Ernst Ksemann writes, "Any version of Christianity is incredible which, while professing belief in the Holy Spirit, fails to carry his power and victory into every deepest hole and corner. What our world needs everywhere today is this exorcism of its demons. For it is only when the heavens open and the Spirit descends that God's good creation comes into being and continues in being."
In another part of this edition, there is an article by Carl George on the Meta-Church and a corresponding article on the Cell church by me. When Carl and I met briefly in Los Angeles last year, I shared the three levels of spiritual growth described in I John 2:12-14. "Little Children" become "Young Men," who in turn become "Fathers." He shared a powerful thought with me: "Note that a 'Little Child' is not called a 'young man' until after he or she has overcome the evil one."
That really impacted my thinking. All the "follow up" and "discipleship" methods available today seem to ignore the matter of how a new believer overcomes Satan. One person said to me, "The new believer isn't ready for something that heavy."
Nonsense! Those entering the kingdom of God will instantly meet Satan as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Within the new believer, there are "holes and corners." Spiritual growth requires that they be set free.
A chap in our Houston cell group some years ago had just accepted Christ. A Viet Nam vet, he had lived a lewd and immoral life while there, consorting with dozens of prostitutes. A week after his conversion, he burst into my office, white as a sheet. "As I drove down the freeway, I began to recall all the filth of my life in Nam. Ralph, help me. Surely I can't be a true believer and have thoughts like that!"
An insurance man named Gary had come from a similar background, a Christian for only three months. Both were members of the same cell-I called his office and within ten minutes he was with us. I paired them together, and left them sharing deeply.
Months later, Gary said to me, "You will never know how much good it did for me to help that veteran. Thanks for asking me to come over. Satan is not going to trip us up!"
New believers must learn how to experience the power and victory of the Holy Spirit in the deepest holes and corners of their lives. This should be the priority in every Cell group. In the transparency and trust of the Cell, the people of God can experience the work of the Holy Spirit. They can learn how to bear one another's burdens, how to hear from God, how to build up (oikodomeo) one another, and how to be healed and delivered.
A Cell church must live with an awareness of principalities and powers. It must equip every person to bind and loose on earth what is already bound and loosed in Heaven. The focus of Cells must always be on the presence, power, and activity of the Holy Spirit-and the deepest holes and corners.
I have come to a startling conclusion-if we develop the attributes of a dog, we can deepen our walk with Christ! God has allowed me to see that even a dumb animal (ahem, non-speaking, not stupid) can be an example for us all.
I have two dogs, Buddy and Pal. They have been noted in previous articles, but they have never occupied the limelight as they shall today. This article is a tribute to my dogs and their qualities of loyalty, friendliness, and willingness to please.
It has always been difficult for me to understand how my dogs can continue to love me and serve me, given my sometimes heavy handed correction. I cannot tell you how many times I have yelled at Buddy or whacked Pal on the backside for sitting on the couch. Yet I am always greeted with a wagging tail or a whole back half, depending on the length of time we have been apart. No matter how harsh the correction may seem, they do not stray.
With incredible consistency, a dog shows his loyalty. Why can't I be as loyal to God and His Call? Life for the believer should be "flat-out" for God. I have learned that I have absolutely no other valid reason for living but to glorify God through a life of service. Gently God is showing me areas of my life that do not glorify Him. Sometimes I wrestle, but I know it's for the best. Anything that keeps us from total devotion to our loving Lord must be given to Him. It may be a job, family, a bank account, education, or a personal addiction. However important and good it may be in our eyes, He wants it! In the immortal words of Jim Elliot, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose."
We adopted Pal during that vicious gnawing and chewing stage of life for a puppy. I reprimanded Pal at least five or ten times a day for months. I confined him to the utility room for a week after he chewed most of our formal dining room chair legs (to this day I will never forget the look on my wife's face)! Pal learned through a series of corrections that rawhide toys were good for gnawing, and Duncan Phyfe chairs, although tasty, were a sure bet for a lonely week in the utility room.
I'm not fond of receiving correction, either. But I am learning that my life in Christ is a crucible, being ever purified by fire, as I am being transformed into the image of Christ! Oh, there is a fair amount of pain, but have you ever grown as a believer without difficulty? Learn the broad line between reaping what you have sown and correction from God.
Pinpointing sin, and learning to flee from it, is the hopeful result of God's discipline.
Are you taking on your God given responsibilities as a believer? Buddy and Pal have a well worn path around the fence line of my yard. I don't particularly care for their landscaping efforts, but they know their responsibilities. They protect my home and if needed, even me. As we grow in the Lord, we are being equipped for the work of ministry. Developing a servant heart takes practice, and a willingness to do whatever our Master wishes. We should consistently be on the lookout for new opportunities to serve God. Are you widening your oikos to include unbelievers? Have you asked a fellow Cell member how you might become a blessing to them and their unbelieving friends? "Cross-oikos" penetration strengthens your Cell in a variety of ways as you display Christ in your own special way.
Are you making use of the spiritual gifts God has given you? While God doesn't give these to dogs, you will find certain breeds are known for a particular talent-guard dogs, companions, and even gentle breeds for children. Our gifts from God may be different from fellow Cell members, but this is what makes us a complete body. Don't try to be a breed you're not. A cocker spaniel is great with kids, but I sure wouldn't have one as an attack dog! Exercise the gifts God has given you, not the ones He has given others. Exercising spiritual gifts under our Masters direction draws others to Christ, ministers to fellow believers, and honors our mighty God! Buddy and Pal have both learned to sit, lie down, and stay in position-depending greatly on the size of the treat. Even old dogs will learn new tricks. There is never a point in our Christian pilgrimage when we "arrive." Even pastors have things God wants to teach them as they are being transformed under Christ's hand! God ain't finished with any of us, YET!
My pups have very unique personalities. Buddy is overly- compliant-wanting desperately to please me, and is the most obedient of the two. His whole body shakes as he finds security in the bathtub during lightning and thunder. Seventy-five pounds of Labrador turns into a Chihuahua with the first drop of rain. Pal is stubborn, slow to obey, and will even growl at me if I don't scratch his itch just so. Pal doesn't care if he stands in the pouring rain, and is terribly self-confident in comparison. Although their personalities are far from similar, they have developed a real kinship and love for one another.
In contrast, I have seen fellow Christians fight like cats and dogs (ahem!), because they would not bear one another's' burdens or overlook a weakness. Why, even a dog will lick the wound of another! A brother or sister's burden is our own-are you willing to reach out to help, or are you quick to condemn? If we let the Christ who dwells within us minister to our brother or sister, there will be no room for criticism.
I used to think that a dog was just man's best friend. They make such good listeners when you have problems! But there is more-by their qualities, Buddy and Pal have shown me how to grow closer to my own Master, and other believers as well. The beauty of this situation for Christians is that our Master, Jesus Christ, treats us much better than I can treat Buddy and Pal in all my humanness.
So Buddy and Pal, here's to you! Thanks for showing me so much, for putting up with so much, and giving me such a challenge-to stay ahead of you with my own Master!
What term would you use to describe the following church?
I fully agree with Ralph Neighbour's opening words in Where Do We Go From Here?: "The traditional church worldwide is slowly being replaced by an act of God. Developments taking place today are as powerful as the upheaval in 1517 during the time of Martin Luther."
In fact, what the Holy Spirit wants to do may be even more radical than what Dr. Neighbour is prophesying! In Christian communions from Orthodox to Anabaptist, Pentecostal to Lutheran, the notion of a cell-driven church is completely re-orienting our understanding of the nature of ministry.
What to call the social theory that guides our understanding of this paradigm shift, as illustrated in the opening paragraph of this article? I call it Meta-Church thinking. What does the term Meta-Church signify? One of the people who critiqued Prepare Your Church for the Future, the book I wrote to explain the Meta-Church paradigm, said, "You're trying to describe what's coming next."
Exactly. Just as metamorphosis describes what is ahead for the caterpillar, so Meta-Church emphasizes the changing character of the church; the new things that God is bringing to pass. The term was coined to alert leaders to the radical differences in how ministry must be configured in order to deal with significant changes occurring in societies worldwide. The most fundamental of those alterations is the biological family that is not functioning well; people are increasingly unable to find the support, acceptance, belonging, positive role modeling, a sense of normalcy they need.
The word Meta, meaning "change," emphasizes an alteration in how the family of God relates to one another. It also represents a significant shift in how ministry is perceived: that the clergy's critical event involves leadership formation rather than the doing of hands-on, primary-care ministry.
Finally, the term Meta-Church also represents an accompanying change in organizational priorities and structures. It offers an alternative path to the future without the same theoretical limits that cause existing North American churches to top out somewhere below the 20,000 mark. The engine that propels a Meta-Church and leads to an exponential growth multiplication is the work of the Holy Spirit through lay-led home discipleship centers. These are affinity-based, spiritual-gift dependent, lay shepherded, supervised, evangelistic and self-reproducing. Virtually all ministry is decentralized to these groups. Such a system frees clergy to focus their energies on training lay leadership.
The Meta-Church, with a nurture cell of approximately ten people as its spiritual and emotional center, never has to be reorganized. It can accommodate every church size from 50 to 500,000. Churches can maintain quality, meaningful caregiving no matter how many of these spiritual kinship groups comprise the whole church.
How does this view differ from the notion of a pure cell church? The distinction is mostly a matter of rigidity. Suppose, for example, you have a headache and you decide to relieve the pain by taking some aspirin. Will you insist on swallowing a tablet that contains nothing but aspirin, or is it okay to take something that's cherry-flavored or orange colored, as long as the proper pain-relieving chemical compound is also present?
Meta-Church thinking examines the degree to which a church has been "cellularized" and its leadership has been linked. The pure cell church is, in most cases, an imagination of the ideal; the Meta-Church is a perception of how churches are moving toward that imagined future. Thus the Meta-Church asks what is preferable, but acknowledges that certain inevitable realities don't fit the ideal. It tries to discern the degree to which group leaders are in fact convening their people, and the degree to which coaches are, in fact, working with group leaders. In the process, it nudges the system toward that optimum.
The Meta-Church, then, is not a program, nor does it require any particular curriculum. Rather, it's an x-ray to help you look at what you've got, in order to figure out what's missing. It can be applied at any level, whether a new mission church, a program-based-design church (to use Dr. Neighbour's phrase), or a deeply traditional church that reminds you of the Queen Mary being steered by one oar!
Similarly, Meta-Church philosophy applies equally well for liturgical and non-liturgical, innovative and traditional, seeker-sensitive and open-church style. Why? Because an x-ray machine doesn't require only one kind of subject. It can examine any kind of church for its vision, standards of care, spans of care, leadership connections, system of leadership development, and balance between celebration (the convention of cells) and cells.
According to Meta-Church thinking, function is more important than outward form. As in the aspirin analogy used above, the active ingredient in aspirin is not its color, flavor, or shape, but a certain chemical compound. In analyzing what makes aspirin effective, the danger is to confuse its packaging with its active ingredients. The same analogy could be made about the programs, ministries, curriculums and "labels" of a church; these may or may not be essential to the underlying vital ingredients or theory of organizational development.
The Meta-Church, then, is willing to live with irregularities. It doesn't insist on being more sure about how things ought to be than reality teaches us that they indeed are. It suggests ways of increasing our effectiveness through accepting with gratitude all that exists, and then solving problems in one of several directions: (1) a decentralized ministry through cells, (2) or a relationally expediting ministry through larger groups (congregations and celebrations) which help people become acquainted with one another, and then send them to cells.
The Meta-Church remains constantly aware of its purposes and principles, but it also honors history. It asks about what already exists, and then it probes to what extent a higher level of effectiveness is achievable. It guards against making "best" the enemy of "good."
Meta-Church thinking, then, offers a church leader a helpful perspective on the ever-present, ongoing process of transition. First, it affirms the wisdom of working with the people who are ready to work with you. If 50% of your church is not interested, then leave them alone. Salt the oats a little and pray that God will use you to make people thirsty, but don't beat people up or become angry with them. Cast a vision of a preferred future, run with those who respond, and wait for God to ignite the spark in the others.
Second, approach the churches you serve (or counsel) with a certain respectfulness that says, "I'd really like to understand the work of God that is going on here. Then I'd like to ask, 'If we were growing faster and needed to expand more, which of the elements here are the most able to help in the expansion process? Which kinds of cells can grow most rapidly? Which should we leave in place?'"
This approach represents a much different kind of eyeglasses than the formula of one-size-fits-all. Whenever we say, "If you have a cell that doesn't fit this characteristic, you're wrong," then those who are moving toward that ideal feel rejected and looked down on.
Third, the Meta-Church encourages a leader to be prayerfully diagnostic. We want to search for the theories and principles that help us identify what God is blessing. Then we want to learn how to transfer those dynamics from one application to another. In doing so, we can help existing churches (or new churches comprised of inappropriately trained believers) to accentuate the principles at the heart of what makes a Cell church work.
As both Ralph Neighbour and I are predicting, one day soon, North American churches of 25,000 to 50,000 will appear in every metropolitan area, just as they are already present on most other continents of the world. Where will these churches be? Most will develop in urban centers and metropolitan sprawls. In fact, many of these churches already exist, and are currently running between 400 and 3,000 people in worship.
We're anticipating that those recognized today as "big churches" will, in many instances, be dwarfed by what is to come. We are creating a database of all those North American churches which are operating at a consistent growth rate of 20% or more a year, and are anticipating that their compound growth will soon show some very, very large "conventions of cells." These are exciting days to partner with the Holy Spirit. I don't believe that God is nearly as interested in our labels-"Cell Church" or "Meta-Church" -as He is in the issue of seeing more and better disciples made of our Lord Jesus Christ. To that end, let's continue to press forward.
Carl George, a pastor for 16 years, has been director of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth since 1978. Warren Bird is his assistant and editor.
Carl George has been consulting with churches since my days at West Memorial in Houston. I remember his counsel as I talked with him about faithful soldiers who had stood with me from the start but now were grumbling over silly things: "Ralph, any time a church grows as fast as your church, the 'pillars' suddenly find they are no longer needed to support the roof, and they become terrified at the thought that they are no longer needed."
He had hit the nail right on the head. A year later, I shared this with Dr. Yonggi Cho. He leaned his head back and laughed. "Yes! That's right! When a church grows as fast as ours has, it is a constant problem, and I have trusted men to take care of it for me."
I share this to tell you that Carl George is in wide demand today because of his great wisdom and extensive experience in consulting with churches.
Carl is also not afraid to speak honestly and boldly. Some time ago, he spoke with me on the telephone. As I recall his words, they were something like this: "You are the only person I know who is more upset with church life today than I am." We count it an honor to present his article to you.
We are, indeed, in the Second Reformation. The restructuring of the church is everywhere obvious. In 1970, I went to the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to be coached by three brilliant men. I was about to launch my first non-traditional church and these powerful men agreed to discipline my mind for a month before I started. One of those men was Dr. W.O. Howse, now with the Lord. He is the one who coined the phrase "Program Base Design."
As we sat eating breakfast one morning, he said to me, "Ralph, for over 50 years this denomination has built such tight brick walls around its pastors that they have had little more than breathing room. They are controlled by the programs. They cannot think for themselves. Their feet are suspended a foot above the ground. You must be careful! If you tear all those bricks down, they will be in deep trouble. They will lose their balance and hurt themselves. What I see is the need to slowly widen the brick walls that box them in. We must let them slide down slowly until their feet touch the ground. Then, very slowly, we must remove the bricks and teach them how to walk."
I believe the "Meta-Church" is a part of this Second reformation, but I see it as only a "safe" stage for pastors who are just beginning to feel the soil under their feet. The "Meta-Church" will help them stand up as they begin to walk. It is a good and necessary step in the right direction. Carl George is a veteran of hundreds of hours of consultations with churches big and small. As a consultant, he is one of the most sought after in the land. His calling from God is to help the denominations and communions of our nation begin to slide the walls apart that surround their pastors. I could not do what he is doing, not just because I am "more upset with church life" than he is, but also because I came to a powerful conclusion after devoting 20 years of my life trying to put new wine in old skins. I realized that my calling is to help develop new wineskins for the new wine, rather than spending my time in frustration trying to patch old wineskins.
There is a great need for the new wineskin of the Cell church. Along with the alterations in biological families, the church has been removed from the public world. As an institution, it has lost its influence (see Foolishness To The Greeks by Leslie Newbigin). Gallup found that 70% of Americans believe most churches are ineffective. No matter how we change the old wineskin, there is no way the church as we know it can return from the private world to the public world. We need to start over.
I believe God is doing exactly that in our day. While in His grace He may bless some patches on old skins, the Holy Spirit is creating a new Bride. It is observable all over the earth. Those of us who now live in the new paradigm clearly see the radical difference between renewed churches and new ones. A switch of direction for a traditional church may be introducing small group dynamics to church life, but it does not create a New Testament model of the church. It is simply a necessary patch on the old wineskins.
The recent history of the church is a distortion and a distraction from Biblical patterns. The only way to serve the church is to return to our real traditions - not what happened in Germany or Switzerland or Holland or England, but what happened in Jerusalem and Antioch and Ephesus.
To understand what is going on during this Second Reformation, it is important that we discuss several key distinctions between the Meta- Church and a Pure Cell church.
First, we must consider the fact that the cell of the Meta-Church and the cell of the Cell church could be identical, but they could also be poles apart. In a Cell church, the Cell is the basic Christian community, where Brothers and Sisters (and seekers) come together for edification, equipping, nurturing, and prayer. In the Meta-Church, a cell is any small group that functions under the covering of the Church. As you can see, Cell is a very broad term in the Meta-Church model. In fact, in this broad understanding of the word "Cell," Cell churches would fall under the Meta- Church class, just as humans fall under the Mammal class (every Cell church could be classified as a Meta-Church, but every Meta-Church cannot be classified as a Cell church).
Concerning the Meta-Church model, this question prevails-Will the remains of the old wineskin drain the energies of members who could be participating in a Cell group? I agree wholeheartedly with Carl when he says that the pastor should work with the people who are ready to work with him, but ultimately I feel the church must make a conscious decision: will we be a church with cells (and everything else available), or will we be a pure Cell church? There must come a time when the leadership lovingly allows those with a different vision to find a body where they can fit in and serve God. God's vision for the church must not be distorted or diluted by anyone!
While I enjoyed Carl's analogy of a plain aspirin tablet and one which is cherry flavored, my concern is that it may be possible for the additives in the cherry flavored aspirin to neutralize the healing power of the chemical that provides the cure. I believe that these "additives" to the Cell church often neutralize the most important function of the church, the Cell. While additives may make the medicine taste better, it is not worth the taste if you still end up with your headache! This lack of a focused vision allows people to "ride off madly in all directions," while they miss the life- changing experience of the Basic Christian Community!
I wince at the comment that the "pure Cell church is, in most cases, an imagination of the ideal." Am I imagining an ideal when Lawrence Khong reports to our pastoral staff that the weekly income of Faith Community Baptist Church equals the estimated 10% tithe of our 4,500 members? This is no "imagined future." We just paid off a US$7,500,000 brand new building with cash, while at the same time we exceeded our US$4,500,000 budget. It is not "imagined" that we have 120 staff and pastors, and are adding 60 more this year as we move toward a projected goal of 10,000 members by the end of 1994.
Nor is it "imagination" to know the Mana church in Portugal exploded from 500 to close to 150,000 in ten years as the pastor began to focus on Cell groups. Do not tell Dion Robert, with 30,000 in 17 years, that it is an "imagined future."
Around this globe, Cell churches will smile when they read that they are only an "imagination of the ideal." Sometimes I feel like the lad who gets in the mad professor's time machine and goes "Back To The Future." The work of the Holy Spirit is everywhere evident. The future is now, not imagined!
Despite this phenomenal growth of Cell churches around the world, I believe that we will see 100 Meta-Church models in the U.S. for every 5 pure Cell churches. There are many reasons for this, but I feel the primary one is that pastors don't yet know how to walk. They are still confined by the traditional walls that surround them. The bricks have not yet fallen to the ground.
I have said over and over that it behooves every servant of the Lord to find his or her role in what God is doing in our generation. Follow God's call for your life, not Ralph Neighbour's or Carl George's. Not all are called to be like Abraham, who "was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). Some will do so. I believe the Cell church is for Abrahams.
While this may sound harsh, I honestly don't feel badly if those who are trying to walk the line between being pure Cell churches and being a church with cells feel frustrated with my "voice in the wilderness." I have seen my fill of small groups that our Father could not possibly enjoy, because while He was talked about in them, He was never invited to take control of the group and flow between the members. God longs for intimacy with His Bride!
I celebrate the Meta-Church. Lord, bless this movement that will bring churches closer to the Biblical model of your Church! And as for those who are prepared to move into an even more radical paradigm, I would like to cry out, "C'mon in! The water's fine!" u -Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr.
A: Transitioning a Program Based Design church must begin with a focus on leadership. We suggest that you begin with a core group of three leaders and yourself. This parallels Jesus' leadership model with Peter, James and John. These men (or women) will be mature Christians who are firm in their faith, Bible knowledge, and have a heart for the lost. They should have a call on their life to shepherd, and potentially will be Zone Pastors as the church reaches out and grows. They must be freed from all other church activities and obligations to make the leadership cell the most important event of their week (they will not be expected or required to participate in any meeting, committee or service other than the Sunday celebration). Cell life will be their focus.
Begin to meet with these leaders and their spouses weekly. If the
spouse is unwilling or unsure of the direction taken by their husband or wife, rethink
your selection. This couple may be ready at a later time. Spousal support is critical.
This strategy gives you a total of eight in the primary leadership cell (providing all are married), the perfect number of people for small group dynamics. For the next several months, the eight of you must live together in community, experiencing cell life first hand.
This will be the only closed cell that you will have. Adding people along the way will cause backtracking, and slow the process of equipping the primary leadership core. No matter how large your church, it is critical that the Senior Pastor be involved at the top of the leadership structure. Each of these primary leaders should be cultivating relationships with secondary leaders who can become part of their own inner circle in secondary leadership Cells.
At some point, each trainee in the primary leadership cell will take three others who are potential Shepherds or interns, and begin secondary leadership Cells, with you serving as a Zone Supervisor. These cells will become open Cells after two months of intensive training. One of the three will become an intern for the cell members, and the other two will start a share group to reach the lost.
These secondary cells will assist in a number of ways:
Exponential multiplication of the primary and secondary Cells is not as important as building a deep understanding of Cell life and Cell truths into these core leaders.
Leadership development and evangelism go hand in hand. A leader in the making is one who successfully develops relationships with pre- Christians, brings them to Christ, and effectively shows this new believer how to do the same. In the initial stages of the transition, your focus must be on leadership development, while also modeling outreach.
At some point, all those involved in these leadership Cells will be formed into first generation Cell groups. As you form these first generation Cells, remember to focus on beginning strong groups that will multiply. Here again, the focus should be on quality, not quantity. Your congregation will judge the effectiveness of Cells by how your first generation groups function, therefore be sure to start them strong, and guarantee their multiplication.
A: Meet with each member and spouse to make sure they grasp and
are sold out on the basic concepts of the cell structure. Where Do We Go From Here? or
TOUCH conference audio tapes effectively impart the vision of the pure Cell form. The
first four weeks in the primary leadership Cell, should be used discussing chapters 1-16
in The Shepherd's Guidebook (four chapters per week). Chapter 17 begins the 3 months of
sample sessions they will use when the secondary cells begin. The Journey Guide should be
used with each member individually, helping both the equipper and the new leader pinpoint
where he is on his spiritual journey, and giving him or her a point from which to grow.
The next eleven weeks will be life changing for the primary cell members as they go through either Life Basic Training or Living your Christian Values. Both are a Biblical examination of value systems. Life Basic Training is more appropriate for groups, while Living Your Christian Values was written for individual study. We begin with an evaluation of value systems because we often think we have arrived, only to find out we have just begun. Recently a pastor told us that changing his church's structure was much easier than changing his members value systems. Life Basic Training is not something to overlook because of the high caliber of your leaders. Many seminary grads have found themselves weeping over this material as they come to grips with their relationship to the Master. At this point it may be wise to move into your secondary leadership Cell groups as you begin training to reach the lost. Knocking on Doors, Opening Hearts equips the leaders to minister to "Type A" (easy to reach) unbelievers. The leaders should have a goal to reach one "Type A" person for Christ within the next three months.
In these secondary Cells it is also important that you develop an equipping chain. This chain will facilitate weekly support and accountability, as the members of the Cell maintain contact with one another. For Cell life to be effective, there must be more to ones commitment than simply attending the Cell meeting.
Month seven begins the Opening Hearts Trilogy of books for those 2 or 3 mature Christians who will reach out to type B (hard to reach) unbelievers. Building Bridges, Opening Hearts begins the process by focusing the share group team on prayer, planning, and networking. These share group teams will develop strong relationships with those who have no interest in Christ, the Bible, or even knowing more about God's great love. Building Groups, Opening Hearts guides the team through ten weeks of regular get-togethers with type B unbelievers in Share Groups. Building Awareness, Opening Hearts equips team members to penetrate the "oikoses" or households of those who have been contacted through a Share Group.
Using Touch materials in your leadership Cell will give the members a firm foundation for healthy Cell life and an exciting ministry in lifestyle evangelism and share groups. It will also provide you with a group of ministering disciples who can form a core group as you launch into your first generation Cells.
There has never been, and there will never be, a strong Cell church created by those who fail to develop an integrated strategy for developing disciples. God knew Israel needed a strong leader when He called Moses to his life work and Moses used a strategy given by God. This has never changed. A strong leader knows where he is going, and he equips his people to go with him. This cannot be done without organization and materials.
A system makes it possible for leadership to be developed and for new believers to be discipled. Because a Cell church can grow rapidly, there needs to be a standardization of how all this is going to happen. When a Cell church is formed, there must be a system for developing the Leadership Team. The primary task of a Cell church planter is to develop the system as a lifestyle for every person on that Team! They must experience for themselves what those who follow them will do. Leaders cannot guide people where they have never walked. For this reason, the effective startup of a Cell church demands that the Leadership Cell go through the pattern they will set for those who follow them.
While developing community is the critical path for a new cell church, there must be a pattern, a system, to be followed as koinonia develops. In Acts 2:42-46, we have the beginnings of a system: they went from house to house, breaking bread, fellowshipping, and praying. There was, in addition, a system for creating relationships and providing instruction. The Cells went to the Temple to hear the Apostles teach, and the Apostles also taught in private houses (Acts 5:42). In the beginning, without a system, problems arose. The Grecian widows complained that they were not cared for, and a system was developed to meet the need. Later, systems were created for church planting, appointing elders, caring for the needs of those in famine situations, etc. If you thoughtfully read the Epistles, you discover much of what is being written explains how a system was developed for the many needs faced by the church of the first century!
Get it right the first time. Don't waste your time by trying, failing, and trying again to develop a system. Start with what has already been developed! Since 1970, TOUCH has been pioneering in discovering how best to develop Cell churches. From those years of experience, many pitfalls have been entered and many avoided. The result is a comprehensive system for the Cell church. It provides an overall strategy. It shows how to implement materials designed for the first year of equipping Christians who enter Cell life. These basic needs, faced by every incoming cell member, are addressed in "The Year of Equipping":
Next, the Shepherd's Guidebook provides training in how to lead a Cell group. It is followed in turn by materials soon to be released for Zone Supervisors. Finally, the TOUCH EQUIPPING STATIONS provide an intensive 9-month training for those preparing to enter ministry as a Zone Pastor or a Cell Church Planter. All this has been developed and is available to those in Cell church life through Touch Outreach Ministries.
Have you ever wondered how much saliva you swallow in a day? Probably not! The answer is about eight ounces. Is it offensive to you to automatically "wet your whistle" by generating and ingesting saliva? Of course not. Just imagine how terrible a day would be if this process suddenly ceased!
Let's suggest you expel your own saliva-eight ounces of it-into a perfectly antiseptic glass. Would you be willing to drink it? Ugh! -But why is the thought so offensive? Is its value destroyed simply because it is no longer internal? Actually, no-but the thought of drinking it is abominable. Strange, isn't it, how something that has been so acceptable internally become offensive when it is found outside . . .
I beg your pardon for the final thought: how would you feel about drinking someone else's saliva? The very thought of doing so is revolting! What is the point? Simply this: while we all are very wise in not reinventing the wheel, and while it makes good sense to adopt tested and effective models as a base for Cell church life, the most important accomplishment is creating a totally internalized system. Eventually, that which is imported from the outside must either be so internalized that it is accepted "as is" without hesitation, or else Cell leadership must develop their own way of equipping, evangelizing, and edifying. There must come a time when external materials are replaced by that which has been developed by the Holy Spirit within the Cell church.
Experience has shown that if a new Cell church starts with tested and proved systems and materials, they will grow much faster than if they experiment blindly to find a pattern for their life. On the other hand, those who settle down to recycle the same externally secured systems and materials will ossify or stagnate. Anything that is living is constantly changing, and as a Cell church matures it should come to a time when it develops better, more relevant patterns for its life.
Don't reinvent the wheel. TOUCH Outreach materials give you 24 years of testing and revision of a Cell church system and materials. Begin with them. Go through at least three cycles before you make significant changes to them. Once you see what works in your situation, stay with it. At the same time, make revisions. Learn by doing, and never be committed to a rigid pattern.
One of the great joys of those who minister in TOUCH Outreach Ministries is knowing that, sooner or later, every Cell church that uses our materials will grow to the point that they will begin the "cut and paste" stage of system development. When that happens for you, do not bother us with letters asking for permission to reproduce a certain page or illustration in our materials. Use what works, and begin to build your own special system. Rework the materials to fit your situation. TOUCH is not a publishing company interested in profit and loss or control-let's just see this generation brought to the feet of Jesus!
May God inspire you to adopt, then adapt, a system which will equip your Cell members to win the lost for Christ. Materials are mandatory, but only the Holy Spirit can empower you for the work He will do through you.
During the summer of 1971, my fiancee and I helped start a youth ministry with a small band of young people. We began to reach out to the unchurched youth of our community in northern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. During the next few years, dozens of young people came to faith in Christ with a desire to be incorporated into a local church. Every Sunday night we took van loads of these new believers to various churches in our community. Our purpose ... to help them find a local church. After the church services the entire group returned to our home for a time of praise, prayer, spiritual counseling, and just plain fun. I was asked to begin a weekly Bible study each Tuesday night for these new believers. Our desire was to teach them from the scriptures what practical Christian living was really all about and assist them in being "planted" in a local church. Despite our efforts and the fact that the Christians in these local churches were friendly and helpful, something still "wasn't clicking." These young believers were not being incorporated into the life of the established churches in our communities.
One day in 1978, I took a break for a few hours from youth ministry and from working on the family farm to pray. I was startled when suddenly I heard the Lord speak to me through His still small voice. "Are you willing to be involved in the underground church?" I was shocked. What I heard in my spirit was distinct, yet piercing! Although the words were clear, I didn't understand what the Lord was trying to tell me. My mind raced immediately to the Berlin wall and barbed wire fences that surrounded the borders of many communist nations. I thought of the persecuted church meeting underground in nations that opposed the Gospel. But it still didn't make sense. Yet I knew that I had to respond. I had heard the call of God. "Yes, Lord" I replied with emotion as tears formed in my eyes. "I am willing." I chose to obey.
Soon after the Lord spoke to me about the underground church, I asked some of my Christian friends if they would be willing to meet together with me each week for the purpose of enhancing our spiritual growth. Two men responded. I began meeting every week with these two men for the purpose of prayer, Bible study, encouragement and mutual accountability. Within the next few years this "house fellowship" grew and we began to reach out to the new believers attending. Eventually, my wife LaVerne and I were "commissioned out" to help another couple start a second small group. Leadership was now established in the first group. These groups served as a place for new believers to be nurtured and taught the Word of God, although we still did not call ourselves a "church." One Sunday morning in January of 1980, the Lord spoke these words clearly to my spirit. "I have called you to start something new." I shared with the others in leadership of the two "house fellowships" and with our spiritual leaders what I believed the Lord had spoken. It seemed clear that there was a need for a New Testament church that could be structured in such a way as to be flexible and relatable to believers from all backgrounds and assist them in their spiritual growth.
I slowly began to understand what the Lord may have had in mind when he asked me if I was willing to be involved in the underground church. I realized that the church is like a tree with its trunk, branches and leaves showing only half of itself. The unnoticed half, the underground root system, nourishes the whole tree and keeps it healthy. This "underground church" then, would consist of believers gathering together through a structure of small cell groups that met in homes to pray, evangelize and build relationships with one another. This way each believer is an active and vital part of the body of Christ.
When each believer is nourished and healthy, the whole church is
strong. As water and nutrients feed the tree by climbing up through the root system, so
the church is nourished and strengthened by what happens in the underground, or the
unobvious-believers involved in cell groups in homes. It was becoming clear that these
relationships in cell groups would not be a program of the church, but in actuality, this
was the real church! Everything else was secondary.
In October, 1980 a group of approximately 25 believers met for the first time for a Sunday morning celebration in a living room. Five families had been commissioned out of our home church the week before to start this "new church." A small band of others had also joined us at the inception of this new work. This new church had officially begun. We called ourselves "DOVE Fellowship." DOVE is an acronym which means "Declaring Our Victory Emmanuel." These believers met in three cell groups during the week. This new group of believers had an aura of excitement about them, as we pursued this vision that the Lord had given. But there were also times of pain. Within the first official year of the church's beginning, the three original house groups became two. Instead of growing and multiplying, it seemed like we were going backward. We continued to pray and trust God for a breakthrough.
Within the next few years, the cell groups began to grow and to multiply. We rented facilities for our Sunday morning "celebrations." Whenever we outgrew a building we either moved to a larger one, or started two or three celebration meetings in the same building on a Sunday. But the focus was not on the Sunday morning meetings. It was on Jesus and on the church meeting from house to house throughout our communities each week. Our goal was to "multiply" the cells and the celebrations and begin a new Sunday morning gathering and new cell churches in other area so that the believers did not have as far to travel.
As we grew, the storms began to mount. There seemed to be an
undercurrent that constantly sapped me and others in leadership of strength and vision. I
also found myself increasingly making decisions that were based more on the desires of
others than that which I really believed was the Lord's direction for us as a church. We
slowly found ourselves becoming more program oriented. We began to lose our priorities of
building our relationship with Jesus, with one another, and reaching the world from house
to house, city to city, and nation to nation.
A major breakthrough came during the first few days of 1992. The Lord clearly revealed to us that we had not properly taken care of the stewardship that He had given to us 12 years before. He had given us a mandate to build the "underground church" by focusing on forming new "wineskins" for the new believers that needed to be birthed into the kingdom of God. Our original priority was to build our relationship with Jesus, with one another, and to reach the world from house to house. We were sidetracked from our original vision. We asked the Lord for forgiveness and received His cleansing.
The Lord has been so faithful. He has been giving us grace as we are getting back on track to fulfill His call to build the "underground church." We are very grateful to the Lord for giving us another chance. New believers are being birthed into the kingdom. The Lord has given the leadership team and the church grace to walk together as "one man" to fulfill His purposes.
Today, DOVE Christian Fellowship in Pennsylvania is made up of two thousand believers who meet in well over one hundred home cell groups throughout south-central Pennsylvania. These believers have a vision to reach out to the two million people living in this seven-county area. Each cell group has a vision to multiply as the Lord adds new believers to His church. We meet in eleven different "congregations." These congregations (clusters of cells) come together in the geographical location that the cell groups meet in, for regular celebration meetings. Some of these congregations meet for celebrations weekly, while others meet monthly and meet in cell groups on Sunday mornings. We encourage flexibility and encourage local pastors and leaders of celebrations to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, to the cell group leaders, and to God's people in discerning the mind of the Lord for their own local area. Five times since the inception of DOVE we have closed down all of our Sunday morning celebration meetings at one time and met in homes for approximately a month at a time to strengthen the vision and relationships in the cells. These have been very fruitful times. On one occasion, when we returned back to our Sunday morning celebrations, we realized that the Lord had added one hundred persons to the church!
We continue to come together as a church body every few months on a Sunday morning in one large rented facility for the purpose of celebration, encouragement and spiritual training. Annually in July we rent a park and have an outdoor celebration in an amphitheater and bring our picnic lunches and spend the afternoon together playing baseball, swimming, and enjoying fellowship. From the very beginning, cell groups or cell churches as we sometimes call them, provided the structure for us as we reach out beyond ourselves to reach the lost and make disciples for Jesus Christ. Membership to the early church that we read about in the book of Acts was not membership to a club or to a meeting. It was practical commitment to Jesus Christ and to specific believers. Commitment to the body of Christ is not mystical, it is practical! If a person desires to be a part of DOVE Christian Fellowship, then he does not have an option to say, "I don't want to be committed to other believers in a home cell group-I just want to come on Sundays to a meeting." Commitment to the body of Christ is not having our name on a church roll. It is a specific commitment to be accountable with my Christian life to a specific group of brothers and sisters in Christ. Our people also have a vision to see a cell group on every city block and in every village and community in this seven-county region. We multiply not to fulfill a church program, but to provide "new wineskins" for the harvest.
Since cell groups are constantly growing and multiplying, leadership training is a very important part of our vision. Although we stress apprenticeship as the best model for leadership training, cell leaders also are receiving "formalized" training each month. I meet with all of the cell leaders and assistant leaders every other month for training and encouragement. Local pastors and leaders of congregations also meet six times each year (during the off month) with the cell group leaders that they are responsible for. We have blocked off two Saturdays this year for a day of intensive training for cell group leaders.
Each Monday morning we have a "team meeting" in our home. This includes the "pastors" of each of the celebrations and others in leadership in the church (Missions, administration, counseling, youth etc.) for a time of prayer, training, resourcing and problem solving. Since we work together as one church, these times are very important. Pastors also meet together each Friday morning and have a prayer meeting by phone through a linkup with our church office every Sunday morning at 6 AM.
There are various "levels" of leadership in DOVE Christian Fellowship here in Pennsylvania. A team of "Overseers"give oversight to the vision of the whole church. They are responsible for the values and guiding principles that we believe the Lord has called us to as a church. However, each local congregation (or celebration) also has a leadership team who serve as a type of local eldership to oversee the lives of the believers in the cell groups within their sphere of spiritual responsibility. Cell group leaders have been given spiritual responsibility for those within the cell groups where they serve.
Our greatest joy during these past years has been to see lives changed by the grace and power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Seeing these new believers grow in the Lord and become true disciples and have their own "spiritual children" is tremendous. But we must develop new wineskins for the new wine as we prepare for the second reformation and the awakening that the Lord is desiring to bring to this generation. The Lord is calling for laborers to prepare for the harvest. Let's rise up in faith like Isaiah when he responded to the Lord's call. "Here am I! Send me."
Dove Christian Fellowship
1924 West Main Street
Ephrata, PA 17522
I am presently completing the writing of my first book, "House to House," which candidly tells our story and includes some of our victories as well as our mistakes. Hopefully, others who desire to be a part of the second reformation that Dr. Neighbour talks about will not have to make some of the same blunders that we have made during these past fifteen to twenty years.
As I have pointed out several times already, the New Testament clearly shows a church meeting in homes and meeting publicly in the temple on the Sabbath. When Christians were expelled from Sabbath worship in the synagogues the church continued to meet in homes during the week. They also joined together on the Sabbath for public worship.
In 312 A.D. Constantine, the first "Christian" emperor, imposed an institutional CATHEDRAL form upon the church. Subsequently, the church stopped home meetings almost altogether, and began meeting exclusively in special buildings. Since that time, one constant in church history over the past 17 centuries (excluding some of the more "radical" reformers) has been the cathedral structure. This move from a cell group/large group structure to simply a large group structure, had a dramatic and devastating impact upon virtually all facets of church life. In a recent seminar someone asked: "How could Constantine's change to the cathedral in the Fourth Century have had such a profound effect upon the church, even until today?"
Constantine (not only as an individual but as the representative of a system) did not just build cathedrals, he also set into motion factors that destroyed the small group setting of the church. If the theological premise of this book is correct (the small group setting allows the activity of the immanent nature of God to be experienced), then Constantine's action obviously had enormous impact upon the life of the church.
Structures are powerful tools that can affect life, society, values, and other structures for both good and bad. The right kind, or wrong kind, of structure can become a paradigm from which surroundings are referenced, redefined, and placed in new order or relationship. By exclusively endorsing and emphasizing the Cathedral side, Constantine effectively destroyed the small group side, leaving us with a one-winged church, that could not soar to the heights it had easily attained in the past. Constantine's inauguration of the church/state, made the dynamic Body of Christ little more than a dry, bureaucratic institution. An institution with big buildings, hired professionals, and "red-tape" to be waded through for simple answers to everyday problems.
Just before the death of Sam Walton in 1991 a major news magazine carried a cover story featuring Walton and his Walmart Retail Stores. The thrust of the article was that Sam Walton had changed the face of small town America by building Walmarts on the outskirts of towns all across America. The article made a case that during the past two or three decades the entire life of small towns followed these giant retail stores to the outskirts of the town. The downtown area, which in the past was the center of the social and commercial life of the town, was affected dramatically and sometimes did not even survive the change.
Some would contend, I think with a degree of justification, that Sam Walton did not cause the shift, but only followed the new super highways and by-passes that were constructed between small towns, suburbs and urban centers. Sam Walton may have simply been part of a paradigm chain; he followed the new transportation patterns which had followed the urbanization patterns. In this case, changes to these small towns were a result of the paradigm shift of urbanization, more than from people like Sam Walton.
It was President Eisenhower who set the Interstate Highway program into motion. He sited a long and torturous trip he and his family had taken from Kansas to the West Coast as the motivation for linking the East and West Coasts together with a giant super highway system. When he wrote his memoirs in the 1960's he stated that the Interstate Highway system was his greatest contribution as president.
Whatever the direct cause, small town America has been dramatically changed and I lived through it. I remember my boyhood days in the small county seat town of Pittsburg, Texas in those years during and immediately after WWII. Saturday was an event. All of the county it seemed "went to town" on Saturday. That was the one day when most shopping took place. There was not a parking space available and all the stores were filled with shoppers, gossipers and visitors. The one movie theater in town was packed for the afternoon matinee. For one quarter (25 cents to moderns) I could stand in line, pay 9 cents for admission and have enough left over for popcorn, a coke and even some penny candy. Forty years later, most of the businesses close down on Saturday afternoon, the downtown movie theatre is long since gone, and you can play a touch football game on main street without having to dodge too many cars. Sam Walton type paradigms did, over a period of years, make a dramatic difference in how the thousands of small towns across America do business and do community. Just as Eisenhower's "vacation from hades" resulted in an interstate highway system, ultimately affecting the entire small town structure of America, so Constantine's "Christianity as an institution" ultimately affected the entire nature and structure of the church. Whatever the original cause, the point is that one change in structure can have a huge impact upon structures and lives that are connected to it. By building cathedrals and placing rituals and leadership within those buildings, Constantine changed the very nature and life of the church as it had been designed by Christ. The changes grew out of new ways of thinking about God's church as an organization rather than as an organism. This new way of thinking about God's Church resulted from a new way of thinking about God Himself. God was perceived only in His transcendence, distorting and even discounting His immanence. The changes were therefore first of all theological and then structural. Theology does change structure and structure can definitely affect theology.
One major shift resulting from the institutionalization of the Church is in the area of membership. The focus of members in the body of Christ changed from that of producer to that of consumer. This seemingly insignificant change in focus ultimately had a devastating effect on the Body of Christ.
In Our Daily Bread (May, 1974), Henry G. Bosch tells the
interesting story of what happened when a customer in a small country store discovered
that the slow-moving clerk was not around one morning: "Where's Eddie? Is he
sick?" "Nope," came the reply. "He ain't workin' here no more."
"Do you have anyone in mind for the vacancy?" inquired the customer.
"Nope! Eddie didn't leave no vacancy!"
Henry G. Bosch goes on to say, "There are quite a few 'Eddies' in most churches today. They leave, no one even notices. Why? First, because there is no real sense of the Body of Christ in which members are involved in a functioning manner. Second, many, by their own decision, have chosen to sit on the church bench on the sidelines of the action." Most church members are not effectively involved in what it means to be the Body of Christ. They don't leave any vacancy when they leave or stop attending because they are not doing anything to effectively add to the life and ministry of the church in the first place. Without the small group setting of the church most members are doomed to be spiritual parasites rather than producers because we provide no context in which they can function as producers. I know this is a hard truth, but please read on! If we are operating within the one wing of the Sunday dominated church we don't need Eddie to contribute anything but his presence and possibly some money to support the church. The contract these Eddies make with the church is very simple. Eddie expects pampering, ministry, and entertainment from the church, in exchange for Eddies attendance and offerings. Eddie is needed for the body count and the bottom line of the financial report, but for little else. The Eddies of the church are part of the 85% of the consumer members who are supported and ministered to by the other 10-15% who are producing members. If they leave they "don't leave no vacancy" in the ministry or work of the church, they just leave an empty spot in a pew on Sunday morning and a little less change in the offering plate.
Many large churches are held hostage by consumer Christians. Eddie has his hook into the one-winged church because his presence is how success is measured in one-winged church circles. Filling up the church on Sunday morning is what the game is all about, and Eddie will not come if we do not minister to him and give him what he wants. From the standpoint of the Sunday dominated system we need Eddie to fill a pew and to financially support the erection of new buildings and the addition of new "staff ministers-necessary to attract more consumer Eddies. Doesn't this sound like a vicious cycle?
So you see, the meaning of "membership" was turned upside down with the original paradigm shift from small group meetings to an exclusive large group meeting in buildings. This cycle can't be broken without a paradigm shift. When the church ceased to meet in small groups and went exclusively to a large group setting it redefined the meaning of belonging to the church. The church must now begin to use the other wing, the small group wing, that changes membership from a consumer orientation back to a producer orientation. Without the small group context we will continue to be at the mercy of a consumer mentality and Eddie will never be part of the solution but always part of the problem.
Christians are to do the "work of the ministry." That is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians; productive ministers. Jesus designed the church with a small group context so that the Eddies of the church can become a productive part of the Body of Christ. This is why we see so few Eddies in the pages of the New Testament. Eddie's exposure to the church was not limited to Sabbath morning worship or the huge building in the New Testament. The First Century Church met in home groups, maybe even in Eddies' home, with 8 to 15 other Christians. In these groups there was no way for Eddie to hide, Eddie had to participate and be a productive part of the group.
Eddie is a victim of a system he did not develop, a system that cannot prepare him to be anything other than an immature spectator. He is the victim of a system that I helped perpetuate and build for over 15 years! My lack of faith to move beyond a system I knew wasn't working allowed me to play a part in developing Eddies all over East Texas. Those of us in leadership positions who continue the Sunday dominated system that degrades and distorts the ministry potential of Eddie will be held accountable when we stand before God. Eddie is important to God. Eddie is the "weak and foolish things of this world" through whom God has chosen to show forth His wisdom and power. Helping develop Eddie into a "disciple" is what the church is all about, but that will only happen when we use Jesus' design for the church, not Constantine's!
There once was created a church with two wings. One wing was for large group celebration and the other wing was for small group community. Using both wings the church could soar gracefully anywhere in the world fulfilling the creator's purpose.
Because of this special design the Creator could show Himself to His church as God the Most High in the heavens above and as God the Most Nigh in the earth below.
One day the jealous wicked serpent who had no wings challenged the church to fly with only its large-group wing. The serpent applauded loudly when the church became airborne (though it was a clumsy effort) and convinced the church that with practice it could fly just as well using only that one wing. Deceived, from that day forth the two-winged church began to see itself as having only one wing. (This happened during the earthly reign of Constantine after the Creator had used the two-winged church to thwart the plans of the wicked-serpent-who-had-no-wings.)
The small-group wing through which the Creator could show Himself near became weaker and weaker from lack of exercise until it atrophied into a useless appendage beside the oversized large-group wing. The two-winged church that had soared high in the heavens was now for all practical purposes one-winged, neutralized by the wicked serpent who had no wings.
The Creator of the church was very sad. He knew that the two- winged design had allowed the church to soar in the heavens into His presence while doing His bidding. With only one wing the church had to try even harder to just lift off of the ground. Even if it did manage to become airborne it was prone to go in a circle and to lose its sense of direction and balance. And the one-winged church could never fly very far from its original point of departure. Spending more and more time in the safety and comfort of its bird house it grew fat, lazy, and contented with an earth bound existence. From time to time the church dreamed of flying high in the heavens into the presence of the Creator and doing His work. But now the strong large-group wing was so dominate that it would not accept help from the weaker side. It was too late.
The Creator finally stretched forth his hand and recreated his church so that it could use both wings. Once again the Creator had a church that could fly into His presence and soar high over all the earth fulfilling His purposes.
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