or our newest cell member - a healthy
One of my cell members asked a great question in cell a couple of weeks ago. “Are we really ready to begin outreach in the neighborhood around the church building?” This made me stop and think. There are several levels to evangelism in my church, all of which we will participate in to varying degrees. Here’s what we’re doing . . . and it works!
Fishing With A Pole — This is the basic level of evangelism in which each
individual believer participates. During our workday or on spontaneous one-time
occasions, we each have opportunities to serve others. In scripture, Phillip is
waiting by the
Fishing With A Net — Since our relationships with each other form a spiritual and relational network, it is our responsibility to lower this net into the river of humanity and pull out the “fish” caught within. This is evangelism on a cellular level. For example, we bring our friends over for dinner with other cell members, or go fishing or shopping with our workmates and cellmates. This allows for opportunities to get to know each other and facilitates the fellowship of Christ between believers. Remember, they will know we are disciples of Jesus by our love for each other. In order for them to see this, we must strategically create events that will expose unbelievers to our love for each other.
Fishing With a Trawler — On a big fishing boat, professional anglers use a series of nets to cast for vast quantities of fish. It takes a bigger crew to lower and raise the nets, pull in the fish, clean the fish, stow the fish and stuff them with ice for preservation. This is evangelism on a church-wide level and the efforts we are beginning to make in our target neighborhoods. It involves outreach and service to a wide variety of people using all the cells to help with the catch. It is probably because we are not as practiced with this yet that we experience the hesitancy of going out into the “sea of humanity” and face the unknown. But the potential is big.
Fishing With Other Trawlers —
Although you may not feel ready to serve people in your neighborhood with the love, truth, and power of Christ, you must be ready. In fact, it doesn’t really matter how we feel because we are not offering our love, truth, or power; we are offering Christ’s! Let’s all put a few small (or big) wins on the board and become confident in our call and His ability to reach people for Jesus.
- Pastor Steve Reames,
A Mother’s Translation
There were four clergymen who were discussing the merits of the various translations of the Bible. One liked the King James Version best because of its simple, beautiful English. Another liked the Revised Version best because it is more literal and comes nearer the original Hebrew and Greek.
Still another liked Moffatt’s translation best because of its up to date vocabulary. The fourth minister was silent. When asked to express his opinion, he replied, “I like my mother’s translation best.”
The other three expressed surprise. They did not know that his mother had translated the Bible. “Yes, she did,” he replied. She translated it into life, and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw.”
- Author Unknown
Cover Article - By Randall Neighbour
Is Debt Cutting Off Your Ministry To Others?
Years ago, Eskimos in
The Eskimos took hunks of raw meat and buried razor blades deep inside. After freezing the meat to ensure that it was solid, they took it to the far edge of their property and poured blood all around it.
The scent of the blood attracted the wolves, and when they found the frozen meat, they gnawed on it to thaw it and eat. By the time the wolves discovered the razor blades inside, it was too late. Their mouths were numb from the frozen meat and the razor blades had done their work before the wolves sensed they were bleeding to death.
This is how satan uses debt—via instant gratification and “living the good life”—to destroy us. He makes us numb to its effects on our ministry as we chew on the stuff we purchased and reel from the interest payments that follow. Every time satan gets us fixed on our own debt problems, he knows he’s cut off a part of our ministry to others. After all, we cannot serve God and money (Matthew ).
Is your ministry suffering?
Here are a few simple indicators that debt or “living large” has taken you out of your God-given ministry to one degree or another.
Prayer Life — Is it hard to pray for others and really focus on them when you’re alone? Do you find yourself so occupied with buying something new or paying bills that you have forgotten your priorities as a believer?
Giving — Do you wince in fear each time you tithe from your paycheck? Is tithing something you’d rather begin after you get out of debt? Do you want to give to a special cause but do not because every extra dollar must go to a creditor?
Time — Do you invest so much time at your high-stress job that there’s no time for ministry after work or on weekends? Are you in a stressful job or career track because of debt or a deep desire for
Decision-making — Do your day-to-day decisions reflect your wants and debt load, instead of what God wants for you? Have you moved your household to take work elsewhere without finding a better church home first, basing the decision on ministry before money?
Rest — Have you taken a vacation in the last two or three years? Did it put you further in debt or keep you from tithing?
Lifestyle — Are you living in a home, driving a vehicle or spending as if your income was higher than it actually is?
Saving — Are you able to put away retirement and college tuition money each month after you tithe, pay bills and buy the things you need?
The object of these questions isn’t to make you angry or depressed! As each does for me, I hope they challenge you to stop and think: “What ministry have I set aside because I am stressed out and in debt or focused on things that have no eternal value?”
How it feels to be debt free
A number of cell leaders and pastors sent me testimonials about being in debt and what it means to their personal ministries to be out of debt today. Don’t stop reading this issue before you read each one.
Along with these testimonies, I’d like to share my own feelings. I’ve been out of credit card and transportation debt for a number of years and it feels great! I sleep well at night. I wake up thinking about the ministry opportunities ahead, who I can help and how I’ll invest my time. While I still battle my fleshly desires, my purpose in life is clear . . . to invest in those who do not know Jesus and build up those who do. I used to be consumed with my financial problems. Now I’m consumed with my ministry to others.
It’s time to redeem your ministry!
If you’ve realized debt has diminished or neutralized your ministry to others, it’s not too late to correct the problem and get back on course. Here are a few ideas I’ve pulled from my financial planning research and my own life:
1) Get outside help from an expert. Any of the non-profit credit counseling services will be helpful. Crown Financial Ministries (www.crown.org) is a great ministry to check out too. The best help is always calling out to a person outside of the well in which you are currently drowning.
2) Share your emerging, new lifestyle with your cell group
and ask them to help. You may have years of work ahead of you to get out of
debt, and you’ll need their
3) Get into a strong, accountable relationship with another believer in your cell who has conquered debt. If everyone in your group struggles with debt, ask your pastor to help you find someone.
4) Look for ways to pray and minister to others in your
cell group, shifting the focus off of yourself and on to others. What prayer
5) As you make the journey out of debt and into financial freedom, share your triumphs and self-discoveries with your cell group. Too often, debt-laden cell members only share burdens. Don’t make your meetings gloomy! Brighten up your next gathering with a praise report, even if it’s a small one.
6) When you’re debt free, be a good friend to someone
who’s stuck. A person in debt over their head really needs your
As you walk out from under the oppressive cloud of debt and/or materialism, you are going to see your spiritual potential. Your future is fantastic! Soon enough, you’ll be a group leader, coach, pastor, or even a foreign missionary. I know this sounds scary, but God has incredible plans for you. Don’t let debt get in the way of God’s dream for you and your family.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:7-9
I am just beginning to get out of debt. Debt has helped me to realize that I associated love with money. As a child, many of the times that I felt love from my parents and others involved shopping, gifts, special food, vacations, etc. . . . all things that require money. I remember my dad saying that our family didn’t have any problems that money couldn’t fix. I don’t think he meant for me to hear that comment and take it literally, but I did.
I was never in debt until the last couple of years when the financial blessings I was accustomed to dried up. Now I can see that God was motivating me to examine my relationship with money and to realize that money can only meet physical needs, not emotional and spiritual ones.
My ministry has been positively affected by turning to God
for my needs. I am much more relaxed. I can relate better to people. When I turned to money to meet my needs,
there was never enough love or
— Rae Heaton, Cell Group Coach,
My debt load was really hurting my ministry to others because I placed a higher value on material things than on serving Jesus. I thought that I could “serve” Him by buying things for people and by being a giving person when all the while I was increasing my personal debt. Spending began to take the place of feeling, and it was easy to get caught in the trap of materialism.
Being in debt showed me a lot about myself. I saw my selfishness. When I was in debt, I focused on what I wanted. It was easy to ignore the voice of the Lord and serve myself by buying whatever I wanted. There's a verse in Jonah 2:9 that says, “those who cling to worthless idols (things) forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” I found this verse to be life changing. It’s so easy to cling to things, but I've learned it takes sacrifice and grace to cling to Jesus.
Now that I’m out of debt, I feel set free to serve the Lord in whatever way He leads. Jesus is Lord over my finances, and now I don’t worry about “things” because God supplies all my needs. I have a clearer picture of the difference between needs and wants. Jesus is all we need; and everything else is a “want.”
Actually, I could write a ton more about this and how God set me free from debt and from the habit of buying. Praise God, in Him we have the victory! Many believers are caught in the maze of materialism. I believe its one of satan’s greatest ploys to distract believers from serving God.
— Jane Hyatt, Seven year missionary to
My wife and I combined a substantial debt in our marriage. Mostly it was medical and hospital bills from past illness, but there were credit card debts as well, all totaling over $30,000. We decided jointly to eliminate debt and began by praying together, cutting up all credit and gas cards, and committing to giving to our church and missions. I believe God honored that commitment and desire, after all He tells us, “...the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Prov. 22:7) We were able to totally get out debt in about 3 years through budgeting and God’s miraculous restoration of our finances.
Being in debt was very hard on our marriage and led to many conflicts, but upon becoming debt-free (excluding our mortgage), we felt a huge release and have vowed to remain free from long-term debt. Also, we had chosen to home school our children. This has required us to make greater sacrifices in the area of spending to keep one parent at home. But God is faithful and He has provided!
These changes have allowed us to minister to many of our friends in our small group and family, as
— Mike Hardcastle, Leader in Training,
I just baptized a new believer and her daughter. She and her husband are trying to start over financially, and moved with nothing to our city. Our church is helping them through mentoring. Their old mistakes and debt make everything many times harder now. She recently told me, “I ran up a debt of thousands of dollars and lost my apartment because I didn’t know you had to pay back the credit card company. No one ever told me.” She is 19 years old. [Ed. note: Don’t forget to teach your children about credit and the dangers of debt!]
— Dr. James L. Hoefer, Senior
Pastor, Living Christ Fellowship,
Callout Box: Reasons for becoming debt free
Christians today are generally polarized into two opposite groups. One feels that the Word of God forbids any and all kinds of debt at all times (see Romans 13:8). Some of these even feel that debt is a sin. The other group assumes that debt is an acceptable and normal way of life that God often uses to meet the needs of His people. Neither of these viewpoints is totally accurate. Although debt is not a sin, it also is not a normal way of life, according to Scripture.1 Rather, debt is a dangerous tool that must be used, if at all, with extreme caution and much prayer due to its potential for enslaving people in financial bondage (see Proverbs 22:7).
Why debt is dangerous
The following are reasons why debt needs to be treated with extreme caution:
1. Debt presumes on the future. When people commit themselves to payments over a period of time, they are presuming that there will be no pay reductions, no loss of job, and no unexpected expenses. That is an improbable assumption (see Proverbs 27:1).2
2. Debt lowers future standards of living. Money that is borrowed today must be repaid over time along with interest, which means that those things purchased with credit will cost more “tomorrow” than they did today. Therefore, the standard of living will have to be adjusted to compensate for the added expense.
3. Debt focuses on facade decisions rather than real-life decisions. Debt encourages people to make decisions based on whether they can afford a monthly payment, rather than whether they can afford the total cost (purchase price, operational expenses, and finance charges) of the item. Debt makes it too easy to say yes to low monthly payments while ignoring the real cost of items.
4. Debt leaves people at the mercy of the power of compound interest. If consumers pay the minimum monthly payment on a $1,000 debt at 19.8 percent rate of interest and never charge anything else on that account, it will take eight (8) years to pay back the $1,000 and they will pay $2,023 for the privilege of charging $1,000. In some cases, items charged on nationally accepted bank credit cards can cost upwards to eight times the original purchase price of the item by the time the bill is paid off. 3
5. Debt could delay God’s plan. God said that He would provide for His people’s needs. Debt allows needs to be met now, from a means other than through God’s provision. Debt provides instant gratification, at the expense of financial freedom, rather than waiting on God’s perfect plan and His perfect timing.
6. Debt clouds the line that separates wants, desires, and needs. Needs are necessary purchases such as food, clothing, shelter, medical coverage, transportation, and others. Wants involve choices about quality of goods. Discount shopping versus specialty shopping, lobster versus chicken, or a new car versus a good used car, and so on. Desires are those things that can be purchased only after all other obligations are met and only if there are surplus funds available to purchase them.4 Debt allows desires to become wants and wants to become needs.
7. Debt encourages impulse buying and overspending. The chief financial officer of a national credit card company said that consumers spend on the average of 25 to 30 percent more when they charge than if they purchase with a check or cash and that a great majority of those extra purchases are the result of impulse buying. Unrestricted debt assumption and credit cards have provided the means to immediately buy beyond the means to repay, without sacrificing needs and necessities.5
8. Debt stifles resourcefulness. In a society that lives by the premise of “I want, what I want, when I want it,” the need to be resourceful — mending clothing, resoling shoes, and changing oil — in order to save money is no longer relevant. It is more convenient to purchase new or to charge services simply by “putting it on plastic,” and then paying for it later, regardless of interest or finance charges.
9. Debt eliminates family financial planning. Rather than planning for the future and allowing for a margin of errors, overruns, and changes to dictate future financial development, debt eliminates the necessity for future planning because the course for the financial future of the family will have already been set: pay the debt that has been accumulated.
10. Debt teaches children that the world’s method of managing money is normal. Debt causes children to have a casual regard for using credit cards, obtaining loans and mortgages, and keeping vows to pay the bills. For this reason, we have children who have graduated from college by borrowing for education expenses and living to the limit of their credit cards.6 They have never considered paying cash for transportation or anything else and have begun adult life with so much debt that they have to work for years just to pay for the debt accumulated during their college years.
Debt-free living is still God’s plan for His people today. The blessings of becoming debt free go far beyond the financial area. They extend to the spiritual and material realms as well. No one who is financially bound can be spiritually free. And the effects of financial bondage on a marriage relationship are devastating. Currently 50 percent of all first-time marriages fail, and the primary reason for the failure is financial incompatibility.7 Therefore, it is to all Christians’ advantage to strive to become debt free.
Footnotes (and a great reading list too):
1 Larry Burkett, Debt-Free Living, Moody, 1989, pp. 57-58
3 Larry Burkett, Making Ends Meet, Christian Financial Concepts, 1997, p.32
4 Larry Burkett, The Complete Guide to Managing Your Money, Inspirational, 1996, p. 53
6 Larry Burkett, Finances for Children and Teenagers, Christian Financial Concepts, 1994, p. 18
7 Larry Burkett, Answers to Your Questions About Debt and Credit, Christian Financial Concepts, 1999, p. 2
(This callout box was reprinted with permission from Crown Financial Ministries, Inc., 1-800-722-1976, www.crown.org.)
(end of article)
Randall Neighbour is the editor of CellGroup Journal, and the
president of The Cell Group People™ and TOUCH® Outreach Ministries. He and his wife are coaching cell groups in a local church in
Feature Article - By
Is There Really a Cell Group Potion #9?
There’s no “magic potion” to make your group successful.To see your cell grow, you must focus on the basics.
Is your cell group working and running on all cylinders? Or are you just hoping to make it from week to week, praying that somehow it will be good? What does it take to change an average group into an excellent group? If we could find a secret potion for solving this problem, we could bottle it and sell it!
Some have tried to bottle the answers to these questions by making long “how-to” lists of what a group should and should not do to be effective. These lists focus on when and where you meet, what you study, and who is in your group. They tell you to meet for 90 minutes in a home. Some will tell you that heterogeneous groups are better than homogeneous groups. These are helpful instructions, but following all of them does not guarantee that your group will work!
A couple of years ago, I saw an opportunity to start some groups that did not fit the mold. I had many questions: Can I lead a men’s group on Thursday mornings at a coffee shop? Will a youth cell meeting at school during lunch work as well as meeting in a home? What if a shift worker wants to start a group that meets at or stay-at-home moms want to start a group that meets at ?
While I wrestled with creative ways to start cell groups,
Since Jim initially articulated these four dynamics, I have found that all kinds of groups work when they live out the basics. The type, location and length of a cell meeting aren’t critical to success. If you want your cell to grow and work well, focus on these four elements: Upward, Inward, Outward and Forward.
Move Upward: Love God
Jesus taught us to move Upward in the church when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Sounds simple, but you might be surprised at how easily cell groups miss the point. When the leader gets wrapped up in all of the details — the meeting location, the music selection or thinking up an icebreaker — God often ends up in the back seat.
I once attended a cell group meeting where they did everything right. They sat in a perfect circle, sang songs and prayed. Everyone participated in the discussion. But it lacked life! There was no Upward focus because they put all their energy into “doing the meeting correctly” instead of seeking God.
I love being a part of groups that have a passion for God. These groups love to get together to share and pray. They don’t focus on a perfect meeting. They focus on God and love Him together. These experiences are dynamic, exciting and energetic because God is in the midst.
Move Inward: Love One Another
Jesus continued the Great Commandment with: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 1 John builds upon this saying if we say we love God, yet hate our brother, we are liars. Paul tells the church to walk in love and to consider others as more important that self. In the church, we call this fellowship; we design cell groups so people can experience fellowship with one another.
Many groups think that they have fellowship, but all they have are meetings. Their relationships are limited to two hours on Thursday evenings and surface talk at church services. In the age of easy transportation, fast food, cell phones, email and chat rooms, many cell groups miss Inward because they overlook one another. Cell groups work because people care for one another.
Inward is more than a list activities; it is a way of life. Inward groups eat together, play together, and baby-sit for one another. They make sacrifices to do whatever it takes to share life together and build up one another.
Inward goes beyond the meeting time. If there is no life outside of the meeting, your group will not work. People do not want meetings. They want real life.
Upward and Inward are great experiences in cell groups,
but by themselves they will prove insufficient to carry a group to its ultimate
destiny. Have you ever been a part of a group that started off with great
passion for God and love for one another, but after a few months, the
excitement wore off and people stopped coming? This happens over and over in
groups that limit themselves to Upward and Inward.
Move Outward: Touch the Lost
The Outward dynamic of a cell group is found in the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the earth” (Matthew 28:19-20).
We know that if a church is going to work it must fulfill the Great Commission. The same applies to individual Christians. Logically then, the Great Commission is a necessary component of a working cell group.
Cell group evangelism is the most dynamic, most natural and easiest kind of evangelism. Just put yourself in the shoes of a lost person. Would you respond to a stranger who knocks on your door and asks if he can share Jesus with you? Or would you respond to a neighbor or a co-worker who shows genuine care and then invites you to a party at his home?
Cell groups often fail to move Outward because the only thing they offer is a meeting. Lost people are not attracted to meetings. They are attracted to love. They are looking for life, people who care and a place to belong. When groups have fun together, it is easy to include non-believers and show them love. As they feel this love, they will readily inquire about the Lord.
Move Forward: Make Disciples
The Great Commission is not complete when people walk down the aisle, get baptized or start attending church regularly. Jesus instructs the church and cell groups to lead converts into discipleship.
What is a disciple? Traditionally, a disciple is someone who knows a lot about Jesus, the Bible and the church. Yet in the New Testament, the disciples followed Jesus and became the leaders of the church. Therefore, it seems more logical that discipleship should lead to making leaders, not to consuming more information.
Carl George calls small groups “leader breeders.” But many groups fail to raise up new leaders because the current leader assumes the entire burden of leading the group. Since there is no room for anyone else to do anything, soon the group members determine that they cannot do anything as well as the leader. So they watch him or her do the ministry and the group slowly dies.
Cell groups practice the Forward dynamic when cell members mentor one another. New Christians receive mentoring from adolescent Christians. Adolescent Christians receive mentoring from adult Christians. Adult Christians receive mentoring from leaders, so that they can become future leaders. Everyone brings something to share or offer at weekly meetings. As a result, unbelievers are reached, the group grows and new groups are spawned off. The cells and their members move Forward into a deeper life in Christ.
What will make your cell group work? I wish I could put Upward, Inward, Outward and Forward into a bottle for you, but Jesus did not leave us a list of rules for cell group ministry. He provided the Great Commandment and the Great Commission and challenged us with obedience. The good news is that he made it so simple that anyone can do it! The question is not whether we can make a cell group work, but whether or not we will make it work. (end of article)
Leading Student Cells
Thinking Outside the Lines: Multiplying your cell may not be as hard as you think!
Since my last article, big changes have occurred in my home. Shaelee Riggins was born on April 13, our first child. The biggest challenge has been learning to stay flexible. I have learned that a quiet dinner after a long day of work or catching up on much needed sleep on weekends cannot be planned or guaranteed. In the midst of all this flexibility, I’m learning to think outside the lines.
Just last week, Shaelee wanted to sit on the right side of my lap while I ate. So, I learned to eat with my left hand. A few weeks ago, Holly and I took Shaelee to my mom’s house; we ran out of diapers, giving us another opportunity to get creative!
You’re probably wondering, “Does this have anything to do with student cells, or is this just the writing of a proud new daddy?” The answer is both! Here’s the connection: When we think of student cell multiplication, we must also think outside the lines.
Let’s start with the basic idea of one cell multiplying into two. Multiplication provides a dynamic that is crucial to the future growth of the cells involved.
Multiplication gives new leaders an opportunity to lead and provides more time for deep relational development within the new, smaller cells. But what if the cell isn’t numerically or spiritually ready? What if potential new leadership has not surfaced?
We had two cells that were growing spiritually and numerically. Each one was being lead by a strong, seasoned student shepherd. Both cells were close to being numerically ready to multiply, but they really weren’t strong enough to each birth a new cell. We had one new shepherd who was ready to lead a new cell, but leadership for the fourth cell was questionable. Upon further evaluation, we realized that it might be a good time to shift some of the students around, based on the strengths and weaknesses we saw in the cells that were about to multiply. When the dust settled, we had three cells, each with a good mix of students and a strong leader. You can use this method many different ways: three cells becoming four, four cells becoming six, etc.
On a different subject, our 7th and 8th grade students are in cells with students of the same gender and grade. Therefore, every year we are creating new 7th grade cells.
This isn’t the only way a new cell can be created. It can also be done by a new leader who is committed to beginning a new group from scratch.
Characteristically, this type of cell begins when a student is burdened with the desire to reach a particular club, team, neighborhood, campus, or other peer-related group for Christ.
As you approach multiplication, ask yourself these questions:
1) Are you spending time praying with your cell and leadership concerning multiplication?
2) What is the average number of students attending your cell each week?
3) What are you doing to develop and empower new leadership?
4) Are there other cells that might benefit from joining in on a creative way of multiplying?
5) Do you see your cell—or a specific member of your cell—beginning to focus on a particular campus, neighborhood, or other peer-related group?
6) Have you sat down with your youth leader to discuss what you see happening in your cell and what your multiplication options are?
As you plan, don’t lose heart! God is calling each one of us to remain faithful. Find your Bible and read Psalm 24:3-6. Seeing people come to Christ, watching our cells expanding, and having a part in reaching our schools and neighborhoods for Christ are all things that certainly bring glory to God and bless our lives in immeasurable ways! The key to those blessings is our faithfulness. . . . Live each day with “clean hands and a pure heart” that is set on the One who loves us unconditionally and is pleased when we live life available and flexible to His call. (end of article)
Editorial - By
Freedom from the Power of Sin: Your cell group is so much more than a weekly meeting!
One of the most important reasons for living in cell group community life is the way Christ works in the group to bring individual freedom from the power of sin. His death on the cross has set us free from the penalty of sin, and His return will set us free from the presence of sin.
Paul brilliantly explains why cell life is the source for discovering release from sin’s power. In Philippians 2:4, he gives us a statement that we use to close each cell group in my home church: “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” To illustrate the importance of doing this, he explains that Jesus gave up his rights and came to the earth as a man, and dying on the cross . . . all because He was willing to look after our need to receive freedom from sin’s penalty.
Your cell group is not just a gathering of Christians. When the cell is truly formed by the activity of the Holy Spirit, it becomes the literal body of Christ, inhabited by Him and directed by Him to reach pre-Christians. His life within the cell is the power that releases us from sin’s curse.
Thus, he writes in Philippians 2:12-13: “. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (NIV)
It is important to note that in the Greek the “your” and “you” pronouns are both in the plural, not the singular form. It is in the context of a cell that we work out a common salvation from the power of sin. Christ’s presence empowers each member to manifest spiritual gifts that build up each person. Thus, this salvation is not so personal as it is community salvation.
Have you ever smashed your finger in a car door or hit your thumb with a hammer? Your whole body responds to the pain! It impacts your eyes (they begin to water), your heart (it beats faster), and all of your body pauses in its activity to share in the moment of misery. It is the same with the cell. When one member suffers, all share the pain. The healing of one part of the body brings joy and peace to all the rest.
Confess one to another
But there is still another facet of salvation from the power of sin we must consider. When we privately seek victory over strongholds, we are not accountable to anyone afterwards. Like New Year’s resolutions, we typically fall back into the same old patterns. But when we expose our sin to the other members of the cell, there is accountability. Our fellow cell members can observe, monitor, and admonish us if there is slippage.
One day, our cell was called together by one of the wives. It was not our normal cell night, so we knew something special was going on. When we arrived, we were asked to sit around the kitchen table. As she put a box of tissues on the table, I knew we were about to hear a confession. She and her husband had a marriage on the rocks. Her husband had moved out for a couple of years and had only recently returned to live with her. Her first words were, “I have called you together to confess my sin.”
She shared massive infidelities, all related to her employment which required her to land large contracts for her employer. When she went to conventions, she did whatever carousing and compromises were needed to get a signature on a contract. Her husband was hearing all this for the first time, and he began to gush tears. So did we all!
The whole body was hurting. As the evening went on, she
shared that she had to fly to
It is my prayer that your cell will also experience victory over the power of sin! (end of article)
Just for Pastors - By Don Tillman
The Pastor Next Door: “I’ve been told he’s a pastor . . . but I never see anyone home.”
I was standing in the street with a dozen people from my neighborhood. Because our subdivision is new, we’ve all moved into our homes within the previous two months.
One of my neighbors said, “I love this neighborhood. The people are so friendly! I’ve never lived anywhere where I knew so many of my neighbors.” Someone else remarked, “It’s because we are all new to the community. We have a lot in common and it draws us together.”
What she said was true. Our common experience of emptying moving boxes, dealing with water leaks and trying to get grass to grow brought us together in unique ways. One had to work hard not to know his or her neighbors.
But, that is exactly what one family had done. As my neighbors and I delighted in our new-found relationships, one woman remarked, “There is only one family on the block I do not know.” She pointed out the house right next to my own. Others began exclaiming that they did not know the family either. Many observed that rarely was anyone seen home at the residence. Finally one person said, “I’ve been told he is a pastor.”
I wanted to crawl under a rock! I had met the man who lived next door to me, and yes, he was a pastor. A very busy pastor. So busy, in fact, that he had no time to meet or interact with his neighbors.
It’s not just the other pastor
I would like to say the feelings overwhelming me as I stood among my friendly neighbors stemmed solely from this other pastor’s behavior. The real source of my feelings, though, came because of my own behavior. With the best of them, I had spent years being busy enough doing God’s work that I lacked enough time to interact with people. My new neighbors were talking about me!
Later, I realized that time was only part of the problem. My personality was the other part. I am an introverted person, and I get energy from being by myself. Can an introverted person serve as a pastor? Well, they can, and I happen to know a lot of them. Most face the same dilemma my neighbor and I face: we are often too busy to interact with people outside of those we already know and serve.
I have learned one thing well in the past several years. If I want the people I lead to be evangelistic, I must be evangelistic. Its not enough to talk, teach or preach about it. It must be something I do regularly. And the best place to begin is to get to know my neighbors.
Asking & Returning Favors
I’ve experimented in this area for a while and I’ve learned a principle that helps.
I call it the Principle of Obligation.
I have learned that the walls people build — keeping them from relationships — crumble after a series of favors and returned favors. By asking a favor from a neighbor, I obligate myself to him. Once obligated, my neighbor is inclined to allow me to repay the obligation. Then, of course, he is obligated to me and is quick to lend a hand when I again ask a favor from him. This helps us interact enough that a relationship begins to build.
Your Church Follows Your Lead
I can sympathize with the pastor who lives next door to me. I understand him and his situation. I also know his behavior is hurting his efforts to positively influence the world for Christ. If the people of his congregation are following his lead, his church’s evangelistic effectiveness probably mirrors his own. How do I know these things? I know them because they were my own experience for far too long.
Perhaps you struggle in this area too. If so, you’ve learned by now that your congregation tends to make friends for Jesus just like you do. Maybe its time to try something new. Maybe you can run out of sugar on purpose. I bet your neighbor has some you can borrow! (end of article)
At the time of publication, Don Tillman was the Director of Consulting and Training for TOUCH®, The Cell Group People™.
Nucleus - By
How Can We Hear God’s Voice? When everything lines up just right, you’ll know you’ve heard Him clearly.
In the movie, The Ten Commandments, the Lord spoke to Moses in a deep, booming voice. Every Christian in love with Jesus desperately desires to hear His voice. However, the Lord rarely speaks in reverb . . . audibly giving us instructions! Instead, the Lord most often speaks to us by His Spirit speaking to our spirits in a “still, small voice” (see I Kings -13).
Most of the decisions in my life have come as a result of that “still, small voice.” When the Lord spoke to me about getting involved in church planting through cell groups, He asked, “Are you willing to be involved in the underground church?” I did not hear a booming voice during an earthquake, but I clearly heard Him in a “still, small voice.”
In cell ministry—as we relate closely to people—it is important to hear God’s voice clearly. God uniquely speaks to each of our hearts, but how can we be sure we are hearing God’s voice? I learned some principles from a man of God once that have helped steer me in the right direction. He told the story of three lighthouses on a certain beach built to warn ships of the monstrous rocks that were just below the surface of the water. To avoid being snagged on the rocks, the captain had to make certain that the three lighthouse beacon lights aligned as he sailed his ship toward the harbor. In order to make sure we are hearing God’s voice clearly, we should align three “lighthouses” before we move in a new direction.
The Word of God must align
The first lighthouse is the Word of God, for which there is no substitute. God told Joshua he should meditate on it and obey it: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8). Make God’s Word the guide for all your beliefs and actions and earnestly seek God’s presence in your life. What God says in His Word is our standard to obey fully so we do not face shipwreck in our lives.
The peace of God must align
The second spiritual lighthouse to align is the peace of God. Do we have peace about the decision?
A man was offered a job at a company with a huge increase in salary. He thought of all the wonderful things he could do with the extra money . . . use it to buy a needed apartment and help the homeless in his city. However, he did not have peace from God to take the job, so he turned it down. Many thought he was crazy because it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. A short time later, the president of the company was implicated in illegal activities and the whole company came under scrutiny. By discerning his lack of peace for the job, he avoided a very messy situation. Colossians says the peace of God should rule or be an umpire to alert our hearts to hearing God’s voice clearly: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…”
The Circumstances must align
The third lighthouse is one of circumstances. I have
counseled some young men and women who were sure the Lord wanted them to marry
a certain person, but that person was not getting the same message! When the
Lord is in a situation, He will open the door to it: “But I will stay on at
As we open our hearts to hear from God, let’s look for the three lighthouse beacon lights to line up — the Word of God, the peace of God and circumstances. If the lights do not line up, we are in danger of running into the rocks. I’m heading for the three beacon lights. How about you? (end of article)
(end of issue)