CellChurch Magazine

Volume Five - 1996

CellChurch Magazine, Volume 5, #3


PUBLISHER'S NOTE-BY RALPH W. NEIGHBOUR, JR.

This is my third year of helping churches in different parts of the world go through the process of transitioning from a Program Base Design to a "pure" Cell Base Design structure. I am awed by the fact that it is actually taking place! In 1985, I wouldn't bet a moldy fig newton on the chances of our seeing a significant transition taking place worldwide. How wrong I was! The Holy Spirit is creating the new wineskin everywhere.

Ask Larry Stockstill in Baker, Louisiana or Gerald Martin in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia or Wade Estes in Modesto, California if the cell church will work in the American culture! They are among dozens who are pretty well entrenched in the new structure, ahead of most others. Let Estes tell you about an American church that has achieved a near 100% tithe from the cells. Let Martin tell you what happened when he tested the strength of the cells by shutting down all public worship services for several weeks, and found it only empowered the ministry to a greater extent. Let Stockstill tell you how the church's baptisms have erupted since all believers became evangelists.

I share these observations that might cause you to think more deeply about transition issues in your own church:

  1. I find that it takes intense concentration for a pastor and his people to finally realize there is a heaven and earth difference between a church with small groups and a cell-based church.

  2. After the difference is understood, there is a frightening overlay of tradition that hides the true meaning of scriptures related to the nature of the church. Gordon Fee points out in Gospel and Spirit that 1 Corinthians 3 is not talking about individual Christians building their lives on Christ as wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, precious stones, but rather church planters being the builders, and the churches they plant are what may end up in one of those two categories. (Sadly, I confess that many of the 16 P.B.D. churches I planted in my early days in the Northeast have ended up being in the first category!)

  3. The Year of Transition training began correctly as we sent several hundred pastors from across the nation to spend night after night in the taverns and bars of Virginia Beach. It was our attempt to expose Christian workers to the people they have seldom met. Many of the pastors said that after they got over the trauma of being like Jesus, spending time with winebibbers and sinners, the cell church paradigm made a lot more sense.

  4. Changing the inner structure of a church, getting rid of all the "busy work" we make for church members, and moving their bodies out of pews into living rooms is really not the hard part. The greatest difficulty churches have in the shift is learning to apply body life evangelism as the primary method of sowing, cultivating, and harvest-ing. Since children, we have been singing "I will make you fishers of men," all the time thinking that Jesus had in mind an angler with a fishing pole, trying to catch one fish at a time. However, Jesus said the Kingdom was like a net that was let down into the sea and caught all kinds of fish. The cell group is that fishing community. The net is not a cognitive explanation of the gospel, but rather embracing unbelievers who view the life of the cell and fall on their faces saying, "God is certainly among you!" The P.B.D. church by its detached life forfeits the possibility of exposing unbelievers to Christ dwelling in His body with power and deliverance. Evangelism for the cell church requires the presence of Christ emanating from "each one" (hekastos) as unbelievers watch.

Can you recall how good you felt when you put on a new suit or dress for the very first time? You felt new inside because of how you looked like outside. If you are reading this issue and feeling like your church is dressed in tattered clothes, consider the new, fully anointed garment the Holy Spirit is offering as wardrobe for churches who will disrobe completely and don the new attire!


GLOBAL INPUT- BY SPENCER COLLIVER, NEW ZEALAND

Building with Old Wood

Do you know what it's like to build a shed out of second hand wood? After several hours of yanking out rusty nails, hacking off rotting sections, smoothing out splinters and shaping the wood for its new use, you wish you had ordered a load of new timber. Establishing cells with people who have come from a variety of church experiences and traditions is no different!

The cell church is a new experience. It is judged and assessed from a mind-set established by many years of different traditions. When the mind accepts and understands the concepts of the cell church, the emotional response does not follow the conviction of the mind. Characteristics of second hand timber begin to emerge. Sharp, rusty nails of different traditions or theological differences must be extracted from wood grown hard with age. Needle sharp splinters of incompatible personalities that tear the flesh of growing relationships must be confronted. Sections of rot-strongholds of many years-must be removed. The planks resist being bent into shape, and the impermeable wood must be drilled before the nail can penetrate.

After much pain, labor, perseverance, strong words and hard feelings, the shed is built. It is solid. After all, the timber withstood many years of heat and cold before this. It is not likely to warp now, and the grain of the wood is a delight to the eye. No need to paint it. On the ground are those pieces which just did not fit. Perhaps they can be used another day.

There have been experiences dealing with members coming from different traditions. First, some have had little experience in transparency with their lives and pilgrimage. The apostles constantly exhorted the New Testament church to love and edify one another, yet we put up masks, play games of deception and hide our true selves with evasive behavior, becoming prickly and unbending when challenged.

At one point, I had grown weary of emphasizing the simple relational aspects of Christian community. The Lord responded to my troubled mind, "My people still do not know how to love one another as I told them." Unless we are candid in our sharing and are able to look into each other's eyes with mutual empathy, there can be no trust-the basis of true Christian community. Martin Bruber said, "How can you say you love me unless you know what hurts me?"

Second, some who have come from restrictive church traditions cannot stop "sharing." Like taking the cork out of a champagne bottle, the verbal spray douses everyone. If those who take this new freedom are not limited, they consign the timid and fearful to being silent spectators. The insensitivities to developing relationships are sharp splinters. The cell becomes a fish bowl of behaviors and attitudes no longer hidden in the pews.

Third, some want to share their particular views on theological issues. This leaves group members tense or indifferent. One day, I was carrying a long piece of old timber on my shoulder when my son who was carrying the back section said, "Watch out, Dad! There is a rusty nail just near your ear!" I was reminded of the old theological arguments, echoing in my ears of the ageless issues that have filled libraries without final resolution.

It is better to extract these nails and put them to one side while the group proceeds with the theology of everyday life. Though some issues are important, the cell o you know what it's like to build a shed out of second hand wood? After several hours of yanking out rusty nails, hacking off rotting sections, smoothing out splinters and shaping the wood for its new use, you wish you had ordered a load of new timber. Establishing cells with people who have come from a variety of church experiences and traditions is no different!

The cell church is a new experience. It is judged and assessed from a mind-set established by many years of different traditions. When the mind accepts and understands the concepts of the cell church, the emotional response does not follow the conviction of the mind. Characteristics of second hand timber begin to emerge. Sharp, rusty nails of different traditions or theological differences must be extracted from wood grown hard with age. Needle sharp splinters of incompatible personalities that tear the flesh of growing relationships must be confronted. Sections of rot-strongholds of many years-must be removed. The planks resist being bent into shape, and the impermeable wood must be drilled before the nail can penetrate.

After much pain, labor, perseverance, strong words and hard feelings, the shed is built. It is solid. After all, the timber withstood many years of heat and cold before this. It is not likely to warp now, and the grain of the wood is a delight to the eye. No need to paint it. On the ground are those pieces which just did not fit. Perhaps they can be used another day.

There have been experiences dealing with members coming from different traditions. First, some have had little experience in transparency with their lives and pilgrimage. The apostles constantly exhorted the New Testament church to love and edify one another, yet we put up masks, play games of deception and hide our true selves with evasive behavior, becoming prickly and unbending when challenged.

At one point, I had grown weary of emphasizing the simple relational aspects of Christian community. The Lord responded to my troubled mind, "My people still do not know how to love one another as I told them." Unless we are candid in our sharing and are able to look into each other's eyes with mutual empathy, there can be no trust-the basis of true Christian community. Martin Bruber said, "How can you say you love me unless you know what hurts me?"

Second, some who have come from restrictive church traditions cannot stop "sharing." Like taking the cork out of a champagne bottle, the verbal spray douses everyone. If those who take this new freedom are not limited, they consign the timid and fearful to being silent spectators. The insensitivities to developing relationships are sharp splinters. The cell becomes a fish bowl of behaviors and attitudes no longer hidden in the pews.

Third, some want to share their particular views on theological issues. This leaves group members tense or indifferent. One day, I was carrying a long piece of old timber on my shoulder when my son who was carrying the back section said, "Watch out, Dad! There is a rusty nail just near your ear!" I was reminded of the old theological arguments, echoing in my ears of the ageless issues that have filled libraries without final resolution.

It is better to extract these nails and put them to one side while the group proceeds with the theology of everyday life. Though some issues are important, the cell is focused on relationships and edification. Theological debates are for another time and have occasionally been necessary as a reference point for group life, not as a legalistic hammer.

Fourth, independent spirits must break from many years of deep involvement with other denominational groups. This spirit, infused with humanistic individualism, makes the experience of community difficult to grasp. In many churches, the emphasis has been personal, private work-ing out of salvation. Community has been preached and taught but seldom practiced. The challenge to share the struggle and pilgrimage of discipleship and accountability is a humbling experience for old wood. Some gentle carving, bending and shaping is necessary to fit into the cell. It requires the humility of which Paul spoke in Philippians 2:3. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."

There are some who are interested but do not join. Hurt and injured by their experiences in a controlling program-based church, they did not want to have part of any group structure. Some would join to share and worship but did not wish to be involved with reaching out to the community. Others grasped the cell church principles but wanted to "go it alone" and build their own work of cells and congregation. Being accountable to others for growth ensures their support and prayer so no one is left to struggle with this growth alone. In the same manner, listening to the hurts and cares of others in their oikos is a new experience, demanding growth in faith.

Some have said, "Aren't you just establishing a new tradition?" Yes. It's a reproductive one, based on intimacy with God! The first generation cell members are welcome with all their splinters, rusty nails and hard, unbending wood. They are invited to test the assumptions and challenge the new development of the cell. They are precious to Him who redeemed them and are needed to help in the harvest of the next and future generation cell members. Built together, the old wood with its toughness will hold firm in the storm ahead.

Spencer Colliver is the Vice President of Christian Neighborhood Network, which establishes cell churches in New Zealand. Colliver also is devoted to building small group relationships in the church by writing and conducting seminars.


The TEN COMMANDMENTS of Transitioning -by Jim Egli

Have you caught the cell church vision? Traditional churches that have embraced the cell structure are successfully transitioning to the cell model. However, in their initial attempts, some flourish while others often struggle to survive. What makes the difference? In researching their successes and mistakes, I offer this advice to churches in the challenge of transitioning . . .

1) Check your motives

Why do you really want to become a cell church? Are you simply jumping on the cell bandwagon or desire a growing, effective church?

There is only one valid reason to pursue the cell model- obedience. You must have a burning vision from God for expanding evangelism and body life. You must be so completely convinced of the vision that when you utterly fail, you will get up and try again. If your motive is anything other than obedience, don't do it.

You will inevitably face obstacles and setbacks. If you are in this for self-advancement, you will eventually quit. This new model demands personal sacrifice and reorientation. The implementation of the cell model is a costly and involved process. Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea claims 700,000 members in cells, but learning and establishing the cell model was a big struggle for them from their initial implementation in 1964. It took ten years before a majority of their membership was in cells.

If you really want to become a cell church, first examine your heart and check your motives.

2) Let God change you

Are you reaching out, loving and sharing Christ with the lost? Are you praying regularly?

The cell model involves more than structural change. It requires a repentant heart. It needs concerted prayer and lifestyle evangelism. If you are a leader, don't expect your church to live these values unless you live them yourself.

How much time do you spend in prayer everyday? If you spend twenty minutes or less a day in prayer, you are living a "subnormal" Christian life. Start living a normal Christian life and take serious time with God. I do not suggest a legalistic monitoring of the time you spend in prayer. What I am challenging you to is a prayer-based life. This is a life where you love to spend time with God, interceding and hearing His voice.

"Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened." (Luke 11:9) Remember this . . . no prayer = no power; little prayer = little power; much prayer = much power.

Forget transforming your church if you don't want to be transformed yourself. Get serious with God. Repent. Pray. Be Jesus to sinners. Let God change your life.

3) Preach values before vision

any leaders make the error of "over-preaching" the cell vision. God places a new vision in their hearts for evangelism and the New Testament body life expressed in cells. As they catch this vision, they impulsively share their excitement by preaching and teaching about the impressiveness of the cell model, disregarding their early stages of the cell journey. However, there are no cells for people to join! In fact, it may be years until people can respond to their enthusiasm by joining a cell. This can be compared to software companies that announce fantastic new products that aren't anywhere close to being released. The result is frustration.

Don't preach about anything people can't grasp. Teach the values first, not the vision. The values of a cell church boil down to three essentials: prayer (loving God), body life (loving each other), and evangelism (loving the lost). These are basic New Testament principles, so don't preach "cells"; preach the Bible!

 Start equipping your leaders and your members in relational evangelism before getting involved in cells. (You can refer to the I- Factor published by TOUCH or any other of our excellent resources.) Preach on body life and the power of prayer. The foundation of a cell church is its values not its structure. Lay this foundation well.

4) Start small

A Chinese proverb declares: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Jesus emphasized the power of small beginnings. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32).

Start small before you launch the entire church into cells. Experience the cell life yourself by beginning a proto-type group with a core of leaders and their spouses. Too many churches try to transition into a cell model by hastily training leaders and starting as many groups as possible. This doesn't work! This will not speed the process but slow it down.

Car makers proto-type a new model before they mass produce. This enables the makers to work out the bugs, to improve the different components and see how they fit together. If a car is not proto-typed expect a lot of factory recalls. Churches that rush into the cell model by skipping this phase and going directly to mass production will do a lot of recalls as they discover training gaps and other missing components.

You have a lot to learn. A cell group is more than a meeting. It involves community building, equipping, relational evangelism and raising leaders. Expect and pray for the difficulties in the initial groups. This is the purpose of prototyping-to discover and learn how to resolve problems.

5) Multiply leadership

As you learn how cells work, incorporate your future leaders into the start-up groups to experience cell life for themselves. Throughout and beyond the transition process, you must constantly identify and equip leaders. The cell model is not a small group strategy; it is a leadership strategy. The focus is not to start home groups but to equip an expanding number of caring leaders. If you succeed at this, your church will flourish.

In the cell model, every leader at every level must constantly observe how to multiply itself. Think, pray, and plan "leadership."

6) Pray, pray, pray!

Many pastors and leaders justify being too busy to pray. Their ministry pattern runs completely counter to the model of Jesus Christ. He too was busy, but He set time aside to seek the face of God the Father. Many people and needs were clamoring for His attention, but He often walked away to pray. "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:16)

This life of prayer demonstrated by Jesus was captured by the early church. As the early believers constantly joined together in prayer, the Holy Spirit came with power. In the book of Acts, we read that miracles happened when God's people prayed. Salvation, the empowering by the Spirit, release of prisoners, appearance of angels, direction, visions, signs and wonders were continually given in response to prayer.

I have often said that the cell system is like an extension cord. If you plug it into God's power on one end and the needs of the world on the other, you will see an amazing flow of power. Unplugged, it is worthless.

Don't get serious about cells unless you are willing to get serious about seeking God in prayer.

7) Desire to learn

Successful cell pastors have an eager desire to learn. They are constantly looking for new insights on how to improve ministry and cell life. They are humble and acknowledge that they have a lot to learn. They don't mind learning from people in other denominations, other countries or from younger leaders.

Successful leaders go to great lengths to learn. They travel to other churches, read books voraciously and attend conferences. They personify the exhortation in Proverbs 2:4 to seek for wisdom "as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure."

Wisdom is imperative to radically alter the way you and your church do ministry. How impassioned is your search for wisdom? How eager are you to learn? Embrace an insatiable desire to learn.

8) Increase training

If you are moving to a cell model you must allocate more human and financial resources to equip leaders. Equipping leaders consumes more attention in a cell-based church that in traditional churches. As you mobilize more leaders, training intensifies. A careful examination of Jesus' ministry in the Gospel of Mark conveys that He spent 49 percent of His time in leadership training-interacting, teaching and mentoring the inner circle of twelve disciples.

Leadership training in a cell church is more comprehensive than offering classes. It begins in the cell with one-on-one equipping of each member. As persons are involved in ministry, the cell leaders and their supervisors are constantly looking for caring and responsible members with leadership potential. Invite potential leaders (and their spouses if married) to a Cell Leader-Intern weekend. In this retreat setting, the expectations for training and shepherding a cell are surveyed. Those that continue are equipped in an intern class, while they become more involved in the ministry by their own cell leader.

A combination of modeling and instruction prepares leaders for the expanding ministry at all levels of the cell church. Do not look for shortcuts in your training and support system. The strength of the church will depend on the number and strength of the leaders, which will rely on the strength of your training.

9) Eliminate the competition

Churches flounder in implementing cells because they want cells along with everything else they have been doing. Larry Stockstill, pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana, (a rapidly-transitioning church) says it well. "It is hard to be on a diet and eat your meals too." You can't do cells along with everything else a church normally does.

Yonggi Cho, pastor of Yoido, echoes the same truth. "You must change the basic structure of your church. Many churches are failing in their cell ministry because they have not changed the basic church structure, for instance: Sunday School, Women's Department, etc. You can't graft the cell system into the old, traditional church ministry. This structure must be changed. This change is very difficult. If you don't change the basic structure, then the cell system will only be an added ministry to your church which will soon fizzle away."

Why are these cell pastors so adamant about eliminating the competition to cells? If you have extensive programming besides cells, these programs will contend against the cell system for time, leadership and prayer. If you deplete your leadership pool with other programs, your cells will get too big and won't be able to multiply. They will stagnate.

Eliminating those existing programs must be done carefully and prayerfully. If it is not done, your cells will fail.

10) Love people more than the vision

One of the biggest mistakes leaders of transitioning churches make is loving the vision more than the people. Sometimes the vision becomes so important to them that people are seen as a means to its end.

The Pharisees exalted God's law to a lofty position. They thought people existed merely to serve the law. Jesus had the reverse mind set. He declared, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:28) The same can be said for vision. The vision is made for people, not people for the vision!

As you dream big dreams, let God expand your capacity to care. Follow these commandments, but don't forget the greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor (and members) as yourself. If you really want a cell church, you'll love and hate the process. It is stretching, frustrating, disappointing-but exciting! The bottom line of the cell model is releasing people to minister, to edify one another and to reach the lost. If God tells you to do it, do it! Obedience is the key to Godly success.

Jim Egli is the Director of New Product Development for TOUCH Outreach Ministries. Co-author of eight books including the I-Factor and The New Believer's Station, he is currently editing a book with C. Peter Wagner, tentatively entitled Cutting Edge, to be released later this year. He is also in pursuit of a Ph. D. at Regent University specializing in organizational change. He can be reached via email at jameegl@regent.edu.


TRANSITIONING- BY PASTOR JEFF REES

The "Transitionally-Challenged" Love 'em or leave 'em?

Nick Faldo is an amazing golfer and considered the top of his game. Michael Jordan is a phenomenal basketball player and also considered the top of his game. However, if Michael needed a new center on his basketball team, would he want Nick? I doubt Nick would perform well against David Robinson or Hakeem Olajuwon. Those gigantic players would have a field day scoring and rebounding against him. Nick Faldo may be a professional athlete, but he does not have what it takes to perform in professional basketball.

Realistically, Nick is never going to play in the NBA. Some of your church staff, deacons, elders and teachers are not going to make the transition to cells either. This difficult part of transitioning demands prayerful consideration. It is a critical dilemma.

In the process of transitioning, how do you respond to staff members, deacons and influential members who are unwilling or unable to transition? Their experiences have been devoted to programs, traditions, denominational calendars and organizational methods which produced results in the 50's and 60's.

We do not question their love for the Lord nor cast them aside and label them a hindrance. Our job is to educate, promote and provide experiences and training in cell life. We must encourage them through the transition.

RESISTANT STAFF

After fifteen months of attempting to cultivate and encourage our associate pastor to be involved in one of our cell groups, he responded, "I don't understand it. I don't buy it. I am fearful of what this movement is going to do to the local church."

I found myself in a difficult situation where I did not have the authority to release him from his employment. (I would not have released him just because he was not enamored with cell ministry. Churches have mistreated and irreparably wounded too many ministers through forced termination.) I could have pursued his resignation through performance appraisals, various committee reviews and an overall lack of effectiveness, but I did not have peace in this. Finally, we made a gentlemen's agreement that he would look for employment elsewhere. Two and a half years later, he found a new position.

As a church member or pastor, you might ask, "Can I wait that long? Can the church wait that long?" These are questions answered by God alone. In seeking His response, keep in mind: (1) Cell ministry requires the full support of all staff members. (2) How you treat a brother or sister in the ministry will be observed and noted by the Father.

We learn from the last verses of Acts 15 that ministers have disputes and differences of opinion. Paul and Barnabas had a "sharp disagreement" and separated. However, both men continued to minister powerfully in word and deed. When there are philosophical and visional differences among the staff, there must be a departure of ways. If each staff member possesses a different vision for the church, then church leadership has division.

RESISTANT LEADERSHIP

In many cases, those unsupportive leaders (long-term members) do not want to take a different path. Driven by fear and a lack of understanding, they desire to stop the transition or even the cell movement to keep things the same.

It was 9 o'clock on a Monday morning. Down the hallway came a deacon who served as a member of the pastor search committee that brought me to the church. He placed his set of keys to the building on my desk and said, "I'm resigning from all of my church responsibilities." Shocked by his words, I asked "Why?" A man of few words, he stated he "could not support the direction of the church."

Our cell ministry was growing, but it had not usurped nor displaced any of our traditional programs. There were no significant changes to the routine practices of the church in our earliest stages of transition. While this man had never experienced cell life, he made a firm decision to be unsupportive.

In a matter of days, every person in leadership knew what happened. There was gossip. There was slander. There were assumptions and false accusations. For several mornings, I prayed, "What should I do?"

Resistant Members

As I read 1 Corinthians 13, I found my answer. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and am able to transition a traditional church to a cell church model, but do not have love . . ."

Here, I learned that love for one another should always be our theme, and there is transforming power in prayer. We must trust God with the final outcome and be faithful in loving and praying for the entire body of the church.

With my focus set on love and prayer, my solution was clear. I focused resistant members toward some kind of personal ministry. When traditional members were reluctant toward cell ministry, I included them in other areas of the Lord's work. Other members encouraged them to continue serving Jesus through one of our existing ministries, such as "crisis closet" ministry, homebound ministry or hospital visitation. When they became involved, I enthusiastically and openly praised them. Caring for the lonely, elderly and bereaved is a vital ministry and palatable for many traditional servants of the Lord at Garden Oaks. (We have several of our cell members working along side the traditional members in these ministries.)

What should you do? Convey to these members what God is doing through cells. Try as they might, they cannot argue with results. When God continues to produce fruit, testify to everyone about the new produce. When lost people are saved, share this with the skeptics. Testify when marriages are healed; when drug abusers find support and deliverance; when loneliness is disarmed and community is experienced through cells. Express great joy for what God is doing!

Not long ago, a traditional church member had lunch with one of our local denominational leaders. Leery about cell ministry, the member said, "I don't understand this home group thing . . . but it's working."

Transitioning a traditional church is a challenging process. The opposition of staff and lay leadership is humbling. Guard your character; stay focused; let love reign; be undaunted in your pursuit of God's vision.

Jeff Rees is the Sr. pastor of Garden Oaks Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.


CHILDREN'S MINISTRY- BY FARAH A. ATANGAN

From Prisons to Cells

UPDATE: Jessica & Mike Osborn's labor has produced fruit

The first time I read about Jessica Osborn, I was intrigued by this twelve-year old evangelist. I visited her cell one night to do a follow-up article and see the fruits of her labor. I was encouraged by what I saw that night.

I watched a first-time visitor to the ten-month-old New Community Fellowship youth cell opened his box of abuse and attempted suicides. Mike Osborn, the zone pastor, cell leader, and Jessica's father knew this young man needed a touch from Jesus. God reached the boy through a fourteen-year-old girl with black-polished fingernails. "You've got to let Him come to you and change you," she urged. "Things might stay the same but you get filled up with the love of God."

That girl, clean and sober for less than five months, had to choose between a drunk mother and a loving Father. Though afraid, she chose the One who could give her the love no one else could. A few months ago, she never would have thought she'd be going on a missions trip to Mexico this summer. She's determined, "I just don't want a few people saved. I want a lot of people saved."

That's what Jessica desired when she started this youth cell. She was tired of not having Christian friends in her neighborhood. She believed that "every Christian teenager that doesn't have Christian friends in their neighborhood should start a youth cell."

Why a youth cell? Why not just throw one huge youth group together at church and get them to come to that?

Her answer was, "When you have a hundred kids in one room, they're not gonna tell you what's happening in their lives. Visitors are afraid to talk because they're afraid of hurt."

Jessica wanted to make sure that they had someone there all the time. She wanted them to always have a place to go. Most of these young people have been hurt by those they trusted the most. One young person's mother is in jail for drugs. Another hasn't talked to her father in two years, because he's in jail for beating someone while he was drunk. Their world and experiences have stripped them of hope, and they echoed each other's cry that no one was ever there for them.

One of the young people expressed that he was looking for something he'd lost. Another commented that though he went to a Christian school, half of the kids enrolled were probably not saved. They see and hear the word of God everyday, but no one has approached them and told them about the love of God through a living and active relationship with Jesus.

The young people who flocked to Jessica's youth cell had their concept of traditional Christianity broken along with their walls. They believed that in order for a perfect God to love them and to be a Christian, they had to be perfect too. Their problem was that they didn't know what a perfect world was.

Jessica invited them to a haven where they could be human and see that God loves them in their imperfections. After one visit, they run to the cell for a sense of security, purpose and value.

Mike said he experienced more of Christ in this youth cell than in his own adult cell. He shared how they are eager to pray for each other, like tonight when for the first time in their Christian walk, two girls led a first-time visitor to a life with Christ. One little girl Mike calls "Worshipper" transformed his way of worship. "I wasn't going to let an eleven year old out-worship me!" he kidded. She had only been to church five times, and that night she received a fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit.

Jessica said that visitors come back because they have friends in the cell. In this environment, they're allowed to be afraid and have others pray for them.

That night they discussed Colossians 3:2. "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things." One young man paraphrased it as, "Don't get hooked on something so much that you put it before God."

Jessica Osborn learned this lesson. Initially, she just wanted Christian friends in her neighborhood. In her child-like faith she knew they needed to know the love of God. Now, this young evangelist wants more Christian friends, but now, so do her new co- laborers.

"If you see them in Heaven," she proclaimed, "You'll say, I told them about Jesus, and they're in Heaven because of me.' ''


Youth Ministry- BY MARVIN JACOBO

Grappling with Change It gets harder before it gets easier!

It's not working like the books say! Isn't it supposed to be easier? Lord, can you walk through the changes with me again?

These were my weekly cries to the Lord as we implemented cells in our student ministry. It didn't help when friends gave reasons why becoming a youth ministry of cells wouldn't and couldn't work with today's youth culture.

I remember the Sunday afternoon I tried to motivate our student cell leaders to stay faithful to the vision of cells. One of the boys raised his hand and asked, "Marvin, I don't love my cell. How can I invite someone to something I don't even love?" Great question! I walked out of that meeting even more frustrated.

That same week, Bill Beckham arrived from Houston to speak to our pastoral staff. I pulled him aside and said, "Bill, my groups aren't working like I thought they were supposed to work! I feel like I'm groping around and getting nowhere." His response was just what I needed to hear. "Marvin, you're not groping; you're learning." Well, what have we learned as we've transitioned our ministry from program-based to relationship-based? What are some of the elements that have been used by the Lord to help us transition?

COURAGE

Our Senior Pastor had the courage to follow the direction of God and question every presupposition about ministry. This courage risked change as well as failure. In addition, it held up an umbrella of protection for our student ministry giving us the freedom to find our own cell model. This courage said it was all right not to have all the answers and not to have every problem solved before we started.

BLOW A CERTAIN TRUMPET

If you have heard the voice of God to change, then change! You call people to a vision, not a program. Cast the vision of cell ministry and keep casting it with the confidence that you are following the Lord. There were days in Modesto when we looked at each other and said, "We're either going to blow the youth ministry up or blow the youth ministry out!"

Boldly stand in front of people and proclaim, "We're not going back! If we go back to what we've always done then we'll get what we've always gotten. I'm not going back, so let's go forward!"

A vision with any value must be crystal clear when communicated to others. Proclaiming your God-given vision is your rally shout!

CONSISTENCY

Stay with it. Don't give up. Keep praying, working and learning. I see many churches fail in developing healthy cells because they were seeking quick and easy results. Building a ministry of cells takes time-a lot of time. The process of learning about your own cell ministry is as important as the finished product. God wants you to struggle and to be drawn to His plan and timing.

You may be able to "do ministry" with your natural gifts and abilities, but if you want God to move mightily, you must go to God regularly. In this time alone with God, He gives you the "how to's." The struggle has its purpose.

One thing is clear-transitioning will get harder before it gets easier! (I wish I could save you from this statement but it's true and always will be.) Your church will undergo changes that are peculiar to your situation, and while you may adopt a successful path from another church, your pilgrimage will look different and will be truly yours when everything is said and done.

CONTINUITY

Don't confuse people by keeping alive programs that do not build the cells. If a program does not build the cells, change it. Everything you do in your ministry must build the cells. There can't be any activities in competition with them. Everything exists for and flows out of the cells.

Clear your youth calendar of all activities that suggest the cells don't meet every need. I have stood in front of our youth and said, "We are a high school ministry of cells. You will get all your needs met in the cells. If you don't want to be in a cell, our ministry has nothing to offer you."

If you believe in cells, then do nothing but cells! We want every one of our meetings, whether a leader's meeting or a planning meeting, to model what we want to happen in our weekly cells. In our large group Celebration Service, we always point the Bible message to application in the cells. The purpose of the Celebration is to cluster the cells and celebrate together God's work in their midst.

Our retreats are promoted in and through the cells and are designed to build the cells. We rely on the retreat format because it creates opportunity for the cells to build community and trust in each other.

COMFORT

When the changes get tough and the transition is going slower than you or others think, give people security to trust and follow the Lord and you. Comments like "Let's trust God in this" go a long way in creating security and patience in the lives of those around you.

Expect a struggle. Each person goes through his own process of understanding. If you do not acknowledge this process, you will run the risk of divisive talk acting as poison against change. And last but not least, be patient with those who are honestly grappling and not fighting change.

CLEAR THINKING

Don't panic. Keep the vision and benefits of cells in front of your followers. The first stage in transitioning is setting up the structure of cells. That part is easy! The difficulty comes as you wait for the Holy Spirit to meet with the group members and for all the walls of distrust and fear to come down. This may take months; it may take years.

KUM-BA-YA

These words will burn in my heart for many years. They mean, "Lord, come by here." You can create a ministry of cells, but the Holy Spirit is the One who must "come by here" to energize and empower your groups. No human thinking will ever create the interpersonal dynamics that occurs in cells unless the Lord shows up in each of your groups.

A few years ago, as I groped for the Lord's direction, I overheard one of my friends say, "Marvin doesn't know what he's doing. All he wants to do is sit in a corner and sing Kum-ba-ya." At first, these words burned. A co-worker soothed my wound by showing me it was really a compliment, and vital to my ministry. Now I unashamedly ask the Lord, "Lord, would you come by here and visit us in power? Will you bring revival to Your church and salvation to the 20,000 students in our community?"

COLLEAGUES

Network with other cell ministries. Pay them to come to your church. When our Pastor "blew the trumpet" and told us that we were transitioning to a church of small groups, I picked up the phone and called around the country looking for youth ministries of cells. When I heard of Jackson Crum, I put him on a plane and brought him to California to talk with me and my staff. I also invited Keith Kreuger. I flew to Baton Rouge to see Rick Bezet.

I read every book I could find on cells, leadership, creating teams and management, especially those that talked about turning a "dying" company around. I read books about motivating others and the characteristics of this and the next generations. Sadly, many of us in youth ministry are too proud to "pick the brains" of others. Admit you don't have all the answers and ask. I discovered that there are many men and women who will help you in your quest to become what God wants you to be.

Each youth ministry will take on the characteristics of its leader. Are you seeking the Lord's face? Are you seeking His presence and abiding in Him? Cells will quickly become another program unless you, as a leader, seek the face of God regularly and model for those following you.

This article is the second in a series by Marvin Jacobo is the Youth Pastor of First Baptist Church, Modesto, California.

End of Issue

Cell Church V5 I1 Cell Church V5 I2 Cell Church V5 I3 Cell Church V5 I4

 

 

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