Something is taking place in the global cell church movement that is awesome. The small trickle of pastors and churches who first saw the Holy Spirit's activity have now been followed by a steady stream of early adopters who are looking at the existing cell church models and saying, "We are ready. Just show us how.
In 1988, I visited the cell church pastored by Dion Robert in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. We were impressed then by the 40,000 who crowded into a soccer stadium for a harvest event, and with 15,000 new converts that were steered into cell groups. I visited the church again in August and rejoiced to see the church now has 80,000 active members in their cell groups, not just in a stadium. This church is a forecast of what is going to happen in the next 15- 20 years worldwide. The growth will come through the harvesting of unchurched people by Christians who are abandoning secular lifestyles for Kingdom activity. Cell church plants are combining with transitioning churches to increase the total number of cell churches around the world.
We have come to a new generation of workers in the movement. Second generation leaders are now emerging, men and women who have had the privilege of viewing working models before launching their own ministries. Experienced cell leaders are training interns, who are in turn training their replacements. As churches enter the third generation of cell life, it begins to grow rapidly. In another two years, this third generation will be in place and the explosion will begin. It's starting now.
And what of the fourth generation? The Faith Community Baptist Church has just completed its seventh year as a cell church. It designated 1995 as a year of preparation for sending out entire cell groups from Singapore to minister as teams all over the earth. Their goal was to send out 120 cell groups; Lawrence Khong's last e- mail to me reported they have 180 groups, a total of 1,800 people, who are going at their own expense into all parts of the world to help cell churches grow or be planted. Have you ever heard of such a thing?
As I read through the pages of this issue, I was deeply moved by the variety of reports from cell ministers. From the pen of a child comes an account of how the cell movement vision has been passed on to her by her parents. Cornerstone Church in Virginia reports how they dropped all public worship services to go underground for several weeks in the cell groups and grew through the experience. From the cell-church forum on Internet comes a report from Garth Wunsch, who tells about his first-year startup problems and how he solved them.
Most important is the theme of this issue: multiplication. Sooner or later, those who study the cell church movement recognize that the difference between cell groups and the small group movement is a focus on the harvesting of the lost. Use the information and accounts found here to multiply your ministry for the Kingdom!
Gathered in My Name How to transition a program-based youth ministry into a relational, student-led cell groups
That night, six out of thirteen students shared how they had attempted or strongly considered committing suicide. The cell topic was depression and suicide. The leader was a sophomore in high school who had been leading cell groups for over a year. The students looked like your normal mix of kids, most involved in sports. One by one, they shared painful experiences in life that caused them to contemplate or attempt suicide. The whole room was brought to tears on several occasions due to the pain shared by their peers. The Holy Spirit lovingly ministered to this dear group of youth. The next day, the leader's mom shared how greatly impacted her son was by the testimony of his friends; he will never be the same.
There will never be enough professional youth workers to reach the multitudes of youth in our world, but there are enough students with a heart for their peers that if equipped could reach their peers.
Take a good look at your current youth ministry model. Are you running from one event or program to another? Have your ever sat down at the end of an event and asked yourself what did we really accomplish? Do you feel you must always do things a little bigger and better each time?
There is a movement happening all over America and around the world. God is restructuring His church into a relational cell-based ministry. This article will deal with how to transition an entertainment or program-based ministry into a relational student- led cell-based ministry.
So how do you make the leap from one model to another?
Pray Seek the mind of the Lord. Has he called you to a new work? Until you have God's peace to move on, stay on your knees.
If you view this as just another program or church growth principle, then you will give up on it when the next hot idea comes along.
Evaluate Take an honest look at your ministry. How is the Lord working in your midst? Are you producing disciples who will dedicate their whole life to His service? How do you invest your time, in programs or people? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Do your homework There has been little written specifically on student-led cell groups, but a great deal has been written on adult cells and the cell church movement world-wide. The strategy and structure for adult cells will be your best starting point. Adapt what you can from adult materials to make it work but don't let a lack of youth material stop you the New Testament church didn't have materials and they did miraculous things through faith-based determination and being led by the Spirit.
Develop your strategy:
How will you select and train your leaders?
How will you disciple your leaders, and new converts?
How will you track the success of your cell groups?
If you do not have a well thought out system, your ministry will unravel due to the rapid growth of youth cells.
Communicate People tend to be down on what they are not up on. A youth minister in Florida recently said, We didn't want to rush things and end up shooting ourselves in the foot. We knew when we started we wanted to have the best start possible. Months ago, we shared the concept of cell ministry with our commission for youth and families. They got excited about it and voted to support it in whatever way necessary. From there, I took the plan to the Youth Leadership board who also got excited and couldn't wait to begin.
From there we talked the ministry up to individuals, adults, youth, and just about anyone who would listen. Once we had enough general excitement we held an introductory meeting open to all youth and adults. This youth pastor went on to talk about his strategy to accomplish his transition.
Model Cell Life For most of us, a shift from programs to relationship building will be a jolt. At the same time, it can set you free. A youth pastor at a recent conference reported, I learned more in an hour and a half of a model cell group with my youth than I did in a year and a half of ministering to them with my program format.
Draw in your potential leaders Model cell life for both students and adults alike. Help them develop their gifts and talents and minister to their needs.
Mobilize Train and equip your student and adult leadership. Develop a strong prayer base, model cell life and let your first leaders lead in a training environment. Help them succeed as leaders. Do an all day training event to bring everybody up to speed on where you are going and how you will get there.
Launch Go for it! Realize that failure come with the territory. You will learn more by failure than by success. If you have truly been called, He will help you through the transition and equip you along the way. Begin your first cells.
Ongoing Training You can only grow as large as the leaders you produce. Pour your life into potential leaders and current leaders.
Students today face incredible challenges. Are you structured to impact their life? You cannot do it alone train and equip the students. God gave you the love of Christ and the Gospel to take to this generation of walking wounded. Make a strategy today!
Casting Vision for Cell Life Experience-based communication for traditionally minded believers
He leaned over the breakfast table as if he was going to whisper a secret. I would not say he was troubled, but I detected a concern in his voice. His eyebrows wrinkled with anxiety. And then out it came, What is a cell group?
I smiled inside. Our first cells started in September of 1993. My breakfast conversation with this man took place in September, 1995. By then, twelve cells involving more than 100 people were meeting weekly in homes. I think he was really asking, What goes on inside those homes?
For two years I have patiently and persistently shared the philosophy of the cell church model from the pulpit, in the church newsletter and through any other source I could find. My thoughts centered on why this man asked this question. After all, he reads our weekly correspondence and he has heard testimonies during our services. He has even attended one of our internal cell group seminars! Still, he did not understand the concept of cell life. Some things are not easily translated through education.
I remember my first trip to Niagara falls. I had read about the falls, and had seen postcards and talked with people who had been there. A simple education about the height and strength of the Canadian falls and experiencing the falls personally are two different things. The overbearing roar of the cascade, the beading of water upon my face from the mist and the enormity of it all could never be adequately communicated through a postcard, textbook or someone's personal testimony. The best way to internalize anything is through an actual encounter.
Our Wednesday night service was the setting for our first attempt at creating a cell group experience with the traditionally minded. The usual Wednesday night service calls me to give a 20-25 minute Bible study and then allow members to share prayer requests. Ninety percent of all prayer requests are for family members and friends who are ill. Many of them we do not know.
On this particular Wednesday night, I asked everyone to congregate in groups of four to five people. I then took them through a cell group experience using the following instructions.
Each of you make a prediction about the Rockets game tomorrow night. (The Houston Rockets were late in the NBA playoffs and I could hear them discussing the readiness of the team and the exhaustion they must be experiencing.) After a few minutes of casual conversation about our city's team I moved them to the next level.
A good team needs a good coach. What makes a good coach? They shared in the small group setting that he is an effective communicator and an encourager to his players. He provides instruction and direction; he is able to successfully guide his team to victory.
Then I read the 23rd Psalm aloud. The first verse of this Psalm says that the Lord is my Shepherd. How is a Shepherd like a coach? I heard individuals say that a shepherd was greater than a coach. A shepherd was more sensitive, more caring, providing more for his sheep than a coach would for his team.
In what specific ways do you, right now, need God to shepherd you that you might not be in want? It was after this question that I shared the example of my 9 year old son's asthmatic condition. Surely I wanted prayer for my son, but what I needed was for God to give me greater sensitivity in ministering to my son. Brandon does not want to be treated differently because of his condition, but there are occasions that a sensitive dad could make special provisions. I needed God to shepherd me that I would not have any want in meeting the needs of my son.
The members in these small groups shared how God could best shepherd their lives and minister to their deepest needs. I could see that intimacy was breaking through and real needs were being voiced. We were no longer sharing about Aunt Jane from Chicago who had a broken arm. We were bringing our own needs before the body. I allowed this sharing time to last about fifteen minutes.
Now, each one of you pray for the person on your right and petition their need before the Lord asking Jesus to shepherd them and provide for them (This level of ministry was appropriate for those present). When the prayer time was over I told them they had to some degree experienced what occurs in a cell group, except the actual meetings are better!
The second opportunity to communicate cell life came at a deacon's ordination service. The Spirit of the Lord was mightily felt as a prevailing sense of Christian community fell upon us during this two hour service.
After the service, several people expressed to me how wonderful the time was. There was so much love expressed . . . the Spirit was evident and so sweet to us . . . the prayer time was genuine and meaningful . . .the worship was so real. Why, there wasn't a dry eye in the house!
Then came a statement that made me wince. One woman said We haven't experienced the movement of God like that in several years. This telling comment caused me to continue my search for the best way to share the vision with my flock.
The following Sunday morning I took the opportunity of teaching the people why the ordination service was so special. They needed to know why the prayer was so moving and the entire body felt God's love. I said, The worship service was beautiful because our church experienced community! And this experience was not by accident, but by design. Here are seven reasons why we experienced community. With that I gave them a line item recap of our powerful time together.
The service was not focused upon the performance of the professional minister. The focus was upon five men who have served along side of you. This evening was to honor them and express appreciation and love to them.
Each of the five men came to the microphone and shared a scripture verse that was personally meaningful to them. Their comments were personal and their countenance was humble and transparent. They were not teaching but they were sharing what God had done in their lives.
Three other men came to the platform and shared God's calling upon their life. It is always a blessing to hear people speak of how God uses and calls them into His service.
The scriptures used by the guest speaker were about the ministry of deacons. God's word was extremely relevant to our situation. 5. The five men were then edified publicly as testimonies were given of their faithfulness and service by those who had received blessing from their ministry.
Most importantly, almost every person in the congregation responded to the ministry time of laying on of hands and praying for these men. For almost an hour people poured their heart and soul out through prayers of encouragement upon these men.
As the piano softly played familiar songs of praise, many people were quietly singing and worshipping the Lord. Two other signs of Christian community occurred. (These were not by design and certainly could not be listed in the bulletin yet they are clear evidences of Christian community.) First, from my position on the steps of the platform I could see the cup of blessing began to overflow! Prayer was taking place at the altar with the five men being ordained and pockets of prayer groups formed. People wept, embraced one another and received encouragement through intercessory prayer and personal edification.
The second sign was not as obvious but just as significant. When the two hour service concluded, we were dismissed to the fellowship hall where a reception was to take place to honor the newly ordained deacons. The hospitality group thought the service might go a little long but I am sure they didn't think it would be two hours. I couldn't get anyone to leave the sanctuary! The aroma of His presence was so sweet, no one wanted to leave. This is a powerful sign of community we simply enjoyed being together. In many morning services, people leave at noon whether the preacher is finished or not! Community draws one to be with the family of God.
I concluded my morning message by reviewing these points. While we gather corporately for public worship, there is also the need for small group gatherings for community to be experienced. In these small gatherings the focus is upon each other as we edify and encourage each other. We are to pour out ourselves upon each other in prayer. We are to share scriptures that are purposeful and meaningful to our particular need as well as worship our God in an intimate setting. Experiencing community gives us a fresh sense of joy and a stronger desire to share Christ with those who are lost.
They knew what I was talking about. Not because the words made sense, but because they had experienced everything I had said. If some of your traditionally minded people are still asking, What is a cell? create ways for them to experience cell life. If they can see, touch and hear through a community encounter, the concept of cells will be become a reality.
"...entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others." 2 Timothy 2:2
God's Word teaches that we must reproduce ourselves to fulfill our mission. If we do not reproduce, our effectiveness in reaching the world for Christ will be lost. Jesus modeled the principles of multiplication by discipling the twelve and instructing them to do the same. He commanded us to reproduce in Matthew 28:19,20. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . .teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . .
The mandate is not to make converts, but multiply the values and motivation by which Jesus operated. This process has many names discipleship, mentoring, sponsorship or internship. The underlying force driving this process is to see others adopt your passion for servanthood and evangelism and give it a new dynamic with their personal strengths and gifts. Your focus should not remain with intern procurement for every cell, but to fulfill the need for internship at all levels of ministry.
Strong multi-level internship will foster rapid growth because it creates a vessel capable of containing God's blessing. This growth is not limited to the effectiveness of your church, but to your personal growth track as well. When you successfully multiply yourself, you refine your ministry by teaching others and opening the prospect for new development as your responsibility load eases.
There is a phenomenal difference between reaching your neighborhood for Christ and reaching the whole world, wouldn't you agree? The mandate to make disciples (instead of converts) brings a whole new light to our role as believers. Here is a mathematical illustration to drive the commandment home.
If you win one person for Christ each year for forty years you would have forty converts. If you disciple a new Christian every year instead of making a convert, you would have 1,099,511,626,175 disciples in forty years. Over a trillion disciples are fostered from your first fruit through multiplication. We must grasp this principle of multiplication for it is God's method for reaching the world. (2 Timothy 2:2). A spark of multiplication creates a wildfire, leaving a widening trail of new disciples that never ends.
Many para-church ministries have been formed on this principle, but it has only been seen as a church program for those interested. For this reason, it has not been widely and consistently successful. Biblical discipleship is the backbone of the cell model.
Growth occurs when a discipleship nucleus (a mentor and a intern) is put into place. If you want to multiply a cell, multiply its mentors. By the same token, you will multiply zones, districts and churches by creating the same mentor/intern relationship at each level. The cell church is based upon reproduction across the board because our task is huge and the growth is rapid. Without it we will burn out. The great commission reaches well past the boundaries of your neighborhood subdivision!
Some people are born with this desire; others see it and know they want it at any cost. There are many that aren't born with it, don't see it, and don't care a thing about it. Typically, these are the folks you see first. They appear to be an immovable boulder. Inside this viewpoint, you're right!
Your paradigm for discipleship must shift from hopeless to hopeful. Examine the typical believer in your church. Are they a parent, a big brother or sister, or a supervisor in their respective career? Here is your spark of hope! Everyone leads out and sets an example for others in some aspect of their life. A parent operates in a form of discipleship in the course of raising children. A brother or sister models childhood development through their daily lifestyle. They may not feel they are ready for discipleship, but they have the basic qualifications. The difficulty comes in finding the right person at the right time for the right need.
You must see each person in your spiritual life as a potential disciple. Do not look on him or her as they are. Ponder what this person would be like if God were in control of their whole heart. When you realize this potential, you will be wearing God's eyeglasses! Your first task is to help them see that God will use them mightily for His Kingdom. Ordinary people will display an extraordinary God with your example and encouragement.
How do you determine which person is ready for your particular challenge? The most effective way is to listen to the Master. God revealed to Jesus whom He should choose as the twelve disciples after an all-night prayer vigil. You must seek the Lord's leading by Christ's example through concentrated prayer while simultaneously pouring your life into the process of discipleship. Time spent fasting and praying before an intern is chosen and confirmed will yield spirit-led results that are consistently better than emotional rationale.
The best motivation is to help them find their calling, gifts and natural abilities. Don't recruit interns; develop people according to God's calling and anointing in their lives. God has a design for each of us. When we operate out of our calling, gifts and abilities we become self-motivated and effective. If you try to fill a slot or fit someone into your mold, you become a manipulator, causing motivation to wane. As we help others develop, the necessary interns emerge.
Your assumptions determine how people receive you and how you in turn treat them. There are several positive assumptions you should adopt about others that will help you attract interns:
People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
People do what they value and value what they do.
People are not lazy; they simply do not see their full potential.
People want to grow in skills and wholeness and want their life to make a difference.
Remember the golden rule. As you treat people the way you would like to be treated, they will birth a desire to be developed. You will not mentor everyone, but you will have plenty if you love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Significant contributions. People get excited when they can be involved in a purpose or cause that has lasting impact. They must see that their efforts and time are making a difference in the lives of others.
Goal Participation. People support what they create. They must have ownership! Nothing creates better ownership than giving input into common goals.
Positive Dissatisfaction. People will not shift paradigms (and then values) until they get angry! Dissatisfied people are highly motivated; they see the need for immediate change. The key is giving the individual a vision for how they can make a positive impact. Dissatisfaction breeds apathy when change does not follow quickly.
Recognition. Give people credit for their personal achievements and show appreciation for contributions. This will give them a boost of energy. Recognition is a great way of living out a life of thanksgiving. Insincere flattery is not the same as recognition, and the recipient typically sees it as manipulation.
Clear Expectations. People are motivated when they know as much information as possible in accomplishing a new task. When I passed out a job description detailing the specific responsibilities of a cell leader, one young man said, I have been waiting my whole Christian life for someone to show me how I could effectively live this out.
A young man, eager to climb into the driver's seat of his organization, went into the old man's office and said, Sir, as you know, I've been appointed by the board to succeed you as president of the bank, and I'd be very grateful for any counsel and help that you could give to me.
The old man said, Son, sit down. I have two words of counsel for
you. Two words.
What are they? asked the young executive.
Right Decisions, said the boss.
The young man thought a moment and said, Sir, that's very helpful, but how does one go about making those right decisions?
The old man responded, One word . . .Experience.
Thank you, sir. said the young man. I'm sure that will be helpful. But really, sir, how does one go about gaining experience?
The old man smiled and said, Two words . . . Wrong Decisions.
Obviously, we learn from our own successes and failures and we make our judgments based upon what we garner. As a good mentor, you can pass along what you have learned to others if they are a part of the experiences necessary to internalize the knowledge.
10% of what we READ
20% of what we HEAR
30% of what we SEE
50% of what we SEE and HEAR
70% of what we SEE, HEAR and DISCUSS
80% of what we EXPERIENCE
90% of what we TEACH
The most effective transferring in the discipleship process is done by modeling. Discipleship is caught, not taught! People learn more when they have these elements of learning in place: Tell The disciple must be presented the principles and concepts behind the requested action. This can be done in a classroom setting, one on one or by self-study.
Experience The disciple must see you perform the task to understand what they have cognitively learned.
Action The disciple must complete the action with close supervision. In an atmosphere of trust and grace, you should allow the person to perform the task, although they may do it poorly the first time. Practice always improves the action, and breeds enthusiasm.
Competence The disciple performs the action successfully with distant supervision. He or she becomes personally responsible for the goals and the task with little on-sight supervision. The action becomes their responsibility with support from above. When the disciple is competent, he or she will gladly adopt the action as their own. You will enjoy a season of rest, watching the disciple work while you grow in new areas and cultivate new disciples. Hatch The disciple uses these five elements successfully with a new disciple at your prompting, fulfilling the never-ending loop of discipleship. When hatching occurs, the senior disciple is released to work with new disciples and begin again.
The TEACH principle is effective in many areas. From character issues to leading a cell, this method gives both the discipler and the disciple the ability to track and pinpoint growth, and the acronym is easy to remember! In addition, the step-by-step method allows the discipler to track the growth of multiple disciples, as Jesus did.
Addition is something we learned as little children. It created a basis for the next steps of higher learning in multiplication. It is sad to say, but few believers ever go beyond simple addition in their spiritual life. If you desire to fulfill the great commission, you must become a multiplier. This process begins when you adopt the values of discipleship.
Pour yourself into developing others with wisdom and grace drawn from the Lord. Assist them in finding their gifts and abilities. Motivate them to walk out what God has given them, and become the kind of mentor that is reproducible. Adopt a new life resolution to multiply your passion for the Kingdom.
Greg Lee is a Zone Pastor at The Encourager Church in Houston, Texas.
For more information on discipleship and leadership, We suggest three books. The Shepherd's Guidebook, Cell Leader Intern's Guidebook and Ordering Your Private World.
God is using little ones to do great things when we encourage them.
My father pastors a Cell Church and I had some Christian friends at Church but I didn't have any Christian friends to hang out with in my own neighborhood. I wanted to start a youth cell in my neighborhood so my friends could get saved.
I asked my mom and dad if we could start a youth cell in our home. I hoped and prayed that they would say yes. They said they would pray about it, and a couple of days later they said that I could.
First, we had to decide on what day we would have the cell meeting. We decided on Tuesday nights, because Monday is my father's leadership night and our family Cell is on Wednesday nights, and on Friday my father takes my mom out and I baby sit. My Dad said, that because of his busy schedule, I would have to invite the kids. He also said that I would have to help mom get the house ready.
I asked my friends Mike and Stephanie if they would like to come to my home the next Tuesday for a youth cell. I ex-plained that we would have a snack, play games, and have a Bible study. They said that it sounded like fun and they would come. They asked some of their friends if they would like to come too.
When Tuesday came I helped my mom get the house ready. I cleaned up and she made brownies. She asked me how many kids were coming and I didn't know! I was kind of scared and wondered if anybody would show up. Seven kids joined us and I was really excited. I think my Dad was surprised as well.
We played some really fun games and my Dad did a couple of ice breakers so everybody could get to know each other. My friends ate all of my mom's brownies.
After everybody left I felt really happy that all my friends came. Before I went to bed I gave my dad a kiss and told him thanks for doing it for me.
The next day I asked my friends if they liked it and if they would come back again the next week. They all said that they would and promised to invite some of their friends.
The next week they all came back and brought friends. Within four weeks there were about 20 kids coming every Tuesday night! That was weeks ago. Now I don't have to remind the kids about youth cell. They just keep showing up at our house on Tuesday night.
Alot of neat things are happening in my friends lives. Many of my friends were smoking cigarettes and weed and drinking before they started coming to cell. But God is changing their lives. I pray that all my friends will get saved.
In cell one night, five of my friends got saved. Everybody was crying as we all held hands. My friends prayed to receive Christ. My dad told them that accepting Christ was just the beginning. It was the first step. Now they have to live their lives for Him. Most of my friends are Christians now and the others come to church with me on Sunday mornings.
A few weeks ago, we loaded up three van loads full of my friends and took them to church on Sunday morning. We all sat in the middle of the church on the front row. I think everybody wondered where all these teenagers came from. My friends all thought the church was really cool. (My Dad took us out for pizza afterwards).
Many of my friend's parents are divorced or don't get along very well. Some of my friends have been abused by family members. So they like to hang out at my house. My mom and dad always let my friends eat with us. And almost every weekend I have friends spend the night. My church has bought all of the kids in our cell Bibles for Christmas because most of the kids don't have one.
I'm happy that I started this youth cell. I now have Christian friends in my own neighborhood to hang out with. I know it's a lot of work for my mom and dad. I am very happy that they have helped me reach my friends for Christ.
I think that every Christian teenager that doesn't have Christian friends in their neighborhood should start a youth cell. I know that the kids will come and get saved. All you have to do is ask your mom and dad to let them come. Then, if they say yes, invite some of your friends, and have them invite some of their friends. Then pray for your friends to accept Christ. It's simple.
Jessica Osborn is a member of New Community Fellowship, a cell church in Virginia Beach, VA. As a homeschooler, she loves to play hockey and is involved in gymnastics. She occupies her free time with friends and likes sleep-overs. Oh yes, she asked us to remind you that she loves her youth cell!
What is a Father responsible for? When my daughter first asked me if she could have a youth cell in our house I have to admit I was hesitant at best. My schedule was already quite full and I wondered if it was possible to add more to it. As I was praying about what the Lord would have us do, I was reminded of what I had heard many parents say to me in the past. They all complained that their kids didn't have any Christian friends to hang out with. Traditionally this meant that the church was to hire a youth pastor and try to win kids to Christ. Yet this didn't seem to work. The Lord really began to challenge me in this area. What is the solution to our kids not having any Christian friends?
The Lord began to challenge me with the principle of oikos evangelism. What my daughter was really asking me wasn't whether as zone pastor in the church would I start a youth cell. She was asking me as a father if I would help her reach her oikos. When the reality of that hit me there was only one answer I could give her.
My daughter had a heart to see her friends won to Christ; she was asking her mom and I to help her do it. I have never been a youth pastor and I don't have any desire to become one. But I am a father who's children have oikos' who don't know Jesus. As a Father I am committed to modeling before my children a commitment to evangelism. In practical terms this means I must equip and help them win their friends to Jesus. Anything less would not be acceptable according to Duet. 6.
Is it hard having 25-30 teenagers hanging out at your house? Absolutely! I never know how many are going to be at the dinner table anymore or who will be sleeping on the sofa bed on the weekends. My wife is such a servant to these kids!
This has become a family affair. As a family we all get involved. Even our five year old boy Matt. He likes to pick the games for the Youth Cell. And Jessica's sister Lesley is usually in the middle of all the activity.
I will never forget the kiss my daughter gave me after the first Youth Cell night and the joy that was in her eyes when she thanked me for helping her. What is a Father responsible for? He is responsible for bringing the reality of what Christianity is all about to his children. The most important thing on the heart of God is a lost world that desperately needs Christ.
Praise God for eleven year olds who love lost people. Mom and Dad, help your kids reach their oikos for Christ. It is not somebody else's job It's yours!
Ever wonder what would happen if you announced that Sunday services were going to be cancelled for three weeks?
Some thought it was too risky. Others were afraid people would leave. Holding church in homes on a Sunday morning was something we had talked about before but never quite had the courage to do. Actually, it wasn't so much a matter of courage but rather one of discerning if and when the Lord wanted it done.
Even though it wasn't a new idea, when we started talking about actually closing Sunday morning worship celebration for three Sundays to meet in homes, we soon had everyone's attention in a new way. No longer was it a nice idea, it was becoming a reality. Not everyone was sure it was the right thing to do. In fact, some thought we had stepped over the line and threatened to leave the church. With all the changes we had experienced in transitioning from a PBD structure to a cell church, some thought this was going too far.
It was a time of soul searching for me personally. In my spirit, I knew God had spoken and that now was the time. I had a peace that we were ready for such an experience and that God wanted to do a special work among us. It was one of those lonely times when I knew something was right when in the natural it was questionable. When persons started to voice their concerns about the possible consequences of such a move, I had to wonder if we had really heard God.
We tried to answer the questions that were raised. Was everyone required to participate? No, not really. Our policy has never been to force anything on anyone. We gave people the option to stay home or visit another church on those Sundays. What if I'm not in a cell group? We gave opportunity for people to join cells and helped them find one prior to the three Sundays. As a cell leader, will I have to preach? No, a fifteen minute message was prepared on cassette and a complete outline with instructions was provided for all the cells. Why are we doing this? It is to provide an experience for people. For many the cell group being church was still a concept in their heads rather than a reality in their hearts.
For some reason, the fact that we were going to be doing cell on Sunday morning put it in a whole new light. Cell leaders and cell members began to get in touch with what we had been talking about in a new way. We had talked repeatedly about the cell being the church, but for some reason it never quite connected. Many cells were still functioning as a supplement to church rather than as church itself. When faced with this, some cell leaders were overwhelmed. I shared with the people that for those three Sundays I wanted them to feel something. Intellectually, we all knew that church was not a building or place but experientially it wasn't yet a reality for everyone. Real church was still what happened on Sunday morning during worship celebration. The vision for doing church in the house was to provide an experience that would allow people to feel the reality.
With a lot of misgiving and concern on the part of some, we closed the worship celebration for three Sundays, August 20 - September 3, 1995 and instead met in cell groups in homes. I was tremendously relieved when reports started coming in of significant ministry taking place and general excitement about the experience. Our fears were completely unfounded. We started hearing reports of people being saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. It soon became evident that the life of the Spirit was flowing in increased measure. We probably had more people getting filled with the Holy Spirit on one Sunday than we had seen the entire previous year. Instead of attendance decreasing, it actually increased. Even the offerings stayed on line. It turned out to be one of the best learning experiences we have ever provided. Three Sundays of modeling church in the house did more than three years of just talking about it. We saw the power of providing an experience rather than simply teaching a concept. For some reason experiencing cell at a time people traditionally go to church made an impact. Not only was it a positive experience for most cell groups, but in reading over the evaluations, over 80% indicated they were in favor of doing it again next year.
If we had it to do over, would we do it again? Yes, by all means. Will we do it again? Yes, if and when we sense the need. What was the main benefit? In addition to a major shift in how our people now view the place and importance of the cell for us as leaders it served as an event that brought closure to our five year transition to becoming a cell church. Even though we still had a number of things to implement, the Lord seemed to be saying to us that the transition was completed. Our experience of church in the house served to solidify that reality. I'm not sure I can find words to adequately express what happened. A sense of peace, well being, and confidence settled over the ministry. We moved from trying to convince and explain the cell vision to simply living it out. Instead of becoming a cell church we were now able to function from the position of being a cell church.
This doesn't mean we have arrived. Actually, we still have a long way to go in realizing the reality of what God has called us to become. But we are on the way. The direction has been set. There is no turning back. We will not be satisfied with anything less than New Testament church lived out in community.
I think the following story may help to illustrate what I have been trying to say. In my younger years, I worked for a time as a carpenter. On one occasion we were building a fine home in a well- to-do neighborhood. The foundation had been laid and we were working on the framing when someone observed that the house was not in line with the street nor the houses next door. Assuming that the hole for the basement had been dug in line, the foundation was simply squared with the hole. As long as the structure was below ground level no one noticed. But when the housebuilding began above ground, the mistake was apparent. The neighbor next door was not happy about having a house next to his that was out of line. What were we to do? One option would have been to continue building. Had we done that, the house would be crooked to this day and a constant reminder of a careless mistake. The builder I worked for decided that the only thing to do was to redo it. We jacked up the house, dismantled the block walls under it, made the correction, laid the blocks back up, turned the house and let it back down on the new foundation. We then went on with building the house.
It was a lot of hassle and a big mess for awhile, but thirty years later no one other than those involved in the transition know the difference. It is a beautiful home in line with the street and the houses next to it. To me that house stands as a testimony to a tough decision that was made, not based on convenience or expense, but rather on the right thing to do. When Cornerstone was established almost ten years ago, we built upon the only foundation we knew; a program-based design. Even though it was a very solid foundation, as the ministry grew we discovered it was not in line with the New Testament. We were faced with a decision. We could continue to build or we could take time to make a course correction. We decided on the latter. Through cell church seminars and men like Ralph Neighbour, the Lord showed us what to do and gave us the courage to do it. Looking back it was a lot of hassle and messy at times. We learned a great deal by trial and error. It was much tougher than if we had been properly lined up when we started. Starting the way we did meant the only thing to do was to make the transition.
In essence, we jacked up the church which numbered about 600 at the time and for the last five years have worked at getting the foundation lined up with the New Testament. Last summer when we held church in the house for three Sundays, it was like letting the church back down on the foundation and starting to move on with building the church. We are convinced it was the right thing to do. Even though the church doubled in size during the transition, we feel like we are just now ready to start being a cell church. In time, only those of us who actually experienced the transition will ever know that at one time the foundation though always solid was not lined up properly with the New Testament. My prayer is that our church will stand as a living testimony to a tough decision based on a commitment to do the right thing rather than convenience or financial advantage.
In conclusion, I've come to realize that the idea of church being in a building at a certain place and time is deeply ingrained in the American culture. Even among those who claim to be cell churches, the thought of not having church on Sunday morning may create a sense of panic. There is a tendency for us to say one thing and do another. While declaring that the cell is the church we may at the same time continue to place the major emphasis on what happens in the worship celebration. I question whether or not American pastors (including those of emerging cell churches) would have a clear identity apart from the weekly worship celebration. Until pastors lay down their egos and become servant leaders, the church will continue to struggle with the New Testament model. Giving up center stage is not easy but it is possible by God's grace. A few Sundays without worship celebration may help.
Gerald Martin is the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Mennonite Church. If you are interested in additional background concerning this church, see his first Pastor's Pilgrimage article in Volume 2, #1. We have been fascinated with Cornerstone's growth and appreciate their willingness to share in their journey.
End of Issue.
|Volume One - 1992||Volume Two - 1993|
|Volume Three - 1994||Volume Four - 1995|
|Volume Five - 1996||Volume Six - 1997|
|Volume Seven - 1998|
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