A few years ago, I listened to Bill Beckham share the key ingredient for a good cell meeting. Bill first explained what would not work. If the center of our cell was worship, prayer, support, evangelism, recovery, ministry or even Bible study, he said, we would miss the point of being together.
Then Bill shared that Christ is the center of the cell. He is the focus of cell life. “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).
“But what do I do?” I asked. “Give me something I can use. I need steps. How do I make Jesus show up?” Bill simply said, “He promises that He will be there. Christ is in the midst of those who meet in His name.”
For months I did not understand. I tried prayer, worship, extended ministry and Bible discussion. My cell meetings weren’t bad; they just lacked something. Then during one meeting, I saw something going on beneath the surface. People were sharing. A non-Christian asked questions, and I did not have to give all the answers. The whole group ministered, and each had something to contribute. I thought, “This is what Bill meant. This is Christ in our midst.”
Since then, I have learned some practical steps for leading groups. I don’t worry about the meeting agenda. I no longer struggle with leading people into prayer, and discussion flows into ministry without force. Still, I often get hit right between the eyes with Jesus’ words, “I’m here. Don’t forget me.” All the small group leadership skills in the world cannot replace the power of Christ in our midst.
I once visited a cell and thought, “That is not the best way to do an icebreaker.” “Why is he doing worship that way? I would do it differently.” “He should ask that question differently.” Even as I critiqued the meeting, I sensed something drawing people out. They were drawn to the Christ who dwelled in their midst, not to the techniques of the cell leader. The cell members openly shared their joys and struggles. They prayed for one another as though they really cared. After the meeting, no one was in a hurry to go home. That night, the cell leader led people to the cell leader, Jesus. That cell group worked. As a result, three people were saved in Christ’s ministry through them.
Jesus is your cell leader. His presence made all the difference 2,000 years ago. He offended many with His claim to be the Son of God. He offended even more by dying as the Son of God. His actions did not make sense. People wanted to know how to be religious, and He said, “Follow me.” Today, we want to learn how to lead and how to care for people better, and He says the same thing: “Follow me.” He wants to give you much more than a technique for ministry. He wants to give Himself to your group. Yet, sometimes this makes as much sense as it did 2,000 years ago.
As you read about facilitating a meeting, you will discover practical ways to lead better meetings. These steps are like rungs on a ladder. Using this advice can take your group to new places. But the rungs will take you nowhere without the sidebars that lead the rungs upward: Jesus. Tips for leading a good meeting make a good pile of wood without the presence of Jesus to take you to new heights.
When Jesus is the ladder, you can lead your group without worry because He directs you upward. The leadership load suddenly lifts off your back. The Lord will often whisper to you, “Let Me lead them into My presence.” You don’t have to assemble the ladder or wonder what to do with the pile of rungs. Cell meetings don’t work because you do everything correctly. They work because He is present and He ministers to His people.
Crank Up the Contrast! - Unbelievers won’t change if they can’t see a difference in you
A couple of years ago, my cell group celebrated Communion as we did on a bi-monthly basis. It was usually a very meaningful time, but this evening was particularly awesome. The Holy Spirit showed up in a special way and we wept, confessed sin and communed with the Lord. Every member of the cell was present that night, along with one visitor, an unchurched Christian friend.
On the way home, our friend commented, “Tonight I saw how you all worshiped God and the relationship you have with Him. I thought I knew God, but now I know that I don’t have the kind of relationship with God that you guys do. That’s why I just passed the bread and the cup to the next person when it came my way.”
What our friend saw plainly that night was contrast. She had surrendered her life at the altar in a Baptist church but had never learned to walk out her salvation. In time spent with my wife and me, she saw that we aim to live out God’s convictions as new creatures in Christ. Her ideas about a relationship with God and our reality were very different. She grasped this by watching us worship and hearing us testify from our hearts of God’s love.
As I think back on that experience, I realize I have developed a bad habit of turning down the contrast in my relationships with non-Christians. My conversations with Christians are completely different from those I have with unbelievers. When I talk with my cell buddies, I say things like “God is really stretching me” or “I heard from the Lord this week concerning the way I’m to serve others.” But when talking with an unbeliever, I avoid these topics or restate them in words I think won’t be foreign to them. I justify this by telling myself that I was making them comfortable with our relationship. The problem is that I make it entirely too comfortable for them, and I’m ignoring my Savior’s directive to take the Gospel to all people. He didn’t say anything about the comfort levels of those involved!
Now I understand something new about being a witness. If I share with my pre-Christian friends the same exciting things I share with a friend who knows Jesus, they will see contrast between their beliefs and mine. Oh, sure, they may look at me like the RCA dog cocking his head at the Victrola, but that’s OK! As a Christian, I should look different to a lost world.
Some “Christianese” words are as foreign to my unbelieving friends as Greek is to me. That’s why I don’t use words like “sanctification,” “redemption” or “salvation” when I talk with them. Rather, I use words they understand and concepts that explain my relationship to God through Christ’s work on the cross.
For instance, I might say that I can hear God’s voice and He can hear mine because I established a “phone connection” with Him awhile back. Without it, I can’t hear Him and how much He loves me. The more we talk, the clearer that connection becomes. I could tell them that this connection opened with a simple prayer and by taking God’s ideas for my life instead of my own. This decision has changed my whole life and now I have a best friend, a counselor and a purpose in life.
Get the point? If you’re being bold with your friends and they aren’t accepting Jesus into their hearts, you might want to look at the subjects you talk about, how you share those thoughts and the best time to do it.
Here is a way to build contrast with your lost friends, retain a strong relationship and help them understand that who you are in Christ isn’t exclusive:
1) Think of the last “praise report” you shared with a Christian friend and share it with at least one unbeliever you know, using the same words (except the “foreign” ones). Ask whether God has ever answered one of their pleas for a miracle or for an answer to a tough question. Listen carefully to the reply and you’ll hear how to pray for them. Their response will help you determine whether they are ready to hear the Gospel and be challenged to make a decision for Jesus.
2) Covenant with the Lord to pray for your lost friends every day, and tell them that you’re doing it. Ask whether they want prayer for a particular issue or concern. Ask the Master to reveal the answer or a special word of encouragement to you. When you get it, share it. Your friend will be floored! When you demonstrate selflessness by praying for someone with no expectations and you keep at it and report back, you show them contrast the size of a big-screen TV! These non-Christians begin to consider you their “personal priest” to whom they bring prayer requests. This reveals a few important things: that they now believe in your God; that your “connection” is op-erating; that He answers your prayers; and that his or her fear factor about approaching God is diminishing.
3) Turn up the contrast knob another notch by telling them that you want to pray with them right now about a concern. You’re bound to get one of three responses:
a) “Sure, go ahead.” Put your hand on his or her shoulder and pray (a touch is impacting as long as it’s not suggestive). Tell God in your prayer that the person will give Him ALL the glory when the prayer is answered, and remind your friend to call you when the prayer is answered.
b) “I’ve never done that before.” Say that you’re new at it too, but you both know it works. They don’t have to close their eyes or pray out loud. All they have to do is to stand there while you pray. Then pray the same prayer as above.
c) “No, I’m not comfortable with that.” Tell these folks that you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable, but remind them that they have seen how much God loves them. Tell them you will pray about it the same day, and that you are asking God to give them a desire to learn more.
You might be thinking, “Gee, this guy is in full-time ministry and does this sort of thing all the time. He’s not afraid of anything, and he probably has the gift of evangelism!” Not so. I’m a regular guy who didn’t go to seminary and who hates rejection as much as you do. And God commands us ALL to be salt and light and to be a witness!
So dismiss the idea that this doesn’t fit you and that it’s somebody else’s job. The Great Commission is every Christian’s goal in life. Let me illustrate. When I say the word “Porsche,” you probably think of words like “fast,” “good-looking” and “expensive to maintain.” You’re right! These cars are exported to America where they idle in rush-hour traffic in horrible heat. A Porsche is designed to be driven very fast on good roads in a cool climate. Any other use creates overheating, unusual wear and high maintenance.
Am I describing your life? That’s what happens to us, too, when we don’t do what we were designed to do. God created you and me to share with others how much He loves us. If you intentionally build contrast with your friends and family, they will ask questions and give you the opportunity — and privilege — of sharing how to establish a connection to God. You will be doing what you were made to do. God will replace your stress and lackluster results with a newfound excitement for life, because you will be successful in your main purpose in life.
The Body of Christ: Jesus is the Real Cell Leader
Have you seen a TV program or movie that shows a lineup through a one-way mirror? Now imagine that you, as a cell leader, are watching a lineup of your cell group in such a manner. There they are: eight or 10 people, all with different needs and strengths. You have met with them long enough to know which ones are emotionally healthy and who is spiritually strong.
Look again. What (not whom) are you viewing? These dear ones are literally the body of Jesus Christ! 1 Corinthians 12 tells us they are all body parts. The Holy Spirit selected them (v. 13) and joined them together as hands, legs and even “inward parts.”
Of course, you know which one overtalks and which one arrives late most of the time. But do you know this about them — every single one has the same degree of righteousness! Paul explains in Romans 3:22 that Christ is our only source of righteousness. When He indwells our lives, we receive all the righteousness we will ever have for all eternity.
I once sat in a Bible study led by Jackie Pullinger in the Old Walled City in Hong Kong. Those attending were former cutthroats and vagabonds who had recently accepted Jesus into their lives. While they were clean on the inside, their body odor revealed that they needed to bathe. Regardless, one of the seediest members of the group shared a profound insight with the others. A pastor friend looked over at me in disgust. He later asked Jackie, “Why in the world did you let that smelly bum share that spiritual insight?” Jackie scolded him: “Do you think because you went to seminary you have any more righteousness in you than he has in him? He has exactly as much righteousness right now as he will ever have, and if Christ wants to speak through him, that man has every right to be a channel for our Lord!”
Take another look at your cell group. Recognize they are a “basic Christian community,” a fancy way of explaining they are joined to become the very body of Christ. His glorious Spirit lives and moves in them.
Sense the dynamics that take place as the icebreaker moves into worship and then into edification. Feel again the burden that arises as you share the vision and pray for unbelievers on your “Blessing List.” Renew your awareness about Christ leading this group. You are only the facilitator!
1 Corinthians 14 speaks of the duties that each one is to perform (vs. 26). The term for “each one” in the Greek is hekastos, a word that depicts every person participating. In a cell group, there are not to be any “shy Janes” who passively observe the others. We are all expected to function as body members.
Body parts do not function independently. They are all directed by one source. The head of the body directs the hands, the eyes, the legs. None of these parts acts independently. There must be a central control, Jesus Christ, who induces the body to perform His ministry through them.
When Jesus lived on the earth, His Spirit occupied a body immaculately conceived. His life demonstrated the presence of God. He healed, He raised the dead, He cleansed the leper, He forgave the harlot. However, He could be at only one place at one time. His ministry was limited by His human body.
After Jesus arose from the dead, God gave Him a new body — one that exists all over the world, all the time. His new body provides the hands, feet and presence that penetrates all cultures everywhere. That new body is the cell group, the “basic Christian community.”
Paul wrote in Colossians 1:26-27 of a great “mystery” that had been hidden for generations. He said, “I share this mystery: Christ dwells in you!” Think of what that means to your cell group: Every person in the cell has Christ living in him or her. He wants to cause the cell to function as His body, even as the body provided by the Father and Mary, His mother, gave Him opportunity to perform supernatural acts.
The life force of a cell is Christ empowering it — Christ is in the midst, incarnating, indwelling it. He is the catalyst directing your cell how to grow and what to do. Christ must lead the cell. You are to serve the cell, but Christ must lead the cell. Beware of thinking too highly of yourself. You are a servant who facilitates the group so they can experience the life of Christ flowing into them for healing and restoration. Your cell members must also sense His presence guiding them into ministry to the unreached people around them.
I have often told cell leaders that they are not the group’s “teacher.” Nor is the assignment to be the primary caregiver and to solve every person’s problems. Rather, their job is to create an environment where the presence of Christ is known, and where His life operates in the body members.
Here’s a suggestion: Instead of trying to control the group during your next Edification Time, usher in the topic with a very brief review of the scriptural teaching presented by the pastor. Imagine as you speak that you are rolling a ball of introduction into the center of the circle. Then be quiet! Let the Holy Spirit guide what happens next.
I learned years ago to briefly introduce the topic to the group and then stare at the toe of my shoe. By doing so, I was indicated that I would no longer control what happens. After a period of silence, someone invariably speaks. He or she probably addresses me as they do so, but I deliberately do not establish eye contact. The group realizes that I have released them and will not guide the discussion. In that freedom, the body members begin to listen for the voice of the Head, Jesus, instead of the voice of the facilitator. What happens next can be awesome!
The experienced cell leader is sensitive to the activity of the Holy Spirit as Christ guides the group. The leader knows that His activity is taking place when these things occur:
1. Meditation. The group thoughtfully considers the direction in which the Spirit is guiding the edification time. They know that a cell meeting frequently focuses on one or two members, becoming specific in ministry to them. I have seen this scores of times. As a cell leader, I think, “Lord, I see that we are meeting tonight particularly because You want us to minister to Audrey as she agonizes over her recent divorce.”
2. Transparency. Usually the edification time begins with general statements by a few of the members. Others may still be thinking. I am sensitive to who is not speaking. At an appropriate time, I may say with a smile to a silent member, “And now — a word from Mary!” I try to help every (hekastos) person in the group to share. By the time one-third of the edification time transpires, I as the cell leader want to be sure each person has participated.
3. Confession. Learn to read body postures by observing the group. If a hand or hands cover all or part of a face, that may be a sign the person is approaching confession. Crossed arms and legs may denote withdrawal or discomfort with the discussion. When a cell member shares deeply and perhaps makes an honest confession, the dynamic of the session takes a new direction. Christ has spoken in a special way to this person.
4. Compassion. As the cell leader, I must now reinforce the group by confirming the person who is sharing deeply. Voice tone and repeating what has been shared is important: “Jim, I hear you saying that you have never been able to forgive your father for the cruel way he has treated you. Some of us have been there. We understand!”
5. Edification. No issue is so deep that Christ cannot bring victory. When the group senses the activity of the Lord in one or more hearts, a time of silence is helpful so the members can reflect and hear what the Lord is saying. Remember that edification means that I hear your need, and then I hear Christ’s voice, and then I share what He has given to me so you may be built up. Pausing to listen to Him in the edification time is very important!
6. Accountability. Once the cell hears the clear words of the Spirit flowing through the sharing time, the cell leader needs to bring the issue to a conclusion. “Let’s go around the group and share what each one of us has learned from this session. Perhaps some of us would like the group to know where we can focus our prayer about where we go from here.” I recall one man saying, “Pray that when I pass by a newsstand in a strange city I will not be tempted to buy pornography.”
7. Joy. Many years ago, our cell was called to an emergency meeting by one of the members. With tears, the person confessed, “I have sinned against my Lord and against our life together as the Body of Christ.” After the sharing, we promised to create a 24-hour prayer chain while this person travelled to a distant city where previous immorality had taken place. Many faxes and phone calls were sent by the cell to support this person. Just before our member flew back, we got a call: “I have found total victory from my sin while I have been here!” The cell greeted the member at the airport with a banner that read, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” We all rejoiced because one of the body members had been triumphant! When a cell finds joy at the conclusion of their lives together, Christ is in the midst in a special way.
The more time you as the cell leader spend in the “Listening Room” interceding for your cell members, the greater will be the awareness of Him when you meet with your group. As the cell gathered, I frequently sat with a deep sense of awe that we were about to assemble the hands, legs and other body parts of Christ, and that He would be revealing Himself in a special way that cannot be experienced by those who are not bonded into His glorious community. Intercessory prayer for one another is the secret of tapping into His presence.
Once a cell discovers the active work of Jesus within them, the cell is never the same. It moves to a new dimension that shakes all their value systems. But that is not enough! It is evident from reading the four gospels that Jesus was ceaselessly active in reaching out to the lost. Indeed, He said He had come “to seek and to save those who are lost!” How, then, can a cell group possibly think they are pleasing to the Lord if they are not targeting a group of unbelievers and using their cell as a witness to draw others to Him?
1 Corinthians 14:24-25 makes it clear that the greatest tool of evangelism a cell group possesses is their meeting together with observers who are “unbelievers or ungifted ones.” When Christ’s presence is powerfully manifested in a special way in a cell meeting, unbelievers are awed by His evident presence and exclaim, “Wow! I have watched a lot of hocus pocus on religious TV, but in this room I really have met Christ. He is certainly among you!” And, says Paul, they will fall on their faces and be saved.
The full evidence that Christ is in your midst takes place when the unbeliever is also in your midst and finds Him in you!
Top 10 Ways to Facilitate So Your Group Can Participate!
Nathan Tate was a cell leader in a quandary. He had great quiet time — sometimes during his cell meeting! Other weeks, the talkative folks in the room would dominate the discussion. Some people would appear distracted and unable to focus during the sharing time. Nate was frustrated, and the group’s gatherings would end on a hollow note. How could Nate facilitate the group so all the members would participate and get their needs met?
Nate realized that he needed to take a step back and make long-range plans and goals for the group. His facilitation strategy, like that of many small-group leaders, was “ready, shoot, aim.” But people need to know the target before they can effectively work toward it. They need a reason for being together and a sense that their group is striving for something, not just existing. People come to a group with different expectations. Without stated goals from the beginning, conflicts invariably arise. Those conflicts can eventually lead to the group’s disintegration. A group with no plan is like Jesus’ story about a blind man leading another blind man — into a pit (Matt. 15:14)!
To avoid the pits, pray for God’s guidance in determining your goals. Observe the people in your group. Ask them questions about their expectations, interests and needs. Formulate some specific goals, and then suggest them during a meeting. Encourage the group to discuss the goals and share any others they feel are important. Give them the opportunity to take “ownership” of the group’s goals.
Nate started paying attention to the physical environment of the meeting after reading this quote by poet Stephen Spender: “There is always a tendency of the body to sabotage the attention of the mind by providing some distraction.” Some of Nate’s cell group members could not focus on spiritual matters because of an uncomfortable atmosphere.
Keep these in mind when setting up your meeting space:
Circle up, so everyone can see the face of every other person in the group. A circle helps everyone participate equally.
Check the thermostat. Just a few people in a room increase the temperature. One expert advises that 67 degrees is an ideal temperature for groups.
Sniff around. We get accustomed to the smells in our homes, but visitors sense them immediately. Pets, things children spill in odd places, heavy perfumes, the evening dinner, even room deodorizers can irritate noses. Try lighting a few candles or simmering potpourri in the house. Research shows, for instance, that peppermint helps keep people alert.
Make your meeting tasteful. Straight-from-the-oven brownies, fresh popcorn or a beautifully arranged tray of fruit encourage group interaction. They also signal people that you planned ahead and want them there. Be creative and remember to provide for weight-watchers, diabetics and others with medical or personal needs.
Find the right room size. A cell meeting may feel intimidating in a huge room, but a group of 12 adults may feel claustrophobic in a tiny room.
Let your light shine, but not too brightly. Low lamplights are better than bright florescent or overhead lighting. The room should be bright enough for everyone to read, but low enough to feel cozy.
Don’t allow couples to share materials or Bibles. One of them will be less involved in the discussion.
Guard against distractions. Turn off telephone ringers and mute the volume on answering machines. Put pets in another room or outside. Turn off TV sets, radios and computers during a meeting.
The Spirit is the real teacher and leader. Nate began to notice how Jesus stayed open to His Father’s moving. In John 5:17, Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Later He said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (v. 19). If Jesus ad-mitted that He could do nothing Himself, why should we think we can?
People participate more when they feel like “one of the gang.” A cell isn’t just a once-a-week meeting. It’s a lifestyle! The early church met together “every day” (Acts 2:46), encouraging each other, caring for each other, instructing one another, etc. Nate looked for creative ways for members to “meet together”: using the phone and the Internet, doing everyday things (like shopping) together, playing or watching sports, whatever worked.
The best facilitator actively listens more than speaks. The more Nate followed the tips below to improve his listening skills, the better he was able to facilitate the group.
Be quiet. This should be obvious, but it often is the biggest obstruction to listening. The leader should be part of a discussion without monopolizing it.
Try to understand. The goal of listening is to understand what the person is really saying.
Empathize. Interject short statements to show you are listening, understand and accept what the person is saying. “That sounds exciting!” or “That must have been a hard decision to make” are examples of how to show empathy. Also pay attention to your facial expressions.
Don’t judge. Especially when someone is already hurting, a judgmental attitude can do more harm than good. Don’t condone sin, of course, but recognize the difference between accepting the person and what is being said and showing approval of the sin.
Avoid advising. People usually do not want nor need you to solve their problem. They just need someone to listen.
Verify and clarify. If you’re not sure that you understand what someone is saying, speak up. “Here’s what I hear you saying. Am I right?” is one clarifier.
Listen for what is not said. Try to hear the meaning behind the words. Watch body language and listen to tone of voice. Sometimes what a person is saying is lost behind a clutter of words.
Affirm. “Thanks for sharing that. I’m sure it isn’t easy to talk about right now.” This builds acceptance for talking about difficult things and makes it easier for someone else to share.
The leader must take the lead (amazing insight, isn’t it?). Little by little, Nate opened up and became increasingly transparent. He prayed for discernment, discussed it with his intern, and prayed that the group would be ready go to the next level of transparency.
The leader who models vulnerability and openness with the group draws out the members. Nate found that people start wanting intimacy when they need it, when they have a deep hurt or serious need in their own lives. If trust has been built, intimacy happens naturally.
Unconditional love for participants (and even “nonparticipants”) goes a long way. It’s easy to love lovable people, but our high calling is to love the people who are tough to love, too. Nate learned the truth about this: that we can do this only as we accept and live in the love God has for us. “We love because God first loved us”
(1 John 4:19). The most important thing a cell leader can do is intentionally walk with God every day, experiencing the fullness of God’s love so that it might be poured out to those we lead.
Have fun as a group before, during and after the meeting, and your cell will open up like you never imagined.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine” for your group (Proverbs 17:22). When people laugh together, they usually share more openly together, too.
Laughter breaks down the walls we build around ourselves. It helps people burdened with life’s demands to release pent-up emotions in a positive way. A good belly laugh just feels good, especially when you can forget about yourself and your troubles for a while.
Nate used history-sharing icebreakers to get the group laughing together. He asked everyone to bring a photo of himself or herself in elementary or high school. Out-of-date clothing and hairstyles were enough to get them laughing, and stories about their childhood or teen years kept them chuckling. He asked members to share the funniest thing that had ever happened to them. Other times, he asked couples what humorous things happened when they were dating. He also could have used a video or audio clip from a recording of a Christian comedian on the subject of the study.
Don’t get these confused. Jesus taught the crowds, but He discipled Peter, John, James and others individually, often taking one or two or three away separately to talk with them. Spend time with individuals from the group, and not just the intern. Nate found that writing notes of encouragement to members, or making a phone call when he noticed a member needing ministry, helped during the group’s time together.
Lovingly discipline as necessary.
Everyone has a gift, a passion, a personality and a role in the group. The group’s thumbprint is dependent on each person’s unique gift. A spiritual gift inventory may work for some groups. Nate got the group involved in ministry with one another — all kinds of ministry, both inside and outside the group. During meetings, he asked the group to share with one another what gifts they saw in others. These were some of the best cell meetings in which Nate had ever been involved. This discussion took place:
Rob: “You know, Cindy, you have the gift of mercy.”
Cindy: “Me? You’ve got to be kidding.”
Rob: “Yeah, you! When I went through my job loss, you were the one who came to me and hugged me and cared for me and my family.”
Kate: “That’s right, Cindy. When I was sick you came to visit me and brought me chicken noodle soup, and prayed with me.”
Craig: “And when I went through my divorce, you accepted me and loved me and listened to me.”
Cindy: “Really? I didn’t think of that as a gift. That’s just a part of who I am!”
As each person discovered his or her gift, passion and personality, and how he or she could play an important role in the group, Nate’s job of facilitating became easier and more effective. As he modeled these Top 10 ways to help the group participate, each member recognized that he or she is an integral member of the Body of Christ and began behaving accordingly, inside and outside the meeting. You can follow Nate’s lead and turn the “quiet times” of your cell meetings into an experience of life and mutual love. Watch out! People will begin to minister, and you won’t be able to stop them.
Michael Mack founded and operates The Small Group Network at www.smallgroups.com. He and his wife, Heidi, have been married for nine years and have four children ages 6 and under.
Discovering Joy in Ministry - The “stop, look and listen” of effective cell leadership
As a child growing up near a busy street, one of the first lessons I learned was to “stop, look both ways and listen carefully” before crossing. My teachers and parents drilled this into me for my own safety, so that I would enjoy a long, fruitful life. Even as an adult, I have repeated these watch-verbs many times as I’ve waited to cross busy city streets.
In my experience of facilitating cells and training cell leaders as a cell church pastor, I have discovered some “stop, look and listens” which have helped me successfully navigate the ever-changing currents of cell life.
Stop expecting that if you have a “how-to” formula, you will somehow hit on the right mix that will make you super-cell-leader. There are no quick-fixes or 10 easy steps. Even though this article appears at first glance to give you a formula, I want you to understand: these are principles of cell life. Cells are diverse. No one method will work for every cell. I exhort you to function on principles rather than on methods. Only as you stop when tempted to depend upon a method are you free to depend upon the Holy Spirit. Once you have stopped, considered and made the decision to follow God’s leading and not a formula, you will be well on your way to the next “stop.”
Stop running! Slow down! The Lord probably has tried to get your attention on this one for awhile, to turn you to a lifestyle of quietness and prayer. Mary and Martha are two cell leader types. I have been both types. If you need any more instruction here, spend some quiet time with Luke 10:38-42 and see why Mary was affirmed by Jesus and Martha was admonished.
You cannot whisk into the house, grab your agenda, stuff it into your Bible, fly off to your meeting and expect fruitful ministry. Winging it as a cell leader works on occasion because God is merciful and loves His people (we’ve all been there), but sooner or later you will have to deal with the guilt of short-changing your people, not to mention your own relationship with the Lord. You will also notice that your group grows stale. Take the necessary time to prayerfully go over the agenda and lift each cell member to the Lord. This requires that you purposefully set aside some time with the agenda in prayer.
Look both ways. That’s what my mom and my teacher taught me. It is no different as a cell leader. First, we must look at Jesus, refocusing on Christ constantly. It’s so easy to be distracted and to get our eyes off Him. When we do, we start measuring ourselves and wonder why we’re even trying to be cell leaders. Or we start looking at how people fall short of our expectation. We look at the wrong things when we stop looking at Jesus. So the Scripture says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus.” We’re told that by keeping Him in sharp, single focus, we will not lose heart.
The second way we must look is to see people through Christ’s eyes. When I view people as they are, I am always disappointed. If I look long enough, I begin to see the need for the Apostle Paul to tell us to “live then as children of light” (Eph. 5:8-
10). There is both light and shade about believers. All believers are in process along a “light” continuum. Once we accept the Gospel of Christ into our lives, we are transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Nonetheless, we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds. So, in a sense, we move from shade into light in that renewing process of sanctification.
As every cell leader knows, however, at times there seems to be more shade than light. Recently, I came across this quote by an artist, John Constable, who works with light and shade on a daily basis: “Let the form of an object be what it may — light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.” Perspective indeed makes people beautiful. Jesus has taught me to see people the way He does. For me, this means a shift in perspective. I overlook the shade and focus on the light, focus on what they can be IN SPITE OF the shade.
I used to be so concerned about people’s shortcomings that I overlooked the great things God was doing in their lives. The Apostle Paul said that we no longer look at people “from a worldly point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16-17). Rather, we are to look at people through the eyes of Jesus, as new creations. We should always see them through “rose-colored glasses” — not wishfully, but through glasses stained with the blood of Jesus, remembering that a price was paid for them as well as for you. I ask myself, “How does Jesus see _______? What does she or he look like to Him? How might Jesus want me to help remove the obstacles from this precious one’s path?” We don’t make believe there is no shade, but we let the shade enhance the light, always drawing people to their best in Christ. Once we begin to see people from God’s vantage-point, we can help them to become the masterpieces they were really meant to be.
I was taught to listen carefully at the crosswalk, because I was too small to see around a car or obstacle. I needed to listen as well as look for traffic.
As cell leaders, the first One we need to listen to more carefully is the Shepherd, Jesus. He says in John 10:11, 27: “I am the Good Shepherd” and “My sheep listen to my voice.” Here also is an encouraging promise to cell leaders from James 1:5: God gives wisdom, (words to live by) to those who ask Him, not doubting, but expecting an answer. He gives specific guidance for the people in your care, whether for your family or for your cell. God wants us to know how to minister to others. He cares about the people in your cell, so you can expect to hear when your purpose is to bless those He has entrusted to your care. We must not only hear from Jesus, but we must also be willing to hear from others.
Listen to your family. Parents, spouses and children who make up our families know us. They can help us to overcome our shortsightedness, make us sensitive to people needs, and give us insight into ourselves. Godly leaders have learned the secret of good leadership in their homes. Until we get this one right, we really shouldn’t be in a position of oversight with other people. Church leaders must “manage” their households well (1 Tim. 3:4, 12). The Scripture makes sensitive and godly family headship a requirement for both deacons and elders — those who care for His people. Unless our family is flourishing under our leadership and care, how can we expect God’s church to experience health under our care?
I am both a cell leader and a Pastor, so my family is the measuring stick of whether I have a successful ministry. If I ever cease to be a blessing to my family, I would leave ministry and get my relationship right with God. If it’s not right with my family, it is most likely not right with God, no matter what excuses I make! Then I would learn how to minister first to my wife and daughters. Once I was sure that the Lord’s authority to bless was working through me in relation to my family, I would feel free again to minister to others. Cell care and Christian leadership begin in the home.
Listen to your group. Listen to the hints, the cries, the silences that sometimes shout. The people in your cell are always communicating something. The question is: Are you really listening? Do you hear what they are saying behind the words, smiles and silences?
A story is told about a Native American visiting a friend from New York City. At a crosswalk, the Indian paused and seemed to be listening intently. His friend asked him what he was listening to amidst the roar of traffic and clanking of nearby construction. The Indian said, “I hear a cricket.” His friend laughed incredulously, “No way.” The Indian insisted and crossed the busy avenue and approached a bench. Pausing to reach beneath the bench, he picked up a large adult cricket by the hind legs. His friend was amazed and wanted to know how he heard a cricket amidst all the other sounds. The Indian said simply, “We hear what we’re focused on and what we’re used to hearing. Let me show you.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. He dropped them on the concrete sidewalk. Almost every head within a block turned. In this day and age, interested and careful listening is a love-gift to people which must be carefully cultivated. We need to take our focus off the material and refocus our ears to hear spiritually.
At the crosswalk, after I stopped, looked and listened carefully, I proceeded safely to the other side. In ministry, the other side is ministry enjoyment. Enjoy your ministry! The author of the Letter to the Hebrews said that leaders were to enjoy their ministry (Heb. 13:17ff). Jesus said the same thing to the disciples (John 15:11 and 17:13). Paul reminds the Romans about this also (Rom. 14:17-18). God wants you to be blessed by what He will do in others’ lives through your leadership. Don’t lose heart. Cultivate that joy. Ministry will be a joy when you remember to stop, look and listen.
David Alves is Senior Pastor of New Life Fellowship in Concord, NH. He is an Advanced Cell Training presenter for TOUCH Outreach Ministries. David and his wife, Marcy, write and speak at retreats and conferences through their Frontline Ministries. They have one daughter away at college and one at home.
Breaking the Kids’ Cell Mold - Bethany experience takes cells to children’s groups.
Most children already belong to some kind of group. Scouts, sports teams or clubs, school classes and clubs, and even hanging out with neighborhood buddies all qualify as natural groups. Many children involved in these activities are not churched Christians. But your children are, as are all the other kids in your cell and your church. Instead of trying to attract these other kids to a weekly “family” cell atmosphere, why not spark a cell in a children’s group that already exists?
This is the question that began tugging at the folks at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, LA. So we set out to develop a children’s cell group that would meet, with the help of a caring adult, in the community. Bethany desired to develop a proven prototype that could be used in as many settings as possible, and we believe that we’ve found it. This new approach, being launched churchwide this summer, takes cells to the children in many areas of interest.
Through Bethany’s prototype group, which I led, we found that the typical barriers of time, opportunity, place and help were overcome by letting God take circumstances and abilities and use them for the group’s benefit.
I opened our children’s home cell group in March 1998, thinking that 15 years’ experience and training in children’s ministry would see me through. As Bethany’s Children’s Pastor, I was determined to impact children’s lives, if only for a short season. Because of my life’s busyness, I figured I wouldn’t be able to maintain such a group for long.
But I was shocked that the 13 children who began coming to the apartment clubhouse did not care one bit about my experience. Rather, they were looking for someone — anyone — who would spend time with them. They appreciated that my team ministered to them in a fun way, but even that paled in the light of our genuine love and concern for them. God’s love for them, which they say through us, amazed these kids. You see, the parents in this apartment complex are so busy running after their own interests that their children are often neglected. Our area (and probably yours) is full of needy kids.
For the first meeting, flyers invited the kids to the clubhouse to play games for prizes, color pictures, eat delicious snacks, and have an object lesson — all the things kids love, plus God’s Word. The kids turned out, and the following weeks proved just as successful. They showed up no matter what we scheduled.
My schedule caught up with me after the third week. My wife, Kathy, and her friend Betty filled in for me. No matter that I was absent: The kids kept coming and having a great time. I was ready to hand it over to these women because I was ministering to over 600 children a week at the church, but the Lord had different plans. Circumstances made it impossible for them to help regularly. I found myself thrust back into the leadership role.
The Lord revealed to me later that, as a man, I needed to bear the torch and not pass it to someone else. Children need a spiritual light in their lives to illuminate their paths, and most men have deferred that responsibility to women. God instructed me not to do the same. Most children at our meetings did not have a dad who was a light. I was called to help them. But how could I make the greatest impact? The Lord took an example out of my childhood to make it clear to me.
I remember the part that my Uncle Shane played in my own life when I was a young boy. He lived down the street from me, and I visited him regularly. We chatted about anything and everything. When we got together, he did not have a planned topic with activities to correspond with it. We just enjoyed each other’s company and talked heart to heart. He was my favorite uncle because he showed interest in me and gave me his time whenever he could. I knew that if I did the same with the neighborhood children and ministered God’s Word to them, I could pull this thing off.
Now mind you I had lost all my adult help, but I was determined to meet with these kids as my schedule allowed. I gave them and their parents advance notice of any cancellations, but most parents were happy to have a man who was not up to something weird interested in enhancing their kids’ lives for God.
Haley, K.K., Jackie, Jordan, David, Sarah, Princess, Roy, Courtney W., Michael, Clark, Kelsey, Courtney C. and my family took off on our wonderful adventure in children’s cell ministry. We did not know what we were getting ourselves into, but it became easier and more like real love. We showed up each week simply because we wanted to know how the others were doing. For example, how did K.K. like Aunt Suzy’s house? We all wanted to know what the kids did at school that week.
We lost the use of our clubhouse, which we thought was a terrible blow to our group, but this actually was the biggest inroad into the kids’ families. We decided to meet in my apartment for three weeks, then allow each child to host the group in his or her home. I gave the kids notes to take home explaining the change and asked the parents to call me. They did, and filled up two months of meetings. Two new boys, Matthew and Robbie, even got their grandmother on the schedule. Week after week, we grew closer to the children. The parents and grandparents began to see that we all were part of a special group.
We started involving the kids in the teaching aspect of the meetings. We used an eight-lesson discipleship curriculum that built upon each lesson. Our “helpers” gave new children a quick overview of the previous week’s lesson, and then they joined the larger group and could keep up. We also trained the “helpers” how to disciple other children when they invariably moved away.
Special activities welcomed new kids and bid good-bye to those who were moving. Ice cream and swimming were great in making new children feel welcome. Pizza and video games at a local pizza place worked wonders for sending sad kids off to their new homes. Three or four families usually showed up to say their good-byes.
The impact of these groups was amazing. For example, Matthew and Robbie were called out of town unexpectedly when it was their Grandma’s week to host the meeting, but she had us over anyway. She witnessed how the group had benefited her grandsons, and she wanted some of that benefit herself. She baked her famous chocolate cookies and made us all feel welcome. We had such a great evening! When the boys heard about what they had missed, they let us all know the following week that they weren’t happy about not being part of it.
Every Christian adult should take a good look at how much God has blessed us. I did, and then compared it to the pain and suffering in the lives of some of my neighbors and acquaintances. We cannot take care of everyone, but we each can make an impact. Children today do not care whether we are talented; they just want us to show an interest in them. Even though I am a highly trained and experienced children’s minister, that background did not bring me success with the children. Rather, success came from the fact that a man had taken an interest in me when I was a child, and God used that influence mightily.
That six-month period was one of the most fulfilling times of my life and ministry. Even though we and many of the children have moved since, we still keep in contact. I know that you can benefit from such wonderful blessings too, and that you will be able to see how far-reaching they are only when you get to heaven. I challenge you to find a child and make a difference in his or her life by getting involved by any means possible. Take a look back and see how you were blessed and pass it on to someone else.
Bob LaPlante is the Children’s Pastor at Bethany, now ministering to 650 children each week. He also is School Chaplain at Bethany Christian School. For 10 years, he has taken teams of children to Mexico for missions work. He and his wife, Kathy, have been married for 15 years and have four children: Aaron, 13; Audrey, 10; Austin, 5; and Alex, 2.
Soaring to New Heights - How to write dynamic agendas for your cells.
Watch a bird in flight, and you will notice that the two wings do not flap randomly; they are in perfect sync with one another. The cell church often is called a “two-winged” church, able to reach new heights because of the connection of its large-group and small-group wings. Just as in the early church, a synergy combines the dynamic of corporate gatherings and the intimate sharing of home groups (Acts 2:42-47).
What does it mean for your large-group and small-group wings to move in harmony with each other? Most cell churches create this synergy in part by dovetailing their cell agendas to their Sunday sermon themes. (For example, seven of the eight major cell churches researched by Joel Comiskey for Home Cell Group Explosion tie their cell themes to the Sunday messages.)
Corresponding your cell agendas to your sermon themes is not difficult, but a few important things really make it work. If you write dynamic cell agendas tied to your Sunday messages, your two-winged church can soar to new heights.
The cell groups are to follow the same theme and scripture as the Sunday message, but they are NOT to discuss the sermon. Your goal is to have people interact with God’s Word, not with the sermon. Also, if the sermon itself is the reference point, visitors and those who missed the celebration service will feel left out.
When you write questions for the cell agendas, do NOT include questions that assume previous Bible knowledge. Focus on the plain meaning of the passage and its application. I remember leading a cell group with two brand new Christians in it. I asked how the message of the passage was exemplified in incidences from Jesus’ own life. While it created lively discussion, the new believers sat silent, intimidated by others’ Bible knowledge. Unfortunately, they did not return to the next week’s cell gathering. Cell groups are different from Sunday school classes. The focus is on life application of the Word, not knowledge of the Word. Focus your questions on the simple, powerful message of the Bible passage and on how we need to respond to God.
Also, do NOT use a long passage. Pastor Dion Robert oversees one of the most dynamic cell churches in the world, in the Ivory Coast. His cell groups focus on just one verse each week. I don’t restrict cell agendas quite that much, but the lesson remains: Stay focused. It is all right for cell leaders to occasionally deviate from the given agenda, but this should be the exception rather than the rule.
Writing cell agendas doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does require a simple system. The first step in creating this system is deciding who should write the agendas. Many senior pastors write their own because the agendas are crucial to the life of their church. Other pastors find that they are not talented at crafting questions, so they delegate it to someone more gifted in this area.
The person writing the cell agendas needs the message theme a few days ahead of time so the cell leaders can receive the agendas the day of the sermon. Don’t worry if the sermon changes at the last minute; the agenda will still be of valuable and can still be usable.
If possible, distribute the agenda to cell leaders in multiple ways. For example, we have mailboxes for the cell leaders and the agendas go in those boxes each week. But they are also sent via Email to those who have electronic mail accounts. That way, some who missed Sunday service or forgot to check their box get the agenda in a timely way.
For maximum life-change, follow a sermon topic for four to six weeks. This allows God’s Word to soak in and take root in cell members as they hear the Word and discuss related issues over a period of weeks.
At the top of the agenda clearly put the week, the theme and the scripture. To illustrate a typical cell agenda here, we will use:
Week of January 1 — “New Beginnings,” Philippians 3:12-14
The agenda should then follow the standard four W’s:
Welcome. Include one or two icebreaker suggestions. These can follow the scripture theme or be related to the time of year. Icebreakers should be easy to answer and not consume much time. For our example you could put:
Worship. You don’t have to include worship suggestions, but you can. Usually someone other than the cell leader leads worship. Remember that cells should use songs that are easy to sing and that are used by your church on Sundays.
Word. This is the heart of your agenda. State the objective of the Word time in the agenda. For our example you could write:
Objective: Cell members will identify the things God is calling them to leave behind and bring these things to Him in prayer as they reach out to the new things Christ has in store for them.
The most common error in cell agendas is including too many discussion questions. Most cell leaders feel obligated to cover all the questions you include. A good Word time has only three or four questions. If cell leaders try to cover more than that, the extroverts in the group will dominate the meeting. By using fewer questions and sitting on them, everyone is drawn in and interacts with the passage. This is crucial because introverts often have more profound answers. (They are actually thinking about the questions!)
Questions should focus on the main meaning of the passage and its application. Here are four questions that can be used repeatedly with some variation:
For our sample passage of Philippians 3:12-14, you could use the suggestions below in an agenda:
Works. This final part of the meeting focuses on outreach. If this is consistently squeezed out of your meetings, move it before the Word time for four weeks straight. It is helpful in the Works time to use a tool like TOUCH’s “Blessing List” to keep cell members focused on praying for and loving their lost friends, co-workers and neighbors. We encourage the cells in our church to pray for the neighborhood of the home they meet in that week. Give practical suggestions like this in the Works portion of the agenda. Frequently suggest that they plan parties and cookouts and invite these people to attend. Also, highlight upcoming churchwide harvest events to mobilize the cells to pray for and invite unbelievers. For a January agenda on Philippians 3:12-14, you could use suggestions like these:
I highly recommend you dovetail your cell agendas to your Sunday sermon themes. If you have begun to do this, the suggestions above may make your agendas even more powerful. By dynamically uniting Sunday messages and application in the cells, your two-winged church can soar.
Jim Egli is Director of TOUCH’s Advanced Cell Training (ACT). He has co-authored nine books including The New Believer’s Station. Jim and his wife, Vicki, have three teenage sons and an 8-year-old daughter. “How to Write Dynamic Cell Agendas” is one of 48 topics covered in depth in ACT 1-4. For a free brochure about ACT, call 1-800-735-5865, or visit www.touchusa.org.
Kingly Cave Talk - Follow in David’s footsteps to develop heroes for God.
Scattered across the pages of the biblical account of David’s life are tales of unparalleled heroism by a group known as David’s Mighty Men. These men killed giants, won spectacular victories and became legendary. But look at how they started. Members of David’s first recruiting class were described as distressed, indebted and discontent. And their meeting place was in a cave!
So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became captain over them. — 1 Samuel 22:1-2
What happened to those guys? How did such hopeless people become heroes? What caused society’s rejects to grow into an elite fighting force? It all began with cave talk. The process was one of changing core values and shifting, if not shattering, paradigms.
When these men came to David, he was at a low place in his life, too. The giddy thrill of victory swirled around him at an early age. He became a national hero. When he was just a boy, Israel’s prophet-priest Samuel anointed him to be king. But from the palace of King Saul, he experienced a free-fall to the depths of rejection. Then he hid, fearing for his life. It appeared that his best days were over. This was not a good time to hold a seminar on self-esteem!
But they came anyway. Ragged, discouraged, desperate men crowded into the cave. David must have looked over the group, brushed aside the memories of the disciplined troops he had known and fought with, and realized that his only hope was God.
This is certainly relevant when you look up from your cell material one night to realize that some of your sheep look more like Creatures from the Black Lagoon. Not that they have a scary physical appearance, but because strongholds are towering above everything else in their lives. And now their eyes are upon you, their leader.
So what is a godly leader to do? One cell leader said, “I gotta multiply my group fast. And I want to pick who goes!” Believe me, there is a better way. We can pick up some clues from David. He had a lot of success with turning his mess into a miracle.
David wrote Psalm 57 while he hid out in the cave. I often wonder whether he was speaking of those renegades living with him in the cave when he wrote in verse 4:
My soul is among lions; I must lie among those who breathe forth fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.
Now imagine that this verse was a description of your cell group. It would be pretty tough to whip those folks into shape, huh? Let’s face it: Most of us would quickly realize that we were not capable of performing the task. Well, that is exactly what David concluded! In verse 2 of that same Psalm, he wrote, I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.
We have to understand that God is capable of accomplishing anything. Now think about that for a moment. After all, He saved you! God can do anything, and He is available to help you. That’s a powerful thought. So we bring our group daily before the Lord. We ask for wisdom and guidance in leading them. We expect God to start accomplishing things! Another insight into how God does this kind of thing is found in the latter part of verse 3, God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.
When you deal with challenging people entrusted your care, always make sure that your love-ometer is registering higher than your truth-ometer. And also be aware that you must have both of these divine weapons of spiritual warfare. The combination of love and truth is what triumphs when spiritual strongholds are approached. David’s cave talk undoubtedly encompassed much love and truth. So don’t hold back the love that God pours through you. The unlovable need it the most. And when you know that people are aware that you love them, do not hold back the truth, either. Confronting in love is always necessary for effective leadership. In the ranks of our spiritual enemy, tolerance has as many kills as judgement.
It is comforting to know that God will send forth His love and truth to us. These come through our relationship with Him. How do we use love and truth? Well, how does He use them with you? Ministering out of your own experience with God keeps the truth sharp and accurate and the love fresh and sincere. So love, share the truth, and let God do the accomplishing. You will begin to see those folks with rough edges turning into mighty warriors for God.
David had a special love for those rag-tag fellows who came to him in the cave. When he later was crowned king of Israel, he appointed them as the special honor guard of the king. He must have cherished the way they marched, keeping rank with heads held high. He loved to tell of their exploits and acts of courage. But the really special ingredient in the diet of discipline and skill that he fed these men was His faith in God.
Browse through Psalm 57 and Psalm 34 again, and think about how God inspires us to inspire others. Listen hard to what David is saying. It is cave talk. And it will help you develop some heroes for God.
James Bell is pastor of Hosanna Church in Houston, TX, where he and his wife, Suzanne, have pastored for 10 years.
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.