Learning to listen to the soils of the heart is the theme of this issue. The seed we sow, as you will read, falls onto many types of soil. The good soil receives the seed; the bad soil does not. As thousands are being converted in Bogota, Colombia, we can mistakenly think the G12 strategy is the source of the harvest. Its not. G12 is just an efficient way of sowing seed because it turns every Christian into a cell leader, planting seeds everywhere.
What would happen to seed sowing if hard soils were first broken up with shovel and pick? If thorny soils were carefully weeded? If rocks covering soils were removed? Obviously, much labor is required to prepare the ground before sowing the seed. Farmers have known that for centuries. This generation of Christians is finally learning that cultivating comes before seed sowing, not after it.
We all know that prayer is a key to the harvest. Who can argue with that truth? But it has become popular for people to prayer walk neighborhoods, speaking to no one, and concluding that praying into the skies will win lost souls. I have sarcastically said through the years, One hundred percent of the people who get married first meet each other. I fear that the current passion for impersonal prayer walking might become another means of avoiding the unreached. I also prayer walk, but I stop at the bar around the corner from my townhouse to talk with the people who live under the skies I am praying for.
Another element must change if there is to be a harvest. We must learn to listen to the soils. For too long we have talked about our doctrines instead of using our ears to hear the sobs of the unreached. Jesus prayed all night, but during the day he listened to the soiled hearts around him. He found it imperative to visit Samaria to find a woman in marital distress. He befriended winebibbers and sinners. So sensitive was He to the soils that just one touch of His garment caused Him to stop and ask, Who did that?
Because every cell literally embodies the presence of Christ, Jesus job description (Luke 4:18-19) reveals where good soil is found: in the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, the bruised. These fertile soils are prepared to receive the seed!
Cell members need equipping to enter this harvest. Their equipping begins with the journey inward. But they are not fully equipped until they have begun the journey outward and harvested Type A unbelievers from good soil and have broken up hard soil through cultivating groupsshare groups or target groups. Many are not taking this journey outward, and this saddens me! Cell members must develop their ability to listen to the soils of hearts searching for Jesus.
I recently learned a software program from a brilliant consultant. When we went to lunch, he said, I really didnt want to meet you. I have been deeply hurt in the past by a preacher, and when I found out you were one I almost declined to meet you. Once again I heard the familiar story of a Christian worker who saw only flaws and couldnt get beyond that to the heart of a searching youth. Both he and his mother were so damaged by the pastors rudeness that they left churchianity; for 11 years he wandered in pain because a tactless pastor did not listen to the soil of his heart.
Read the following pages with this question: What is God trying to say to me through this magazine about my listening habits? We are responsible for more than sowing the seed. We are also to participate in ground-breaking ceremonies.
Right On Course Golf Can Be Par for the Course in Relational Evangelism.
We want to join the church, my neighbor said as he treated me to lunch the day after his family first visited our Sunday celebration. I nearly choked on my egg roll at his announcement, and I wanted to say, Well, you have to get saved first, but I decided on a more tactful approach. Thats great, James! Lets get together with you and Kathy and discuss what the Bible says about having a real relationship with Christ, and what it means to be a member of a church.
I was flabbergasted! I wasnt sure James and I would ever reach this point. Our relationship was slow starting. At first I invited him to church, but he never seemed interested. I shared with him that I was a Christian, and his reaction was, Thats nice. So am I. But we obviously werent talking about the same relationship with God.
Christ and His church are at the center of my familys life. We attend celebration and cell regularly as a part of a cell-based church in the Southeast Houston Metro. At that point, James hadnt attended church in 15 years, and his wife, Kathy, had given up on occasionally taking their 3-year-old to Mass. I had found out that much, but my efforts at sharing werent getting very far. Talking with James about the Lord seemed forced, like we were speaking different languages.
Thats when God showed me a different approach. I had been an avid golfer for years and had dreamed, during college as a scholarship golfer, of playing professionally. I became a decent player, but my attitude on the course held me back. I eventually chose another career, but I still enjoyed playing about once a week. Since my best witnessing efforts had failed with James, I decided to give golf a try.
I invited James to play six or seven times, and our schedules allowed us to play three or four rounds. Then I was given tickets to the Shell Houston Open PGA Tournament, and I asked James to take a day off and go with me. He accepted, and we had a good time watching the pros do it right. Two of his golfing buddies spotted us at the tournament and asked us to join them afterward for a big-money match at another course. I explained that I would love to play with them but I didnt gamble. To my surprise they said, Come on and join us anyway.
I guess that particular outing convinced James that I wasnt an alien. Soon after, he asked me to be his partner for a tournament at his club. I accepted, and then he told me it was an alternate shot format. This means that one partner hits the ball, and the second partner hits it from where the first hit it, and so ona great format if you want to start a war! Being a rather temperamental sort, and given my problematic history with attitude on the course, I knew I would have to be prayed up for this one.
On the day of the tournament, I woke up early and prayed. I sure needed it. On the fourth hole, I hit a perfect 260-yard drive into the middle of the fairway. James then proceeded to hit the ball out of bounds. My normal reaction would have been anger. Instead, I heard myself saying, Thats O.K., partner. Ill pick you up. I then calmly dropped a ball (with a penalty shot!) and hit it 225 yards right onto the green. While the shot may have been natural ability, the attitude adjustment was definitely the Holy Spirit!
As we were walking down the fairway, James said, Thats why I like to play with you. You have such a great attitude.
What a hoot! Anyone who knows me can attest that I get steamed easily on the golf course, that my attitude has been my greatest weakness, not a strength. I shared with James that I often dont have a great attitude on the golf course, but that I had been praying about it. I explained that he was impressed with Jesus in me and not Craig Martel alone.
The next week, James called and said, Were coming to that church you go to. I talked to Kathy, and she agreed that we need to go to church together as a family. They came to our celebration and loved it. Their son had a great time in Kids Church and wanted to come back. The very next day, James took me to lunch and expressed their desire to join the church, and he agreed to meet with us to talk about what that means. At that meeting, the Holy Spirit opened their hearts, and they both accepted Jesus Christ. They are joining our cell, and theyll be baptized when we meet at a home with a pool next month.
James called this week to ask what kind of Bible he should get Kathy. Its our wedding anniversary. Do you think that would be a good gift? he asked. She doesnt have one. I told him I thought it would be a great gift, and silently thanked God that they now had the one true foundationChristthat would ensure a lifetime of happy anniversaries.
That is, if James and I dont play too much golf!
Craig Martel is a faithful minister and cell member in a Houston-area church. He and his wife have three teenagers.
Hats, Shoes and a Dogs Wet Nose - Do Your Christian Values Challenge Your Lifestyle?
As soon as I enter the house, Buddy welcomes me at the door with a bark and begins sniffing my shoes. Hes lost much of his hearing and sight in the last year due to old age, but my wife and I still refer to him as the nose with a dog attached. Buddy sniffs the soles of my shoes when I get home so he knows where Ive been and, to some extent, how Ive used my time away from him. I dont think he cares when I tell him in the morning that Ill be home later to play. He doesnt understand my complicated phrases. But his nose tells him what he wants to know. If Buddy could speak, hed tell you that the best way to know someone is to examine his or her shoes.
When we look at our Christian walk, we should follow Buddys lead. If you were to ask me to share my basic Christian values, youd hear a familiar set of answers: reach the lost for Jesus, disciple them to maturity, raise up leaders in my cell group and personally grow to maturity. I call this quick response my hat values, the ones I share off the top of my head. These values are solid and biblically based, but I share them off the top of my head instead of sharing how I am walking out my faith in works and deeds. Sharing my current works with you wouldnt be as easy to spout because I dont always like what I see.
If you were to take careful notes of how I use my hours at the office, at home and with others, you would find me doing the things I really value, or my shoe values. I examined my time a few months ago and found that I am a firefighter: I put out fires (some which I set) as often as I find them, and then I sit around the station the balance of the time awaiting the next urgent call.
My time usage shows that I purposely set aside my hat values for the man-made priorities and wildfires I either take ownership of or create. This is exhausting, and I cope by going home, finding the TV remote control and flopping in an easy chair. Sound familiar?
Remember the basketball shoe commercial a few years back, in which a short young man proclaimed that a professional athletes ability came from his designer footwear? When he saw the superstar fly through the air and slam the ball into the basket, the young man screamed, Its gotta be the shoes! As I look at my real values exhibited through my faith and words, I must look in the mirror and remind myself, Its gotta be the shoes!
This week I re-read the book of James, which gives a clear understanding of shoe values in just four pages. God has spoken through James to many men and women through the ages, but it is definitely a personal letter to Randall Neighbour every time I read it.
James simply states the facts about the active relationship between faith and deeds. To paraphrase, he writes, Your true values are displayed in your deeds. Your faith alone and your best intentions dont count if you dont have any works to prove their validity.
Over a year ago, I discussed this topic with a church planter. He was fascinated by the relationship of his faith versus his deeds and had developed a simple instrument to track and categorize his time usage. He carries a second day planner and, at the end of each day, retrospectively writes down the time he actually spent on these categories:
1. Sleeping, showering and getting dressed for the day.
2. At the office or focused time on work at home (work he brought home from the office, paying bills and checking investments, as well as yard work and chores).
3. In quality time with his wife and/or children.
4. With Christian friends, and cell and family members.
5. On the Internet, watching TV or reading books.
6. Resting or wasting time.
7. With unbelievers in fellowship or in a Bible study to help interested unbelievers learn more about God.
8. With the Lord each day in prayer and Bible reading/meditation.
He tallied the total hours for each of the eight sections to the closest half hour. Then he split the total if it spanned two or three sections (i.e. if he double-dated with his wife and a couple down the street who are unbelievers, the time would be divided equally between #3 and #7). His ongoing analysis with pie charts and graphs led him to change his time usage to achieve the weekly lifestyle to which God had called him.
If you went into your closet and sniffed the shoes you wore last week, would you detect strong scents of time with God, unbelievers and your fellow cell members? If an invisible man watched you for a week, would he see a believer who really lives out his or her faith?
Take a look at your time usage. Find a quiet place and an hour when you wont be interrupted. Read the book of James and use this short book as a measuring stick. List all your hat values, and then get honest enough to write down your shoe values or your true values. If they dont measure up in your heart, its time to make some changes.
How can you change? Plan the next week of your life and insert all the deeds you know will make your faith look alive instead of dead. Then fit in all the other stuff you want and need to do and make some hard decisions. Youll find that when you say yes to Gods priorities, youll have to say no to at least four of your own. Then tell your sponsor or accountability partner that youre changing the way you live, and that you want someone to pray with you and help you make it happen. It doesnt take a cold, wet nose to make changes . . . just a rearranging of priorities to align your time usage with Gods Word and His call on your life.
Redefining Neighbor - Cell Missionaries Travel to Open the 10/40 Window.
Hey, do you realize what getting involved in this cell church stuff means? You probably thought it was all about Christian community, caring for each other through transparent relationships and so on, right? Wrong! Well, half right. You probably also thought cell church was all about reaching out with other cell members to friends and neighbors through loving relations, right? Still only half right!
The fact is, you have become part of a new army that God is raising up in these Last Days, an army that is going to take cities and people all over the world for Jesus.
You see, there are still over one billion people living where there is little or no chance of them ever hearing about Jesus unless someone goes to them. And more and more of these unreached people live in grossly overpopulated cities. Every day, 75,000 people migrate from the countryside into the worlds cities looking for work. Most of them end up living in slum dwellings.
So, what has this got to do with you as a cell member? Pretty much everything! Whats the ideal way to effectively make disciples for Jesus in any city? A cell church strategy involves each member caring for the others in a close-knit group with people reaching out to friends and neighbors with Gods love. It involves cells multiplying and exploding all over the place, until there is at least one cell in every high-rise and slum across a city.
How is this going to happen when most of the yet-to-be-reached people live in the 10/40 Window (countries lying between 10 and 40 degrees latitude north of the equator, from North Africa to Asia)? You guessed it! God is going to use you and your cell church, in partnership with other cell churches around the world, to help take these unreached cities for Him. You have something these cities need: an experience of cell church life. God never meant for your experience to be kept to yourself. You and your cell group can change the world.
So how does this work? Let me give you a concrete example. My teenage son and daughter went to Delhi, the capital of India, on a two-week mission trip. They were part of over 240 children, teenagers, adults and grandparents from cell churches in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and the U.S. who fanned out all over Asia in July.
The church my childrens team worked with, Living Faith Community Church (LFCC) in Delhi, started as a cell church because of ordinary cell group members like you. In less than two years, it has grown from four couples to more than 150 people and about a dozen cell groups. It all began in mid-1996, when 36 cell members from over a dozen Hong Kong (HK) cell churches evangelized in the slums of Delhi and Calcutta for two weeks. The program in Delhi was arranged by Pastor Pradeep Moses, who was so impressed by the Hong Kong crew that he decided to find out more about cell churches. He consequently attended a cell church conference in Hong Kong. The teaching he received there was good, but what really impressed him was an ordinary cell meeting in our home. Actually, I was embarrassed that it was not a high-powered meeting that evening. But the members transparency and the reality of the sharing was something hed never witnessed.
Pastor Pradeep went back to India determined to begin a cell church and to develop a cell church model suitable for Delhi. Very few of the 600 million people in northern India have heard about Jesus. In Uttar Pradesh, Indias largest state lying immediately east of Delhi, only 0.08% of the 139 million people are Christian.
Teams from HK continued to visit and support the ministry every three to four months. More significantly, three members of the original HK team and one other person just returned to LFCC as long-term missionaries. They are learning the language and culture in preparation for planting new cell churches in even needier places. LFCC will act as a springboard for this new thrust. Missions springboards are developing throughout the 10/40 Window as networking among cell churches worldwide continues to grow.
The leader of the HK workers, Danny, was an Intern Youth Zone Pastor in HK before moving overseas. One of the other members, Gordon, was a Christian for only two and a half years before moving out as a long-term missionary! Before his conversion, he was involved with Triad gangs (HKs Mafia). He continues his training as a cell church worker on the job, under Danny and Pastor Pradeeps oversight. This approach to missions means more people can move overseas rapidly after coming to Christ.
Maybe its time to understand how being part of a cell church involves much more than simply enjoying good fellowship and reaching out to people in your immediate vicinity. God may have another role for you to play. Is He calling you on a short-term mission trip to help a new cell church in some unreached corner of the globe? Or is He even challenging you to step out as a long-term worker, bouncing off a missions springboard church to help start even more cell churches among the unreached?
Preparing the Land for the Harvest - Learning to Minister to the Soils of the Heart
I grew up on a farm in central Georgia, an area famous for its red clay soil. I remember watching my dad use a subsoil plow with heavy concrete blocks attached in order to break up the hard ground. Compare that tough, red clay with the thick, black topsoil of prime Iowa farmland. There a plow buries easily into the rich soil. The same seed planted and nurtured in these two soils would produce dramatically different results. No farmer would cultivate these two soils in the same way. He would consider the condition of his soil before he began working it. While the Iowa topsoil is ready for seed, the red clay must be broken, nourished and prepared before it can produce.
This same principle applies in the spiritual realm. Spiritual soil deals with the openness of individual human hearts, which is related to the spiritual climate of the country, city or neighborhood as a whole. As we understand others openness to the Gospel, we know how to treat the soil of their hearts and prepare it for seed. As we sow the good seed of the Gospel, churches and cell groups cannot overlook the need for good soil analysis.
Jesus taught about spiritual soils in the Parable of the Farmer (Luke 8:5-15). In each part of the story, the seed and the sower are the same, but the difference in soils determines the outcome of the planting. In the parable, birds of the air threaten to eat the seed off the path, and rocks and thorns create obstacles to growth. As we sow, we are in the same kind of spiritual battle, and the struggle at times is intense, the demonic opposition almost palpable.
Not all spiritual soils are created equal. As Christians seeking to fulfill Jesus Great Commission, we must know the kind of spiritual soil in our neighborhood, our workplace, and our church community so we can minister to people effectively. We need to see, pray and strategize with our spiritual eyes wide open.
My wife and I often have reflected on this during our 10 years of missionary service, which has been divided evenly between Colombia and Spain. You could hardly imagine two more different spiritual soils. Colombias fertile topsoil yields a hundredfold harvest, while tender new shoots struggle to survive in Spains stony, barren soil.
We hear reports from Colombia about wonderful strategies producing an abundant spiritual harvest. The truth is, almost any evangelism approach works in Columbia. Groups of 12, campaign evangelism, Encounter with God and friendship/oikos evangelism are proven, effective ways to plant and grow churches in Colombia. But even while Encounter with God was fruitful in Latin America in the 1970s and 80s, the seeds of this evangelism and church-planting strategy yielded little in Spain.
The seed of Encounter with God was equally good in both places. The sower was even the same at times. The difference in the crop yield, however, lies in the soil. Encounter with God is a harvest strategy. Its harvest time in Colombia; Spains harvest time is yet to come.
Are you, like Christians in Colombia, seeing the fruits of evangelism in your cell group and church? Or are you, like missionaries in Spain, frustrated by the lack of response to your outreach efforts? The problem may not lie in your groups desire to see the lost come to the Lord or even in the strategy youre using. Rather, your soil may not yet be prepared to reap a harvest.
More than 99% of Spains population remains in spiritual darkness. The strongholds of materialism, hedonism, secularism and spiritual apathy have deadened the hearts and poisoned the minds in this post-Christian, post-modern culture. Virtually all Spaniards qualify as Type B, hard-to-reach unbelievers. Sound familiar? Your country or community, even urban settings in North America, may be an area where the opposition is equally fierce and the darkness just as black.
If our efforts to reach out to unbelievers continually yield little, do we blame the spiritual soil conditions and give up? If the Lord has placed you in an area with hard soil, dont wring your hands or tolerate reduced harvests for the Kingdom. This soil awareness should guide your ministry, fuel your prayers and drive your vision.
Thats how my wife and I reacted to the poor yield in Spain. We recently returned to Spain after a year of home assignment in the U.S. While we were home, we recruited prayer support for Spain. We undoubtedly accomplished more by this mobilization of prayer than if we actually had been serving in Spain at the time. Fervent, focused prayer for spiritual breakthrough in Spain is the supernatural means by which the poor soil will be spiritually fertilized and improved. That is true in Spain, and its true for your ministry area as well. Prayer turns hearts of stone (hard clay) into hearts that yearn for a relationship with God (fertile topsoil). Yes, God is in the soil improvement business! Let me illustrate.
My wifes parents served as missionaries in Colombia in the 1940s, when Colombias soil was far worse than Spains now is. Evangelical Christians had to meet in homes because no one would rent a meeting place to Protestants. Houses in that tropical climate were very open, and passers-by would throw garbage or stones into the open courtyards or through the windows when they heard evangelicals singing. Some believers were poisoned and many others severely persecuted. Converts were few and far between. It was hard soil indeed! But Gods servants sowed good seed, and faithful prayer warriors interceded for Colombia decade after decade.
Those prayers are being answered today. God has so moved in that country that the once-hard soil is yielding an abundant, even miraculous, harvest. Virtually the entire nation has been moved from Type B to Type A, seeking unbelievers. This is none other than the handiwork of almighty God. It is His hour for Colombia! And if God did that for Colombia, could He not also do it in Spain? . . . And in your country? . . . And in your neighborhood? . . . And in your oikos? The obvious answer should encourage the hearts of all believers.
One U.S. church recently experienced tremendous conversion growth at an area high school where the kids have strong ties to witchcraft. As these teens were freed from their past and equipped for ministry, their parents hearts hardened toward them and the church. Some even accused the fledgling cell church of being a cult and forbade their teens from participating! So the teens and the churchs leaders went to war in the heavenlies with prayer. Some of those same parents have come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and are active, tithing members of the church who are reaching out to their friends. Continual prayer tilled and fertilized the soil, and courageous teens planted and nurtured the seeds until the harvest came.
If you had farmed only in Iowas rich topsoil, you might think that your bountiful harvest was due to your farming techniques, irrigation system or planting strategy. While those have some effect on the outcome, the rich soil is the chief reason for your yield. A strategy that works in fertile soil may fail in hard soil.
When you find that a proven method of evangelism isnt working in your oikos, ask God to show you the soil. Pray as He directs until that soil becomes fertile and the harvest comes forth.
No strategy can replace the sovereign work of God in drawing a person to faith in Christ. Learn your strategys limitations. All ministry, including cell church ministry, is first and foremost a spiritual issue. It goes far beyond models, strategies, systems and structures, important as these are. Without Gods anointing, we are doomed to fleshly results. No human strategy can reverse that reality. Neither can it can improve the soil of mens hearts. Only God can do that.
Thousands of churches around the world are moving into cell ministry. As they become more visible, other churches will be tempted to jump onto the cell church strategy bandwagon. The cell church movement must continue to point them first to the sovereign God behind the movement, and not to the strategy itself. Humbly give God the credit and recognize that the cell church movement is a supernatural work of God, not just a human strategy or the latest church growth fad.
The cell church paradigm is so flexible that it is wonderfully adaptable to different soils. In settings such as Colombia, no model is more effective at mobilizing all the saints for evangelism and nothing is more efficient at retaining the new converts. In cells, baby Christians develop relationships with more mature Christians who lovingly take them under their wing and make sure they arent eaten by the birds of the air. The new Christians become members of a church family that helps them grow in their faith.
But cell church ministry also works in difficult places, where evangelism is tough, because it focuses on relationships and bridge-building rather than on the one-shot, confrontational approach. Cell evangelism happens through natural relationships (neighbors, co-workers, family) with unbelievers, and the cell provides prayer support as you reach out to non-Christians.
In Spain, few people are willing to attend any kind of evangelical meeting. But through oikos/friendship evangelism, perseverance and much prayer, we are seeing people come to Christ. Furthermore, in hard soils like ours, the new converts find themselves in a minority and often encounter strong rejection by their family and peers. The cells offer intimacy and a support network which are critical to the new believers spiritual development, and which are hard to find in traditional churches.
So what does all this mean for you and your cell? Your cell group will benefit from prayerful soil analysis. Within a given city or area, there easily can be a variety of soils. Following are a few practical applications, along with some related goals, for your cell ministry.
First, pray and ask God to show you the responsiveness level of your cell members oikoses. How fertile is your soil? Are you reaching out to Type A, seeking unbelievers? Are you ministering in a relatively God-fearing part of the Bible belt? Or are you ministering to secular, hardened hearts in an urban setting? While my wife and I were speaking in churches in the New York City area, many people said they identified with our ministry in the stony soil of Spain. You just described our neighborhood! they said. Your goal here: prayerful soil analysis.
Second, pray and ask God to show you His strategy for reaching those in your web of influence. Will it be through specialized outreach via interest groups? Through ministry to hurting marriages or families? Through community service that meets a felt need? Ask Him for the specific way to reach out to your oikos, keeping in mind the responsiveness level God has shown you. Your goal here: match your strategy to your soil.
Third, intercede for your community and plead for spiritual awakening. Praying for revival is always part of Gods divine soil improvement strategy. Remember, this is what has happened in Colombia. It can happen in Spain. It can happen on a local level in your neighborhood. It can happen in your oikos and in your cell group, too! Your goal here: commit to serious praying for soil improvement.
Fourth, keep sowing the good seed of the Good News. You may not gather in the abundant harvest. That may be the Lords assignment for someone else. My wifes parents didnt see many converts during their ministry in Colombia, but their seed planting was not in vain. Your goal here: sow and trust God for the harvest.
Take heart! Regardless of the soil you are working, God arrived there first and He is certainly at work as well. Our challenge in our respective cell ministries is that we not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
Raymond Ebbett and his wife, Mary, serve as Christian & Missionary Alliance missionaries in Spain. He also heads the team that translates the TOUCH materials into Spanish.
I Sat in the Pew Frustrated, Again! - My Journey into Joyful Evangelism
As the pastor preached that morning, I felt guilty about my lack of effort at soul winning. Yet every time I gathered my courage and forced myself to witness, it produced little except to raise my blood pressure and frustration.
For most of my life, this experience has represented my feelings about evangelism. I grew up in a Bible-teaching church where we were chided to witness, but I dont remember many people actually doing it. Then I went to a Christian college and later to seminary, where we were challenged about the plight of lost people. Still, only a handful of bold students tried to evangelize. I forced myself to share the Gospel with complete strangers a few times, but that was the extent of my efforts.
I didnt know how to evangelize back then. And my 15 years as a pastor have shown me that many others dont know how to witness either. We talk about evangelism, and we proclaim the Gospel. We celebrate when people come to know Christ, but evangelism for most of the folks in my church is something we hope the other guy will do.
This troubled the elders and staff of my church, so we evaluated the situation a few years back. Ours is a good-sized church that has consistently grown each year. But our research revealed that our growth came from Christians leaving their churches and coming to our church, not from new converts. Frankly, it bothered us that a church our size did not know how to bring more people to Christ.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said to Peter, . . . Upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it (New Living Translation). Certainly, whatever the church is about, doing battle against the forces of hell is at its heart! Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, came to the conclusion that, I did not have the privilege of just reading my Bible, praying nice prayers and pastoring a pleasant little church. I had to rescue a lot of people from impending eternal disaster (Primary Purpose, pgs. 29-30). That led Haggard and his church to conclude that their primary purpose was to make it hard for people of their city to go to hell.
Evangelism must be more than something we honor by talking about it, or something for those people especially gifted with boldness or skill at relating the Gospel. It must lie at the heart of why we exist as a church. And it must be something in which everyone (whether you have the gift of evangelism or not) is involved. This means that I, as a pastor, must take the lead and evangelize as well.
Our church was full of people who cared that others were lost and going to hell, but we never learned how to evangelize effectively. We didnt know how to reach out as a team and help unbelievers enter into a relationship with Christ. We didnt know how to care for people over time, through loving relationships. This is one of the discoveries that propelled us to begin our transition to a cell-based church. Cells are the perfect place to mobilize all Christians to reach unbelievers.
While cell groups are the most natural environment to enter this journey of relational evangelism, nothing is automatic. We learned that groups must take intentional steps to reach out and grow.
The first step developed out of our need to be intentional in our relationships with unbelievers. So our cells created lists of people whom group members believed God wanted to reach through them: neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives, people with whom they spend time and develop relationships. These people form the immediate circle of relationships that make up each cell members oikos (Greek for household or sphere of influence). This is the cells oikos list. Everyone in the cell needs to pray for one or two unbelievers to come to know Christ.
Secondly, we realized that the battle is spiritual! The most important thing we can do for lost people is pray for them. Praying for our oikos should be a regular part of a cell gathering. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. The only reason someone cant see a need for Christ is because he or she has been blinded by Satan. Only a person with a distorted vision of the truth can refuse a Savior who loves them so much that He gave His life to redeem them.
The solution is to battle through prayer. Our groups pray specifically against the roadblocks that stand in the way of these unbelievers seeing their need for Jesus. Maybe theyre stumbling over the spiritual hypocrisy of others. Perhaps its their own insecurity, foolish pursuit of fun or life on their own terms. It could be selfishness, or any number of strongholds such as addiction, lust, unforgiveness or pride. As the Holy Spirit gives discernment, we call out against the demonic grip that Satan has over these people and ask Jesus to break it so that their eyes may be opened.
As a cell gets serious about praying on behalf of oikos members, the list will cease to be the person you are burdened for and become the people we are burdened for. At this point, each cell member is evangelizing.
While praying, cell members also must increase relationships with the people for whom they are seeking the heart of God. Luke 5:1-3 reveals a great example from Jesus life. One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, He saw at the waters edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon Peter, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat.
Jesus was teaching, but Simon Peter, for whom Jesus had a burden, was off to the side not listening. In order to get Peters attention, Jesus got into his boat. To reach people for Christ, get their attention by getting in their boat: build relationships, become their friend, and increase your connection with them.
After we moved into our new home last May, our children would stand on the wood pile behind our house and peer at the neighbors kids over the wooden fence that separates our back yards. As the kids all started playing together, my wife and I felt called to get into the boat of our neighbors, Tod and Sandy. We prayed for them to come to Christ and built a relationship with them. We invited them over for burgers and ice cream. We went camping with them, and our kids continued to play together. Tod and I built a gate in the fence so we could easily walk between our back yards.
Meanwhile, our cell included Tod and Sandy on our oikos list for prayer. Each week we prayed for Tod and Sandy, even though no one in the cell knew them. Our cell members encouraged us to continue working on the relationship. Week in and week out, we did just that.
After spending the summer building the relationship and praying for Tod and Sandy, we invited them to a cell bridge event, our Labor Day picnic. A bridge event can be a game night, picnic, dinner outing, etc. The important things are to hold these regularly (many of our cells aim for once a month), and for all members to understand that their job is to interact with the guests and help them feel welcome.
Tod and Sandy agreed to come to the cells picnic, though they wanted to drive their own car so theyd have an escape. They didnt need it! They had a wonderful time, and the cell members were excited to meet the couple for whom theyd been praying.
It is important to understand how our cell worked together as a team. My family was working to get into Tod and Sandys boat, but everyone in our cell was praying for and had a burden for Tod and Sandy. Everyone took ownership in our joint effort to love Tod and Sandy to Christ. And not only Tod and Sandy, but also the other unbelievers who were being reached by other cell members.
Now we had a relationship with Tod and Sandy, and so did others in our cell. The members grew those relationships. The women invited Sandy to go shopping with them and sent her notes of encouragement. The men invited Tod to play golf. Tod and Sandy came to our regular cell events. Then they began to ask questions about spiritual things. One Saturday night in November, Tod asked whether his family could join us at church on Sunday. When they arrived, they were greeted by their friends from the cell who sat with them and talked with them every step of the way.
Tod and Sandy started attending our cell. A few months later, Sandy prayed to receive Christ as her Savior. Tod did the same with one of the members of our cell in the church lobby after worship. Our entire cell went out to lunch afterward to celebrate with them.
This family was reached because everyone in a cell worked together to see them come to know Christ. It started with a heartfelt burden for people who are spiritually lost and included a specific plan of prayer, relationships and regular cell events. We all worked together to evangelize.
Were still learning to approach evangelism this way as a church, but the number of stories similar to those of Tod and Sandy is growing. Evangelism finally is a joy instead of a frustration. And it isnt something we just talk about. We partner with others in our cell to do something about it. We target people and challenge each other to get into their boats because we believe God will use us to reach them. It doesnt happen automatically. It takes purposeful, Holy Spirit-driven intervention. I am learning and relearning this over and over.
For example, I came home late from work the other night and a neighbor was out working on his car. I was tired and wanted go inside, take my shoes off and rest. But I knew my cell was going to ask me whether I was getting into Bills boat. So I went over and crawled under the hood of his car with him. Another time, my wife wanted to invite my daughters entire soccer team and their parents over for a potluck dinner. I initially thought of the hassle it would be. Then my wife reminded me again of the need to build relationships with these people, most of whom are lost. It is something we have to remind ourselves of continually.
But it works! Its exciting to see people effectively evangelize when they formerly thought they could never reach others for Christ. They learn to work together as a teampraying specifically, challenging one another, having events, and working hard to incorporate these people. They discover what really impacts unbelievers in positive ways so that they are open to the Good News of Jesus. They finally realize that guilt is not the way God motivates us to reach their friends.
Ive met very few unbelievers who know they are lost. Whats more, they arent looking for God. Few non-Christians have friends who really care about them in a selfless, loving way. When your cell works together, you literally have the opportunity to love people into openness to the Gospel and into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
There is nothing more fulfilling than experiencing the joy of reaching out together. Just ask Tod and Sandy!
Jay Firebaugh is the Minister of Cells and Administration at East Side Grace Brethren Church in Columbus, OH, which is in its fourth year of transition into cells. Jay and his wife, Janet, have been married for 16 years and have two children. Jay is also one of TOUCHs ACT presenters.
What Do I Do With the G12 Model? - Insight from Those Who Have Begun the Journey.
Over the last year and a half, a new model has captured the attention of the cell church movement. The Groups of 12 (G12) model, pioneered by the International Charismatic Mission (ICM) in Bogota, Colombia, rapidly multiplies both leaders and groups. Yet there are many unanswered questions about G12: What is this new model? What are other churches learning as they apply G12 principles? How can I apply its insights in my church? Does the G12 model work in the United States and Canada? Is it for every cell church?
Churches that are doing it say G12 works amazingly well, but only if you understand and apply the underlying principles and values. We are wise to learn from the experience of those who have made it work.
Lets look at the G12 model from the ground up.
Assume that I am a cell leader in a G12 church and that you are a new Christian entering my cell group. As soon as you come to Christ and join my cell, I encourage you to go on an Encuentro (Encounter) weekend. Through simple teaching, prayer and confession, this weekend experience sets you free from hurts, strongholds and habit patterns so you can live out your new freedom in Christ. Then you invite the Holy Spirit to fill you in a new way. After the Encuentro, you enter discipleship training to become grounded in Christ. Several months later, you attend another retreat that reinforces what you experienced at the first one and prepares you to become a cell leader.
When you begin leading a cell group of friends you have reached for Christ, you become a part of my Group of 12. Like all cell leaders, my goal is to see all my cell members start their own groups. My group eventually becomes a leadership group, or Group of 12. We meet weekly to pray and discuss how things are going in the cell groups that you and the other members are leading.
Got it? As Dr. Ralph Neighbour says, The G12 model is confusingly simple.
Here are three key principles:
1. Cells grow to create G12s. As cell members begin their own cell groups, the original cell in effect becomes a leadership group that continues to meet weekly.
2. An equipping system is built around retreats that accelerate leadership multiplication. As with the TOUCH equipping materials, the journey begins by settling the battles within.
3. In time, all believers belong to both a G12 community and one or more cells. The G12 model involves more time than other models. Cell leaders lead their cells and also meet with their G12 leader each week.
Dozens of churches have implemented G12 principles. I talked with leaders from six of them to find out what we can learn from their experiences. Each of these churches was exposed to G12 at least a year ago and already had cells. Three are in the United States, two are in Canada and one is in Ecuador. They range in size from new church plants to large, established churches. The G12 model has been implemented differently in each of them, but the churches have followed a common pattern in applying their new insights: exploration, partial implementation, adaptation and integration.
Exploration. The pastors I interviewed learned about the G12 model through seminars, friends or magazine articles. None of them jumped on the G12 model immediately; each of them first evaluated and learned about it for six to nine months.
Partial Implementation. Each church applied G12 principles in small ways before attempting a total integration.
Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, LA, encouraged each established cell group to plant a homogeneous daughter cell. At the same time, they moved to transition one zone, not the whole church, to a G12 structure.
The Church Army Cell Church, a new plant in Branson, MO, began its transition to G12 by keeping new cell leaders in the parent cell after they began a new cell. This church also implemented a Breaking Free weekend, similar to ICMs Encuentro event, for cell members.
Republic Church in Quito, Ecuador, began by focusing on four key G12 principles. Joel Comiskey, author of Home Cell Group Explosion, summarizes them as: 1) Every person who enters our church is a potential leader. 2) The rapid multiplication of cells is the chief motivation of our church. 3) We must have a clear-cut system of leadership training. 4) Every leader must aspire to oversee the groups that he or she births. Concentrating on these principles enabled the church to launch 50 new groups in eight months. After a year, the church leaders are looking at specific structures, methods and weekends used by the ICM Church so they can replicate them in their own setting.
Adaptation. All of the leaders I interviewed are reinventing G12 to fit their churches and settings. Dave Brandon of Newmarket Alliance in Ontario, Canada, says: We had been trying to implement the cell model for seven years. All the time we were thinking that we had to develop our own version of the cell model to succeed because simply embracing methods from others wasnt working. TOUCHs Year of Transition [now ACT] gave us new insights and a fresh start. We began a prototype group to implement what we were learning. This became a planning group that hammered out [our guidelines and principles]. . . . After we learned of the Groups of 12 model, we took key principles from the model, and then we forgot about G12 and developed our own model. Many churches are adapting the composition of their groups in light of learnings from the G12 model. North American churches tend to focus on family groups, e.g. groups that include young and old, married and single people. ICM, on the other hand, organizes cells homogeneously: businessmens cells, womens cells, youth cells, etc. The North American churches implementing G12 do not see homogeneous and heterogeneous groups as mutually exclusive. Instead, they are diversifying and using both types of groups. Tim Sheuer of the Church Army explains how diversifying has helped: There are more ways to start groups, greater variety in who leads them and freedom in when they meet. Now groups can start wherever and however. We were kind of bound by a cell church legalism before.
Integration. Reaching this final stage does not mean that a church has fully embraced the original G12 method. At this point, the insights the leaders have applied are the standard way of doing things. Each of these six churches is still on its way to final integration, but initial results are very encouraging. Some of their discoveries follow.
First, it works to see everyone as a leader! Almost all the churches surveyed have seen a tremendous increase in the number of groups as a greater leadership pool has been tapped, trained and released. Sheuer testifies: There is a new excitement about reaching the harvest. More people are seeing themselves as leaders. A youth ministry has emerged where we had none before. We have two teen cells: one for high schoolers and one for younger teen girls. We have one group of recovering alcoholics that is ready to launch three additional groups. Joel Comiskeys book has been extremely helpful because his findings made us realize that we do not have to look for persons with certain gifts or a special personality. Anyone can lead a cell effectively if they give themselves to it.
Second, using an Encuentro-type weekend to help believers get free is crucial. Putting this event near the beginning of an equipping system greatly accelerates each persons spiritual growth. This, in turn, expands the leadership pool. Most of the churches I surveyed are using such an event, and all of these churches reported wonderful results. Jim Pesce of Harvest Family Church in Keswick, Ontario, reports: We had our first weekend, and it was supernatural. Even some of our cell leaders were released from demonic strongholds. We now have an Encuentro weekend set up every three months. Most churches I researched are integrating the weekend into a comprehensive equipping system using TOUCH materials. The combination of weekend events, personal study materials and one-on-one discipling enables people to get free and stay free while moving from immaturity through maturity and into leadership.
Third, put values first. Comiskey warns: They [at ICM] talk constantly about spiritual power, spiritual victories, spiritual liberation and relatively little about the model. We tend to become enamored with the model. Youll never get the same results as Bogota by simply copying a model without taking with you the values of the church. Sheuer echoes a similar concern: Many churches want New Testament results without New Testament values. The values are critical. We were doing cells before we heard of the G12 model, so we had a head start on the values. I dont think it would have worked if we had not already shifted values.
What values are these leaders talking about? Prayer, outreach and leadership multiplication. These are not simply structural issues, but lifestyle changes. If your life is self-centered and prayerless, the solution is not structure but repentance. One American pastor and his church were radically seeking God through fasting. When I spoke with this pastor, he had just completed a 40-day fast, and many of his church members had joined him in different ways. Thats not just a new strategy but a lifestyle change.
Fourth, adapt the model and dont copy others. Brandon counsels: Let the structure emerge from the grass roots. After immersing themselves in seminars, books and interaction with other churches, his members took their learnings and hammered them out for their own setting. There are no short cuts to this process. You cant copy someone elses model. Neither can you just figure it out yourself. The leaders of successful churches study strong models for months or even years. They then combine prayer, discernment and boldness to apply the principles to their own setting.
First, learn all you can, and do your homework before implementing change. Read the last several issues of CellChurch, Comiskeys book Home Cell Group Explosion, and Larry Stockstills new book, The Cell Church. For more insight, attend a seminar that covers G12 principles. Learn about how to do an Encuentro weekend. Talk with other pastors who have begun this journey and find out what they did wrong and what they did right. You might even try to visit a church implementing G12.
Second, repent! If you are living a powerless, complacent life, no structure is going to save you. Turn away from your self-centered, self-sufficient ways and tap into Gods purity and power. Fast. Pray. Get serious about relational evangelism. Admit your sin to God and to others. Receive Gods forgiveness and step into a new lifestyle.
Last, enjoy the journey! Implementing a New Testament lifestyle through cells is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. Commit yourself to the long haul. If you run as hard and as fast as you can, you will leave others and your good senses behind. Set your eyes on Jesus and run straight ahead at a steady pace!
Will the G12 model work for you? Only you can discern Gods timing and plan for your church. If God is telling you to go for it, my advice is: Learn all you can. Repent! And enjoy the journey.
Jim Egli is Director of Training at TOUCH Outreach Ministries. He and his wife, Vicki, have three teenage sons and an eight-year-old daughter. He is the co-author of nine books.
Reflecting Pools - What Do Others See in You?
Several years ago, my wife and I joined another couple in our church for a vacation to the Pacific Northwest. This marked our first experience touring that part of our country. For an easterner, the rugged coastline, giant redwoods, high mountains and gigantic rocks were an awesome sight.
While driving through Mount Rainier National Park, we noticed signs along the road informing us of reflecting pools. Off the nearby lakes, one supposedly could see the reflection of snow-capped Mount Rainier. So we stopped at one of the lakes to take a look. To our disappointment, there was no reflection. We soon figured out the problem: A blowing wind was disturbing the lakes surface. Ripples obliterated what would have been a beautiful reflection of the mountain if the surface had been smooth.
Though we were disappointed, the Lord used this experience to speak an important message to my heart: As believers, we should reflect Jesus to those around us. The only Jesus many people will ever see is the Jesus they see in us. But how often is the image of Jesus obscured or even obliterated due to ripples in our lives caused by adverse winds?
Adversity comes to all of us. Things dont always go the way wed like. We may be judged wrongly, misrepresented, taken advantage of, or hurt in some way. The real issue is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens. Our responses often speak louder than our words. Do we reflect the attitude and nature of Jesus, or do we react in the flesh? Are people able to clearly see Jesus in us? Does our response to someone cutting us off in traffic reflect Jesus, or is He obscured by our angry reaction? In our family, church and business relationships, do we love and serve one another? If we are honest, we probably have to admit that our responses often are not very different from those who are not Christians. Instead of reflecting Jesus, we obscure His image.
Scripture says, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind
(Romans 12:2). It takes only a moment to enter into the Kingdom of God, but it takes a lifetime to be transformed. Its one thing to know we are saved and have Jesus in our lives. Its something much more to have our lives so immersed in Jesus that the radiance of His glory is revealed in us. Only then will the surface of our lives be calm enough to reflect the image and nature of Jesus, even in the midst of turmoil.
After we observed the pools that didnt reflect, we spent a night on the coast overlooking the beach. As we watched the waves break on the beach, I noticed that a smooth, shiny surface formed as the water receded into the ocean. On that smooth surface, we saw the clear reflection of the next wave as it broke on the beach. What we didnt see in the reflecting pools, we saw unexpectedly in the ocean. In an unlikely place amid the crashing, churning waters of the sea, there was a calm, peaceful surface that provided a clear reflection.
I was struck by the significance of what we saw. The most chaotic situations and unexpected places often present us with the greatest potential of reflecting Jesus. When we face the same challenges and problems everyone else does but respond in an extraordinary manner that cannot be explained in the natural, people take notice and even wonder in amazement. Like on the day of Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, some people will be perplexed and ask, What does this mean? Then, like Peter, we have the opportunity to share what Christ has done for us and what He can do for them.
Many years ago, I read a story of a busy executive rushing to catch a train. That morning he had promised himself that he would try to be a Christian that day instead of only talking about it. By the time he had picked up his ticket, he was running late. Charging across the platform, he was about to get on the train when his suitcase bumped a small child, scattering the pieces of a new jigsaw puzzle the child had been carrying. The executive paused and saw the child in tears. With an inward sigh, he smiled at the boy and helped him pick up the puzzle pieces as his train pulled out of the station. The child watched him intently. When they had finished, he looked up at the man with an expression of awe and asked, Mister, are you Jesus?
In that moment, the man realized that yeson that platform, at that timehe had been Jesus. In a real-life situation, he had reflected the attitude and character of Jesus by the way he responded. Are we clearly reflecting Jesus to those around us?
Gerald Martin is the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church and Ministries, a multi-congregational cell church and training center based in Harrisonburg, VA. Gerald is an Advanced Cell Training instructor and a member of TOUCH Outreach Ministries board of directors.
End of Issue.
|Volume One - 1992||Volume Two - 1993|
|Volume Three - 1994||Volume Four - 1995|
|Volume Five - 1996||Volume Six - 1997|
|Volume Seven - 1998||Volume Eight - 1999|
Contents © Copyright 1999 by TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc.