Each issue of the Journal comes together in unique ways. Often, I will choose a theme for each issue and ask various writers to submit articles with the theme in mind. This issue, however, wasn’t planned that way. It was supernaturally orchestrated without my participation!
Just after the New Year, a cell leader emailed me and asked if she could submit an article. I replied and invited her to provide a practical piece for cell leaders that would challenge and encourage.
Like many of our guest writers, Amy wrote from her heart. As I read the first draft, I was overwhelmed with her unabashed transparency. It was refreshing to read, and I could relate to her story.
A few weeks later, Scott emailed me his article, which also appears in this issue. As I read through his work, I was amazed. He and Amy had written on the same theme without speaking to one another! And the beautiful thing is that there is very little overlap . . . each has something very unique to say about what to do when nothing is working right and you’re ready to throw in the towel.
On a completely different note, the next issue of the Journal will be the last for a season. We’ll launch a new pastor’s newsletter this fall, and continue to develop our web site for cell leaders around the world.
While I know many of you will be disappointed, the ministry here is strong and will continue to provide you with practical resources for all aspects of cell life and leadership. And, we’re planning to release special editions of the Journal from time to time.
As I look to the future, I pray we have many years of working along side each other in the harvest fields! (end of article)
Cellular Thinking - By Randall Neighbour
Is your group fertile or barren? Take on your role as a spiritual fertility specialist, and share God’s joy!
Years ago, I was at a dinner party and met a man with a fascinating call in life. As Harlan put it, “I help couples get pregnant when there seems to be no hope.” He is a respected obstetrician and gynecologist with a specialty in fertility procedures. His record of healthy births for struggling couples is well known, and his practice is growing.
Sitting in traffic a few weeks ago, I remembered that introduction and my first conversation with Harlan. On that time-consuming trip home, I discovered an important correlation between what this man does for couples and what you can do for your group members. Cell leaders, rise up and become the spiritual fertility specialist for your group!
Many cell members have a heart for the lost. If asked weekly, they would tell you that they didn’t have the courage or opportunity to share Christ with others. While this isn’t a global problem, it is more commonly found in cell groups comprised of long-term believers from more traditional or denominational backgrounds. If this describes your cell members, this article will be valuable reading.
I hope you share my commitment to help each group member—through the power of Biblical community—discover that knowing God is exciting enough to share with others. It’s not a task we can do single-handedly, but a goal you should make for each person, with the help of the Lord and the rest of your small band of believers.
Becoming a Specialist
Should you accept this assignment—and for your group to grow you must—you will become a specialist in reaching unbelievers for Christ and showing your members how to do it as well. The only difference between you and the doctor I described above is that you should not wait until group members make an appointment and share their desire in this area. You must become proactive if your group is not hungry to reach the lost!
Some of you are probably thinking, “I’m no specialist! I’m a regular person without training.” Others of you must be thinking, “I’m just not wired for this” or, “No one has mentored me.”
True, you may not have hours of training or a mentor for what you’re about to do, but that doesn’t mean God has not equipped you for the task. Every believer can draw on the joy of their salvation to fuel a kingdom-building life! Moreover, it’s not as hard as you may think. Here’s the D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) process, broken down into manageable tasks. Just put one foot in front of another, and soon enough, you’ll be on your way.
Ask God to give you the courage and the words to speak to others as needed, and thank Him in advance. This is a working definition for the word faith. For what should you pray?
Joy - Pray for God’s joy to fill you so that it becomes as undeniable as the smile on the face of a child who’s just been given a king-sized candy bar! When God’s joy hits you full-on, you’ll be seeing things differently . . . taking difficulties in stride and anxious to give away what you have found.
If you don’t sense God’s incredible joy easily, ask Him to show you why. There may be some tough issues to work through, but this is important. You simply must press into God and discover what is in the way of seeing His love for you. Don’t let anything rob you from experiencing the joy of our Lord!
Opportunities - Pray for opportunities with your friends, family and co-workers. Ask for divine appointments and the ability to see the things that keep your unbelieving friends and family from experiencing the God-given joy in which you are living.
Vision - Ask God to give you a vision for what each member of your group will look like when they too are full of His joy and praying for opportunities to share God’s goodness. Pray for them by name, and remember this is not a prayer for them, but for your own eyes to see them differently . . . as God sees them.
Begin to share the joy God has given you with everyone around you. Some of your friends and family will think you’re a little odd to be so happy about God’s love, but this is a powerful relational place in which to find yourself. In other words, don’t hide the light of God. Build some contrast for them by openly sharing what you would typically share with other believers, even if they don’t understand. This will help them see that you have something wonderful and they will naturally begin to hear the Holy Spirit’s call.
Will this feel uncomfortable or awkward at first? Probably. But that shouldn’t stop you. When it results in your unbelieving friends asking you why you’re so happy in the midst of a tough economy, rumors of war and the rigors of daily life, you’ll lose those feelings of awkwardness.
How will you know when you’re becoming a specialist? When you lead your unbelieving friends to the cross and you’ve begun showing your cell members how to do the same!
Building Your Practice
Dr. Harlan gained confidence by working in a clinic with real couples who wanted children. At this point, you too have gained some confidence in reaching unbelievers by keeping God’s never-ending joy in your life. Now it’s time to help your cell members birth a lifestyle of reaching unbelievers for Christ.
Begin by thinking strategically about your cell members. Your members can be grouped into three categories: Those that are open and sharing; those that want to share but can’t seem to do it; and those who have no desire to share. Let’s discuss ways to model an outward, joy-sharing life with each member and support them.
Active, joyful believers
These members don’t need any more fire in their bones because they already have a whopping portion of God’s joy! What they do need is help discipling the new believers they are harvesting. Ensure they don’t become discouraged by setbacks in their walk with Christ or disappointment when friends don’t accept the Good News when they offer it. They’re young and tender in their walk.
Inactive, desiring believers
These members just need a helping hand to get started. Help them by affirming the good you see in them, meeting their unbelieving friends, and assisting them in any way possible so that they can see a friend come to Christ. You may be the one to share the Gospel message for them the first few times. For the most part, they just don’t have enough self-confidence to be bold and share their joy as they would with you, a trusted believer.
Challenge them to begin talking about their spiritual journey and to describe God’s love to unbelievers they know, even if the unbeliever doesn’t seem to understand it. When they begin to do this without thinking about it, they’ll reach someone for Christ. It’s all about helping them show and tell their world they are God’s child and deeply loved.
Inactive, passive believers
These members will be the toughest folks to help; I’ve seen many “sit and soak” believers change into joy-filled doers of the Word, but it has not been an easy task to help them think differently, see differently and act differently. With these members, you must remain on your knees.
As always, petitions of prayer on their behalf are the most powerful way to set them free for ministry:
• Ask God to give them a hunger to know Him in such depth that an inner transformation takes place.
• Pray that the scales on their eyes will be removed and that they will gain a tender heart for the thousands of lost souls they see each day as they sit in traffic, work at their job and go shopping.
• Pray that God will allow them to see the hurts, pain or issues that keep them from accepting His love and forgiveness, and experiencing His indescribable joy.
As you pray, remember to let these members know you are praying for them, and be bold enough to tell them precisely what you’re praying for. This may seem as scary as describing God’s love to an unbeliever the first time, but it’s exactly what your members need to hear.
Once again, you’re trying to build contrast in the minds and hearts of others. With unbelievers, you want them to clearly see your love for God and His joy in you. With passive cell members, you want them to know that God is not satisfied with unhappy, tormented children. He wants the best for us, and often, a big brother or sister in Christ has to help us see the truth. Be that person in their life.
If your cell group isn’t reaching unbelievers successfully, don’t lose hope. You can begin by making changes within your own prayer life to get God’s joy. Ask him to reveal His love for you in such abundance that you’ll burst if you don’t share it with everyone around you. When this happens, you’ll begin to see fruit in your own life and you’ll have new Christians to share with the members of your group.
You cannot give away what you do not currently possess. That’s why an outward-focused, evangelistic cell group always begins with an outward-focused cell leader. You’ve been called to this, and while it will be a time of great challenge for you, God needs you to become the spiritual fertility specialist for your cell group. Pray hard and don’t hold back when you have the joy of the Lord. Shout it from the mountaintops! (end of article)
Randall Neighbour is an author and President of TOUCH®, The Cell Group People™.
Student-Led Cell Groups - By Randy Riggins
An interview with youth cell leaders: Pearls of wisdom from a student perspective
During the month of April, I sat down with each of the student shepherds in our high school small groups and asked them some questions concerning leadership, cell life, and their interactions with our adult leaders. I believe you will find that these individual responses provide us with a window through which we can see student perspectives on the challenges, blessings, and responsibilities that are a part of shepherding a small group.
What are the best things about being a shepherd?
“Seeing my friend come to know the Lord!”
“It forced me to be more open and get to know more people.”
“Seeing two of our girls get saved.”
“Having an opportunity to lead.”
“Seeing the positive changes that occur in people’s lives.”
“Getting closer to the guys in our group.”
“Being a part of what God is doing.”
“Seeing girls in my group get baptized.”
“Seeing my group grow spiritually.”
“Being able to ‘be there’ for others.”
“God-Sightings! Knowing I’m a part of my guys’ spiritual development, and having them tell me about how they have seen God at work in their lives.”
What are the toughest things about being a shepherd?
“Knowing about the situations that some of our guys are going through.”
“Creating times to connect with group members outside of our normal group time.”
“I struggled with feeling responsible when our group was really small.”
“Trying not to take my group’s problems home with me each week.”
“Feeling like I am a person who is actually worthy of leading a group.”
“When questions are asked and you don’t know how to answer them.”
“When you feel like people are watching you to see if you are going to mess up.”
“Keeping our girls focused so that we are not just getting together to talk about guys!”
“Dealing with people who come to my group, but are against Christianity.”
“Learning the balance of leading and still being a friend.”
“Knowing the group looks up to you. You are setting an example by how you live.”
what are the benefits of having an adult coach in your group, and what is your relationship to this person?
“I know if I need anything he is there. I can talk to him. He checks up on me and sees how things are going.”
“Our coach is the best! She is a loving person, and she has good things to say. She has adult insight.”
“We can talk about stuff and share prayer requests. She calls me and we plan things out.”
“She really bails me out a lot!”
“Our coach steps in when we don’t know what to say . . . then everyone listens!”
“Sometimes, she shares her own struggles, and that just models sharing for others.”
“She answers the tough questions!”
“My coach is just a natural mentor. People always talk to him openly about what is going on in their lives.”
“She let’s me lead. I bounce ideas off her frequently.”
“After group is over, we talk. She tells me what she saw me doing. Then, she gives me some advice for the future, and she also encourages me with the good things that she sees.”
“Our coach gives me more confidence. She helps me see things in myself I wouldn’t have noticed.”
“She gets things moving, and she is very organized. She always helps us stay on the subject.”
“He has good things to say. He is very real! And, I know he is always there when I need him.”
“He knows me. He always recognizes when I’m not prepared.”
“She is a friend. I know I can go to her for advice. She is like our second mom.”
“He is a model of faithfulness to our group. He loves us.”
If a church were looking to start youth-led cell groups, what advice would you give them?”
“Make sure you have adults who are committed to the groups.”
“Don’t let your groups get too big.”
“Keep the groups the same gender. There is more openness that way.”
“Make sure group is fun! Add skits and games. Don’t just say, ‘Read this and answer these four questions.’ ”
“Create a good mix of people in the groups. Don’t put all the best friends or cliques together in one group.”
“Confidentiality among group members is very important!”
“Adult leaders should meet with students before the group
This way, everyone is on the same page.”
“You don’t want leaders who feel like they’ve been forced into it.”
“Make sure your preparation doesn’t happen the night before. If your leaders are really prepared, their eyes won’t be glued to their notes, and they’ll be able to interact with the group.”
“Watch out for groups that become stagnant.”
“Communication outside of group meetings—between group members and leaders—is very important.”
“Make sure leaders listen more and talk less. And when someone talks, they need to know what they are talking about. If your leaders don’t know Jesus and aren’t walking with Him, its pointless.”
If you are a student shepherd, I hope you were encouraged as you read through these fellow leaders’ responses. My prayer is that you were reminded that you are not alone in your struggles, and that there are great benefits to be gained when you press on as a leader. If you are an adult, I hope that you were challenged to continue the process of allowing God to shape you into the type of leader who is eternally impacting the lives of students.
And finally, if you are a church that is considering youth-led small groups, I hope you were able to gain some additional insight into how God would have you shape this exciting step of future ministry. (end of article)
Randy Riggins is the Youth Pastor for Clearpoint Church in Houston, Texas.
Cover Article - By Amy Stoner
Confessions of a cell leader: Five Lessons on cell leadership--My Personal Story
“My intern missed our scheduled time . . . again.”
“After weeks of planning and prayer, not one new person came to our outreach.”
“One of my best friends just left our cell to attend another church.”
“I had a horrible day at work and would love to skip the meeting tonight, but I can’t . . . I’m the leader!”
“This is NOT how cell life and leadership were described to me!”
Six years ago, my church made the decision to transition to cell ministry. My husband and I were among the first to volunteer to lead a cell. Although I didn’t know much about cells, I recognized the power and potential in this “old-yet-new” way of doing church. Years of traditional church ministry experience had left me empty and searching for deeper connection and fulfillment. When our first cell group was launched, I could hardly wait to experience the wonderful growth God was going to bring!
At the risk of sounding cocky, I did everything right. I read books, attended seminars, and earnestly prayed for my cell. I learned about equipping people, using a strategic plan, hosting outreaches, and more. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I faced the challenges with energy, enthusiasm, and expectation.
What I didn’t know was that leading a cell is no ordinary ministry. For the first time in my Christian life, I was encountering something much bigger than myself. Something I couldn’t control. Something I couldn’t make successful on my own.
Suddenly, doing all of the right things didn’t guarantee anything! I couldn’t fake my way through or hide the reality that my cell simply wasn’t growing.
Faced with apparent failure, I did the only things I knew to do—pray more and work harder. When that didn’t work, I resorted to blaming the devil, blaming my cell members, and finally, blaming God.
“How could He do this to me when I was working so hard for Him? How could I know that I was on the right track when there was so little visible fruit? Why did the methods that worked for others flop when I tried them?” And most challenging of all, “How could I keep fresh when I had to face the same ten people week after week?”
Six years later, I’m still a cell leader with some of the same members who began the process with me.
On the surface, it may look like not much has happened, but in reality, everything is different! Yes—it is possible to survive and even to grow when you don’t see obvious signs of increase and growth in your group!
Somehow I don’t think I’m alone. If you struggle with guilt, confusion, anger and pain because your cell hasn’t met your expectations, I want to encourage you.
Grab a cup of coffee, and I’ll share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Lesson 1 Remember Your Roots
Do you know why you’re a cell leader? If I asked, could you tell me what drew you into this ministry?
I still remember the moment when the light went on for me. Something stirred deep inside and said, “This is what you’ve been looking for!” I was tired of pouring hours into programs and church politics. My heart yearned for meaningful relationships—to make a lasting difference in someone’s life. I wanted to focus on bringing people to Christ instead of bringing a fancy dish to the monthly potluck dinner. For me, being a cell leader seemed to be the answer to all of my concerns and desires, wrapped in one neat package.
But over time, I began to lose sight of the reasons I became a cell leader. Years of traditional ministry had “programmed” me to perform for results and approval. When month after month went by without signs of growth, I grew weary in well-doing, and doing, and doing. Although I was determined to be a great cell leader, it seemed that nothing and no one was cooperating with my plan!
Looking back, I realize that my anger, disappointment, and hurt were signs of whose kingdom I was really building. Under my vision and passion lurked a hidden agenda for personal glory and fulfillment. Like Abraham sacrificing his beloved Isaac, God asked me to lay my plans, dreams, and visions on the altar. As I surrendered, the joy of my ministry returned.
Is God saying the same to you? Spend some time reminiscing about your beginnings. How did you become a cell leader? What did you hope for when you began? What promises did God speak to your heart? Have you deviated from your original vision? Let these memories be your “true north.” If you still believe in the reasons you began this journey, then you cannot turn back!
Lesson 2 - Be Yourself
Books, seminars, and new, innovative models can be dangerous if you don’t “keep the main thing the main thing!” Desperately wanting better results, I tried new things—hoping for a breakthrough. I wasn’t fooling anyone, especially my cell members. Their confidence in my leadership actually grew when I stopped trying so hard and learned to be myself.
What’s the “main thing?” I am a co-worker with Christ. He changes lives, heals families and grows cells—and He lets me help! What a thrill it was to realize that I am uniquely equipped to participate in His plan for my group. I don’t have to strive to be like anyone else or duplicate another ministry. I can learn from them, but I must be myself! My honesty and humility will pave the way for a true connection with others.
One of our best meetings was the night that my husband confessed to our cell group that he was frustrated and disillusioned. He felt like he was failing the group as a co-leader. Oddly, they weren’t surprised. They had sensed his struggle months before and were just waiting for him to be honest and share his heart.
Instead of taking offense or running in the opposite direction, the group reaffirmed their love for him and their support of our church’s vision. He received great freedom and felt a release from the expectations he thought they had of him. That night was a turning point in the intimacy level of our group.
It’s far easier for me to read a “how- to” book than to rely on God’s direction and be transparent with others. While I appreciate the practical resources, I realize the best way to use these tools is after you have found your foundation in God’s direction for your group and you can lead out of openness.
Can you relate to my story? Then find a quiet place and begin to pray for a fresh understanding of your role and how you can lead by example and be yourself.
Next, prayerfully evaluate the spiritual gifts of your cell members. What are their common passions? Who are the people God has drawn to your group? What are their issues? How do their hearts connect with yours? These clues point to God’s plan for you. Lay aside the books for awhile and discover that it’s okay to be you-nique!
Lesson 3 - Let God Be God
For the first four to five years, my husband and I worked at a frantic pace to build our cell. Enthusiasm and adrenaline carried us through ridiculous schedules of secular employment, multiple mentoring relationships, and late-night counseling. We began to burn out and our family life suffered. Resentment built as our efforts produced little visible fruit.
In exhaustion, we realized that all of our hard work could not change a single heart. We drove ourselves crazy over how many people were in our cell, how to win the lost, setting multiplication dates, etc. Much of what we stressed over was really out of our control. Unless the Lord builds the house, the labor will be in vain.
Today, we are learning to trust in the sovereignty of God. He is building His kingdom in His way and in His time. Although we still have seasons of busyness, they are Spirit-led instead of guilt-driven. We are at peace with our role in bringing people to Christ. Stressful statistical questions have been replaced with better ones that actually measure our faithfulness: “How many people have I invited to cell? Am I faithfully praying for the lost? Did I connect with at least one cell member outside of the weekly meeting?” These things we can control—the rest is up to God. This realization has relieved a lot of pressure for us.
Does this lesson echo your life as a leader? Take inventory of your past year. Are you getting enough sleep? Eating right and exercising? Spending time with your family? Taking time with God each day? Do you tackle only those things that God calls you to? Are you overwhelmed by your cell members’ problems? Would the world end if you took a few weeks off to rest?
All these questions boil down to one basic issue . . . are you trying to be God?
Develop some specific and measurable goals for yourself and share these with your coach or pastor for encouragement (i.e. I will call one cell member each day. Or, I will invite at least one new person to cell each month). Then, relax and let God be God. Remember, burnout is not a spiritual gift!
Lesson 4 - Don’t Quit. Go Deeper.
Let’s admit it—the honeymoon is over! Like dirty socks on the floor and smeared makeup in the morning, we’re well acquainted with the warts and wrinkles of cell life. At times, our cell members have stood us up, stained our couches, and crushed our illusions. As the glow of first love fades, we face a tough decision. Will we split and search for a newer, more attractive companion? Or will we weather the ups and downs and learn the deeper beauty of seasoned commitment?
What does it mean to lead the same people week after week?
deepening your relationships! Although I knew that relationships were the foundation of any successful cell group, I approached cell leadership like a job. My process was to lead, strategize and achieve!
My workaholic strategies hid a deep secret: I was afraid of intimate relationships. It was far safer for me to mentor someone with a workbook in hand than to simply talk transparently over a cup of tea. Without the ability to connect myself, I could not lead my cell members to build meaningful relationships.
The world is filled with wounded people who don’t trust easily. Although they crave intimate relationships, they need time to feel safe. When we rush to perform, produce and multiply, many of these wounded souls simply shut down. At best, they reproduce more surface, safe relationships which do not attract others to Christ. At worst, they drift away still searching for answers to the hurt inside.
Time and hard work form the foundation of all relationships. If you’re convinced that God has called you to lead a cell, then make a commitment for the long haul. Any hesitation on your part is as deadly to your cell as a marriage partner who keeps mentioning the “D” word (divorce) when things get tough. Assure your cell of your love and dedication, no matter how long it takes. Be willing to model trust and vulnerability yourself. Learn to love your role and cell members “for better or for worse.”
Lesson 5 - Embrace the Journey
Board an airplane and you can stand on the other side of the country in mere hours. Few books have been written about such an experience. On the other hand, the man who bicycles across the nation has a story worth telling and there’s a great deal of interest.
I almost missed the story that God wanted to write in my group. In my zeal, the journey seemed like an annoying series of obstacles to reaching the destination (multiplying my cell and being seen as a successful cell leader). Consumed by what wasn’t happening, I overlooked all that God was doing.
Now, I am learning to cherish the scenery along the way . . . to feel the terrain. Instead of rushing ahead, I am embracing lessons of character, teamwork, and perseverance taught by long and strenuous days on the trail. Each rut and rise in the road adds richness to the story!
I have learned to celebrate small signs of growth; someone who usually rushes off stays for refreshments; a child runs up to me for a hug each week; my group enjoys a hearty laugh; someone shares on a deeper level; my members returning each week with a praise to share. Perhaps the greatest cause for celebration is that I am changing and growing inside!
I have also learned to face the challenges with growing courage. Resolving conflict between cell members, learning from a painful mistake, trusting God’s goodness in a heartbreaking situation, dying to my need for approval and significance and following the trail without knowing what lies ahead are my new goals.
What is your story? What lessons have you learned? What interesting people have you met? Is the scenery desolate or breathtaking? How are you being changed?
Remember this: On any journey, the leader sets the tone. As you relax and learn to enjoy your cell members, they will feel like people instead of projects. They too will begin to embrace the journey. Their hearts will open to your loving leadership. Others will be drawn to the life and love they see, and together, you will have a powerful story to tell.
“Is our cell too inward focused? Is this just a tough geographic area for cells? What if the problem is me? I must not be committed enough. What more can I give? What about the promises God gave me for the group? Maybe this is punishment because I don’t pray an hour every day!”
If you’re like me, you’ve spent countless hours soul-searching about the lack of growth in your cell group. We’re good at beating ourselves up. We must be doing something wrong. After all, this is supposed to work!
But sometimes it doesn’t work. Often, God has a different plan . . . to bless His children before He blesses their ministries, to prepare a foundation deep and pure on which to build His Kingdom. My “failure” brought me to my knees where God revealed my hidden agendas, misplaced priorities, and prideful dependence on myself and my methods. My pain and anger uncovered long-buried wounds and protective walls that prevented intimacy with others. My brokenness released God’s healing to make me a shepherd who can love and lead like Him.
Looking back, I know that every step of this journey has been a gift from God’s hand. I am a much better leader than if I’d had instant “success.” Yes, I still long to see my visions and dreams fulfilled, but I have seen enough to know that this is where I belong. I can never turn back.
My cell group may still be small, but its members and leader are alive and growing! This is not how cell life and leadership were described to me . . . it’s even better!
Five Ways to Pray While You Watch God Work in You and Your Group
1. “Search me, Oh God”(Psalms 139:23-24). Allow God to examine your heart and expose any hidden agendas or wrong beliefs that may be hindering His work in your cell.
2. “Show me the good works which You have prepared for me to do” (Eph 2:8). You have been created to fill a special role in building God’s kingdom. Seek to understand how God wants to use your gifts and passions, even if they seem to fall outside of “normal” cell leadership.
3. “Sovereign Lord...stretch out your hand” (Acts 4:24-30). Surrender to the truth that God alone can change hearts and grow cell groups. Be faithful in your labor, and place the rest in His hands daily.
4. “Teach me to love my cell so that they can see You” (I John 4:12). Pray for the stamina and grace to love and keep on loving. Pray for specific ways to show love to each cell member.
5. “Though the fig tree does not bud...yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Even when it’s hard to see Him at work, God is still worthy of our worship. Walking in hard places teaches us a whole new depth in worship, to worship Him instead of His works.
Journaling Your Journey
From Paul’s missionary journeys to Lewis and Clark’s expedition, travelers in all ages have found it helpful to journal their experiences. Insights that seem trivial today often prove to be invaluable in a few months or years. Reading past journal entries can bring perspective and show progress that may otherwise be overlooked.
As part of “embracing the journey,” begin to journal your journey. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
1. Write in detail about your calling, vision, hopes and dreams for this journey. Where do you hope to be as a spiritual leader in one year, five years, and 20 years?
2. Write prayers that express both your hopes and your discouragements. Pour out your heart cries. Paraphrase some of the Psalms that speak to your situation.
3. Write your core values as a cell leader. How do you want to lead? What do you want to be remembered for?
4. Describe some of the people who are journeying with you. How do they challenge you? What have they taught you? How do you see them growing?
5. Write about your weaknesses as a leader. What are you afraid of? What do you hope no one learns about you? What would you change if you could?
6. Write about your gifts. How do you see God using you? When do you feel most powerful in your ministry? How would your cell change if you were living as God created you to live, using the gifts He’s given you?
7. Write your thoughts after each cell meeting—even if it’s just a few sentences. What encouraged you? What concerns you? How did God show up? Look for patterns and cycles.
8. Write what God is saying. What promises has He given? How has He corrected you? What words have been spoken over you or your group? They may not make sense today, but down the road, they may confirm what God is doing.
9. Create a page for each person in your group, listing their names and writing down what God gives you for each person. Look for the ways God is working—no matter how small. It is easy to forget the good stuff about cell members when discouragement hits.
10. Write a letter to each member of your cell. Dream for them. Believe in what God can do in their lives. Write of things not yet in existence. Your cell members will never forget the friend who dreamed big dreams with them, and they’ll do the same for someone else one day.
(end of article)
Amy Stoner and her husband, Wayne, are cell leaders at New Cumberland Alliance Church in New Cumberland, PA. She enjoys her two daughters (ages six and three), gardening and writing.
Editorial - By Ralph W. Neighbour,Jr.
The South African cell movement: In just nine years, it’s become a world leader.
South Africa has one of the strongest cell church movements in the world today. I have returned after several years to experience an astonishing conference which has drawn over 700 delegates from all parts of the nation. The man God assigned to assume the leadership of the nation’s cell church movement is Harold Weitz, who has seen his small church, the Little Falls Christian Church (LFCC), grow to over 2,800 people in cell attendance each month.
The growth of LFCC has happened because this pastor has tweaked the structure of his cell ministry to make it exactly fit the culture. He has wisely rejected—but brilliantly adapted—the leadership patterns developed in other nations. I feel it is important for every single church to recognize that there should not be a “management system” for its cells, but rather a “mentoring system” that fits the complexion of the people forming the cell groups and the culture it is called to penetrate.
This has been done in South Africa over and over again, as Weitz has traveled across the nation to consult with fellow pastors. This nation came out of apartheid less than a decade ago, and the cell movement has had a strong influence in bonding tribal Africans, Indians, Dutch Afrikaners, and British immigrants into one community of faith.
grow bigger or begin planting?
LFCC grew so rapidly a few years ago that Weitz had to decide whether to go for a huge auditorium or to plant cell churches out of the mother church. His choice has resulted in a total of 14 new congregations planted in the last three years, with most of them beginning within the past 18 months.
One of the daughter churches, on the edge of Suweto, has shot past the 1,500 mark in just a few months from its beginning. The pastor, once a part of a revolutionary group seeking to murder Afrikaners, was gloriously saved through attending LFCC and its cell groups. God has projected this brilliant teacher (with little training apart from the Bible College that is sponsored by the church) to become a pastor of one of the largest black churches in the nation.
TESTIMONIES OF GROWTH
Pastor Boshoff is also a speaker (here at the conference). In 1994, he heard me speak for 3 days when I first introduced the cell church concept to the nation.
This brash, Spirit-filled young man went back to the church he pastored and had grown up in and fired all the officers of the church! He said, “I am not going to have any leaders except those who will follow me into the cell church ministry. Now you must earn your way back into leadership.”
While I don’t advise churches to follow this pattern, I was amazed that this church’s love and commitment to him allowed his decision to stick. He now has over 7,000 in the cells and has won thousands of Zulus to Christ in the townships in his area.
With me here also is Ben Wong from Hong Kong, who heads up the Global Cell Church Conference to be held this year in November in Seoul, Korea.
During my time here, I met Don Mathene. He left Baker, Louisiana many years ago to plant a cell church in Kenya, and he has been sharing how they have to meet in a stadium now to accommodate the thousands who are in his cell church!
While America seems to be lagging behind, in these last days God is at work around the globe restructuring His people to become “Basic Christian Communities” incarnated by Christ, assigned to penetrate the darkness with the Shining that exists within them.
My prayer is that our nation’s churches and leaders will realize the responsibility that is ours to equip every believer for ministry. (end of article)
Ralph W. Neighbour Jr. is an author, local church planter and professor at the Glocal Training Center in Houston.
Cell Leadership - By Scott Boren
The unwilling cell group adventurer: The story of Bilbo Baggins and unlocking the secrets of fruitful ministry
One of my favorite books is The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a self-proclaimed conservative who does not go on adventures. In fact, he prides himself on staying to himself, not bothering other hobbits, and not taking risks.
Bilbo could have written an enlightening book on the art of living a quiet, safe, unadventurous life.
If The Hobbit had been about Bilbo sitting at home pondering his safe life, it would have been 250 pages of boredom. Instead, it is a tale about Bilbo’s reluctant adventure with a small group of companions to take back stolen treasures from a fire-breathing dragon. This adventure takes them through a wooded forest where they are bound by large spiders, captured by three huge trolls, imprisoned for trespassing, and almost drowned as they float down a river. And all of this occurred before they encountered the dragon!
Imaginative tales like this are great fun. For me, this book has been much more, as it revealed something about my cell group leadership. For me, and many like me, leadership has been defined by control. I have seen my role as performing a certain set of duties in order to produce a certain set of results. Like Bilbo, I wanted to lead my group quietly and safely. Even more than that, I wanted to do it unadventurously. I wanted to be in control of my group and do a good job. I wanted to see cell members grow up in the Lord and unbelievers get saved. I wanted to multiply my group.
I read about cell group leaders from around the world and how they multiplied groups over and over. Such people became heroes to me. Studies have been done on these heroes and books have been written so that others can learn what makes them effective cell group leaders.
But when I pull into the driveway and get out of my car to lead a cell group meeting every Tuesday night, something happens. I feel like Bilbo on a reluctant journey that I cannot control. I see my cell members arrive and they are beyond my control.
What happens when I do everything the books say to do and the meeting flops? What happens when a group member does not want to grow in the Lord? What happens if no one wants to become a cell group intern and share the leadership role? What happens when people do not change and the group stagnates?
The Keys to a Great Cell Group Adventure
My Tuesday night cell group is great. We laugh. We share. We’ve become quite transparent with one another, and the Holy Spirit touches people in this transparency. In fact, in recent meetings, tears have become quite common. Through these tears, we are growing up in the Lord. My cell members are asking good questions. A few of them are stepping up into leadership. We are reaching out to the lost together. We have walked through the door of being a great cell group. It is working the way the books say it is supposed to work!
To be honest though, I have led groups where these things did not occur. I felt like I was standing at a locked door. Behind it was a good cell group, but I lacked the keys to open that door. I felt out of control. I wanted to see good things happen. I wanted God to move. I prayed and even pleaded that He would, but no matter how hard I worked, the door would not open.
Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The keys of the kingdom symbolize the authority to connect the will of heaven to earth. These keys open the door for Jesus to come to life in the group and change us. When leaders use these keys, the door of heaven is opened and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Keys of Control and Authority
Peter was the first to declare Jesus as the Christ and because of that, Jesus promised him that he would carry the keys of the kingdom. But Peter misunderstood what Jesus meant. He thought that Jesus would enter Jerusalem as a power-type leader who would overcome wrong with the keys of control. Peter wanted safety. He wanted to win. He wanted Jesus to force Himself on people and establish Himself with overwhelming power. To Peter, Jesus retorted, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man.” Peter wanted the keys of control, rather than the keys of authority.
Cell group leaders so often follow the path of Peter! They have been trained as a leader. They have read the books. They have been set apart by the pastor to lead the group. They walk into the meeting with their chest out and chin up for the first few weeks. Then they realize that people are not responding the way they are supposed to. In fact, the group is beginning to dwindle.
I have experienced this. In fact, my first group was what I call a “learning experience.” I began it with great expectations, dreams of seeing cell members transformed, lost people reached, and new groups started. Nine months later, I had to step down as a leader because I had the wrong keys. My key chain was full of me and my desire to control people. I wanted people to grow in the Lord. But, I thought that my control and desires for them were the keys. I lacked the keys that Jesus wanted to give me and used my own.
The need to control causes leaders to look for magical formulas that will make their groups better. Their intentions are good, but the results are hard to swallow. Primarily, the result is pressure on the shoulders of the cell group leader to make the group better.
Even when the group improves, the pressure remains on the leader to keep it up. The keys of control take leaders down a direct path to people. It forces the will of the leader upon the cell members. The leader just wants good things for his cell group members. But he tries to relate to them directly as though he has the answer to their problems. This might sound like the leader is an egomaniac, but he is only trying to help people. But by doing this, he places the pressure on himself. As the pressure increases, the results of his ministry are, at best, short term. The cell leader tries to get members to conform. They do so to keep the peace and because they like the leader. But beneath the surface, nothing really changes.
Peter’s keys of control led him to disillusionment and despair after he denied Christ three times. He gave up on Jesus and the promise of the keys of the authority of heaven. Peter had to discover that the keys of control caused others to focus on him rather than Jesus. He had the most dangerous kind of pride, the subtle kind that is cloaked in the desire for good things for others.
When my group did not work out as expected, I had to rethink what it meant to be a cell group leader. I joined another cell group, which was led by someone without all my how-to knowledge about cell groups. He had not read all of the books I had read, but I noticed something different about his leadership. While I sat in the group, I watched with amazement how the group functioned. It was fun!
People shared openly and the group grew. That leader had the right keys, the keys of authority. These keys open a different door to a different path, one that leads directly to Jesus.
The shortest route to effective ministry is actually the indirect one. The job of the cell group leader is to take people to Jesus and to take Jesus to people. Jesus is the authority and only His keys matter. Cell group leaders must be more concerned about being with Jesus than with being a better cell group leader.
At the same time, Jesus desires to make groups better. He provides practical ways to improve the group. He uses books and seminars to highlight activities and tools that work. But these things are not the starting point. Jesus is.
The books or seminars on cell group leadership describe the keys, but they do not provide the keys. A leader can only get these keys directly from Jesus. The keys are based upon the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus is the one who brings life to a group. He is the one who causes people to share honestly. He is the one who touches lives and changes people. He is the one who moves through the group to reach out to the unchurched. He is the one who raises up leaders that result in new cell groups. Jesus is the key, not the leader’s hard work.
Peter received the keys when he saw the risen Christ on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” Peter said, “Yes I do.” Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus only gives the keys of the kingdom to those who are willing to serve. Kingdom keys are powerful; they open the doors of heaven to enact the will of heaven on earth. Jesus will not give these keys to just anyone, and especially not to someone who would abuse them to control people. If Jesus had given Peter that kind of authority before the cross and resurrection, he would have abused others. But after Peter had been broken and had his pride stripped away, he could carry the keys and minister to the sheep with the authority of heaven.
Finding the Keys Of Authority
Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” to which Jesus replied, “This was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven.” Peter was not just answering a simple question with his response to Jesus. He was entering into worship. He recognized that Jesus is God, and with his statement he proclaimed in worship his allegiance to his God. While Peter did not understand what the keys meant, he understood the importance of recognizing who Jesus is.
The way we find kingdom keys today is the same. The authority of heaven is not given to those who bypass worship. By pouring our hearts out to God we make room for Jesus to fill our lives with His Spirit who gives us the power to minister and serve others. By obeying the Word of God and worshipping our God, by doing something that makes no sense to a how-to world, by setting aside time that seems like a waste to those who want to get something accomplished, we receive power from on high. Jesus told his disciples before he ascended, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus knew that unless His disciples’ lives were permeated with the presence of God, they would be powerless to minister. He knew they would quit when it got hard. He knew His disciples would have questions that were too big to answer themselves. Therefore, He told them to wait upon the presence of God.
The keys of the kingdom come to those who wait in worship. The power to lead a group like those talked about in books comes only to those who spend time lifting up the name of Jesus! Yes, there will be those who take the shortcut by depending on the “20 ways to be a great leader.” And yes, some of these people will do a good job, probably because they are unusually smart or talented. But for the rest of us, there is only one path toward great leadership. That path begins with worship, progresses with lifting up His name, and ends with His glory. Along such a path, the “how-to’s” just start working by His Spirit.
Practicing the Keys of Authority
Practical “how-to” questions are not evil. They help put feet on what I discover in my time with Jesus. They are crucial to ask if I want to be an effective leader. I am always trying to learn better ways to lead a meeting. I want to grow in how I care for and pray for my cell group members. The keys come from Jesus, but I want to carry them properly so that my flesh does not pick up the wrong keys and I lose the authority of Jesus. I have discovered three ways to carry His keys:
1) Relinquish control of the outcome and take authority over the process. Leaders cannot guarantee success. They cannot dictate what the group will look like a year from now. But leaders are not to be weak-kneed wimps who are afraid to lead people through the process of being a strong group. Leaders receive instructions from Jesus and then they lead people into the process that He gives. Leaders catch a vision from God for the group and set goals with the group. But ultimately, God brings the increase, not leaders. Leaders only plant, water, and harvest.
2) Relinquish control of other people and take authority over your responses to them. Some people will get it. They will be captured by the love of God. They will become passionate about being with Him and serving Him. Others will go through the motions, thinking they get it. Still others will need to work through long-ignored pain and rejection before they walk in the freedom that God desires for them. Leaders cannot control how their members feel or how they respond. They can only take authority over their own responses to others’ actions and words, submitting them to the Lord.
3) Relinquish control of your circumstances and take authority over the decisions you make within them. Life happens when you are making other plans. Challenges will come which can be seen as barriers to the group or stepping-stones for God’s activity in the group. If the leader sees them as barriers, he will try to control the circumstance. If he sees them as stepping-stones, he will walk with authority and ask God what He is doing in the midst of these circumstances.
[These keys were adapted from Daniel Olson’s, “The Well-Being of Individuals and the Health of the Community” in The Difficult but Indispensable Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 41-44.]
Adventuring with Bilbo
Bilbo wanted to control his life. The last thing he wanted was an adventure. But an adventure he got, one with great surprises, dangers, and serendipities. At the end of the story, the dragon is slain, his companions get their treasures, and readers are entertained. Bilbo returned to his hobbit home only to find that he had totally lost control. His friends and family thought he was dead and they were auctioning off his house and belongings. His world of control turned into a world of adventure. And because of this adventure, Bilbo became a different kind of hobbit.
In my journey as a cell group leader, much has happened. God has transformed the members of my groups. My groups have grown and multiplied. And non-Christians have found their Savior. On this adventure, I can honestly say I’ve lost all sense of control.
Leading a cell group is more than an adventure. It is the wildest ride of life. This ride has changed me. I no longer feel the pressure to control life and make my leadership or my group work, and I look forward to the next stage of my adventure. (end of article)
M. Scott Boren is the director of R&D for TOUCH®, and the author of Making Cell Groups Work, an excellent resource for churches who want to transition to cell ministry successfully.
Nucleus - By Larry Kreider
The mark of community: Does your cell group have the presence of a reconciling spirit?
Whenever two or more people are together, there is the potential for disagreement. Conflict is not right or wrong, but how we respond to it is what matters. Conflict can leave us feeling hurt, ignored, confused, isolated, or threatened. Unresolved conflict is compounded when individuals become stubborn and selfish and refuse to love biblically. Marriages deteriorate, churches and cell groups disintegrate, and friends separate.
Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, says it is not wrong to disagree: “The popular concept of unity is a fantasyland where disagreements never surface and contrary opinions are never stated with force. We expect disagreement, forceful disagreement. So instead of unity, we use the word community. The mark of community-true biblical unity-is not the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of a reconciling spirit.”
The Bible gives us clear insights into resolving conflict and having a reconciling spirit. When conflict is handled biblically, it becomes an asset instead of a liability. Conflict allows us to recognize our deficiencies and invites the Lord to correct them. The following biblical steps will help you to resolve conflict in your personal life and in your small group.
Gain agreement that a problem exists
When facing conflict, we must listen to each others’ views so it is clear what the conflict is really about. This is why we must go directly to the person involved (Matthew 18:15-17). Confronting and discussing the situation privately often gives an opportunity for quick resolution, lessening the chance for misunderstandings and animosity to grow.
Try to understand the other’s point of view and discover what is behind each opinion. This helps another person see that you are willing to accept responsibility if you have contributed to the conflict.
Identify the consequences up front
Each person in conflict should ask the question, “What is the worst possible consequence if this conflict is never addressed and resolved?” One thing you should be able to agree on immediately is that if the conflict goes unresolved, it may lead to greater problems. Paul addressed dissension in the early church by appealing for them to make an adjustment so that unity could prevail. He encouraged them to take immediate measures to repair their disagreements before strife tore them apart (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).
Pray together asking the Lord for wisdom and alternative solutions
Pray and ask the Lord for potential solutions to the conflict. One of our team members had to mediate an intense conflict on a church leadership team. When he met with the team, he felt they needed to come into the presence of God before they discussed anything. They had a wonderful time in prayer, and it was clear that God was moving in people’s hearts. He had instructed them ahead of time to write down their grievances. At the end of the prayer time he said, “Okay, go ahead and read your concerns to me.”
The first individual unfolded his paper, looked at it, and then refolded it. “In light of what just happened, these concerns are really insignificant,” he said.
Why did he no longer see the “problem” as significant? It had disappeared in the light of God’s wonderful grace and forgiveness! Sometimes what seems major and insurmountable becomes minor in the presence of God.
The presence of the Lord brings situations into right perspective. It washes off the junk and sets us free to humbly forgive and defer to each other.
Mutually agree on an action
Too often we spend most of our time on the conflict and forget to pursue possible solutions. Make a list of any proposed action (solution). Then pray over the list and pick an action (possible solution) that everyone agrees with. Believe in faith for a win-win solution as you approach possible solutions together. Will the proposed action allow a healing process to begin with no one being blamed? Does it provide for an end of the conflict with no recurrence? Will it result in better understanding by all parties with all feelings being respected? When we can agree on an action, the blessings of “life” the Lord promises in Psalms 133 will flow into the situation.
Follow-up and measure progress
Allow for a period of evaluation to determine if the resolution is successful in averting similar conflict(s). Set a specific date to meet and review the resolution and determine to alter the resolution if it is not working.
Once a conflict has been resolved and all the parties feel like they have been listened to, cared for, and understood, then it is time to “let go” of the conflict. Don’t bring it up in the future. God does not remember our sins to hold them against us, and we should do the same.
In our personal lives and in our small groups, let us continue to learn to defer to one other, applying the wisdom from above to our lives (James 3:17). Our God gives us grace to patiently listen, forgive, receive, correct, and submit to each other. Remember, in the midst of any conflict, it is more important to be Christ-like and have a reconciling spirit than to be right. (end of article)
Larry Kreider is director of DOVE Christian Fellowship International, a world-wide network of cell churches. He is the author of numerous books on cell life and leadership. Visit DOVE’s website at: www.dcfi.org
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