I fell asleep at the wheel. The cruise control was set at 70 mph, legal speed for the Mississippi freeway. I woke up with the terror of knowing I was shooting down the bank on the left side of the road. As I tried to pull the car back up to the pavement, the car shot into the air, landed on its roof and bounced right side up. I found myself in the right ditch, bleeding from the head and in excruciating pain. I had crushed the sixth and seventh vertebrates in my neck.
For the next three months, I lived with a brace and slept in a chair at night. Pain was my constant companion. My fingers were numb. Pain shot down my arms. For a brief time, my heart quit beating with its normal rhythm and I required medication to regulate it. I learned the hard way that my whole body felt pain because those neck bones had been crushed.
During those days, I often thought of Jackie Pullinger in Hong Kong’s Old Walled City. After she led her first Triad murderer to Christ, she taught him for several days. Then he disappeared. Upon returning he said, “Jackie, I went to the head of the Triad to tell him I was a Christian and would no longer be in the gang. He put a knife to my throat and threatened to slit it if I did not fulfill another assassination assignment. Jackie, I am so ashamed: I have just murdered another man!”
Jackie responded with gushing sobs and tears. Her heart was broken! She was not judgmental, examining the man’s confession as a doctor evaluates a patient. Instead, she shared his shame and participated in his guilt. As he also wept, he said, “I can never, ever do that again!”
This same story was repeated with the second gang member. Upon his return and confession, both Jackie and the first man sobbed and sobbed. For many years now that pattern has been repeated. Each time there is a confession of sin in their groups, the whole group shares the shame and pain.
Feasting on Between-Meal Snacks - ‘Family’ relational time whets appetites for more togetherness
I have spent hundreds of hours in cell meetings experiencing incredible times of worship, learning, and giving and receiving ministry. These weekly meetings were exciting and balanced when cell members immersed themselves in ministry, discipleship and lifestyle evangelism during the week. But when members didn’t have a clue about living in Christian community, the meeting time felt rushed and insufficient to meet the group’s needs, or we were just plain bored because no one felt comfortable enough to enter into worship and ministry.
Conversely, the hours invested in discipling cell members, helping them move furniture and coaxing them into joining me in building projects outnumber the meeting times tenfold. Meetings fade away, but memories of kingdom-building activities are precious and remain forever.
I’ll never forget kingdom-building with my friend Harry. He was a single guy about my age who bought an old house in the same neighborhood as my wife and me. Our common bonds were (1) Jesus and (2) the urge to use power tools on the other guy’s house, in that order.
Harry was my cell leader; I was his intern. We prayed together for hours each week, lifting our cell members and the lost to the Lord. We ministered to a Chinese couple by helping them with transportation to and from cell meetings and Sunday celebrations. With the prayers and assistance of the rest of the cell, they became followers of Jesus.
Did our stellar cell meetings make us successful kingdom-builders? Not so you could notice! We messed up most of the cell agendas and stumbled through ministry time week after week. Without Harry’s determination week in and week out to move every cell member into a lifestyle of helping others and to model this for me, we would have dissolved the cell and joined a garden club.
Harry knew that the best way to build community was to ask for help and to offer it as often as possible, so he focused on between-meeting ministry opportunities. As I reflect on that, I see that our prayer time prepared our hearts and gave us a hunger for servanthood. We gave the daily interaction among cell members as much clout as those weekly meetings, and our cell grew and increased the kingdom of God.
Between-meal snacks were frowned upon in my mother’s kitchen. If I filled up on potato chips or cookies after school, my mother was certain my appetite would be spoiled and I wouldn’t eat all those nutritious vegetables served at dinner. Truthfully, I could inhale every scrap of food in the house at 4 p.m. and still eat seconds at the dinner table. I was a growing boy and a voracious eating machine.
Dinner at our home was a spectacular daily event. My two older brothers and I would sit at the table and impatiently wait for the blessing. Dad often would give thanks (my mother liked to pray for all the missionaries before she asked God to bless the food) and then we’d dig in. My mom prepared the best food in the whole world. I don’t remember all the dishes she cooked, but I clearly recall the times we laughed and talked and loved each other’s company as a family should. I often invited my friends to stay for dinner, and many of them came to know my parents as Uncle Ralph and Aunt Ruth. Our meal times weren’t an exclusive event, but my parents understood that daily interaction among the family members would keep us strong and prevent us from growing apart.
Your family of origin may not have looked like mine. But your cell “family” should resemble the dinner table of a healthy family:
A few months ago, Harry and I took our wives to get an ice cream cone and catch up. He’s a married man of a few years now and lives in the suburbs. We don’t even go to the same church any more, so visits like these are special. While we talked about those days of close friendship and teamwork, we recognized that God had placed us together for a season to learn, grow and model that selfless lifestyle for others.
The ironic thing about cell-based community is that God gives it to us to achieve something very special for a short period of time. We shouldn’t look at community as a goal. It’s a gift God gives us because it’s one of the most powerful tools we have to minister to each other and reach our world for Jesus.
Life Together – The Experience of Biblical Relationships
Support groups, care groups, life groups, recovery groups, prayer groups, self-help groups, cell groups.
We live in the midst of a small-group craze. Name the group, you can join it. Forty percent of the American population participates in “a small group that meets regularly and provides care and support for those who participate in it,” according to Robert Wuthnow, a Princeton University researcher. People are crying out for relationships!
I fit the image of the modern man looking for a place to call “mine.” I recently moved into a new apartment with my bride, Shawna. This marks my seventeenth home in the last ten years. I have bought into the constant movement of our time. We search for the pot of gold — new job, more schooling, better town — at the elusive rainbow’s end, but we never stop to view the rainbow itself. We move on just in time to miss the beauty of living in true relationships.
Christians in the New Testament found a remedy for our displaced world: They found solace in the church. They made church attractive and real. They related to one another. To illustrate how they lived, Larry Kreider, pastor of DOVE Christian Fellowship International, retells T.L. Osborne’s fictional conversation with Aquila in Ephesus:
“Good evening, Aquila. We understand you’re a member of the church here. Could we come in and visit for a while?”
“Certainly. Come in.”
“If you don’t mind, we would like for you to tell us about the way the churches here in Asia Minor carry on their soul-winning program. We read that you have been a member of a church in Corinth and Rome, as well as this one here in Ephesus. You should be very qualified to tell us about evangelism in the New Testament Church. If you don’t mind, we’d like to visit your church while we’re here.”
“Sit down, you’re already in the church. It meets in my home.”
“You don’t have a church building?”
“What’s a church building? No, I guess we don’t.”
“Tell me, what is your church doing to evangelize Ephesus? What are you doing to reach the city with the Gospel?”
“Oh, we already evangelized Ephesus. Every person in the city clearly understands the Gospel. We just visited every home in the city. That’s the way the church in Jerusalem first evangelized. The disciples there evangelized the entire city of Jerusalem in a very short time. All the other churches in Asia Minor have followed that example.”
Homes were the centerpiece of New Testament life. Acts 2:46 reads, “They broke bread in their homes …” They met from “house to house” in Acts 5:42 and 20:20. The homes of Jason in Thessalonica, Titus Justus and Stepphanas in Corinth, Philip in Caesarea, and Lydia and the jailer at Philippi illustrate the central role the home played in the early church.
Some blame the modern malady of the church on the fact that we do not use homes as a means of ministry and evangelism. While meeting in a home is a step in the right direction, this alone will not fix your church. Small groups meeting from house to house will not make the world take notice and ask, “Wow, how can I be a part?” The 40 percent of the population who gather regularly in small groups and the 60 percent who choose not to are not looking for another meeting to attend, even if it is in a home. They seek something real, something powerful, something that will change their lives.
God does not give us easy formulas such as, “Meet from house to house and your church will grow.” The power of the New Testament church supercedes meeting in a home. It supercedes meeting anywhere. The New Testament does, however, give us a model and a definition for relationships. It tells us how to live with one another as the church to impact our relationship-hungry world.
We read in Acts about how the church initially experienced the touch of the Spirit in the Upper Room. This moment directly impacted all of Jerusalem and eventually the entire world. Yet before the 120 in the Upper Room were ready to receive the power of God, He had to prepare the community. Luke tells us in Acts 1:14 that they were constantly praying. They remained together in one place (Acts 2:1) until the day of Pentecost. After this, the Holy Spirit filled those who waited on Him together.
We learn from this story that the Spirit does not fill individuals but people who relate with one another before God. The Spirit of God looks for people who seek Him together, who are willing to join in life together to reach the world. He fills them and unites such people.
The New Testament calls this “family.” We belong to the family of God, according to Ephesians 2:19. Jesus said that those who do the will of God are His family (Matthew 12:50). The center of the New Testament church family was the home, the place of hospitality. Hospitality became the model for the life of the church. Through the transparent relationships of the home, the first cell members matured naturally. Conversation with friends, meals with family, and serving each other in the house became the means for living the Gospel.
If we are God’s family, we must relate as family. Obviously we cannot interact as family with 75 other people who meet once a week on Sunday. Nor can we expect to develop an atmosphere of family by meeting once a week in a home. For example, imagine that your earthly family has a mandatory dinner every Thursday night. You gather around the table, pray, eat and talk about the rest of your week. This is the only communication you have as a family unless there is a crisis. Would you call this family? If so, your standard for intimacy and commitment is not very high!
Yet cell groups are described by many as a 90-minute Wednesday night meeting for prayer and Bible study. Meeting once a week is a step in the right direction but insufficient to develop biblical relationships. When we limit ourselves to a meeting, we miss the experience of hospitality. We miss the touch of friends available only in the mundane parts of life: meals, working together, serving one another, long talks over coffee and playing board games until two in the morning.
The first time I experienced family in the body of Christ, I was heading a group of small-group leaders in college. I had no idea what God was doing. As I drove to our weekly meeting, God told me not to say a thing and to let the group set the agenda. As we talked, one student shared how she had been violated as a teen and that she was experiencing some healing. Later it came out that another young woman in the group had a similar experience. From this unplanned sharing of life birthed a family of countless phone calls, late talks over Coke and pizza, overnight retreats and ministry. God blessed us with the very simple miracle of family.
Most people in your group have no idea how to live as a family. This is Satan’s scheme because he seeks to divide and conquer. Bad father figures, broken marriages and sibling rivalries are the norm. Satan wants to continue this pattern in your group. But people long for a touch, a hug, a phone call. You probably yearn for it too. Your cell can be a place to call home, where people feel welcomed and where Satan’s loneliness is left at the door.
God poured out His Spirit in the context of family. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” The early church stood out, and everyone in town knew when Jesus’ church arrived. The people of God were marked by the presence of God. Some even accused them of being drunk! The church demonstrated His presence through signs and wonders, and saw the unbelievable happen as they continued the ministry of Jesus in His name. Peter and John healed the crippled beggar; Philip cast out demons and healed paralytics; Paul and Silas escaped from prison; Steven preached with power; 5,000 people confessed Christ as Lord; the church grew; and they remained in Christ for the long-haul.
Most of us have never seen God move like this. You might even think, “It was good for Peter and Paul, but God cannot do that through me.” Or, “God only uses special people like a pastor or an evangelist.” Well, you are special! Peter was a simple fisherman before Jesus chose him, and look what happened. Who were Philip or Steven or Lydia before God moved through them?
You can see God touch people miraculously, but your experience probably will not look like Peter’s. Your story will resemble those of Mark’s mother (who owned a home where the church met), Pricilla and Aquila, Lydia, Philemon or Nympha. We know little of these people except that they were faithful enough to be named in the Word of God. These were a few of the hundreds who prayed, ministered and labored behind the scenes.
In fact, the power of God probably will move through you and me differently than we think. Most believers will never reproduce what happens in a large crusade or on television. Some don’t want to. But we can pray together for God to work. We don’t need one man to do all the praying. Cell groups must learn that the power of God moves through relationships. If someone needs God’s touch, the family is the means for that touch. In the normal ad hoc parts of life, two or three can gather in His name and minister to one another. We can do this as friends and become united.
After college, I asked God to move in the cell group I was leading. I did not know what I was doing. The group had no formal training. We just started seeking God. We grew close to people with deep needs — Don had cancer and had been hurt by the church, Sharon needed Jesus and healing from a recent divorce, and Jim struggled with sexual sin. We could not pray from a distance, with token requests and a closing prayer. We were too close and the needs were too great.
Seek God together for the impossible and watch Him work! When you start praying for deep needs of friends in the cell, your heart will break for them. You will stay up all night praying. You are no longer praying for an anonymous request or for the need of an acquaintance. You are now personally involved, and if God does not answer it affects you too. You will see miracles up close and personal and know that God is present. Your faith will grow, but even more your commitment to one another will multiply like weeds in the spring. And so will those asking you what is so different about your group.
Acts 2:42-47 tells us about the relationships in the first church: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will use this power to minister to one another, develop deeper community and keep it to yourselves.” No! He says “… and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
With great sincerity some have said: “We cannot reach out to others. We are just getting to know one another. Our group is starting to jell and become a family.”
C.T. Stud, a famous missionary to Africa, once said, “I do not wish to live ’neath sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” Does this describe your group? Is your cell group a rescue shop for your friends, family and others who are living a life of hell and are headed there for eternity?
Many groups claim to have deep relational bonds but miss the opportunity to run a rescue mission for the lost. Biblical relationships are fostered in a rescue shop. Jesus calls His disciples to lose their lives in order to gain it. Acts tells us how ordinary people took the message beyond Jerusalem to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Biblical relationships have a purpose: to rescue the captives.
One of my best friends is Quan Hoang, my first cell leader. We prayed, praised and fasted together. We ministered to our cell members and stuck together through success and failure. We reached out to seeking friends and grew our group together. We fought together in the trenches. While walking in our purpose, we created a deep friendship.
You and your group are in the middle of a war. Your cell group is an army unit. When you wage war against the enemy to rescue the captives, you build bonds with your “army buddies.” You learn to love one another in weakness, to fight together, to depend on each other. You discover the purpose of biblical friendships.
When you combine the element of being “army buddies” in the battle with the movement of the Spirit amid the group and the hospitality of family, your group will shine. People will gaze in wonder at your love for one another. Your life together will be real and much more than a weekly meeting in homes. You will have something worth their time and energy.
In the New Testament world, Aquila gave his home church much more than a house. He gave them experiences where they could encounter God and one another. Our world searches for this same kind of experience. Our call is to give it to them. There we will discover biblical relationships.
M. Scott Boren is the editor of CellChurch magazine and director of publications for TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc. He is an associate pastor at Hosanna Church in Houston, TX, and is a TOUCH conference presenter. He has just wed the most incredible woman in the world, Shawna, and looks forward to the life God has in store for them.
Building Community – The real relationships that we all want
Some families obviously love each other. You know, the kind where the dad adores the mom so much that his voice softens when she calls him at work. The kids laugh with — not at — their parents, and you know that they have spent hours of quality time together. The parents value every school function as though their children played first horn or were the star running back. The teen hugs mom (though out of sight of his peers) when going off to basketball camp.
Families with strong relationships pique outsiders’ interest. You know they are not perfect, and everyday ups and downs are not hidden behind masks. They talk, trust and walk through life together.
This same dynamic occurs in cell groups whose members have jelled into a family. Deep friendships and high trust are often sought but elusive. That’s why these groups sparkle in the face of others, attracting attention. People in other cells want to emulate them and wonder how to achieve this in their group. They see something working and ask, “What is the difference?”
That one word says it all. For a cell group to grow into a living, thriving, basic Christian community, the members have to stretch through levels of ever-deepening relationships. They have to learn to like each another. Not everyone in a cell group will be “best buddies,” but a network of meaningful relationships transforms a stagnant group into a loving and appealing family.
The journey to becoming family is bumpy and sometimes long, with a few wrong turns along the way. Just as a solid friendship does not appear out of thin air, neither does family life in a cell. It comes through the practice and commitment to a process of developing relationships with others.
This process begins with prayer. Pray specifically and steadfastly for the “friendship level” in the group to increase. Seek direction about whom God wants you to know better, and then stay alert for the answer.
For example, Sally prayed this way one night for closer relationships with other women in her cell. She was visited the next day by another mother in her cell who wanted to borrow a book on Christian child-rearing. Prior to that day, the two had talked only in cell group meetings. God answered Sally’s prayer, and quickly. Their friendship is a model for Christian mothers, and their children are best friends.
Spend time with cell members outside the cell meeting. Sit with them at the Sunday celebration service and chat afterward. Or have Sunday lunch together at a suitable restaurant. Cook ahead for Sunday brunch “mystery guests” and then invite a family, a couple or a few singles from cell when you see them Sunday.
Other meals are logical times to meet. Potluck suppers allow several families to share the cooking. Try these two fun and easy ideas: “baked potato bars” (somebody bakes the spuds and everyone else brings a favorite topping) and cooperative taco salads (everyone brings some part of the salad: tortilla chips, veggies, salsa, meat, guacamole, sour cream, etc.). Some cells rotate a weekly “supper club” so each family can play host. Singles or couples without children may enjoy a restaurant-based variation. Many men enjoy getting together with another brother for coffee and doughnuts before work. Women often share morning coffee, lunch or a shopping trip. Some young mothers look forward to “tea time” with older women in the cell. While the kids nap, the women sip tea and share what God is doing in their lives.
You can set up a connection at the cell group meeting. Tell another individual, couple or family during refreshment time that you’d like to spend time with them during the next week. Ask for their phone number and the best time to call, and then call to set up a time and place that works for both. Scheduling this way allows all concerned to check their calendars and plan accordingly.
As you get acquainted with others, you’ll discover areas of shared interests. One fellow invited several guys from his cell to join him at a shooting range for target practice. These men later arranged a hunting trip together and have since become great friends. Mothers enjoy “play dates” as much as their children do. While the children play, the women share their frustrations and joys (in addition to helpful insight). Some women delight in a weekly “quilting bee,” where they work together on a quilt or other projects as they chat about how the Lord is moving in their lives. Weightlifting, walking, gourmet cooking, gardening, building furniture or hundreds of other shared interests create excellent times to deepen relationships as you learn from, teach and help each other.
Pray about creative ways to make use of your blossoming relationship in outreach. Can your interests become the basis of a Share Group to which you invite unbelievers? Look for opportunities to minister together. Visit jails, hospitals or nursing homes. One group packs men, women and children in a van every year at Christmas to go caroling at area hospitals. Another group of college singles signs up to play cards (Rook) with elderly patients once a week. A number of friends who speak a second language often invite international students to their homes for a meal. Whatever you do together, you will learn to trust and care for one another, and your sense of community will grow.
As you pray, listen for guidance about serving your new friends and showing them Christian love. Open your home and share your possessions (swimming pool, kids’ play set, boat). Be available to help whenever needed. When one new mother arrived home from the hospital, a cell member welcomed her with the news that her cell members would bring meals for two weeks. A man emerging from his house one chilly Saturday morning to tackle yard work was surprised to find cell members raking and bagging his leaves. A single mom rejoiced when another single woman who loves children offered free babysitting one evening a week.
Some people shy away from being served. If that happens, turn the tables on them and seek their help fixing something, watching children, etc. Then you “owe them” and it’s difficult for them to refuse your help!
Healthy relationships eventually foster vulnerability. You can encourage this by asking questions that are deep but not intrusive. Ask friends what they’re praying for this week or what God is teaching them. These non-threatening questions grant the opportunity to share bottom-line issues. Offer to pray right then for any problems they confide in you. You may want to meet regularly to pray together.
Two men in a cell group have been meeting for lunch twice a month for about a year. They take turns sharing their struggles and the things they are learning about Christian life – and they pray. After several months, they trusted each other enough to drop any masks they’d been wearing. They were transparent.
Relationships like these build up Christians. Brothers and sisters are edified when they’re accountable for their actions, words and prayer life. Instead of gossiping about someone’s poor parenting, financial maladies, workaholism or dysfunctional marriage, people in Christian community come alongside to help, encourage and teach. Of course, building and feeding community sometimes means doing the uncomfortable, such as speaking the truth in love. The Lord may ask you to confront sinful patterns in people’s lives and explain that you are concerned for their walk with Him. But because of the relationship you’ve built, you will minister as you help them grow up. And someday, your friend just may return the favor.
The deeper the relationships get, the more Christian community starts to look like healthy family life. Endeavor to be a family that is there for one another in celebration and in grief. Send birthday, anniversary and graduation cards, and give small gifts (especially homemade) to make your loved ones feel special. Plan birthday parties. Get excited about new babies and weddings, and offer to host the showers. Slowly but surely, your hearts knit together.
On the other hand, when tragedy strikes, don’t hesitate to call and visit. The love you share with your cell members, like the love of a family, holds no conditions. That means you can call each other in a crisis, any time, day or night. When a husband loses his job or a teen runs away, or when cancer strikes or a flood ruins everything — that’s when the cell group community comes around, ready to provide, to pray and to stay until the crisis is over. Simply offering prayer and support may help more than you imagine.
Any parent will tell you that being a family is much more than blood relationships. True family takes conscious effort and time. Yet no loving father or mother regrets the investment in family. In fact, most wish they had spent more time with their family.
Don’t miss your God-given opportunity to invest in the family that you’ll be with for eternity. If you sow now, you will reap later. And others will look at your group and say, “Give me some of that!”
Ken Gonyer is a member of Cornerstone Church and Ministries based in Harrisonburg, VA. He has been leading and multiplying cell groups since 1992. He joined Cornerstone’s staff as Executive Secretary in 1997. He and his wife, Karen, have a 2-year-old son, David.
Sponsoring Inspires Godly Growth - Genuine love and encouragement help others mature
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” — Heb. 3:13
In life’s busyness, it’s easy to miss our daily dose of spiritual encouragement. Sponsoring a “younger” Christian, someone who is spiritually less mature than yourself, is one of the best ways to keep both yourself and your sponsee growing in Christ.
Much of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to teaching his twelve disciples. A significant portion of that time was spent with only Peter, James and John. Jesus invested Himself in those three and reaped tremendous results years later as they led the early church. As you invest in others, they will be more fruitful in the Kingdom.
Perhaps the benefits of sponsoring are obvious to you. Sponsoring increases your dependency on the Holy Spirit and strengthens your faith as you view Him at work in another. It gives you the opportunity to strengthen your weaker areas, which are exposed as you share frankly with your sponsee. The sponsoring process reproduces your life in Christ in someone else. You will see that person grow into maturity and lead others into a deeper walk with Christ.
Most new Christians long for someone to offer friendship and support to them. For that matter, don’t we all? Let your cell leader or pastor know that you feel called to sponsor someone, and then they can pray with you for discernment. If you don’t know a new Christian, they probably do and can help you find the right person. You may be older or younger than your sponsee, richer or poorer, more or less educated. But to protect yourselves in these intimate relationships, the sponsor and sponsee must be of the same gender.
Love is the core of sponsoring. You have received God’s unconditional love and so are able to extend that love to your sponsee. You will pray daily for her, weep and laugh with her, challenge her. But you will not, and must not try to, solve all her problems or answer all her questions.
You will reflect on the basics of the Christian life together, discussing such things as freedom from sin, baptism, daily time with the Lord, the Holy Spirit and evangelism. You will help connect her with the larger body of Christ and encourage her to take advantage of all the church has to offer. You will model the Christian life and prepare her to sponsor a new believer.
You also will meet with your sponsee each week, and this is one of the blessings of sponsoring. Be flexible about when and where to meet. Find a place and time that works into both of your schedules, whether it’s early in the morning, over lunch, or after kids are in bed. This is your time together, away from interruptions. Make time for it every week.
When you meet, pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and then bring each other up-to-date on what’s happening in your lives. Dig into any equipping materials you may be journeying through, and share Bible memory verses. Actively listen to your sponsee while also listening to what the Holy Spirit is speaking to you. Prayerfully wrestle with the issues your sponsee is facing. Share of God’s goodness and extend His grace to your sponsee. As she shares from her life and you interact with the equipping materials, the Holy Spirit will uncover issues that need to be addressed and give you words to encourage, comfort, challenge or teach. End your time with prayer, and plan for the coming weeks. As the sponsor, you are responsible for preparing for the next meeting, faithfully following directions given through your church or the material you’re using.
Being in touch with each other throughout the week strengthens the sponsoring relationship. How much time you spend with your sponsee apart from the weekly meeting will vary greatly, depending on how the Lord wants to use you. Will you play the part of an older sister? You may go shopping or clean house together. Does He want you to walk with your sponsee through a spouse’s painful breech of trust? You may talk on the phone for a half-hour each day, and meet for lunch once a week. As partners in evangelism, you may work out together at the gym or meet at the park with other moms of young children. Whatever the dynamics of the relationship, the Lord will be able to use you more effectively in your sponsee’s life as you make time in your weekly schedule for her.
In times of crisis, give of yourself to your sponsee. Pray for discernment about your role. Pray diligently. Most often, the Lord also wants to include others to minister to your sponsee, so avoid trying to meet every need that arises. Does your sponsee need a pastor, a mechanic, a financial consultant? Lovingly connect your sponsee to those who can most effectively minister in the situation.
One sponsee, Cheri, had been a believer for some time, but she was discontent with her lifestyle. She was ready to deal with and overcome certain habits and attitudes in her life. Sensing her spiritual openness, I asked my cell leader if I could sponsor her. We shared our spiritual pilgrimages the first two times we met, and then we started studying The New Believer’s Station. We talked and prayed about listening to the Lord, receiving and living out Christ’s freedom, following Jesus as Lord, and growing in God’s Word. I delighted in seeing the Lord work in a life open to Him! God’s Word transformed Cheri right before my eyes. She shared what God was saying to her, and we felt God’s presence with us and pleasure in us. We tasted His goodness, and I smelled the sweet aroma of Christ in Cheri.
Everything seemed to be moving along so smoothly. Then Cheri’s world came crashing in when she discovered that her husband had hidden an undelt-with sin from her for years. Her response to the situation was to question the wisdom of keeping their family intact. She found out on Wednesday. Our accountability time was Thursday. Thank God she had the courage to share her struggle with me. We cried and prayed together. Her desire was for her husband to confess his sin to the cell leader and ask for help, so she asked me to keep the information confidential. I sensed that God wanted me to keep the confidence and watch Him work, so this was a time of fasting and prayer for me. The sin was exposed, and her husband sought counseling.
Cheri had many Christian friends to support her and speak Scripture into her life. Satan tried to confuse the situation, but Cheri stood firm and obeyed God because she was confident that she had discerned His voice. She knew I (and other cell members and Christian friends) would challenge her to be faithful to her calling in Christ Jesus.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Don’t try to be the whole body. Be faithful to do your part and allow others to do theirs, and your sponsee with be built up into Christ.
Vicki Egli and her husband, Jim, lead a family cell at The Encourager Church in Houston, TX. Their four children are ages 8 to 19. Vicki is pursuing her master’s degree in Communications.
The Heart Behind Cells - Catching the true vision of the G12 structure
On a recent trip to Columbia, I met an 18-year-old student with 380 youth cells under her. Each week she attends a Group of 12 (G12) leadership cell in addition to leading her own leadership and evangelistic cells. She practices three days a week as a youth worship team dancer. She ministers in the Saturday evening youth service and teaches in the School of Leaders on Sunday morning. She’s one of the city’s best students because any student at the International Charismatic Mission whose grades fall can lose his or her cells. Her cell and worship team responsibilities require about 16 hours each week.
Thinking about my own week and about how teens in the U.S. spend their time, I asked her why she commits to all of that. She looked at me and said, “Jesus died for me.” After a brief pause she added, “And Jesus died for my people, and I love my people.”
ICM’s youth have adopted a Scripture: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1Timothy 4:12). They take to heart Paul’s words to young Timothy. In fact, much of the training and structure adopted by ICM was first tested in the youth ministry. Youth are quick to change and respond, and they realize our world is in trouble. The youth at ICM are willing to sacrifice to change it.
César Castillanos, ICM’s senior pastor, lives by God’s promise that nothing is impossible with Him (Luke 1:37). Castillanos stresses these biblical concepts: impartation, fruitfulness, character, holiness. These four principles form the basis for ICM’s explosive growth. Castillanos teaches these not just by sharing information and knowledge but by giving his life away to others. He mentors sacrificially.
Sacrificial impartation is integral to ICM’s lifelines, and it flows from the senior pastor, through the cell leaders and down to each cell member. Jesus related to His disciples, His G12, in the same way. He held “class,” certainly, but He taught chiefly by pouring His life into them for three years. They traveled, ate, slept, ministered and prayed together. They were family. The 12 learned how to pray by watching Jesus. They witnessed Jesus healing the blind and casting out demons and then did likewise.
Students (and adults, for that matter) hunger for mentoring Jesus’ way. But protecting them, keeping them safe, sharing the truth at all costs requires leaders to devote time to intentional discipleship, to “walk the talk,” and to be mighty men and women of God. That cannot be accomplished without sacrificing time and energy. Leaders have to grow up and stop hiding behind church structures that allow pastors to supervise and teach from a distance. Jesus calls leaders to impart and share our lives just as He did. Supervising, preaching and sharing information will not get the job done.
God wants each church leader to model for 12 “disciples” what it means to be holy, fruitful and multiply. When each of those 12 imparts himself to 12 others, the number of disciples reaches 144. And they multiply exponentially from there.
When Jesus called the 12, their only job was to follow Him. Jesus’ responsibility was to make them fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). Likewise, the youth are responsible for following Him. Leaders are called to teach and grow them into the full stature of Christ. The youth in my church have done their part. I see now that I haven’t been doing mine. That’s changing. I’m mentoring them to becoming fruitful and to multiply themselves unto others. Our former six-week equipping cycle was incomplete, so we’re developing one to equip them for lifelong ministry. We are planning weekend retreats for deliverance ministry and infilling of the Holy Spirit.
If we can’t impact 12 people’s lives, what makes us think we can change a city? A nation? The world? Through ICM, God is revealing certain Kingdom principles necessary for every church to be fruitful and to fulfill The Great Commission. The goal isn’t to replicate everything that ICM is doing but rather to adopt and adapt those principles so that they fit our unique situations.
I fall on my face asking God to give me “something” for my leaders that will change their lives. I pray that those “somethings” are so evident in me that the youth see them. God is answering those prayers, and challenging and growing me mightily in the process. He’s developing my character because I cannot pass on what I do not embody.
No achievement would be greater than for my wife and me together to impart our lives to students. Our disciples, or G12, should watch and live with us so closely that they want to have a marriage and raise kids just like we do. But that means our marriage and parenting must be godly and biblical. Talk about responsibility and accountability! It doesn’t scare us, but it humbles us and leads us to lean on Jesus all the more. We are determined, with His guidance, to mentor 12 students in such a way that they become world changers who raise up disciples and grow them into world changers.
These very things are happening at ICM, with these results:
ICM is seeing this growth because they live by impartation, fruitfulness, character and holiness. Attaining God’s vision requires us to set aside our own plans, to submit to His refinement process, and to be godly people whose lives are an open book so others can learn from us. The question He poses is: Are we willing to sacrifice so others may live? Are we willing to give up our time, energy and agendas so we can embrace the abundant life He promises?
Mike Osborn is youth pastor at Harvest Assembly of God in Chesapeake, VA, where 100 students are growing 16 cells. He recently visited ICM, a thriving G12 cell church that is home to 10,000 youth cells. For more information about the G12 cell model, see the Fall 1998 issue of CellChurch magazine and Joel Comiskey’s book, Home Cell Group Explosion.
Preventing Leader Derailment - How to support and enable your leadership to succeed
A growing cell church needs a constant stream of healthy leaders coming on board at various levels of the life of the church. Much of a cell church pastor’s ministry involves leadership recruitment, training and advancement. Perhaps you have recruited leaders for whom you had great hope, yet they did not fulfill their potential in God. It’s not starting well that counts, but ending well. “Leadership derailment” occurs when a leader, with the ability and opportunity to accomplish more, is removed from leadership, is demoted, or fails to succeed at the level for which he was called and gifted. Leadership derailment is painful and costly in spiritual, human and organizational terms.
Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership attempted to identify traits and behaviors associated with leaders who derail. Their studies show that successful and derailed leaders are similar in some respects. Most are visionaries, have strong technical skills, have a string of prior successes and frequently are viewed as “fast-risers” in their organizations. While every leader has both strengths and weaknesses, the research indicates several basic clusters of flaws in leaders who derail. Apart from other obvious reasons (i.e. immoral or unethical actions), three kinds of flaws are most strongly related to expected future derailment:
1. Difficulties selecting and building a team. This was seen in: (a) careless selection, cronyism, or choosing a team in one’s own image; (b) being dictatorial; (c) not resolving conflict among team members; and (d) being a poor delegator. Your zone supervisors and zone pastors must be effective team-builders.
2. Difficulties transitioning from the technical level to the strategic level. This includes: (a) folding under the pressure of the ambiguity and frustrations of higher-level leadership; (b) inability to overcome complexity, becoming mired in tactical issues or details; and (c) failing to transition from “doing” to “seeing that things get done.” For example, as a cell leader moves into the position of zone supervisor, he faces new leadership challenges. In the past, he was “hands-on” and pastoral; now he must focus on the “big picture.” His day-to-day responsibilities change dramatically. Good cell leaders often fail to transition from the highly involved and relational posture of effective cell leadership to the seemingly more “distant” task of overseeing other leaders. Although he will be pastoring these leaders, the kind of pastoring has changed. Where he used to visit a sick brother in the hospital, it’s now his responsibility to ensure that someone else does it. In his new role he not only works “in” the ministry, but also “on” the ministry. This profound change requires a new mental and emotional orientation.
3. Lack of follow-through. This reflects: (a) lack of attention to detail, which creates disorganization and unresolved problems; and (b) moving too fast, which frequently results in not finishing a task or leaving people dangling due to unmet promises. Some leaders adept at accomplishing the daily and weekly tasks of cell leadership become confused and disoriented by the different set of responsibilities he faces while advancing to new levels of leadership.
Researchers observed several areas of specific differences in personal traits and skills between successful and derailed leaders:
1. Diversity of experience. Derailed leaders have a series of prior successes but usually in similar situations. In contrast, successful leaders have more diversity in their successes. They show a breadth of perspective and interest that results in more extensive experience and first-hand encounters of different kinds of challenges. As you train cell leaders, expose them to experiences and training that may not seem immediately relevant to their primary responsibilities. You may be giving them just the diversity of experience they will need when they ultimately become zone pastors.
2. Emotional stability and composure. Leaders who eventually derail are volatile and intimidating under pressure, being more prone to moodiness, angry outbursts and erratic behavior which undermines their relationships. In contrast, successful leaders are calm, confident and predictable during crises. People know how they will react and thus are able to plan accordingly. If someone is unable to handle the stress of cell leadership, he is unlikely to succeed as a zone supervisor. Closely watch your leaders to see how well they respond to stress and ambiguity, and this will ensure you do not promote them beyond their emotional capacity to succeed.
3. Handling mistakes. Leaders who derail are more likely to be defensive about failure, try to hide it while they fix it, or blame it on others. Successful leaders overwhelmingly handle failure with poise and grace. They admit mistakes, accept responsibility, and act to fix the problem. Then they do not dwell on the failure but turn their attention elsewhere. This ability to “make mistakes well” is a critical leadership competence; mark those who have it!
4. Interpersonal skills. The most frequent cause for derailment is insensitivity to others. This is reflected in: (a) over-ambition that alienates others or that causes worry about getting promoted over fulfilling current responsibilities; (b) independence, i.e. being a know-it-all or isolating oneself from others; and (c) abrasiveness that results in bullying, insensitivity or lack of caring. These flaws might be tolerated at lower levels of leadership, especially when the individual has strong technical skills, but not at higher levels. In contrast, successful leaders understand and get along with all types of people, and they develop a larger network of cooperative relationships. When they disagree, they are direct but diplomatic, whereas the derailed leaders are more likely to be outspoken and offensive.
5. Integrity. Many derailed leaders are ambitious about their advancement at others’ expense. They are less dependable and more likely to betray a trust or break a promise. In contrast, successful leaders have strong integrity. They focus more on immediate tasks and needs of those they serve than on competing with rivals or impressing those above them. Integrity is not an option for leadership in a cell church. Leadership is integrity. Without integrity, a leader loses credibility with his followers and, even worse, with God!
6. Technical and cognitive skills. For most of the leaders who derail, their comparative technical superiority is a source of success at lower levels of leadership. However, this strength can become a weakness at higher levels if it leads to overconfidence and arrogance that causes the person to reject sound advice, offend people by acting superior, or over-manage others of equal or greater expertise. Some have technical skills in only a narrow area, and they advance too quickly to learn skills needed for effective leadership at a higher level. Successful leaders more likely have experience in a variety of functions and situations where they acquire broader perspective and expertise in handling problems. Successful leaders shift from a focus on technical problems to the broader and more strategic perspective needed at higher levels of responsibility. A highly successful cell leader does not necessarily make a good zone supervisor. Higher levels of leadership require different kinds of leadership skills, not just more developed ones.
The senior pastor must help advancing leaders develop the necessary skills or ensure they are not promoted beyond their calling and ability.
1. Learn how to build prayer mechanisms into churches. Pastors support leaders with sufficient budgets and technological resources, training and administrative staff. But many neglect prayer support. It is becoming widespread for pastors to have their own prayer teams. Why shouldn’t leaders at every level have deliberate and systematic prayer support?
2. Enable balance in leaders’ lives. Pastors send leaders to seminars that promote a balance between the spiritual, personal, family and recreational dimensions of their lives, but church structures and goals often prohibit them from achieving that balance.
3. Enable integrity in leader’s lives. Again, pastors preach integrity to leaders but then may ask them to “bend the rules just a little.” If pastors believe that leadership is character, their organizational purposes and processes must mirror this belief by making it possible for leaders to succeed with integrity.
4. Since ultimately-successful leaders have more diverse experiences, deliberately expose leaders to varied leadership challenges early in their ministries before the stakes get too high.
5. Church life is the leader’s classroom, and pastors need to intentionally develop the proper learning environment. Through feedback, formal training and coursework, coaching or mentoring, enable leaders to continuously learn and grow. They especially need help when making critical mental transitions to higher levels of leadership. Leaders not only need on-going training, but they also need on-going pastoring.
6. Help leaders take their flaws seriously. No one leader has it all, so leaders must know their strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, they need people around them — spouses, friends, instructors and mentors — who will tell them the truth.
7. Choose the right leaders in the first place. People should not be promoted beyond their true calling and ability. Refusing to put someone in a leadership position is a lot less painful than removing him or her when a pastor realizes that a mistake had been made.
8. Ensure that leaders know whom they ultimately serve. “It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:24, NIV). Your leaders’ goal is not respect, ministry advancement, wall plaques, or any other success measured in human terms. Their goal is to hear His words on the Last Day: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant … enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21, KJV).
Malcolm Webber is senior pastor of Living Faith Fellowship in Elkhart, IN, and author of several books. The Australia native is married with six children and is pursuing a Ph.D. at the Center for Leadership Studies. His monthly leadership letter is available at email@example.com, his books at www.pioneerbooks.com.
Receiving the Servants’ Blessing - Jesus cleanses us so we can, in turn, serve others.
Thirteen men lounged around a table, ready to eat a feast. Then one stood, removed His outer clothing and wrapped a towel around His waist. While the other twelve mumbled conversation between bites, He walked to a corner of the room and filled a basin with water. He first wiped James’ feet. Matthew was next and squirmed like a 5-year-old. The next three sat in silence. Peter broke the stillness. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? … No, you shall never wash my feet.”
I sit in awe and wonder over this story in John 13. Awe at the humiliation of Jesus washing filthy feet. Wonder because I don’t get it. Then I read the punch line: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Jesus commanded us to wash one another’s feet. Yet, below the surface, this command lacks meaning. Do we institute a church ritual of foot washing? But I don’t wear sandals. I walk little. Sidewalks and carpet protect me from sand and dirt. My feet are nothing like those of Peter or John.
According to Jesus’ words, we miss everything about following Him (and everything about cell life) if we fail with the basin and the towel. But His meaning encompasses so much more than cleansing someone’s feet with a wet cloth. Jesus calls us to practice the art of doing things considered “below us” for others. We must put away selfishness, get on our knees before our cell members and serve them. Along the way, we discover that true leadership means doing things traditionally unbecoming to leaders and relegated to servants.
This is what Jesus did. In John 12, the crowds hailed Him as the King: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They finally realized that Jesus was the King sent to save the Jewish people. Peter agreed, so Peter could not let Jesus wash his feet. Kings don’t wash people’s feet. Kings lead; they don’t serve. Peter could not allow Jesus to serve him. Yet Jesus turned Peter on his head: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Peter returned, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.” Jesus instead wanted Peter to hear, “Let me serve you and clean the dirty part, and quit telling me how to be king.”
Jesus set the bar high. He saw (maybe smelled) a need for cleansing among His twelve, who sat too blind and selfish to address it. So He served and did not wait for someone else to do it. Then He said, “No servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16).
Back to the punch line: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Much of the church knows this command and others like it. “Serve one another.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Consider others better than yourselves.” So why don’t we live them out? Why don’t I serve my cell members to the point of washing their feet? Why aren’t we willing to give up our lives for one another?
Jesus tells us: “Now that you know these things …” The disciples knew “these things” because Jesus had touched them; He got close and washed their feet. Jesus saw the dirt and the pain that they did not want to see, and He cleansed it. Jesus did not command the twelve to do something they had never experienced.
According to Jesus’ words, we do not wash others’ feet because we have not let Jesus wash ours first. We act strong like Peter and tell Him not to touch us. But the truth is that we just don’t want Jesus or anyone else to see our dirt. We are used to carting it around. We accept it. We might even like it. We don’t want Him to wash us because we’re not sure what lies beneath the filth.
Jesus is pleading: “Let me wash you. Let me serve you. Parts of your life weigh you down and bind you. You drag your feet; I want to see you run and play. You can’t see others’ needs until you let me love you and touch the tender parts of your heart. Let me wash away hurts, offenses, anger, hidden loneliness that you pick up as you walk through this dirty world.”
Jesus has washed my feet many times. Still, selfishness comes over me like a slow, quiet cold front. I don’t realize my spiritual barometer is dropping until I wake up one morning with a cold, hard attitude. I recognize then that my feet are dirty again, that I need Jesus: to talk with Him about my day, my pain, my joys. I must tune my ear to His words of love and acceptance. I must submit and allow the lover of my soul to wash me again. Until He cleanses me anew, nothing I do will effect others’ lives with power.
The October floods in Texas turned the apartment of cell members Larry and Sara into a marsh. Adding to their despair was the apartment management’s refusal to fix the problem. Jerry, their cell leader, found out about the situation and promptly grabbed a basin and a towel. He and his wife invited the couple and their child to move in with them. Jerry took the initiative to help vacuum out the water and clean the home. Through his negotiations with the apartment manager, the mess was cleaned.
Most of us would love to have the freedom to serve. Yet, servanthood cannot be taught. Servants become free to serve by first being served. They know the Servant. They know His words, His touch. Servants know that He fills their heart. Out of this overflow comes service. Out of this experience with the Servant, servants “know these things and are blessed because they do them.”
Do you want the blessing of serving? Why are you waiting? He longs to cleanse you.
Niles Scott is a freelance writer and a staff pastor at a church transitioning to cells in Houston, TX.
End of Issue.
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