Throughout one’s twenties, birthdays are celebrated with enthusiasm. From the thirties through sixty or so, birthdays are begrudgingly observed. After that, birthdays are all but ignored. I remained a late bloomer, celebrating all my birthdays right up to this last one when I turned the big “four - oh.” This year I realized I was an adult by anyone’s standards and reluctantly acknowledged I was a grown up. Rats!
The whole concept of adulthood is ridiculous. When do you become an adult? When your children reach a certain age? When a nap sounds like a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon? When comfort is the first factor in buying a new car? Becoming an adult is too subjective for a definitive answer. It’s gotta be a case-by-case thing.
I’ve often told people I am a twelve year old trapped in a much older body. My wife and friends wholeheartedly agree. The idea of being an adult sounds boring. I think I’ll just stay twelve on the inside and ignore my aching back and “old man” mentality. I know I’m getting older. I just heard myself say “that boy needs to get a haircut, find some sensible clothes and get a job so he can pay taxes like the rest of us.” I’m definitely heading down the back stretch!
Ah, but I have so much left to see and do! I have lots of friends to reach for Jesus, places I haven’t seen and food I haven’t tasted. And let’s not forget my mid-life crisis. I’ve been longing to get to that since I was just a lad. I can just see myself jammed behind the wheel of a European convertible with the wind blowing over my bald spot. Whee!
This issue of the Journal is all grown up too. Each article in this issue is practical and right to the point. If after reading Joel Comiskey’s cover article you determine you’re guilty of one or more of his “cell leader sins,” remember that it’s never too late to make radical changes. No offense, but old dogs can learn new tricks.
The other articles are just as useful. Scott Boren’s article on serving the right kind of spiritual food in your cell will help you understand why some meetings are stellar and others are ho-hum. Don Tillman’s continued exploration of mentoring will help you understand how Jesus shaped His disciples’ values so effectively. All in all, this issue is as practical as a minivan.
I’m sure a few of you dear readers have ignored your birthday for some time and could justifiably call me a pup. If this is you, please don’t try to make me feel young. Being forty is good. I’m only fifteen short years away from senior citizen’s discounts. (end of issue)
Cell Leadership - By Randall Neighbour
Loving your pastor: Submitting to your spiritual authority has great rewards!
The weekly cell meeting was going well. The group had worshiped the Lord and discussed how they could live out the challenging verses they found that week. An hour into the meeting, they were ready to minister to each other. I can imagine the facilitator was eager to see how God would move among them.
A young woman began by sharing how she had been hurt by a comment made by a staff pastor. Instead of asking the group to help her pray through her own issue of forgiveness—keeping the focus on herself—she shared all the details surrounding the event: how he made her feel, what the pastor should have said, why he should have said it, etc. After a brief and awkward silence, another hurting member in the group began to complain about the length of the sermons. The group was now operating in the flesh out of the Spirit’s control.
Seeing a mob forming, the facilitator asked that everyone stop talking for just a moment. The discussion had quickly moved from ministering to one another to bashing their pastors. Not knowing how to express what was on her heart, the cell leader used this public moment to pray silently and ask God what to do.
What would you do? Would you defend the pastors whom you know well? Would you redirect the group to examine what needs to be changed in their own hearts and not the actions of others? Both of these ideas are good, but the root issue is much deeper.
The problem of “pastor-bashing” is common in many churches. Strong words in a cell meeting about honoring leadership don’t remove the real problem . . . an unsubmissive attitude toward those God has placed above us as a spiritual authority and, more importantly, a protective covering.
WHO IS YOUR PASTOR?
Your senior pastor and/or the staff pastors at your church are unique. They are not unemployable individuals who couldn’t get a job in the real world and went into ministry as a “fall back” career. Pastoring a church is intense, 24 hour a day work. If a person is not called to it, he simply cannot remain and be fruitful or fulfilled. And moreover, when the calling is known, he must surrender to it.
Years ago, I asked a pastor to describe what it would feel like if God called me into the pastorate and I ran from it. His illustration was simple and effective. He told me to put my right shoe on my left foot.
Get the picture? Your pastor is ordained by God to pastor you! Doing anything else would feel like he had his shoes on backwards.
Pastors also have a special “crowning” when they get to heaven if they’ve led their sheep faithfully, sacrificially and out of God’s calling, not a personal desire to hold power or make a good salary (1 Peter 5:1-4). All the pastors I know are fully aware of this verse and the depths of its meaning. Needless to say, pastors have a high calling and high standards by which they live and serve (Titus 1:6-10).
YOUR PASTOR’S ROLE
When you think about your pastor, what words come to mind? Friend? Mentor? Example? Teacher? Yes! Your pastor is all these. But wait, there’s more! Like a late night infomercial for kitchen knives, the added bonuses just keep coming.
Your pastor provides a spiritual covering for your ministry to others. This is best explained by considering the Israelites as they followed the cloud and the pillar of fire through the desert. God provided a cloud by day to shield them from the scorching heat of direct sun and fire at night to scare away dangerous animals. By following the lead of your pastor and operating within the vision God has given your church, some of satan’s craftiest plans are thwarted. Neat, huh?
HIRED HOLY MAN?
Ephesians 4:11-12 describes the role of your pastor as one who “equips the saints for the work of ministry.” This means he’s in place to help you with your ministry, not the other way around.
What is your ministry? Actively love your cell group members to the point that they mature in Christ, reach people for Jesus, and embrace their own leadership potential. Contrast this with your pastor’s ministry—to shape you into a world class disciple-making-disciple.
With this in mind, start looking at your pastor as a powerful source of information and support for what you’ve been called to do—shepherd a small group of people to maturity in Christ.
HOW YOUR PASTOR VIEWS YOU
Your pastor has been given a special pair of “holy rose colored glasses” for those in his care. Seeing you as God does, you are a deeply-loved person walking on a path of maturity who will yield incredible results for building the kingdom of God. His outlook on you and your ministry is far more optimistic than what you may see when you look in a mirror.
You may be leading a cell group or be a new Christian, but it does not make any difference to your pastor. He views you as a person with great potential, despite the current situation in which you may find yourself. Because he’s a long-term visionary, your short-term issues won’t crush his view of you or your potential. Please take a deep breath and let this sink in.
This is an important truth to accept. When you rest in this knowledge, you won’t be tempted to please your pastor or hide parts of your lifestyle from him. Neither of these things are productive, and by doing them, you diminish what God can do through your relationship.
HOW TO LOVE YOUR PASTOR
I try to develop the kind of friendship with my pastor that I think anyone would want. I pray for him often, and one day a week I concentrate on prayer for his family members by name, and for the church staff individually and as a whole. I email him with praise reports from my cell group to encourage him, and I affirm him every chance I get. I do this because he’s my pastor and my spiritual covering in addition to simply being my friend. If satan brings him down, my whole church will suffer terribly.
Even if you are one of ten thousand members in a mega church, consider your pastor your friend. He’s there for you, and he fills an important role in your life. Send him notes of encouragement. Thank him for all he does as your “equipper.” If he doesn’t know you well, introduce yourself and tell him you pray for him often. He’s there for you, so be there for him too!
LOOK PAST THE HUMANITY
When you view your pastor, don’t look at a person who preaches on a platform. Pastors and their spouses hate being put on a pedestal! They’re not that different from you and me and would just like to be given the same amount of grace they offer us.
The most important thing you can do is to look past the human idiosyncrasies of your pastor and dwell on his character. This is where you’ll find his godly heart, not his human faults.
Your pastor is devoted to learning the mysteries of God’s Word and to prayer. By doing this, he gets marching orders for your church and the wisdom to counsel his flock in areas that would scare a trained psychologist.
Your pastor’s character is also reflected in his willingness to persevere through unbelievable amounts of stress and satanic attack. Only a pastor would do what he does for so little praise, income and time with his family!
My hope is that after reading this, you’ll begin to pray for God’s passionate love for your pastor. Ask God to make him a “refreshment” to everyone he comes into contact with. Take this message to your cell group and invest time each week into prayer for your church staff members. You will never realize the power of prayer to change hearts and support those who serve you until you acknowledge their role and respect them for who they are in your life—a covering and an example of Christ Himself. (end of article)
Randall Neighbour is the editor of CellGroup Journal and author of “Answers to Your Cell Group Questions.”
Toolkit - Practical tips and testimonies written by cell leaders for cell leaders
Our bathroom is looking spectacular. It’s everything I imagined it would be when renovated. The only problem is that the door is standing in the hallway unhung . . . a sheet nailed to the wall provides privacy, to use the term loosely. With my travel and editing schedule, I just haven’t had the time to finish the project.
During the worship service this week, the Lord showed me a number of parallels between my two-year remodeling project and cell leadership. Here’s what I found.
Perfection isn’t the goal
I had been dreaming about how I wanted our bathroom to look. A tiled archway over the tub. A glass block window. Trim work so smooth you’d think the paint was still wet.
The tiled arch and the glass block window weren’t easy to do, but they’re done and look great. The painted trim, however, is another story. Even though I sanded the 100 year old trim down to bare wood, the high gloss paint shows every rough spot I missed.
In your cell group, you’ll always see flaws in your own leadership and in your members. Know this: God is never finished ‘renovating’ his children. His goal is not beauty and perfection on earth, it is functionally strong and powerful ministers.
I know a cell leader that has a sharp tongue, but is a wonderful servant. His pastor continues to pour his life into him because the leader has what it takes to be a phenomenal disciple maker. God is working through a sometimes abrasive leader and a wise pastor. Moreover, He is working in you and in your group. Be patient and don’t expect perfection this side of heaven. Work toward having a powerful ministry as a team.
“It’s a six week job, max”
Yeah, right. I told my wife our bathroom would be done in six weeks or less! Two years later, I’m still at it. But I did get the plumbing back together in two weeks. My wife was not impressed, but she was quite patient or silent, depending on one’s perspective!
Your cell group will probably take longer to achieve its goals than planned. Why? Because life gets in the way while we’re making our plans.
Job responsibilities can keep your intern or apprentice from serving your group members and facilitating more meetings. Lunch with a member’s unbelieving friend may end up being rescheduled three times and then cancelled.
If it were easy, we wouldn’t need God, would we? What’s important to remember is that you must be patient with God’s timing, combined with the free will of each of your cell members.
As a cell group, ask God to give you attainable goals and flexibility. Even with solid planning, you probably won’t achieve the goals the way you thought you would. And, when you achieve them, the results might look quite different than you imagined.
Cracks in my Tile work
You’ve never felt true disgust until you tiled a whole bathroom only to watch your work suffer due to a poor foundation. I’ve re-grouted, but the problem keeps coming back. To fix it for good, I’ll have to hire a foundation expert to add support under my house. This problem’s out of my control.
Your ability to lead your group effectively must be based on a solid foundation of prayer, staying in the Word and freedom from satanic strongholds.
If you’re not spending quality time with God each day praying and reading His Word, start immediately. Find a quiet place that is distraction-free and focus on God. This is where you get the kind of unshakable stability you will need for your ministry.
Should you be operating with a sinful habit or an unresolved issue with someone—a family member, coworker, neighbor, cell member or child—satan will use this division against you. When your church offers a freedom encounter weekend (such as TOUCH’s Encounter God or Neil Anderson’s Bondage Breaker) take your whole group, and don’t forget a spouse or teenager! The freedom experienced will propel your ministry forward and make you feel as if you’ve instantly lost ten pounds.
Help wanted. Inquire within
When my sink drain was half an inch too low to meet the pipe in the wall, John came over and created a solution. When I needed a hand to install crown molding, Ron was there with his miter saw. And when the tile work was going oh-so-slowly, David came over and we plowed through some tricky tile cutting. And last but not least, my wife encouraged me to keep up the great work.
Leading a successful cell group will require you to share responsibility for relational evangelism, discipleship and servanthood. You’ll even need your pastor to help you develop your intern or apprentice. When others compliment your hard work, thank them and be encouraged for what has been done thus far.
If your cell group is growing more slowly than you thought it would, take heart! You are helping to create New Testament community in a busy, complicated world.
Last night we had a great cell meeting! We had four new members and a real sense of the presence of the Lord. We’re seeing exciting things! Two Sundays ago I preached on healing, mentioning that I’d never prayed for someone with a broken arm. Straight after the service, one of our teenagers fell off a scooter and a physiotherapist in the congregation thought she’d broken her arm.
Several of us gathered to pray. By the time she got to the hospital 20 minutes away, she’d calmed down and the x-ray showed no sign of a break. Last Sunday she was with us and bubbling with excitement. Isn’t it fun to have such a great God?
— Rev. Michael Schorah, The Carpenter’s Arms, UK
A few months ago, I asked my cell group to pray for me when I drove home with a friend to share Christmas with my family. It was a long trip, and I hoped to share Christ with her in a way that would impact her. Here’s what happened . . .
We had some really good talks on the trip. I gave her a Bible, and she was thrilled. She said she felt the Holy Spirit speaking to her when I gave it to her; She even started reading it in the car! We discussed that the one thing holding her back from a relationship with Christ is a guy who she has been seeing on and off for some time now and would be spending time with over the holidays. So, my cell’s prayers were answered, but that’s not the only praise report!
About 6 years ago I noticed a progressive hearing loss in my right ear. It’s gotten bad enough now that I don’t hear clearly unless someone is on my left side. As I was driving along and sharing God’s love (with my friend on my right), I was able to hear out of my right ear! She was even looking out the window, making it harder to hear her voice. I am amazed at the awesome way God worked so I could witness to her!
— Amy Nelson, Garden Oaks Baptist, Houston, TX
Kid’s slot tip! TEACHING KINDNESS
Kids can be very cruel to one another, and Christian kids are often no exception. I heard Chuck Swindoll tell of the time when he was a youngster and a new boy with very large ears came to Sunday school. “His ears looked to me just like the fenders on a Jeep,” Chuck recalled, “and I decided to call him ‘Jeep-Ears.’ When the other kids joined me mocking him, the boy left in tears and never came back. This has been on Chuck’s conscience all his life—Did he keep one of God’s children from going to heaven?
Children who are unkind are usually insecure. The child who feels very special has less need to build himself up by putting another down. Here’s a little exercise to help children understand their own—and others’—uniqueness. To drive this point home, you’ll need a thimble and a book with about 600 pages on hand to show the children.
Ask the children to write the number 100 million. Say, “That’s the number of cells in your body.” Then have them put a little dot inside each of the zeros. “That little dot represents 100 million little instruction books God has put inside each one of your cells. His instructions for me won’t fit you, and yours won’t fit me. These are called ‘DNA’, and they are God’s very special instructions to make your body, your mind, and your personality just the way He intended it. Each tiny DNA contains so many instructions that if they were written out they would fill a thousand 600-page books! Yet if they were taken out of the cells and all packed together, they would all fit inside a thimble!
God went to an awful lot of trouble to make you, didn’t He? He must have a very special purpose for you, and He must love you very, very much.”
Help them recognize their own unique features or qualities. Then have them find special things to appreciate about each other. Emphasize that everyone they meet is just as special to God.
— Joanne Hillman, TOUCH Family, Houston, TX
If it’s been a while since you prayerwalked through your home and office, take time today to do just that. Move from room to room, asking God to fill the space with His love, leaving no room for anything ungodly. Pray for the persons who work or live in that area, and bless the space. Prayerwalking is a powerful tool given to everyone who has faith!
— Etna Neighbour, TOUCHStaff
Hey pastors! Are your cell members struggling to keep up with the daily growth guides in your discipleship track?
Ask your group members for their mobile email address and where they are in your church’s discipleship process. Send them an encouraging SMS (short message service of no more than 160 characters) to reinforce what they’re learning and to encourage them.
A daily email is also a great way to help people move through the more difficult parts of your equipping track.
Nothing can replace the face to face mentoring required to produce a discipled leader, but harnessing technology to encourage busy people is a great way to help!
Who packs your parachute?
Charles Plumb was a U.S. Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured, then spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons he learned from that experience.
One day when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”
“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.
“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.
Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!”
Plumb assured him, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn't be here today.”
Plumb couldn’t sleep that night. Thinking about that man Plumb says, “I kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat, a bib in the back, and bell-bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.” Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands the fate of someone he didn’t know.
Now, Plumb asks his audience, “Who’s packing your parachute?”
Everyone has someone who provides something they need to make it through the day. Plumb also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory—he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute. He called on all these supports before reaching safety.
As you go through this week, this month, this year, recognize people who “pack your parachute.” Thank the people who pray for you. Reach out to the clerk behind a cash register. Drop a note of encouragement to your pastor. Take an interest in those who work for you at your office. It’s through these eyes of gratefulness that you will see God’s love.
— Received via email from Lisa Anderson, Houston, Texas
Cover Article - By Joel Comiskey
THE 4 DEADLY SINS OF CELL LEADERSHIP:
How to avoid them and enjoy a fruitful, effective cell ministry
When it came right down to it, I was pressured to perform. I had to get to know my neighbors, build community in my neighborhood, and help grow our new cell church plant in Moreno Valley.
The pressure drove me to attend association barbeques and hang out at the Monday night football gatherings at the clubhouse. Even though I was reaching out, I knew it wasn’t a healthy way to build my church.
Although I had been feeling this pressure for months, I kept it to myself. One night, I confessed this issue at my cell meeting. “I feel so pressured to reach my neighbors,” I told the group. I received prayer, but couldn’t pinpoint the source of the problem. I still felt like I was going about my ministry in an unnatural, unhealthy way.
After the meeting I talked with my wife and realized that I was feeling pressured to perform because I was placing all the responsibility on my own shoulders. I was assuming responsibility that only God could take!
Yes, God was concerned with reaching my neighbors and building a cell church in Moreno Valley. But I figured that I had to make it happen. The result was a vague sense of tension that turned into pressure—which began to eat away at me.
God showed me that His desire was to give me His light yoke in exchange for my heavy yoke. When I realized this, the burden lifted. Through this experience, God revealed four deadly “sins” that could easily wipe out your ministry as a cell leader.
#1ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY THAT IS NOT YOURS
I made unrealistic goals that were vague and unattainable. God reminded me of Larry Crabb’s comments in The Key to Caring about the difference between a goal and a desire. Crabb said:
“A goal may be defined as a purpose to which a person is unalterably committed. He assumes unconditional responsibility for a goal, and it can be achieved if he is willing to work at it. A desire may be defined as something wanted that cannot be obtained without the cooperation of another person. It is an objective for which a person can assume no responsibility, because it is beyond his control. Reaching a desire must never become the motivating purpose behind behavior, because then a person is assuming responsibility for something he cannot fulfill on his own” [italics my own].
It dawned on me that I was confusing desires with goals—things I could accomplish versus issues beyond my control.
My desire was to see conversions in my neighborhood and to create a sense of community. Of course, this is a wonderful desire. But only God can make this happen. I was trying to take the place of God.
I now realize that God wants me to make clear-cut, bite-sized goals that are in my power to accomplish. For example, I can accomplish the following goals:
~ Invite my neighbor to play tennis.
~ Invite my neighbor over to my house for a special event (dessert, etc.).
~ Make it a point to talk with my neighbor in the front yard.
~ Encourage my potential cell leader to begin the training track.
~ Give my potential cell leader opportunities in the cell to use his gifts and talents.
These goals are feasible. I can accomplish them.
Desires, on the other hand, are beyond my own ability to accomplish. Here are some examples of my desires:
~ That my neighbor responds to my invitation and actually plays tennis with me.
~ That my neighbor accepts the invitation to come to my house for a special event.
~ That the person I’ve identified as a potential cell leader actually enters our leadership training track.
To make this difference practical, let’s take a typical concern for cell leaders: Group multiplication.
Many leaders experience tension when thinking about this topic. A major cause of this tension is setting unrealistic, vague goals based on lofty desires, rather than bite-size, feasible goals based on what can actually be done.
The following goals are obtainable and will lead to the goal of multiplication.
~ Talk to a cell member about facilitating the next cell group meeting.
~ Guide this potential cell leader through your church’s training.
~ Set a multiplication date and continually remind the group of that date.
~ Give the future cell leader ample opportunity to participate in ministry to others and facilitate meetings.
~ Remind the group weekly of their need to evangelize and invite non-Christian friends.
As you can see, your goals should be feasible and measurable. They should be based on clear possibilities in which you have control.
Confusing desires with goals, while subtle, makes a huge difference in your emotional well-being. When you’re pressured to perform—to fulfill the desire yourself—your peace disappears and you feel stressed, knowing you’re not going to succeed.
Sadly, many cell leaders simply turn in their resignation at this point, never citing the real reason. They don’t know why they feel the way they do, and I suspect that confusing desires with goals is the culprit on many occasions, leading to burn-out. Don’t get caught in this trap.
#2 DO ALL THE WORK
“I’m the cell leader. I need to do all the work.” Wrong.
The cell leader is the facilitator, not the work horse. You are the person who orchestrates the work for the whole group to carry out.
Remember the concept of net fishing versus pole fishing? It’s the team that does the work. Everyone participates!
There’s too much work for one leader to do alone. Consider the pressures that a cell leader places upon himself when he embraces the statement “I need to do all the work.”
~ Prepare and facilitate all the various parts of the weekly meetings, making it look very polished and professional.
~ Personally reach your lost friends (and your member’s lost friends) for Christ.
~ Meet with everyone in the group as often as possible to mentor and disciple them into strong believers.
~ Train an intern or apprentice by having them watch what you do so that when he gets his own group, he’ll know what to do.
Instead of doing everything yourself —which will never create a feeling of community or new leaders—involve the team! Ask others to help you in every aspect of cell life and leadership:
~ Delegate all the various parts of your weekly meetings to others a month at a time and watch them learn as they do it. Ask different people in the group to be in charge of meeting refreshments, prayer, worship and the ministry time.
~ Ask each host family to keep the “Blessing List” poster and display it in the room where you’ll be meeting. Every host can also be given the responsibility to plan and hold one fun event in the next three months in order to connect their unbelieving friends to the group.
~ Establish mentor-protégé relationships in your group (or accountability partnerships) and call them to see how they are doing. These relationships will be very fruitful if they have a difficult task to complete together, like your church’s discipleship or equipping track.
~ Meet with your intern or apprentice every week and discuss the next steps for your group. Then, let him or her learn through first-hand experience by leading the cell into one-another ministry and outreach, as well as facilitating weekly meetings. This will reduce your workload and give your new leader a vision for the future.
By involving others and forcing yourself to give away responsibility, the group will become an exciting place of ministry and growth. And you will not feel like Atlas, with the weight of the world on your shoulders.
#3 THINKING THAT EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON YOU
Only God can bring conviction and create open doors for the Gospel. The key question we should be asking ourselves is: “Where is God working?”
I discovered this in my neighborhood. I was concentrating on my next door neighbors because they were immediately visible when I opened my own front door. But God showed me that I needed to broaden my perspective to include those at the other end of the street who were far more receptive. With this new thinking, I was able to establish contacts quickly because God opened the doors.
The Psalmist wrote, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Pursue those non-Christian contacts in which you see God working.
Paul the apostle said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
Only God can convert a soul, motivate someone to enter leadership training, or multiply his or her cell group.
Effective leaders don’t take responsibility for making these things happen because this would only result in pressure to perform and succeed without God’s power. But, the same leaders do take practical steps to plant and water, leaving the rest to God. And, they take responsibility to make sure there are enough positive concrete actions (goals) that eventually result in a breakthrough.
So, plan to work with your team and sow into relationships with the lost; share the Gospel whenever possible. Then water the soil by praying and fasting, loving these folks unconditionally. God will send His Spirit to them and draw them to Himself. Watch and see how God works when you do your part and allow Him to do His part.
#4 GIVING UP WHEN THE RESULTS ARE FEW
Effective leaders are not necessarily talented, gifted, or outgoing. But they do have one thing in common. They’re persistent. They don’t give up!
Each week they ask their members to invite someone. Each week they try to make contact with members of the cell by phone and in person. Eventually, something clicks. God works.
You could compare what I’m saying to sowing and reaping. If you sow sparingly, you’ll reap sparingly. If you sow bountifully, you’ll reap bountifully.
For example, let’s discuss the Blessing List (the list of non-Christian people attached to each member of your group). It’s tempting to give up when we don’t see our prayers answered quickly.
George Mueller, a man who modeled effective prayer, prayed throughout his lifetime for five friends to know Jesus Christ.
The first one came to Christ after five years. Within ten years, two more of them received Christ. Mueller prayed constantly for over twenty-five years, and the fourth man was finally saved. For his fifth friend, he prayed until the time of his death, and this friend, too, came to Christ a few months after Mueller died. For this last friend, Mueller had prayed for almost fifty-two years!
God doesn’t view time in the same way we do. He hears every prayer you make, and He wants you to persist until the end. At times you’ll want to give up. Don’t. God is hearing your prayers and is pleased with them. In His time the answer will come—quickly.
Keep on encouraging your cell members to reach out and invite people, even when you see few results. Remember Proverbs 14:23: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Your diligence will lead to success if you keep on pressing on. God’s blessing is right around the corner.
To continue to lead a group, multiply that group, and care for the new leaders as a coach, you need Christ’s light and easy yoke (Matthew 11:30).
Avoid the common cell leader sins that will damage or even kill your ministry. Make feasible goals; use your team; discover where God’s working; and persist until you see breakthroughs. With this kind of ministry, you will be able to avoid burnout and continue a fruitful cell ministry throughout your life. (end of article)
Feature Article - By Scott Boren
What’s on your menu? When the food’s good, you don’t have to badger your members to attend your weekly meetings.
There is an old saying, often used by barbeque
establishments across the South: “If you’ve got good food, you don’t need to
advertise.” Cell leaders that offer good spiritual food do not have to twist
arms for participation.
If you feel that your members need to be badgered to come to your cell meetings, maybe it is time to ask yourself, “What is on my cell group menu?”
The Discussion Menu
The Discussion Menu is found in many cell groups in North America. This menu includes a full course meal of such items like deep Bible discussion, a clear understanding of what the author meant, and cross references to other scriptures. On this menu, the members gladly share their opinions to discussion questions, but they rarely go any deeper.
It is not a surprise that groups use this menu, because those of us who have been around the church for any length of time are most comfortable eating from it. Sunday school curriculum and Bible studies guides have taught us to put forth our opinions about the meanings of the text.
A few years ago, I was a member of a cell group that offered big platters of discussion. At that time, we were working through 1 Corinthians. For over an hour each week we would discuss Paul’s meaning of being “in Christ” or his encouragements to the church to repent from specific sins. We would talk about the historical circumstance of the early church in Corinth. At the end of the discussion, we would share prayer needs and then the leader would ask someone to close in prayer.
I loved being with the people of that group. They truly became family to me, but it was not because of what was offered on the menu every week during the meeting. In fact, I began to weigh the benefit of the warm relationships that happened before and after the meeting with my feelings about the disorienting discussion during the meeting.
Some might argue that this kind of menu offers meat, the kind of meat or solid food spoken of in Hebrews 5:12. But the author of Hebrews was speaking of much more than evaluating Scripture. He does not limit his menu to a discussion of theological insight. He takes this theology to the heart of life, where people live, where they must wrestle with good and evil, repentance, faith, and ministry. There must be more than good Bible discussion on God’s menu for our groups.
The Freedom Menu
Other groups go to the opposite extreme as they focus not on discussing the Bible, but on building relationships. In these groups people gather to freely share whatever is on their hearts.
On the Freedom Menu, you find about as many choices as there are cell members. The emotions, experiences, and interests of the people dictate what is on the menu. Sometimes the menu includes food like laborious complaining about personal struggles, rambling about political or social positions, opinions about what is happening in the church, and even the sharing of common interests. These items are rarely guided by the Word of God.
I have heard of one women’s group that spent most of the night complaining about their husbands. In another group, people put on their religious smiles and exercised their freedom to cover their hurts, mouthing words like “fine” while their hearts were breaking. I even experienced a group meeting where a couple came to the meeting and started fighting with one another during the icebreaker. We spent the rest of the meeting focusing on them, even though they were not willing to change anything about their lives.
This menu offers an un-satisfying course of sharing, freedom from accountability, and running away from confrontation. Yet why would the church of the living God want to settle for a small group like this when people can get the same food on this menu at any local coffee shop or corner bar?
This kind of menu lacks focus because the discussion depends upon what the people want to talk about, not on what God is doing within the group. Many—if not most—of the people in this cell group come to the meetings in a state that is controlled by the flesh. Flesh-controlled cell group members might have good intentions, but if they control the group it will be what Ralph Neighbour calls a “man-made cell group.”
Neither the Discussion Menu nor the Freedom Menu offers food that nourishes. I get tired of the battles over what should be done in group meetings. Some say deep Bible study, others say relationships. In my experience, neither satisfies hunger by giving life. I want to taste something in my cell groups that only God can serve.
The Knowing God Menu
God always has a third option, and it is an option that we, in our human wisdom, would not envision. While the first two options are under our control, the third is something that only the Spirit of God can do in the midst of His people. We can talk about God and even point people to God, but only God can reveal Himself in the midst so that He is known.
On the Knowing God Menu, you will often find succulent choices like transparency, encouragement, support and heart-felt prayer. Some might argue that the first two menus include these choices, but they are listed on the back page of the menu as an option if people want to add them. On the Knowing God Menu, these are appetizers.
For the main dish, cell members often find gut-level honesty, confrontation, unconditional acceptance, biblical edification, confession, forgiveness and ultimately transformed lives. This is food served by the hand of the Holy Spirit and it is prepared with much prayer before it is served.
There is one other key item on the Knowing God Menu: Repentance. At first glance, this might seem like a repelling menu item, but repentance is true meat. In order to know God, we must change our thoughts about God. In order to change our thoughts, we must repent, realizing that our thoughts about God are wrong. Repentance is not just about someone falling on his face sobbing pools of water. Repentance is how we take steps on the journey to knowing God. Repentance is the way cell group members move from where they are today to where God wants them to be.
Cell group meetings should lead people to a point of choice where they must decide that something must change and God must do something to change them. This does not happen when cell group leaders are reading from the Discussion Menu or the Freedom Menu. This only happens as people, starting with the leader, allow God to speak to them and then share how God wants to change their lives.
This is the kind of food that cannot be tasted anywhere else. People can find places to discuss the Bible. They can find other places to babble about their opinions. But few have a place where they can come and taste the goodness of God. This is true freedom: each person has permission to get honest and find God’s grace, experiencing true freedom.
When the cell leader pulls out the Knowing God Menu, he or she finds that the role of the facilitator has changed. With the first two menus, the cell leader is the one serving the meal. But the third menu is served by Jesus Himself. This is the power and the glory of this menu.
In a recent cell group experience, the Knowing God Menu suddenly shifted the focus of our meal. After two questions, a new Christian shared a struggle from his life before Christ. He felt a sense of darkness from his past overwhelming him. The group gathered around him to pray for him. This led to other sharing and praying and speaking words of encouragement to one another. The leader never asked question number three. He did not need to. God was moving. This group has 17 members and is preparing to birth a new group.
After a recent meeting, one of our cell group members told me that he anticipates Tuesday nights all week long. He said that he wished it could last until 10:00 p.m. Yes, we discuss the Bible, and yes, we have the freedom found in loving relationships, but neither of these is the focus. Knowing God is the focus.
When you use the Knowing God Menu, you won’t have to worry if people show up to your meetings. They will block out everything else to taste what God is serving. (end of article)
M. Scott Boren is the Director of R&D for The Cell Group People™ and co-author of a new training series for cell leaders.
Leading Student Cells - By Brian Sauder and Sarah Mohler
It’s all about being involved: Creative ways to stay in relationship with your group members.
Our Creator wants to shower His people with creativity. Youth cell groups need to be fresh and alive with God’s creative potential.
This “grab bag” of ideas will help youth cell members become more actively involved in each other’s lives—to be in relationship—as they reach out with the love of Jesus. Try one in your next meeting or over the summer break.
Complete the sentence - Start the cell meeting with an open-ended sentence to get people to share personal items from their lives. Here are some examples to pick from, some to chuckle over and some to provoke thought:
“An embarrassing moment for me was when...”
“One of the best times of my life was...”
“If I had a million dollars, I would...”
“My idea of a perfect date is...”
“My toughest experience happened when...”
“I’m working at _______ in my life.”
“A personal vision I have for my life is...”
“At school, I’m praying for...”
“What God is speaking personally to me is...”
Listen to specific needs, then pray for them as a group.
Clash party - Have a “clash night” to see who can dress the worst. Give a silly prize to the winner. Then discuss peer pressure and judging others by their appearance.
Spreading cheer - As a cell group, go to a local home for the elderly. Plan a drama, dress up as clowns or take board games. Bring small home made gifts made on another cell evening—a cookie, a decorative magnet or card with a Bible verse on it. Spend time talking to the elderly and listening to their joys and sorrows. Their smiles will be reward enough for your time and efforts there!
Skate night - Several youth cells could combine to rent the local roller skating rink for the night. A week earlier, post or hand out flyers announcing a free skate to all the kids in the town. Halfway through the skate, perform a mime that introduces the kids to Jesus, and spend the night building relationships with the kids.
Lend a hand - A work project is always a blessing to those who participate. One youth cell had a great time when they spent a day painting a house for a legally blind man who had to spend 10 months in the Veterans Hospital.
Youth in charge - Have some youth cells lead the Sunday morning services at your church. They can lead worship, perform a dance complete with fancy footwork—whatever! It will give the “old folks” a better perspective on today’s youth culture! It is sure to be an encouragement to all as the youth testify of God’s answers to prayer in their lives. Give the rest of the congregation the opportunity to agree with them in prayer for others’ needs. Take a night to pray and plan.
Beach party - Hold a winter beach party at your cell meeting. Hand out leis and dress in shorts (turn the heat up!). Spread out a checked table cloth on the floor and start with a picnic dinner or snack, followed with games. Participate in a time of worship and dance.
Show ‘em you really care! - Support fellow cell members by attending sporting events or musical concerts in which they are involved. By seeing that person in a different setting, you will gain a greater understanding of that person’s gifts. Even if only two or three are able to go, it’s still worth the effort. As a youth cell leader, try to attend an extracurricular activity in which your cell members participate.
Progressive suppers - Divide up a meal between several homes. You could pick a western, picnic or holiday theme. An international theme could have each home serving a dish from a different country. Meet as a group to travel to each home, progressing through your meal. Parents or others from your congregation could serve as hosts. (end of issue)
These practical tips were taken from Youth Cells and Youth Ministry, compiled by Brian Sauder and Sarah Mohler. You can purchase this resource through www.cellgrouppeople.com.
Editorial - By Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr.
Breaking bread: A “love feast” can be a powerful way to draw your group closer to Christ.
One of the most precious experiences in a cell is to conduct a love feast, duplicating the way it was done in the early church. According to Acts 2:42-46, early believers went from house to house, “breaking bread,” fellowshipping, and praying. The reference to “breaking bread” indicates the presence of the Christian counterpart to the Passover feast of the Jews. This had been ordered by Jesus, who celebrated it with His own “cell group” (the disciples) just before His death.
I first experienced this precious feast with Dr. Robert Banks, who met with me and my seminary students in Australia (Read Going To Church In The First Century). We learned that the early church always celebrated the love feast in homes. They realized it had a double meaning: it not only served as a remembrance of Calvary, the birthplace of the church—the “called-out ones”—but also reminded them they were the present body of Christ. Thus, they were to examine their relationships with one another in the group and settle any problems between body members before partaking. We have experienced the love feast in my cell group, and have found it to be a profound experience.
Here are suggestions for you to use, based on scriptural principles.
Place all the prepared food on a dining room table large enough for your cell group (an empty chair symbolizing Christ’s presence may be included in the circle of chairs). To facilitate, you’ll want to sit at the head of the table.
Place a tray of unleavened bread (matzo) and a goblet containing grape juice or wine, plus a small napkin to wipe the edge of the cup as it is passed.
1. Ask a cell member to pray, celebrating the presence of Christ into the midst of your group.
2. Then, read 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. Lead your group in a time of worship. Encourage your cell members to share a song, a prayer, or a scripture.
3. Next, indicate that this is a time for any grievances between body members to be shared. This is specifically mentioned by Paul, with the warning that if this is not done, it can bring spiritual death or sickness. See Matthew 18:15-16 for the pattern taught by Jesus. If some desire to speak privately to others, they may leave the table to talk while the rest of the cell intercedes in prayer for them. If the matter cannot be reconciled, those involved may then ask the cell to pray with them until the matter is settled.
4. When community has been restored or acknowledged, break the bread and quote the words of Jesus: “This is my body, broken for you.” Pass the bread around the table and ask each person to break off a piece. When all have received the unleavened bread pieces, eat as one. When you’re done, ask a member to share a prayer of thanksgiving.
5. Now it’s time to eat the meal. As you eat, ask each person to share a recent experience they have had with the Lord in their prayer life.
6. Then dialog over instances in the life of Jesus where he ate meals. With whom did He eat? Where? (Encourage your members to save “small talk” for later. A love feast is designed to focus on Christ in your midst).
7. When everyone has finished eating, read Matthew 26:27-29. Pass the common cup mentioned earlier. Use the small napkin to wipe the edge of the glass after each person sips the juice. Upon presenting it to the next person, the giver says, “Jesus said, ‘This is my blood, shed for you.’ ”
8. To conclude this portion, sing a praise song.
9. Now, pray over your blessing list, or for those who have not accepted Christ that live or work nearby.
10. Relax together with fellowship and sharing. If children are present, play with them.
A love feast is powerful. It will arrest conflict, restore fellowship and refocus your group on what’s most important. Plan one at your next meeting! (end of article)
Ralph W. Neighbour Jr. is the publisher of CellGroup Journal and the author of 35 books. Ralph is currently planting a cell-based church in Houston, Texas.
Just for Pastors - By Don Tillman
Mentoring: A life investment strategy
Part Two: Practical aspects of Jesus’ mentoring of his disciples
I asked my friend, “Do you have an investment strategy?” “Of course,” he said. “It’s not working very well, but I do have one.”
He was talking of a financial investment strategy, of course. Many people today have strategies for investing their finances. They are preparing for a future marriage, their children’s education, or their future retirement years. Wise financial management includes investing current resources in anticipation of future needs.
But I wasn’t speaking of finances when I asked my friend if he had an investment strategy. I was speaking of something far more important. I was asking if he had a strategy for imparting his life into the life of another. I wondered if he was strategically involved in mentoring another person.
In part one of this series, I noted that as Jesus completed His work on earth and prepared to return to His place in eternity, He commanded His followers to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). I commented on my own pilgrimage in trying to become a better disciple-maker and the role mentoring played in the process. I offered five principles I felt were helpful in becoming an effective mentor in God’s kingdom, arguing that mentoring was more than training or the teaching of facts. In this article, I want to investigate an experience from the life of Jesus, noting some stimulating principles that rise out of His example, and I want to offer some practical steps you can take in developing your own life investment strategy.
The gospel writer Mark describes Jesus’ calling of His twelve closest disciples like this: “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, designating them apostles, that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:13-15). Mark then goes on to name the twelve.
Note that Jesus called his disciples to Him so that (1) they might be with him, and (2) He might send them out. While they were with Him, they lived life with Him—learning, searching, growing, struggling, and in some ways imitating. He modeled a way of life before them. What did He send them out to do? He sent them out to do what He was doing. Mark says it was to preach and to have authority to cast out demons. Other gospel writers add healing the sick. They were to live the way of life He lived and they were to do the things He did. This is disciple-making! Our standard method of “information transformation” isn’t even on the same page. Disciple-making is the process whereby we invest our lives in another in an effort to reproduce ourselves in that person. Our aim as followers of Jesus is to produce another follower of Jesus. It is perhaps life’s most significant function. Let me share some principles I see rising out of Jesus’ mentoring model.
Seek out rather than being sought out.
As I reflect on my past mentoring efforts, I realized I often set the stage for a less than rewarding discipling experience—both for me and my protégé—with one significant mistake. I waited for and responded to requests for personal mentoring from others. This was the way I was taught to do it. The rationale seemed sound: a person coming to me asking to be mentored would prove to be motivated and teachable. My experience often showed the motivation to be a need or desire for my attention and the spirit to be far less than teachable.
However, when I approached a person, things usually turned
out differently. I learned to watch for individuals displaying the behaviors of
active spiritual growth, individuals in who’s lives
God was obviously at work, and then
I sought to join in. I found people who were open to my investment into their lives and capable of investing back into my life as well.
Jesus called the twelve to Himself. He did the inviting. There were many who gathered around and followed along, some with noble motivation, some ignoble. From among them, Jesus chose a few.
When you look at your relationships, who has the potential to influence and is demonstrating a desire to grow? In whose life do you see the shaping hand of God at work? You may be looking at the person God would have you mentor.
Involve, train, and test prior to extending an invitation.
Someone having demonstrated faithfulness with little is likely to do so with more. Someone having shown himself or herself to be teachable will continue to be teachable. Demonstrated behavior is more reliable than promised behavior. A little observation up front will save a great deal of regret later.
Raise up people to do what you do.
I struggled for a time with the fact that Jesus sent His disciples out to preach, to have authority over demons, and to heal the sick. Did this mean I was to do the same? I realized one day that Jesus sent His disciples out to do the things He did. He reproduced Himself in them.
One erroneous conception of discipleship seeks to convince me that I am responsible for discipling all those around me. To a degree it is true, insofar as I am obligated to point all toward Jesus through my actions and words. Who am I, though, to think I have the ability to shape all people in all ways? No, God has not made me a super disciple-maker. But He has made me capable of reproducing myself in certain others. A powerful chain of discipling would exist if all those in a local church setting were attempting to raise up another to do what he or she was doing—while in turn being raised up in like manner by someone else.
Entrust with responsibility.
Jesus sent His disciples out to do what He did long before they were ready. Surely He knew they would not do it as well as He did.
Being afraid to let others fail is a seriously debilitating factor in the discipling process. Keep in mind that the growth occurring through an attempt to do something new is often more important than the success of what was attempted.
Here are some steps that will help you move forward in investing your life into others.
1. Pray. Ask God to open your eyes to see the one(s) He desires to partner you with in a mentor-protégé relationship.
2. Watch. Observe behaviors. Do you see someone eagerly pursuing more of God? Does this person respond well to your initiatives to speak into his or her life? Do you see potential for this person to do what you do?
3. Invite. Humbly (but assuredly) invite this person to join you on a path toward knowing and serving God. Clearly state what you can offer and what you expect in return.
4. Invest. If a person agrees to submit to your leadership, he or she has just entrusted a significant part of his life and potential to you and you to him. Treat this trust with the high regard it deserves.
5. Release. Don’t hold your disciple too close. Your task
is to release a new
disciple-maker. Give your protégé progressive responsibilities that will end at a point where he or she can do what you do, only better.
It’s time to invest in others and release them to do ministry. Equip the saints! (end of article)
Don Tillman is president of Crosspoint International, a cell church planting missionary cooperative with a mission to plant cell-based congregations across the U.S. and around the globe. Info is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the web at www.crosspoint.org.
Nucleus - By Larry Kreider
Build Flourishing Relationships: How unholy covenants can destroy relationships rather than build them.
During the week after September 11, I boarded five different planes traveling to five cities in the United States. Airports were deserted, and passengers were scared. As I boarded a flight from Denver to Washington DC, I could feel a cloud of fear settle on my fellow passengers.
Within moments, something changed. Before the plane pushed away from the ramp, the pilot greeted us, “Let’s talk about what happened last week,” he said with confidence in his voice. “The Constitution of the United States begins with ‘We the people.’ We are in this together. If someone on this plane claims to have a weapon or a bomb and tries something stupid, there are one hundred of us on this plane and one of him. If you have a computer on your lap, throw it at him! Use your pillow or blanket to protect yourself, and jump on top of anyone who claims to have a weapon. Push him to the floor of the airplane, and we will bring him to justice.”
He paused for a few seconds, allowing our minds to take it all in, “Now, shake your neighbor’s hand. Ask him if he’s married and how many children he has. Ask where he works, and get to know him.” Within moments, the entire atmosphere on the plane changed. I believe it changed from fear to faith. The pilot encouraged us to build relationships! Relationships, in turn, encourage trust, which builds faith! The pilot was on to something.
It is something that those involved in cell groups know already. Small groups are greenhouses where relationships flourish and faith is built. But sadly, sometimes relationships are broken. A broken relationship is like a thin thread. If it is torn, it is hard to repair. Many times, healthy relationships in small groups are ruined by “unholy covenants” that bring great pain, destroying relationships rather than building them.
During the mid 1970’s, a small group collective called the “discipleship movement” became popular in the United States and other western nations. Good discipleship principles were sometimes overshadowed by unhealthy one-on-one relationships. Leaders required those under their authority to get their approval before making decisions such as dating, marriage, and even visiting relatives during holidays! In some cases, families were split apart and lives turned upside down.
This movement led to unbiblical obedience to human leaders. The leaders twisted the biblical principle of accountability by stepping into others’ lives and attempting to make decisions for them. Occasionally, believers moved halfway across the country to follow their “spiritual parents” to a new location. They were told they were “in covenant” with their spiritual leaders and could not be separated from them.
A holy versus an unholy covenant
A holy covenant is a promise on the part of God. The only covenants that are holy and last for a lifetime are: 1) the covenant I have with Christ to serve Him completely; 2) the covenant I have with my wife to love her and cherish her “until death do us part,”; and 3) the covenant I have with the body of Christ to love her and be a blessing to the Lord’s bride.
While a holy covenant is a promise on the part of God, an unholy covenant is made with a person or group that hinders one from obeying the Holy Spirit’s leading in his life. For example, some believers were asked to stay at a certain church their entire lifetimes because they were “in covenant” with the leadership. This is unholy and unhealthy. We cannot be sure of the time frame of serving with those in our current group or local church. This is up to the Lord, not up to us.
To say we will always have a close relationship with someone can become bondage. We must take the attitude of “if the Lord wills!” James 4:13-15 (NIV) tells us: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow . . . Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”
If the Lord is calling someone in your group or local church to serve elsewhere in another part of the Lord’s vineyard, don’t hold them back. Keep the relationships, release them, and help them find their current places of most fruitful ministry. This will keep everyone involved free from the pain of an unholy covenant. (end of article)
Larry Kreider is director of DOVE Christian Fellowship International, a world-wide network of cell churches.
(end of issue)