Sue called our Cell Group together for a special session. As we sat around her kitchen table, she said, "I've called you together to confess my sins. I have grieved the Lord, and have betrayed your confidence in me." As Sue shared a confession of immorality, waves of forgiveness flowed from God's throne through our hearts. We became the instruments of grace to her broken heart; forgiveness flowed into her painful wounds. When we were finished, we spontaneously began to sing and worship. I shall never forget that night. As we drove away, I said to my wife Ruth, "That was the highlight of our years in Cell Groups for me! We were community."
Like Sue, many of us have wounds in our hearts wounds of sin, loneliness, abuse, rejection, fear which at a time of grief can be overwhelming to the point of despair. The problem is most of us contend with our wounds alone. Thoreau was right when he said, "Most men live their lives in private pain." And it is at this very point where Christians in Basic Christian Community can make a difference when they say, "you may be living in pain, but don't do it privately." Sue was comfortable sharing her pain publicly because her Cell Group loved her unconditionally. How many others in similar situations feel loved enough to make such a confession?
The fact is, most never encounter this kind of loving community, even in a church. So they look for artificial community in other places and find it. Youth find gangs, spouses find extra-marital partners, children find the wrong crowd; even ministers, locked in "loneliness at the top," are finding ways out dangerous, immoral ways. But others don't stop at just false community. Some are sucked completely into something quite unchristian.
For example, a major evangelical denomination has discovered that for every person they baptize, the Mormons steal one of their members. Why? Because while Mormons build everything around community, the Program-Based Design (PBD) builds everything around programmatic schedules. One is warm, the other cold. Virtually every cult revolves around this warm community atmosphere. A sign above the door of a Moonie hostel reads, "Welcome! You are home!" For people disillusioned with life, these appeals sound better and better the more painful the wounds get. But the difference between a cult community and Basic Christian Community is clear: the cult dominates and smothers the convert while the Christian Community nurtures and releases the convert to become all God intended.
Like Sue, all people need a safe place to deal with pain and grow relationally and spiritually in Christ. All people long for family, acceptance, security. And the only place these things are ultimately real is in community, in the Body of Christ. Our goal, therefore, as church leadership (whether Pastor, Zone Supervisor, Cell Leader, or Cell Member) should be to foster this community of love and acceptance, this family for those without a family, that they might be healed of sins past and delivered from their room of "private pain." This is the goal of the Cell Church Movement.
Biblical community is as rare as the spotted owl. In the New Testament, Christians were intimate in ways that are foreign to us sacrificial giving, life and death commitments, intense friendships. They carried each others' burdens, tended wounds and prayed for healing. Where is this lifestyle of sharing and fellowship among believers today?
I would love to blame the media or current trends in urban living, but it seems American Christians have made a choice for the Lone Ranger style of Christian living, the solitary grind of "I am an island" ministry. Indeed, the life of the average believer is too protected and private. But, the New Testament is riddled with commands that cannot be obeyed without intimacy and daily activity among God's people: Love one another, be like-minded, speak the truth in love, comfort each other, be kind one to another. Christian Smith, author of Going to the Root, states it best when he writes, "For our own well-being and growth, we need the benefit of each others' spiritual gifts, encouragements, role modeling and challenges." Where do we get the notion that it's all right to live our lives in isolation?
Alas, we must understand our need for intentional biblical community (that biblical community which is deliberately facilitated by church leadership, not just expected to happen by chance). What provides the perfect environment for the development of this kind of New Testament intimacy? Acts 2:42-47 records the godly process of building community, and the glory God receives as a result of the daily interaction among believers. As we look at this passage verse by verse, we will come to a better understanding of the building blocks of community. Let's walk through it together:
V.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. These men and women made a covenant to spend time with each other doing what I do best talking, eating, and praying (nobody prays wrong, just not enough!) In the early church, there was a unanimous commitment among all the members to love one another with a time commitment as well. Like a marriage relationship, everyone freely gave 110% to make this lifestyle a reality.
V.43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. Have you noticed that God works easily through a group of dedicated believers? Just think of community as a "conduit for excitement." The thought of being part of the family of God is indeed awe inspiring. If we band together, loving each other unconditionally, God will be faithful to reveal Himself to us in wonderful and miraculous ways.
V.44, 45 All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. This has to be the toughest part of the passage for folks who haven't entered into community. This isn't a command, it's an observation. It doesn't read, "those that were rich paid off the credit cards for those who purchased big screen T.V.'s on credit when they should have lived without one." These verses reveal that some of the people did not have the essentials for basic existence. We must adopt the attitude of living simply, so others can simply live. Living in community means resigning selfish pursuits for the common good.
V.46a Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. While Basic Christian Community was the focal point of the New Testament Church, the times when the households came together for praise, worship and instruction provided the necessary balance for growth. It provided a sense of unity and strength that built enthusiasm in community life. We must be dedicated to the corporate worship of our local church as well as our Cell group.
V.46b They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts . . . True happiness and sincerity comes from the Father. The Holy Spirit gave early Christians a peace and a freedom that exceeded the stress of hard labor and noisy children in the shadow of the Roman government. They shared meals, the responsibility of raising children, and many other aspects of home life. Recently two Cell members came over to my house and helped me landscape my front yard. We worked and laughed together, and the labor was fruitful. I saw firsthand how much these two guys really loved me. My beautiful flowerbeds cry out to all who admire their beauty saying, "I'm a result of community!"
V.47 [They were] praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. What a lovely way to end a story. These believers were admired, and their lifestyle was the envy of Jerusalem. The results of community impacted thousands, causing daily reports of salvation.
My brother Rod is a homebuilder in Atlanta. He knows that if he constructs a well built, attractive house, people will come and look. Those that are willing to pay the price will enjoy the house and make it a home. The Cell, or Basic Christian Community, will surely be considered "home" for many believers as we band together to live and love each other. We will find favor with those around us, and God will add to our numbers.
Christians must become intentional members of the "Community Preservation Society" and join these spotted owl folks to protect valuable resources. It begins with a commitment to be more than just a painted smile at your Cell meeting. Spend an evening a week with different members of your Cell. Find the things you have in common, and help one another with the daily struggles of life. As you love one another and intertwine your life with theirs, you will enjoy the fruits of community . . . love, encouragement, spiritual growth, and my favorite fruit, new believers.
God is doing a mighty work in my life and in the Northport Congregation. Though I have pastored the Northport, NY church for 26 years, we have only recently experienced intimate and rewarding relationships in our body. Finally, I enjoy ministry! What a change from the feelings of exasperation and despair my wife and I used to experience from ministering.
God has led me through years of change and preparation for this present outpouring, having given me several messages that laid the foundation for this blessing. He has given them to me, worked them through me, and now I offer them to you. As you read, may you be encouraged and secured in the vision God has placed within you.
The Three Waterfalls.
The first word came as God began reworking my focus of ministry. When I was first saved, I learned ministry backwards. The gift of evangelism flowed freely in my life and God allowed me to lead many people to the Lord. Though it was fruitful for a season, I began to experience burnout as my focus was on the world instead of the Lord. I was dropping my bucket into an empty well.
During this time, God painted a picture for me of a three- tiered waterfall which flows like this: As we minister to the Lord, the Holy Spirit springs up within us until we fill up. Then we overflow into the next holding pool of ministry which is the body. Then out of our overflow of ministry to God, the body fills up and begins to overflow into the world. In this way, we always minister out of a surplus, not a deficit.
Sitting While God Moves.
Once the foundation of the proper flow of ministry was laid, God then began teaching me about timing. At the age of 20, I prayed that God would enable me to pastor a church like the one found in the New Testament a church where He is real, miracles occur, prayers are answered, strongholds are torn down, and cities are changed. Then, as I pastored Northport Baptist, I asked, "How long, oh Lord?" We had the dew, but I longed for showers.
But before God answered this prayer, He took me through what some call the "dark night of the soul." After having been awakened one night with the phrase, "in the day of thy power," I looked through Scripture for two weeks and finally found it in Psalm 110: 1,3: "Sit at my right hand until I make thy enemies a footstool for thy feet . . . thy people will be willing in the day of thy power. . . ." I was excited because I figured these were the two groups I was having trouble with: my people and my enemies. But I failed to realize God's desire was to work on me first! The key was in sitting while God moved. I had fallen into the trap of focusing on my vision for my work, rather than His vision for His work.
I learned all who receive a vision from God will walk through a dark night of the soul. After a season of struggling to produce on our own what we believe is God's vision, God stills us and confounds our fleshly efforts. The vision we have must die and it will be hard but in the fullness of time, God will bring His vision to pass. And only in this "dark night" does God reveal His most powerful truths.
The Reward of Secret Obedience.
After God corrected my priorities and had taken me through my dark night, He spoke about my private life in Him. In Matthew 6, Jesus said that His father rewards three acts performed in private: praying, fasting, and giving. These same things done in public do not receive that heavenly reward. God challenged me: "Why do you do what you do?" What motivates all of my actions? If no one applauds, if no one thanks, would I still live my life like I do right now? The only eyes that matter are the "eyes of the Lord that move to and fro across the earth." I committed to be motivated by the right things, not for the applause of men, but for God. I began walking in a holy energy when I saw that God, our committed audience, is applauding even when no one else sees what we do!
Power in My Absence.
By this time, I began to see that the growth of ministry flows not from my presence, but from God's presence. He makes the difference, not me. I was reminded that God's power and authority were evident in the battle against the Amalekites even though Moses, the "leader," sat perched on a hilltop above, not directly involved, arms upheld by Aaron and Hur. I learned that I do not have to be at Northport Baptist Church for God to be there. He has the power at Northport. He makes the difference at our church! I realized that whether I was physically overseeing activities or not, Northport would mature.
The Day of God's Power.
Finally, I sensed the Lord had prepared us to walk in "the day of His power." After trusting God to bring His vision to pass, the fullness of time did arrive. In the Fall of 1992, one of the church's missionaries, Mark Stevanus, shared exciting stories of what God was doing in Albania. While there, he met a group of Virginia Mennonites implementing the Cell model. He was amazed at how quickly churches were being established and how well they matured even after the team left.
Our pastors at Northport visited Cornerstone Church in Virginia and while there picked up Ralph Neighbour's book, Where Do We Go From Here?. We couldn't believe how relevant it was. After years of failing to meet needs through programs, we were handed a blueprint for how to involve every church member in ministry through the Community of the Cell Model. In a whirlwind of transition, I spent the next two months working through Where Do We Go From Here? with our eighteen deacons, and I formed a pastoral Cell including all the full- time staff and their wives.
With a vision established among the leaders, I next developed the early adopters (those who catch the Cell vision before others) into leaders for the first wave of Cells. To do this effectively, the church invited these members to a weekend retreat at a nearby hotel to learn about Cell life. Of the 85 that attended, 84 agreed to join the team immediately. (The one remaining joined soon after.) They began their leadership by joining Cells led by the pastors. This enabled them to experience Cell life before they became responsible for leading a Cell.
In the fall, a Cell Start-Up Seminar was held, and 194 people were integrated into 26 Cells. Another seminar increased that number to 320 adults involved in 31 Cells. This approximated 60% of our regular attendees. All that in nine months!
Recently I thought about this unusual growth. God seemed to say, "Now that you are prepared to care for My sheep, I'm going to give you as many as you can care for!" God continues to do a work in my life and the life of Northport. I now enjoy the ministry God has given because of His faithfulness to first teach me these truths. Although God had given the vision, He first led me through a season of waiting and growth and then fulfilled the vision. In doing so, He had provided a way for His power to be present even when pastor was absent (imagine that!).
The results are this: God is building His church into a community that reaches first upward in worship, then inward to minister to needs, and then outward as the world sees how we love one another. And I, for one, am enjoying every minute of it!
Why do barhoppers so often ignore the church completely? Could it be that the modern church does not understand the body life evangelism of the new testament?
I was 32 years old and in seminary. Although the little Program- Based Design (PBD) church I pastored was located in the midst of miles of taverns, I was too busy "serving the Lord" to bother with the hundreds of hard core unbelievers who patronized them.
In my listening room (my prayer room) one day, I read the words of Jesus in Luke 7:34: "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' " The Spirit stabbed me in my heart: "Ralph, you are letting the world around you miss Me while you pastor a handful of Christians. Do you not realize how you grieve the Christ who dwells in you? He is still a friend of unbelievers. When will you accompany Him to see His friends?"
The following Sunday, I chose that text for my sermon. I told my little flock that their hired holy man would be frequenting the bars on Hayne Boulevard. I was going to do it so I could become more like Jesus!
As a preacher's kid, my experience with bars was more than limited. It was nonexistent! When I furtively ducked into the first tavern, I went to a booth in the back corner and ordered milk to be sure everyone would know I was not drinking firewater. No one cared, nor did anyone pay much attention to me. In the dim light, I listened silently to the conversations at the bar. To my amazement, I began to realize that 40% of them related to problems, confessions, and God! Constant references to the Deity amazed me. I heard comments like, "The Good Lord willing, I'll get that job tomorrow!" And, "I swear by heaven that's what she said!"
On my next trip, I sat on a barstool between a man and a woman and ordered a Coke. The man said, "You're new in here. I saw you the other day. Do you live around here?" It was then I began to realize the similarity between church goers and beer drinkers: both have their regular hangouts and do not move around very much. These people were family. They knew each other, perhaps more intimately than church goers know each other.
By the third trip, I decided to be bold about my reason for being there. As the tired-looking woman tending the bar slid my soft drink across the counter, I said, "I know something about you that you may not know about yourself, and it's wonderful!" She braced herself for another proposition, and warily said, "Oh, yeah? What's that?" I replied, "Jesus loves you, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." She replied, "You ain't a priest or somethin' are ya?" "No," I said, "I'm just one of our Father's children."
When there was a lull in her duties, she came back to me and said pensively, "I was raised a Baptist. I went to church a lot. Then I married a rat I thought was a man. When he walked out on me after I had two kids by him, I didn't have any training to support myself. Being a waitress didn't bring many tips. So I began to tend bar. Then the church expelled me. So what do you think of that, Jesus man?"
The room of men and women heard all this. When she finished, they exploded with comments about hypocrites in churches. Everyone, it seemed, had felt rejected at one time or another by the institution they called "church." I patiently listened, nodding my head to register my sympathy.
Finally the lady bartender said, "Just who are you, anyway?" Twenty people eavesdropped as I responded, "I'm a pastor who goes to bars because my Lord was a friend of people who go to bars. And I decided that you folks would never be caught dead in my Sunday services, so I am going to come in here until I get to know everybody."
My next trip to that bar was during the usual "Happy Hour." I didn't get three feet inside the bar before a man grabbed me by the arm and said, "Pastor, I need to talk to you!" We went to a far booth, and he poured out a painful story about a wretched marriage. That booth slowly became my "office" as person after person began to trust me and share their hurts.
I learned why they went to bars. They were accepted there as long as they paid their tabs. The bartender never scolded them. The patrons affirmed one another, except when someone had too much to drink. The women knew that every man there was trying to pick them up and could not be trusted. This was not true community, but only a people in the same room, not true compassion because they were there not for others, but for themselves.
Back then I still had miles to travel before I would recognize the need for the life of the Church to be based in Basic Christian Community, but it made a lot of sense to introduce these folks to my friends. So I took a couple of my courageous Baptist Deacons with me to the bars, encouraging them to develop friendships and open their homes to the people they met. As we went "in" to their world, they began to respond to being invited "out" to our world.
I have now experienced years of "in and out" visits to unbelievers. Going "in" to their world is an important bridge to cross. Leading them "out" of their world to experience true Christian community is even more important! Inviting them out means inviting them into a lifestyle of natural love for Jesus 24 hours a day, not a contrived religious fervor only on Sunday morning at 11 o'clock! I have found that the most biblical, efficient, and reproducible way to do this is in the Cell. This passage of scripture describes how first century Cell Groups im-pacted unbelievers: "But If an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, `God is really among you!' What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church" (1 Corinthians 14:24-26).
Now consider evangelism within the PBD: there are special evangelistic events inside church buildings which are supposed to harvest unbelievers. However, few believers would be caught dead in such meetings! Next, Christians learn to "win by witnessing now." After a clinical training course, they flip through a little 12 page tract with an unbeliever and ask them if they want to be "saved." The limited fruit of this type of evangelism is discouraging! Typically, the PBD church reaps one convert for every 40 church members in a year's time.
Most evangelistic training and material begins with the statement, "God loves you . . ." Yes, desperately so, but what about the need for the Body of Christ to be the vessel for His love? Dashing out on "visitation night" to share an impersonal tract with someone is ineffective when a church has no allowance for the structure of Basic Christian Community to embrace the unbeliever once he believes in Christ. This lack of community forces a church to use, mostly, "stranger evangelism."
But, quite different, "Body Life evangelism" is the pattern described in 1 Corinthians 14. In Acts 2, unbelievers observed Christians moving from house to house, sharing their resources and their lives. The impact was powerful: "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). The unbelievers who saw this were deeply moved. Indeed, the life of our witness is in The Body. The reality of community and evangelism ignited one evening in our Cell when David, one of our members called and said, "Our car broke down and the repair bill is over $700. As you know, I was just laid off, and we really have no money to fix it. My wife is so discouraged she says she doesn't want to come to the Cell Group tonight. We'll come next week."
That night, a man visited our Cell for the first time. He knew it was a Christian meeting, so he wore a coat and tie. We were all dressed casually, and he stuck out like a sore thumb. At the end of the evening, I suggested we pitch in and help David with his car repair. After we passed a dish around to collect checks and cash, I counted nearly $800 to be given anonymously. As we rejoiced, the man in the coat and tie began to shake his head in amazement. He said, "I can't believe you people. This is the first time in my life I have ever experienced anything like tonight. This is what I have been missing generosity." God worked in and through all of our Cell members that evening, and touched our visitor powerfully.
We must be sensitive to this biblical mandate to show the unbelieving world how set apart Christianity is in this area of giving freely and willingly. But, friends, it must be modeled. And it is impossible to model the dynamic of Basic Christian Community on Sunday morning at 11.
In Singapore, we have made it our focus to launch Interest Groups, a new avenue of outreach we are testing. In these little groups we intentionally model Basic Christian Community. Three members of each Cell are making contact with people they have never met, offering ten-week small group activities built around the interests of unbelievers.
Some of the topics chosen include tennis, guitar playing, Asian cooking, and learning Japanese. These groups become stepping stones to a greater involvement in the Church in community. In this way, the Christian community can touch the untouched.
Don't wait to apply the principles of Body-Life evangelism, which are naturally modeled in Basic Christian Community, the Cell. Go now and ask God to anoint your church as one that aggressively exhibits, unapologetically, the power of the love of God in this way. If you do, and God is anointing it, people will come, be set free, and fall in love with God. And that's what it is all about!
Have you ever been in a Cell when a child was making noise? You thought to yourself, "I wish that kid wasn't here." Well, be glad he stayed, because in the midst of your mild inconvenience, the Kingdom of God was being modeled to a moldable little mind. Whether inconvenient or not, in the Bible kids were a part of all important events. As a result, in contrast to the children of this super-structured classroom- oriented age, children of biblical times knew well the reality of community.
The community they knew so well was made up of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, the local baker, potter, tailor, and carpenter. They were important to the children, and the children were important to them. Children did not attend school to learn about God because they did not need a school to learn things that were a part of their lives. In fact, synagogue schools did not begin until a little before the time of Jesus.
When Hebrew children awoke in the morning, the family prayed. On Fridays, the mothers and daughters cleaned the whole house from top to bottom and then washed all the clothes. The boys and men would stop work early so they could bathe and prepare for the Sabbath. God's holiness was very practical.
But Hebrew children knew their family was not alone in the worship of God. The whole community joined in. At the Feast of Tabernacles, everyone celebrated together. Some- times they journeyed up to Jerusalem as a group and offered the sacrifices for sin and for the coming of age of the boys in the village. The community itself was not isolated but was part of the greater community of tribe and nation. The tabernacle and later the temple expressed God dwelling among His people. Every child in every village knew God was neither distant nor remote: He was King over their daily lives.
This model persisted in the early church. No one thought of treating children differently, for they were part of the household church, the Cell Groups. They witnessed the life of the church first hand: the love of Christians and their ministry to each other; communion being celebrated on their own kitchen tables; and miracles from answered prayer, including Peter's release from prison. They witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon people and even saw the dead raised. In Acts 2:39, the promise of the Holy Spirit was poured out on adults and children.
Because of their close association with the extended Christian community, children knew that becoming a Christian was a serious matter. The differences between a pagan and a Christian were painfully obvious: Christian families were destined for persecution. Their parents risked their lives to follow Jesus and the children could lose them to death. This is why James urged the church to take care of the widows and orphans. Then, if children were left without parents, they were surrounded by the community.
Tragically, over the years our churches have stopped being the community model for our children. While paying lip service to the family, the Church has begun to depend in an unhealthy way on "school systems" to teach our children about God and to bring them to faith. While God says, "Teach your children every day in the normal routines of life," the church has said, "Let us hire gifted people to teach our children." As a result, our children have been fed information but starved for close relationships. Sometimes children don't know any Christian adults other than their parents. Often the model of parents is not enough. They want some external reassurance that their parents are walking in truth, and Sunday School teachers are often too busy to enter a child's life.
In a Cell Church, community at least becomes a possibility. If children are part of a Cell Group, they interact with adults who can become friends. Group members may include sportsmen, university students or physicians. They see how other families work and also see their faith in action. They may see their own Dad praying for someone in the group, or their mother admitting her unreasonable anger. They will see adults worshipping and praising and will catch the spirit of praise from them. They will seek God together and learn to walk in His word.
Like the children of the early Church, they will witness Cell members' love for one another. They may celebrate communion and hear testimonies of answered prayers and changed lives. Eventually, they may desire to share something about themselves.
If a child has been hurt or disappointed, their Cell family can listen and pray for him. And when exciting events take place, such as passing exams or being baptized, the Cell Group can celebrate together. Children will learn to find support and ministry from the Cell group as pastoral care will be available to them in ways which were never possible.
As children grow, they experience faith and doubt, and they need sincere hearts to listen to their questions. They know they can recite questions and answers which keep their leaders happy, but their real concerns lie deeper in their hearts. They want to ask questions that adults don't like to answer: "If God answers my prayer, how do I know it might not have happened anyway? How can heaven be real if it's not up in the sky? Will God punish my friend who died in an accident? Why doesn't God stop people from killing each other?"
Children know when adults avoid issues and when they are not prepared to admit their struggles. The church needs to be real with children. More than anything, they want reality, not a watercolor picture of truth. In a Cell Group people can be real and can confess they do not know everything. They can ask for help and prayers from the children and then seek answers together. Children may see the Holy Spirit work in the lives of the adults and invite Him to work in their own lives. Children in Cell Groups will always test the commitment of adults. It is hard to be half hearted in the direct gaze of an inquiring child. As God pours His presence and power into the Cell, the adults develop passion for their unbelieving relatives and friends. But the Lord can develop that same passion within the children. They too can pray for their friends and seek to tell them about Jesus. The adults can offer their homes for parties, picnics, or meals where the children invite their friends. In God's timing, the Cell can minister to the entire family.
Wanted: heroes Most adults I know who came to lasting faith during childhood will tell of a special devoted friend or role model whose example changed their lives. However, this will not happen if the church carts off the children to a Sunday morning class and does not include the children in the mainstream life of the church. It can only happen when the children get close enough to see Christian lives first hand.
Are our children really experiencing a New Testament dynamic in their church experience? And, no, age does not matter. Just because they are young does not mean they don't need to be taught, plainly, what real Christianity is all about. No wonder so many teens are repelled by the church scene they have never seen the real Church in action! Let this be no more. Let us commit to immerse our little ones in the most powerful relational dynamic in all the world: Basic Christian Community.
The Myth of the Instant Cell Church, by Jim Egli
You may desire quick success in transition to the Cell structure, but this is unrealistic. Learn here basic principles for establishing a healthy, long-term, pure Cell vision.
Recently, a pastor proclaimed to me, "Jim, we are now a Cell Church. We transitioned last Sunday." Wow! I wish it could be that easy. Decide strategy one month, implement it the next. Put some leaders through a crash training course, announce the transition in the bulletin, and assign people to groups. Presto! Instant Cell Church! Hyper-exponential growth begins within weeks, if not days, right? n Wrong. If you are planning to implement the Cell strategy in an existing congregation, realize this: it will take three to seven years before you see the Cell strategy thoroughly established.
Do not let that discourage you! The important realization at this point is simply the need for divine patience and perseverance in what can be an excruciating process for all involved.
In light of this important time consideration, what steps can you expect to walk through? I have identified five major phases or seasons in the implementation of a Cell Church strategy. These include Envision, Implement Values, Mobilize Leaders, Restructure, and Expand.
Let's address each closely.
Do you see why this takes time? In our North American culture, with its fast food restaurants and microwave dinners, we have become accustomed to instant gratification. It's "McDonald's discipleship" at its best: "Uh, yes, give me 120 cell groups, hold the time factor, intense prayer and openness to the Holy Spirit. . . ." We want what we want, and we want it now! We do not like to wait, and we constantly look for shortcuts. This instant mentality does not work when implementing a Cell strategy: time, hard work, and prayer do. One question remains: Where are you in the transition process? Be encouraged that what God spoke to you in the beginning about revising the structure of your church is still true. Ask the Lord for patience, be true to His vision, and press on!
The tragedy of how satan counterfeits community in the gang culture and other teen groups
It was a cool November evening in Houston, Texas. The sunset was giving way to the darkness and like any big city on a Friday night, gang life was slowly coming alive. Thousands of youth would spend the night cruising, drinking, and generally looking for something exciting. Behind a nondescript warehouse a group of teens found more than excitement. Boys from two rival gangs ended up in an argument over a girl. Two drunk, revenge-seeking gang members left the scene, and returned later with an AK-47 and a shotgun. Opening fire randomly on the crowd, they injured seven teenagers. This event is significant because it happened to kids from a middle- income high school nestled in a typical suburban neighborhood. It is also significant because it is where I minister.
Let's discuss gangs and how the Church can effectively minister to them. How can we show them someone cares and that the church is relevant? Can their gifts can be used for God's purposes and not for destruction?
It is very important you understand that the days of the bully in the back of the bus calling other kids mean names is over. The bully for the year 2000 is in a gang, carries a gun, shoots at random, commits acts of cold violence_and doesn't care to know your name. Can the church respond to these love- starved, violent youth?
I believe the Church has failed in its mission to the modern, haywire youth culture. We have, in grand fashion, failed to be relevant at all to it. In fact, by our open disdain for their needs and a selfish tendency to spend most of our money on ourselves, we betray the true mission of the Church. James speaks directly to our favoritism when he wrote, ". . .do not show favoritism. . . . Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor."
While teens seemingly have little to offer the church today, it is for us to consider how we can hold a hand of kindness out to these desperate youth. Think of the words of James: they are not unlovely at all, but spiritually and financially poor. In ministering to youth, we find ourselves in contact with the ones who are most difficult to love and least likely to be able to give us anything in return.
Many of these youth have completely given up on the church, turning to gangs for fulfillment of their needs. If we are going to touch the kids God wants to reach, we would be wise to first understand why gang life is so enticing to modern-day youth. Why is he/she so fascinated with the gang culture and so turned off by the church?
Most of all, gangs offer a perceived brotherhood, an atmosphere of acceptance and community. With the break down of the nuclear family, youth are desperate for any type of community. So desperate, in fact, that they don't check to see if what they are doing is beneficial or destructive. They will sell their very soul to be a part of the community they wish to identify with. If you don't believe this, watch the news tonight. You will see stories of youth involved in drive by shootings, car jackings, rapes, robberies, and all sorts of mayhem_direct results of Satan's community.
Make no mistake, when youth join gangs, needs are superficially met and their perceived hunger is temporarily relieved. As gang involvement increases, other needs are met as well. The gang member develops a sense of family with the others who participate in the gang. This serves the need for social interaction and gives the youth a sense of belonging to something greater than himself. The gang encourages the member to use his "gifts" (see Galatians 5:19 for a detailed discussion of these gifts) for the expansion of his gang's territory and membership.
With this exercising of "gifts" comes a sense of self- esteem, a self-worth based on performance. Since the kids who belong to gangs usually have few material possessions, their most coveted asset becomes their reputation. This is where the extreme violence associated with gangs develops.
Hurting youth are looking for meaning in their lives. They want to know they are important, that someone cares. So they form themselves into small groups and become like family to one another. They engage in lifestyles of evangelism as they recruit for their gang and expand their territory. They exercise their special gifts to build up the members of their group and help it grow. They are loyal to each other even to death, and they end up spiritually, emotionally, and physically fried; their faces expressionless and their minds numb. They become victims of the great deceiver.
What these youth do not realize is this: when you meet a legitimate need Satan's way, he makes you bleed_every time. In a gang, when young girls want intimacy, they pay with their innocence and when guys want self-worth, they pay with their freedom. You see, even though gang life is a lie and a false community, Satan still demands an enormous price for counterfeit love and community.
Jesus taught us that Satan is the Father of all lies; he has never had an original thought, only distortions of God's thoughts. Like-wise, with a gang, the best Satan can do is take something beautiful, like community, and make it ugly. Satan has taken Christian com-munity and mutated it, making it something horribly destructive. God- ordained community has become a twisted prison for our youth, and the church continues on her merry way, not even opening her eyes to the destruction taking place all around her!
Obviously, Jesus wants to meet the needs of our youth. He desires to give them a love that will last forever, a security that will never waver, and a sense of belonging so strong that he calls it a special name: koinonia (community). He does this in a way exactly opposite of Satan's way: He does it freely. Jesus freely gives guys self-worth and dignity based on His unconditional love. He gives young girls love and security without a price tag of perversion. He gives the youth of today the opportunity to have self worth based on who they are in Christ, not how many baggy jeans they can shoplift. The modern youth is looking for the real Jesus and His real Body. Will the modern church offer Him in relevant ways?
We must! Let us be as aggressive in working for Biblical community for youth as Satan is in extending his perversion of community. God desires His church to meet all the basic needs of adults and youth alike. The flexible structure of the Cell model begs to be used to meet youths needs. Unfortunately, Satan is the only one using it right now.
It's time for youth workers to realize that youth today are struggling with deep needs that can't be met by pizza parties and hype. Only true Biblical Community will fill the void of their lives. Unless they encounter the living Christ, they will never know true freedom and peace!
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