Thirty years ago I walked away from an exciting career with a major denomination to find out what God wanted to do to change the Program Base Design church. I was told in 1980 that I was born 20 years too soon, and that I should just teach theory in a seminary somewhere, that in my lifetime I would never see the church change significantly.
Over the months of this year, I will conduct training events in New Zealand, Kazakstan, England, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, Canada and the U.S. These are not theory teaching events! Those who attend are, in nearly every case, actually involved in transitioning churches to Cell based structures.
Even five years ago, I felt the U.S. church scene was hopelessly bogged down in tradition. With sadness, I said farewell to America and joined Lawrence Khong in Singapore to help him develop a pure cell church. My time in South-east Asia was the highlight of my life! Lawrence Khong is a genius both in the pulpit and as an administrator, allowing my creative skills and writing abilities to be used to the fullest measure as his companion. Out of those years has come the fully tested YEAR OF EQUIPPING for the cell church, including many new training materials available from our Houston office. This church has now grown to over 6,000 members with a US$1,000,000 annual budget (believe it or not, that represents a 100% tithe of the church members!), and they are seeing at least five new conversions every day in the year. Their staff is moving toward 200 employees. They have placed their church planting teams in Russia, Kazakstan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and other 10/40 nations too sensitive to mention. It has been a thrill to see one church become the largest Chinese congregation in the world (outside of China), and it is a pure cell church. (You should consider attending the Fifth International Conference in Singapore next February.)
Meanwhile, the American situation has gone through great change. Pastors and church members alike have become restless, searching for the new wineskins. Where Do We Go From Here? was written at precisely the right time to trigger a worldwide exodus from traditional church life towards the new paradigm. I am astonished by the many languages that the book has been translated into, and the scores of pastors who have written to me sharing that after reading the book they either started transitioning a church or planted a new work.
It became apparent to me about a year ago that my remark in that book about P.B.D. churches in the USA not being capable of transitioning was no longer valid. It is possible, and many are doing so! There are scores and scores of churches moving out of the old structures at the present time.
Over 1,800 Americans have just attended the Fourth International Conferences on the Cell Church, just completed in California, Virginia, and Tennessee. Three of these were in English, one in Mandarin. Over and over again, I am receiving reports about the exciting progress being made both in transitioning and in new cell church plants. The time is now here: there is visible proof that the cell church is viable in the USA!
Meanwhile, South Africa is going through a volcanic eruption of the work of the Holy Spirit within church life. The elections and the ending of Apartheid has been blessed by God with a fresh vision for all the churches of all denominations. Most exciting of all is the official vote of the leadership of the AFM denomination, with over 2 million members, to transition as a denomination into the cell church model. I will speak to about 4,500 of their leaders in Johannesburg the first week in August, and will then train 1,000 of their churches using THE YEAR OF TRANSITION during 1996. I have already trained 236 other churches in South Africa, using one week every three months to walk their leaders through transitioning steps. This training has covered the spectrum of church groups, including the Dutch Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.
My next major project in the USA will be the launching of THE YEAR OF TRANSITION in various cities in the nation. We are also negotiating with a seminary for formal credit to be given to pastors and church leaders who wish to take this training, and a certificate will also be awarded to others who wish to be trained without academic credit. God willing, we will enroll 500 churches and their pastors in the United States for this special guidance to transition into a pure cell church during 1996. As a subscriber to this magazine, you will be the first to receive information about how you can enroll in this course. It will involve one week of intensive training every three months for a year. Watch for our special mailout!
In addition, the TOUCH EQUIPPING STATIONS SYSTEM is now being launched for Christian workers who can be free to spend two years interning in an existing cell church. Cornerstone Church in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is now accepting candidates to be trained as Zone Pastors through classes and mentoring. This is a great breakthrough. For the first time, there will be an alternative to traditional seminary education, returning the training of pastors to the local church where on-the-job training will replace classical campus life.
Peter Wagner has just invited me to be a speaker at a May 1996 conference to be held at Fuller. I was astonished at the subject to be discussed: the postdenominational church. Truly the old paradigms are shifting with light speed! I feel sad about this conference, because I believe the breakdown of USA denominations is the direct result of key leadership refusing to open the windows and let some fresh air come in. I think of the AFM's transition in South Africa and wish something like this might have happened first in the States.
Due to my great concern in the area of evangelism, I feel I must take editorial space to discuss a destructive pattern that touches the lives of new converts and the body of Christ as a whole. We have provided only a partial explanation of what it means to be a Christian to the seeker. Because church life has focused on nonrelational programmed activities, we have failed to explain that the first benefit of accepting Christ is to live in God's community. Nearly all converts become Lone Ranger Christians, feeling there is no special connection between being a Christian and living responsibly, committed to building up other believers in the body of Christ.
If you were to die today and God were to say, Why should I let you into my heaven?' is a classic avoidance of the here and now aspect of salvation. The first official act of the Holy Spirit, according to 1 Corinthians 12, is to baptize the new believer into the body of Christ! Perhaps we are in this mess because parachurch groups have become the evangelism trainers for the church. Since para-church structures must avoid commitment to any specific ecclesiogy in their theological positions, their evangelism presentations eliminate the importance of Basic Christian Community in salvation theology. True, in a point of time we are delivered from the penalty of sin, and at a future point in time we will be delivered from the presence of sin but the process of working out our salvation to be delivered from the power of sin requires body life! We cannot deal with the strongholds in our newborn lives without the oikodomeo, the edification, that God has provided through the cell group. Bringing converts into a salvation experience without explaining the importance of living in the family of God is like a woman giving birth to a baby and abandoning the child. It requires the cell church structure to nurture new believers. Think about it!
Chicago Style Disciple-making. This Chicago church has a goal: make disciples. And they're doing it where others fear to tread the gang-ridden inner city
It was January of 1986. I found myself gazing at a small church building on the corner of a rundown southwest Chicago street wondering where in the world I should start. I was 21 years old, fresh out of Bible school and the only two things I knew for sure was that the need was very great and God had led me there. The scene was typical of inner city America: graffiti everywhere, dilapidated apartment buildings and gangs peddling drugs. Then there were the street drunks hanging out on the church steps. It was a far cry from my missionary upbringing in Burgos, Spain.
Now, nine years later, the group of 18 people that first gathered there has blossomed into New Life Community Church with 700 people and over 40 cell groups that meet weekly in homes throughout the city of Chicago. The congregation is currently about 50% Hispanic, 40% Anglo and 10% other. From businessmen to gang- bangers, students to street people, you will encounter great diversity in our cells and celebrations. The problems of the inner city seem staggering, but God has empowered us with unlimited grace not only to meet needs, but to expand His Kingdom.
This is because early in our life as a congregation we determined to be a city church. From the start, we have regarded the city as a neglected mission field in America. Most flagship churches have long abandoned their inner city roots for the more affluent middle income culture of the suburbs. And though we respect that call as valid, our call and vision is to do deep sea fishing in the dark and often murky waters of the inner city.
In our journey, God has been teaching us some things about the priorities of church life, namely producing disciples. We began to realize the need for a church-wide vision to be a disciple-making church. Recently, at a leadership retreat, we asked two fundamental questions: what is a true disciple and how well is New Life growing disciples? After two days of prayer, lengthy discussion, soul searching and deep conviction, we returned with a new vision and determination to not just gather people, but to disciple them.
Discipleship is a delicate process. Its absence was barely noticeable, and our church was a good example. To the casual observer, New Life was doing great: attendance was way up, cell groups were multiplying, staff was increasing. But we realized we were failing miserably at deliberate disciple-making.
Too many pastors and leaders are proudly proclaiming, Sunday school is running smoothly, attendance is up, the budget is being met, the building program is succeeding, we have 20 groups and just added two more staff. But if making and growing disciples is truly our mission, how are we faring in that area?
In our early cell group days, we made the mistake of assuming that disciple-making would take place by simply bringing people together in cells. Now we know that we were missing a key link in the discipleship process: one-on-one sponsoring (mentoring) within the cell context. Now we know people need to be trained to sponsor others in Christ. It doesn't happen automatically.
At New Life, we define a healthy cell group as a disciple- making group. The community building in a cell is the ideal soil out of which discipling can grow, but it must be intentional. Cell leaders must understand one of the primary purposes of their cells is discipleship, which means linking people up in sponsor-sponsee relationships.
The cell is still vital to the discipleship process. Although the formation of a cell group does not guarantee disciple-making, it is the ideal environment to encourage, monitor and facilitate disciple- making. It provides a natural setting to link sponsors with younger disciples.
Churches that implement sponsor-sponsee relationships without the cell group skip a vital part of healthy discipleship community. When there is no cell community, the young disciple goes from the sanctuary to one-on-one sponsoring, bypassing the relationships of a cell group and leading, at times, to an unhealthy dependence on the sponsor. Sponsoring and cells need each other to produce healthy disciples. Let's look now at some keys to intentional cell discipleship via the sponsoring process.
Most churches mention that making disciples or fully devoted followers of Christ is part of their primary purpose, yet have never thought through a deliberate plan to accomplish this. As churches, we tend to be much more intentional about our membership procedures than we are about discipleship.
At New Life, we began to realize that we were intentional about the first step of discipleship, evangelism, but vague about how a people would then learn to obey all that Christ commanded. We followed them up with a phone call, gave them a new believer's packet and encouraged them to attend a cell group in their area, yet the process of teaching them how to practice the teachings of Jesus was lacking. We hoped they would learn through teaching on Sunday morning and the fellowship in a cell group. But, our people did not grow in a dynamic way until we helped them with a system of equipping materials and encouragement to be in sponsor-sponsee relationships.
For sponsoring to take hold of a congregation, the pastor and leadership must first buy into the vision. At New Life each pastor and staff member is expected to be actively involved in sponsoring a young disciple. My wife and I became some of the first to establish a sponsor-sponsee relationship with another young couple. We openly share the joys and heartaches of sponsoring with others as we seek to encourage them to make sponsoring their lifestyle. Each cell leader and intern are also expected to model the sponsor relationship for the rest of their cell group. In fact, we believe that each Christian should either be actively sponsoring someone or seeking to be sponsored themselves.
It has been said the simpler a process, the more people will be involved. It's no different with the discipleship process. Believers need coaching to be spiritual mentors. Unfortunately, this is often a foreign process because many have never really been discipled in a sponsor-sponsee relationship.
They need guidance. We began by training the cell leaders and their interns in the principles of sponsoring and then asked them to model it with their life. We devoted a two day retreat to cast the vision, the call and the principles of discipleship through the sponsor-sponsee relationship.
At our weekly equipping meetings with all the cell leaders we often focus on the challenges and principles of discipling relationships. Periodically we call all the active sponsors together to give them further training and motivation.
The process and goals of sponsoring need to be clearly outlined and communicated in written training materials. We provide material and teaching that explains the sponsoring ministry from start to finish. This material is continually being revised and updated to meet the strategic needs of those in sponsor-sponsee relationships especially those beginning one.
The material each sponsor uses with the sponsee is designed to be simple, self-explanatory and practical. Although the strength of sponsoring is relationship, not curriculum, the material helps the sponsor stay focused on the spiritual growth of the sponsee.
Just as the cells and their leaders need to be recognized and celebrated before the congregation, so do the sponsors and their sponsees. We do this in several ways:
Every month we print a list of the names of all the sponsors and their sponsees and recognize their progress. This list is included in the bulletin for all the congregation to see.
We bring all those that finish the first phase of sponsoring (which takes about 5 months) before the congregation and interview them. We pray over them an honor their sponsor. In the second phase, they are expected to take a younger believer and teach them all they have learned about sponsoring.
Each month we honor the cell leader whose cell has experienced the most effective sponsoring during the previous month. Each week the cell leaders record the sponsor meetings and their position on our lesson track. This is part of the weekly report handed in to the overseer (Zone Supervisor).
Periodically, on Sunday mornings, we interview a person or couple who have proven to be a faithful sponsors.
Sponsoring is also the process by which a person joins New Life. If they are a new believer, we officially recognize them as part of the church upon completing the first phase of discipleship. If they are a mature believer and wish to join the church, we ask them to co- sponsor a young disciple. When they finish we bring them before the body.
Each cell is also asked to take a few moments each week at the cell meeting to highlight discipleship and celebrate the progress individuals are making.
As New Life Church continues to move into our commitment to discipleship deeper and deeper, we continue to see more and more fruit. Essentially, we have committed to focus on only one number: the number of people being actively discipled and discipling others. We are confident this will result in continued true church growth, and the tearing down of strongholds in Chicago's scarred south side.
While watering the dying plants on my front porch, I discovered a dove nesting in a hanging basket. Startled by a burst of cold water, she flew to a nearby tree and waited until I finished watering. Peering through the wilted leaves of ivy, I found her intricate home of twigs contained two small eggs. I had never seen anything like this before, and it seemed odd to me that a wild animal would choose a nesting site on my front porch.
A few minutes later, she returned to her eggs and cautiously watched my every move. I gave no thought to her natural wisdom and shook my finger at her saying, Right thing, wrong place. After all, she moved into a dying golden pothos without a peck of consultation with the gardner!
I often hear the same thing said by those of you who are deacons, elders, and long time church members. The cell model is a great way to reach the world for Christ, but it just won't happen in my church. You're partially right! You could rally a band of members against the shift to cells and keep everything the same for a while by spouting, Right thing, wrong place. But that wouldn't be taking on God's yoke, would it?
He has asked us to walk with Him, in His direction, at His pace. This shift will bring growing pains, but will also cause you to see your church the way I now view my porch a place where a new and very different thing could happen if the caretaker gains a spirit of cooperation with the Creator.
The Holy Spirit wants to move into your church and provide new life. He has made a wonderful selection and found that your church, and even YOU are suitable for a new use in His kingdom. This bold change is the right thing in the right place!
I discovered something new on my porch when that dove moved in.
What I didn't see at the time was the process I went through with each passing day as she
and her family became part of my life. The adoption process will be similar for you as you
embrace cell life. Allow God to Move In
When God thinks you're ready, He introduces change and waits patiently to see if you will draw on faith to trust Him. He may introduce this through your pastor or your leadership team. He has chosen your church to be a vital part of the reformation of the body of Christ. In a nutshell, don't blame the messenger for the message. If you are unhappy about the change, ask God to give you His heart. You, too, will become a messenger like your pastor.
The dove was quickly adopted as part of my family simply because she wasn't easily moved from her eggs and I was sensitive to her needs. I made the decision to embrace the dove's plan and came to a new conclusion: she was just fine and I was the bad egg. (Sorry, I just couldn't resist!)
You, too, can shift from programs in a building to relationships and transparency. God will reveal Himself in a new way if you are willing to adopt the constant change of a Spirit-led walk. Embrace the reality that God is the ultimate Creator, and He didn't stop creating innovative ways for His people to worship and evangelize the world years ago. We must seek God's will and put it ahead of our own in every area, as difficult as it may be. Make a decision right now to give God access to everything and everyone for a new change.
As you yield to God in this area, your perception of your surroundings will change. The challenge to be transparent in a small group will look like an invitation instead of a threat. Each day will bring a fresh view of what God is doing, and you will be a keen observer.
The first signs of change are obvious: programs are removed one by one and the focus is shifted to cells meeting weekly in homes. This is simply an outward structural change to support new inward values. Don't look on the outside seeing only the sacred cow of Sunday School being slaughtered. We have nailed down salvation by grace and the priesthood of the believer, but what is missing from our spiritual relationships is community. This is our most basic need, and it has been ignored.
When we begin to share our daily lives with each other and the hurting world, the traditional structure will fit in like platform shoes. They were really cool for a while, but they never became a fashion standard They made you look taller, but they didn't provide real growth. The church has been walking around in platform shoes for many years, and God is saying, I am doing a new thing, crossing all denominational and cultural lines. Come, enter in and see what I want to do through you!
God's love, given through community in my cell, has spoiled me. I just can't go back into a traditional church and sit through a service knowing few of the people ever share their lives with each other, let alone a stranger. The change has taken place in my heart, not in a church structure.
If living in community seems scary, ask God to show you the answer to this this simple question: What is keeping me from being intimate and transparent with believers and pre-Christians?
For what may be the first time in your life, you will see the worldly values that keep you from making great leaps in your ever- changing walk with God. Death to these old values will release you to fill the void with everlasting values. When you are willing to venture into the untapped lifestyle of transparency, you will clearly see which values must change.
You must enter into community by faith to receive it. Joining a cell and simply telling your fellow members that you want to be transparent isn't enough. You don't know what that will entail! God will do a mighty work in anyone who feels inadequate that's the place where He wants us to start. In that scary place, God shows us His presence, power and purpose, and our old values will look like those platform shoes.
Right after I found the eggs, my young friend Edwin came over to see me. He keeps up with everything in our neighborhood, and always fills me in when I have been out of town or too busy to look around to see the obvious.
As he walked up the steps of our porch, I pointed to the dove. He blurted, We have a nest just like it, and Rick has lots of nests next door. Didn't you realize they're doing this everywhere?
Less than two seconds into my wonderful discovery story and Edwin bursts my bubble. Boy! I hate that. I thought I had an exclusive on my porch, only to be told by a kid that I was too self-focused to see the whole neighborhood was hosting a dove hatching convention.
Please, let me be your Edwin. You are one of thousands of Christians in the U.S. to join what has been termed the second reformation church.
This movement is growing fast because it meets the most basic need of all people to live in community and to know that we can make a difference in the lives of others. God has simultaneously placed this on the hearts of church leadership everywhere.
My dove's nest was special because it was on my porch, but we certainly didn't have a private arrangement with the species. God is planting and transitioning cell churches all over America. A current listing called CellNet shows over three hundred churches are transitioning to the cell model or are pure cell church plants in the U.S. But we suspect there are easily a thousand or more who are just too busy to join! The largest churches in the world are cell-based, and they are sending mission-aries here to help us move into the new wineskin of community. If this doesn't burst your bubble, your bubble is just too thick.
One of my mentors told me long ago that people fall into three broad categories: those that make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder What happened?
I want to fall into the first category in my daily walk with Christ. He has given me the choice, and I have decided to be transparent with others and to live in community.
My neglected ivy is perking up after the birth of two beautiful baby doves. I give it lots of attention and fertilizer now, but it isn't the plant that it used to be. I just can't look at it as a golden pothos anymore God used it to bring life to my home.
Let God move into your life and your church in a new way. You will lose things you don't need, and gain something you can't lose. May heaven forbid that you wake up one morning and wonder what happened?
If you are a leader tottering on the edge of burnout, the most helpful place for you to look for solutions is the life of Jesus. Like you, he faced the demands of a growing ministry. But in the whirlwind of activity, his life was marked by focus and freedom. How did he do it?
He prayed a lot. The primary cause of burnout is a lack of prayer. If you are not praying seriously and consistently, you're operating out of your own power supply and chances are that your AA batteries are running low. If you consistently take time with Him, it's like being plugged into a wall outlet with limitless energy. Time with God allows us to find refreshment for our own needs and the needs of those around us.
The other crucial value of prayer demonstrated in Christ's life is that it allows you to hear the Father's voice. Like Jesus, you don't have time for every person and every need, but you do have enough time to do all God wants you to do. The question: do you really know what God is telling you to do? When you take time to listen to His voice, you will gain a sense of the activities that fit into the mandate God has given you. You are free to say no to the good things and yes to the God things!
Whether you are experiencing burnout or not, time with Christ is foundational to your vitality and effectiveness. In times of intimate prayer, Jesus communicates to you your time priorities. Jesus' words are clear: I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. ...This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (John 15:5,8).
Include the Children! Intergenerational Cells provide a growth experience for everyone
This article is adapted from the chapter called A Note to Cell Leaders found in Dr. Jenkins book, Feed My Lambs. Get this new release for a more complete understanding of Intergenerational Cell Groups.
When a cell group begins to include children as a part of the weekly meeting, suddenly the children come under the care of the cell leader. In one sense the children were always the cell leader's responsibility because the ministry extended to the entire family. But now they come every week. They become friends and they are a vital part of cell life.
Including the children causes the group to enter new dimensions of cell life because the entire family is now included. With these new dynamics the cell leader and the group as a whole must learn how to relate to the children. If the cell group ignores the children, they will not enjoy coming and will end up with a bad taste in their mouth after drinking from the cell church well. Children have a right to be included during the time they share with the adults. They also have the desire and ability to relate and participate. Here are a few tips for cell leaders that shepherd children in the context of family cells.
Most do not intentionally hurt a child, but sometimes, by our attitudes, we unintentionally grieve them. One way we do this is by not treating them like real people. We put on a special voice for them. We talk down to them as if they had limited intelligence. A child's experience and education may be limited, but their minds and their feelings are not.
Some leaders try to make the first part of the cell group just a fun time for the children. This is a mistake. The adults get sick of it very quickly, and the children know it isn't the real thing. Children like to do what adults do, and they like to be taken seriously. Invite the children to help in the worship, icebreaker or prayer time and you will be surprised at how well they do! Give them a week to prepare. Ask the parents to help if necessary. Urge parents to arrive on time. It is discouraging for children to arrive late and find their part of the cell meeting is over.
As soon as you are ready to begin your cell meeting, call the children together and welcome them. They are more likely to respond to you, and they should know that you are the leader of the group. They should learn to obey you and follow your direction.
Choose an ice breaker which the children can enjoy too. Remember, children cannot understand abstract or symbolic ideas. You need to give them clear instructions. Sometimes it can be good to pair a child with an adult for the ice breaker.
Children can worship properly if someone explains to them what is going on. They can lift their hearts to God and feel His presence. Sometimes you can use pictures to get a worship idea across. Children love to play instruments and to use their bodies to express praise. Give the children time to let God speak to them. Sometimes He will show them a picture or give them a word to share with the whole group. They can also learn to share a verse from their Bibles.
When you ask the group for prayer items for the week, ask the children for their news too. Young children may take longer to share their news. Wait for them. When you enter into prayer, encourage them to participate. Children can pray aloud, but they may need help at first. Bring a prayer diary to cell to record requests. This helps children to see how God answers prayer.
Adults can bless the children and vice versa during the cell group. Some of the more serious prayer requests of the adults might need to be held back for a time when the children are not present.
Allow time to celebrate family events such as birthdays, births, a promotion, school exams, sickness, a new home, etc. Designate a Family Reporter and ask them to look into these events and plan accordingly.
Sometimes cell leaders feel nervous about having the children with the adults, so they try to dismiss them as soon as possible. This will not help them feel a part of the cell group. Instead, ask God to help both the children and the adults to feel relaxed and comfortable in each other's presence. It may take some time and effort.
The children should be with the adults during the icebreaker, the worship and the news-sharing time. Then they should go to their subgroup and stay there for about 40-60 minutes.
They should not be allowed to run all over the house. If a problem arises in the group and the cell leader does not want the children back so soon, he should send a message to the Children's Helper and ask for up to half an hour longer. There should always be a game held in reserve for the children in this situation. If the problem is going to take longer than half an hour, the cell leader should close the meeting and find another time to deal with the matter.
When the children return, give them time to report back to the whole group. The group should encourage the children in what they share. The adults should also be ready to tell of good things which have happened to them. If food is offered, help the children to learn to serve others first.
If children do something wrong, they should apologize to the person concerned. Both parents and children should learn how to deal with wrong-doing. Remind the children about the House Rules and the Agreement that the cell has established. Whenever children have been scolded let them also be welcomed back into the family. Do not allow them to be isolated and cut off. If they have been rebuked during the cell group, their parents should not punish them again when they get home. Likewise, if adults act badly towards children they should ask for forgiveness.
A cell group is a good place to model forgiveness and restoration. Many families do not practice forgiveness in their own homes. Children do not know what it is like to be restored into a right relationship after they have been punished.
Many parents feel ashamed when their child misbehaves. The cell group should support parents at these times. All children misbehave at one time or another, and it is no time to condemn the parents. Instead, offer ministry, practical help and encouragement. The group might like to get some help on parenting so that they can learn together.
Children can be so cute, bouncy, quiet or noisy that we forget that they also have pastoral needs. Often the children do not know that they can share their problems with someone who can help them. Sometimes children do not understand their parent's actions and they feel unloved. Remember that in family relationships the children often blame themselves for being in the wrong.
It's hard for the cell leader to minister to all the children and adults in the group. If you recognize that a child has a problem and you do not know what to do about it, ask for help. You could talk to the parents, a Children's Ministry Leader, or a Zone Pastor.
In your regular routine, show an interest in the children. Make sure you speak to the children individually. You can talk to them when you phone the home. If a child is sick or has achieved something, a special phone call is very important. At social events, spend a little time playing with them. It is a good investment to win their respect so they will cooperate with you in the future.
You will never know how dynamic and exciting your cell group can be until you take the risk of including children. They will transform your worship, your prayer and your relationships. They will bring some problems, but none of them are insurmountable. You will learn to thank God for the children in your cell group.
Leading Teens into God's Presence. The bold contrast between doing church and being the church
For six years, I worked as a youth pastor in a very traditional church. We started a small group ministry hoping to see radical life changes that can come through New Testament community, and some neat things were happening. But as I observed our groups and met with leadership, it became clear that we were running little more than effective teen therapy groups. It was not until I left the traditional setting and began a work in a cell-based model that I was challenged to change my paradigm.
During my first few months of ministry at my new church, Shepherd Community, as I became frustrated again. The youth were not entering into the presence of Christ like the adult groups. I went to our senior pastor, Bill Beckham, and shared with him my frustration. Bill said, If the teens understand the reality that Jesus is with them in the meeting and that he desires to speak to them and through them, the dynamic of the group will change. At that moment I realized I failed to help my teens enter into the presence of Christ.
After that meeting, I asked God for ways to make His presence real during youth cell. God drew my mind to the empty chair (you leave a chair empty and tell the group Jesus sits there). At first I thought, How lame! Everyone does that. Then God knocked me upside the head for my pride and spoke to me. He said, Use the empty chair because it works it helps people recognize the presence of Christ. Needless to say, I decided to use the empty chair!
That week during our cell meeting, I put the empty chair in the room and told the teens that Jesus was sitting there. During our singing time, we turned towards the chair and sang to Jesus. At first, we all felt silly including me. But the Lord was teaching us about acknowledging His presence. After the singing I said to each teen, If you could physically see Jesus sitting in that chair what would you say to Him? We went around the circle and everyone responded with stuff like: Hi Jesus . . . How you doin' Jesus . . . I love ya Jesus. As my turn quickly approached, I thought What would I really ask Jesus if I could see Him sitting in that chair?
Immediately my grandfather came to mind. He had a major stroke and the quality of his life is pitiful. Two weeks ago, the adult cell I belong to prayed for my grandfather as well as a friend's grandfather who was in a similar situation. We prayed that God would take them home to be with Him. The next week his grandfather passed away, mine didn't. I wanted to know why.
So I asked Jesus. No quicker had the words left my mouth, when Amy, a junior high student said, Oh, I didn't know we could ask Him those kinds of questions.
Amy's father is a church planter from Canada. Their family moved to Houston to to experience the dynamics of the cell-based church before attempting to plant a new work. Their sacrifice was great, leaving all that they had known. Amy's personal sacrifice was a difficult separation from her friends back home. She was upset when two good friends in her new neighborhood moved away within a week's time. Amy was mad at God because He had taken away the only two friends she had in Houston after leaving deep friendships in Canada.
We asked Amy to sit in the midst of us and encouraged her to tell Jesus how she was feeling. I asked the youth to pray for Amy, listening for God to give them something special to say to her. As we laid hands on her, she poured out her heart before the Lord.
One by one, we all prayed for her. One gave her a Scripture, another the lyrics from a Christian song. One of the teens spoke words of encouragement into her life saying, You are the Lord's; you are never alone; God has given us to you, and we are here for you. Those words changed Amy's life. It also raised the cell's level of commitment to Amy.
Entering into the presence of God during your cell time is the difference between doing church and being the Church. It's true: churches meet; but the Church enters into God's presence. There are many reasons groups can meet, but any group that claims to be in basic Christian community meets for one reason to experience the presence, power, and purpose of the risen Christ in their midst.
I have heard it suggested that worship doesn't belong in the cell, that it is unique to large gatherings. I have also observed music leaders involved with cell-based churches who are active in developing worship for their congregations with almost no thought for developing worship at the cell level.
How should we view the value of worship in our churches and cells? Is it just an aid, if available, to help accomplish other more important purposes, or is it fundamental to our mission as Christians? And if we agree that it is fundamental, how can we ensure a meaningful worship experience for our group, especially if there are no skilled musicians available?
Jesus' famous words to the Samaritan woman give us insight into His understanding of His own mission. When he said his Father is looking for worshippers, he made worship a fundamental issue that those who believe would be known as worshippers. This statement is all the more significant when you realize that Jesus was evangelizing with this message. He was not talking to one of his disciples, but to an immoral woman in need of salvation. He was offering an unbeliever not just salvation, but worship. The call to worship is not just a deeper life message reserved for seasoned saints; it is also a street-level message for burned-out sinners!
I once asked a Nigerian pastor visiting the States to comment on American Christianity. He said, In America, you believe; in Nigeria, we worship! The reason for this may be our tendency to measure the vibrance of our Christian lives only by what we believe, which can obscure the fact that worship is fundamental to our identity as Christians. But Abraham's faith was evidenced by worship. Romans 4:20 says that Abraham was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. The Apostle Peter said it like this: You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God's special people for the purpose of declaring praise.
Whether you're a pastor, cell group leader or parent, know this: if you have become a Christian, you are part of God's search for worshippers. Our missionary efforts, our neighborhood evangelism, our discipleship training should all be measured by how well we produce worshippers. If somehow a person is converted and doesn't become a worshipper, something is wrong!
In his plea for God-centered missions, John Piper explains: Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Mis- sions exists because worship doesn't. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.3 Worship, therefore, should not be excluded from the smaller meetings of our community life.4 Not only should we as leaders insist on meaningful worship in our cells, but in the family units as well! It is fundamental to who we are. Our communities should be worshiping communities.
Here's some good news: if you have a heart for God and for God's people, you can lead worship whether you know anything about music or not! You need only facilitate. It is like a father or a mother and the education of their children. Though they send their kids to school to learn math and reading from other people, the parent, ultimately, is responsible for the education of his or her children.5 Likewise, cell leaders have the responsibility to insure honest, meaningful worship among those they lead.
Another bit of good news for the non-musical leader is that worship is fundamentally not music! Many folks, if asked if they are worshippers, will say Heavens no, I'm not a musician! But they are incorrectly equating worship with worship music. True worship is simply the presenting of ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). The acts of worship (singing or playing skillfully with an instrument, lifting hands, bowing down, etc.) are simply outward expressions of that inward sacrifice of ourselves to God these acts simply represent what is in our hearts.6 Unfortunately, this is rarely taught publicly. The result is that people equate true worship with musical skill, which God gives, and uses, but does not require of us in order to worship him in power, spirit and truth.
As far as the cell goes, this means many people who are worshippers are also ready to be worship leaders. You say they are worshippers, but their lack of ability to sing nicely is distracting? Then have them use a tape or a CD to lead. You say you'd rather have instruments? Then begin to train some of these worshippers to play guitar. Don't look for musical skill alone; look for worshiping hearts and work from there. Much of the time the worshippers in your church will already have abundant musical skill because true worshippers are always desperate to express outwardly what is honestly in their hearts.
A few observations may help as you develop worship for your cell groups:
The guitar is the ideal accompanying instrument for cells. It is fairly easy to learn; the sound of an acoustic guitar does not overpower the small number of people; and maybe most important it's portable.
Leading worship in the cell church has its challenges. But don't let the challenges keep you from the blessings of worship in this intimate setting. When Jesus spoke of worship, he said there was a particular kind of worshipper his Father was seeking: one who worships in spirit and reality (truth). I believe there is a greater likelihood that the Father will find such worshippers in churches that value small groups.Why? Because the honesty that comes out of close fellowship and accountability will create a more honest and genuine expression of worship.
So let's value worship as a precious jewel in our communities. Let's pray, plan and do what it takes to insure that God's church, even at the smallest unit, will be a worshiping church to the glory of God!
Gerrit Gustafson is a Bible teacher, songwriter, and wholehearted worshipper. He conducts seminars and conferences throughout this nation and abroad with Kingdom of Priests Ministries. Having been a pastor and Music Coordinator for Integrity's Hosanna! Music, Gerrit has recorded over 40 songs. Currently, he lives in Mobile, Alabama with his wife, Himmie. They have five children.
End of Issue.
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|Volume Three - 1994||Volume Four - 1995|
|Volume Five - 1996||Volume Six - 1997|
|Volume Seven - 1998|
Contents © Copyright 1999 by TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc.