Today I drove up to the window of a fast-food restaurant and ordered a double cheeseburger, fries and a large drink. This restaurant is much like similar places, except for its odd-looking spokesman with an enormous styrofoam head and a pointy nose. The food tastes a little different from similar establishments down the street, but they achieve the same end: inexpensive, filling food for people who inhale a giant order of french fries while driving back to the office.
Fast-food restaurants have changed in the last five years to meet the desires and appetites of their customers. Hungry patrons can buy single items or save half a buck when they order a combo meal, but we’re no longer limited to variations of the hamburger. Fish, chicken or pork can be deep-fried or grilled to perfection in five minutes or less. Though the menus expanded and changed to keep up with the times, these restaurants are still in the fast-food business.
Similarly, as we at TOUCH Outreach Ministries interact with cell churches and churches desiring cell implementation, we realize the clear need to expand our mission. Pastors exploring the cell-church model want to experiment a little before making a sizeable commitment. Churches seek the flexibility of packaging a self-generated book with a TOUCH equipping tool and the latest resource from their denomination. Cell leaders want to receive more encouragement and resources through this magazine.
We also recognize that pastors need time to process and then introduce change as they seek a better way to build and strengthen the church. Most pastors who contact us want to experiment with a few cell groups in their church and find out whether they work, before adopting the cell-church structure. In other words, they want to test the waters before taking the plunge. TOUCH desires to help these pastors succeed with cells. Pastors who experience healthy, growing cells are motivated to move forward with a transition to the cell structure.
Enter the new TOUCH. Our vision to resource and assist the worldwide cell movement has not changed. Our modified focus, however, includes not just cell churches, but also the cell group itself. We have prayed long and hard about this and have received wise counsel from our board of directors, from pastors and from CellChurch readers. We think you will be pleased.
Our new mission statement is: “TOUCH Outreach Ministries empowers pastors, group leaders and members to transform their lives, churches and the world through Basic Christian Communities.”
Over the course of the next year, our resources and seminars will expand to better assist traditional churches and cell churches enjoy successful cell groups. Pastors who are led to experiment with cells won’t feel forced to buy into a complete structural shift to a cell-church model to work with our ministry. Those of you who have made this shift will love these new resources, too.
Much like the fast-food industry, we’re adapting to keep up with the various needs of pastors, churches and cell leaders we serve. I just thank the Lord I don’t have to wear a big styrofoam head to represent this ministry.
Get a Strategy - Prayer and planning are the keys to growth.
As I travel around the country, the successful cell groups I visit live out a solid plan of action for growth. Cell members tell me that each one of them is a vital part of God’s team because decisions are made as a group. The cell group regularly discusses its goals. Accountability is high. They see friends, family and co-workers come to Christ, and leaders are raised up from within the group. Everyone is on board, and the air is charged with cell life excitement.
We recently set aside two days for strategic planning at TOUCH Outreach Ministries, and I realized a cell group could do the same thing to achieve new results in cell life. Your group probably could benefit from a strategic planning and prayer session. Use the following information to form a weekend event, or tear apart the pieces and set aside planning time during your upcoming meetings.
• Ask an “outsider”—your pastor, coach or supervisor—to facilitate the session(s). He or she knows the vision of the church, and is vitally interested in your group.
• If you can pull it off, take the cell away for a weekend to a retreat center or another remote location. If your cell is intergenerational and the children stay in your meetings the whole time, invite those 11 years and older to join you. Have family, friends or other cells care for younger children.
• Ask someone in your cell to plan the meals for the weekend. Keep meals (and cleanup) simple and short so no one misses planning sessions due to “kitchen duty.”
• Borrow a paper flip chart and an easel so your facilitator can write down all your great plans and post the sheets around the room for easy viewing. Take with you lots of colored markers and some way to hang the pages.
Eat dinner together Friday evening, and then take some time to fellowship. Involve everyone in charades or another group game. Have some fun! End the evening with a time of prayer.
Start Saturday with an early morning breakfast, and have everyone clean up. See how quickly you can finish.
Post your church’s vision and mission statements on a wall. Everything you do in this time must fit within these statements. Now you’re ready to begin.
1) Pray. Open yourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and cast off any ideas that are not from God. Christians often take on Kingdom tasks that belong to someone else. Seek only God’s vision for your cell.
2) State and list your assumptions. Have your facilitator write each of these questions at the top of a separate clean sheet of paper:
This creates ground rules for the session.
3) Answer the following as a group, and use the flip chart to record your answers:
This helps your group see the big picture and sets the stage for change.
4) Type the questions in this section and make a simple handout. Give each person a copy, and ask him or her to rate each question on a scale of 0 to 5 (0 is weak and 5 is strong). The facilitator jots down each number on the flip chart, and then figures the average for each question.
This identifies the common strengths and weaknesses of the group. Based on averages, determine the group’s strongest and weakest areas. Discuss your findings and ask this question: “What must change to help our cell reach the lost and multiply its leadership base?”
5) Open up the time for confession, and surrender to God’s call for His people.
6) Create a plan for the future. Pass out copies of monthly calendars for the next six months. Brainstorm and build a list of possible actions that would move the group forward. The listed items might fix identified problems, add missing components, or improve what already is working. Once the list is complete, decide as a group which ideas are the most important and “doable” by the group. These then become your goals. (Try to set dates for when each goal should be achieved, and assign specific responsibilities.)
7) Decide as a group how many new believers your cell needs to reach before multiplication. How many invitations to the meeting must be achieved to reach this goal? On average, a group extends six invitations for each visitor who shows up. How many invitations must each member extend every week to reach your goal?
Strategic planning melds your group as a team and creates shared vision. The group emerges with a clear purpose and an “outward” focus. Add a follow-up meeting to discuss how the plan is working and whether it needs tweaking.
Your strategic plan is your battle plan. We are at war, and Satan has fought hard to establish a reign of terror on earth. But we have the power of Jesus Christ—and Basic Christian Community—to overthrow his kingdom. Winning the spiritual war, and bringing the world to Christ, requires a solid plan, teamwork and measurable results. We must be strategic and determined to set the captives free.
Strategic Resources recently helped TOUCH initiate a strategic plan of action for our future. If your church or organization lacks a strategic plan, request information from this Christian organization. Contact Ron Ford at (760) 634-6976 or send him an email at email@example.com.
A Victory at Columbine - Youth prayer and evangelization spring from a day of trauma.
Three words continually resound within me: “Evangelization follows traumatization.”
Having ministered in over 40 nations, I’ve observed that the most fervently dedicated believers and the largest churches frequently reside in areas that either are, or recently have been, traumatized.
South Korea is an excellent example. That country suffered at the hands of invaders and oppressors during World War II and the Korean war. Out of the ashes of these national humiliations, God’s spirit swept hundreds of thousands of Koreans into His Kingdom. Twelve of the world’s largest cell churches are located here.
As a pastor, I sought the Lord about why it seemed so difficult to build a solid, cell-based church in the U.S. With great enthusiasm, we gathered a group of people in our living room and began teaching the principles of cell dynamics, multiplication, friendship evangelism, personal discipleship, etc. While the cell groups are promoting godly relationships, the levels of evangelism and conversion are disappointing.
In recent decades, the U.S. has not known national trauma to any great degree. I wondered whether our peace and prosperity were about to be shattered. I sensed the Lord’s warnings regarding a period of national distress. How long could the tranquility last?
We received our answer April 20 at Columbine High School. The massacre is etched into our collective memory as a spiritual Pearl Harbor. Yet, the Lord assures us in His Word that He works all things together for good for those who love Him. Could this event be the traumatization that brings evangelization in the U.S.?
Three months to the day before the high-school shootings, I experienced a terrifying yet prophetic night vision. Shaking and dripping with sweat, I told my wife, Claudia, what I had just seen. I was in a school setting surrounded by youth who were crying, bleeding, screaming, running in all directions. I saw what looked like red fire following them as they ran. Several fell. I heard explosions, and what sounded like firecrackers.
Then some young people scrambled in a line, holding their heads in their hands, crying, screaming, praying. Some had blood on their faces, hands and torsos. I remember asking, “Why would anyone run in such a manner?” The horror of that scene was palpable. I literally felt their fear and anguish as memories of my experiences in Vietnam surfaced.
Suddenly, a change came over some of the young people. A look of determined certainty and confidence replaced the terror in their faces. Their former panic had been powerfully tranformed. They returned to the place they had fled and began aiding those who had fallen, some giving CPR and binding wounds, others praying. Conflict remained, and I could see some of the red flame, but these youth had engaged the battle and were winning.
My wife wrote much of this in her journal and dated it. A few days later, I related this dream to our youth cell. I rarely have visions, but this one shook me to the core. I sensed that something terrible was about to happen.
Three months later, I sat in horror watching the television coverage of the Columbine H.S. disaster. Armed SWAT team members rushed about in fatigues. Helicopters hovered over dozens of ambulances. Police and fire personnel hurried about as two teenagers bombed and shot their way through the hallways and classrooms, maiming and killing.
I was watching my nightmare on live television.
As the drama played out in front of the entire world, I stood in the middle of my living room sobbing prayers for students, teachers, rescue workers. My church was a mere half-mile down the street from this school. I was certain that members of my congregation had children in that building. Then the phone rang. One of our families couldn’t find their 17-year-old daughter, Rachel Joy Scott.
Rachel’s 16-year-old brother, Craig, had feigned death as his dying friends’ blood spread around him. As he relayed his terrifying story to Claudia and me, he wailed, “I couldn’t find Rachel! I prayed with a bunch of other kids that they’d find their brothers and sisters, and even helped them out of the building. I said, ‘See, God really answers our prayers!’ But I just couldn’t find Rachel anywhere!” That night, I held Craig and wept with him.
We prayed while driving to the parents’ waiting area at a nearby school. My heart sank as I looked over to where Rachel’s parents stood. Beth and Larry looked so frightened, their eyes searching the crowd for a glimpse of Rachel. I gathered them in my arms. Beth cried softly as we prayed, seeking our Father’s mercy and grace.
The last bus of surviving students arrived. Rachel was not among them. After the crowd departed, Larry and Beth stood with several other families whose children also were missing. Late the next morning, officials confirmed what we already knew. Rachel had been delivered tenderly into the arms of Him whom she once worshipped by faith, and now beheld in all His majesty and grace—Jesus, whom she loved more than life itself.
On the day of the funeral, I sensed a greater purpose being worked out through this tragedy. Because of the international interest in this catastrophe, the family allowed CNN to set up a few cameras in the church. We did not know until later how God intended to use this.
As the funeral progressed, an increasingly intense presence of the Spirit of God fell. Friends brought forth powerful testimony of how Rachel loved Jesus and openly walked with Him. I marveled at our God Who, in our utter weakness, faithfully gave His heart and testimony of love and grace to His world.
We challenged the youth who were present to take up the bloodstained torch of the gospel of Jesus Christ which had fallen from Rachel’s hand. When we asked who would take up that torch, nearly a thousand youth jump to their feet! These young people, battered and emotionally wounded, weeping with grief, STOOD UP! Before our eyes and with the world watching, their faces transformed and took on determined looks of steely-eyed vision and purpose. I relived the second part of my vision, this time in real life. I knew some would go back to their schools and carry the torch. An anointing fell on them as they responded to a call to battle.
This funeral was broadcast internationally, without interruption, and CNN representatives later stated that it had drawn the network’s largest viewing audience to date. We have received thousands of letters and emails from around the world—even from a Moslem country. People’s hearts were gripped by the clear presentation of the Gospel. Many jumped to their feet to accept the challenge of taking up that martyr’s torch because of the faithful testimony of Rachel’s life and death.
During the trauma at Columbine H.S., teenagers re-established prayer in U.S. public schools. In moments of sheer terror and despair, the students in Littleton did what the judiciary and the churches couldn’t do.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, thousands of youth across the country are praying, seeking God’s grace and mercy, and coming to Christ. Emails from pastors and youth leaders tell of revitalized confessions of faith in Christ by youth. Many are taking up the torch and pledging to run their race no matter the cost. In response, we are formulating a training strategy for teens, called “Torchgrab,” to help them form student cells in their schools.
Our cell groups, particularly the youth, are more fervent than ever. Our church is taking a hard look at what is really important in life. Two women in the church have regularly cleaned Beth and Larry’s home during the past few months, and cells have taken turns preparing meals for the family.
Our cell leaders have been running the church because Claudia and I have been called to minister to the community and to the youth of this nation. Much responsibility has been delegated to the cell leaders, but because they have been empowered to minister, the church is running smoothly amid the challenges, traveling and extra duties. We are a team of leadership, and our cell leaders are really going to bat when we can’t be there.
The cell vision in America has yet to see its finest hour. We are witnessing what may be a great awakening in our culture. Each of us is being positioned to receive people who will seek fellowship and true relationships as the world grows colder and darker.
Columbine, in my view, was a dress-rehearsal for things to come. Our hearts will break again as evil rears its ugly head somewhere else. We can’t fix the world, but we can stand ready with the biblical pattern of the early church to receive the multitudes who, through their hour of traumatization, will rush toward evangelization.
Bruce Porter is the founding pastor of Celebration Christian Fellowship in Littleton, CO. He is ministering to youth across the country and spreading the vision for youth cell groups in schools. In mid-June, he participated in a “Pray for the Bay” rally in San Jose, CA, where 16,000 people prayed for U.S. youth. He and his wife of 23 years have three children. Bruce also is a pilot, a volunteer firefighter, and the coordinator of a local Y2K preparation committee.
10 Ways to Refresh Your Church Atmosphere - Is your church “air” appealing or repelling? One whiff will tell.
Vibrant cell groups are life changing. Non-Christians meet Jesus and are saved.
People find honest and healthy friendships, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Others discover the meanings of grace and forgiveness, and learn how to extend these to others.
Does this describe your experience in small groups? Or does your reaction fall somewhere between “ho-hum” and “I’m sure glad that’s over!”?
Being part of a small group, either for one visit or for the long-term, does not guarantee a great experience. Even churchgoers can come across as calloused or unfriendly. Cells are a way to organize a church body, but simply placing people in
small groups doesn’t mean they’ll mature spiritually or become others-focused. If your church is dead, and you put a bunch of spiritually dead people into small groups, you will be an organized dead church. If your church is alive in God and adopts His values, your groups will resemble breaths of fresh air.
What is the atmosphere like in your church? Take a “deep breath” in your Sunday service and in your cell group. Does the atmosphere attract others? Do outsiders look in and see something they want? We sampled the air at our church, Shepherd Community in Hong Kong, after the cells started floundering. God revealed some poor “atmospheric conditions,” and showed us that people were breathing polluted air that was choking the cells. We filtered and cleansed the air by applying some new values to our lives, and quickly saw change and growth.
Is your church’s atmosphere as inviting as the fresh scent of a spring shower or as repulsive as the stench of a stagnant swamp? By measuring your church with the following ten atmospheric conditions, you will know how to bring new life to your group and church.
God continually challenges us to enter the realm of the unknown. While you alone may not be able to do some things, if your instructions are from the Lord, you can accomplish them with His help. As Christians with the power of Jesus Christ, we are not confined by man’s potential. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 [NKJV]).
When a difficult situation arises, press into it. If you tackle only those things with which you are comfortable, you’ll never mature spiritually. God grows us when we live outside our comfort zone. For example, if a person is asked to be a cell leader and accepts the position believing that he can lead by his own knowledge and power, then he ought to do something else or he will stop growing. If, on the other hand, he knows that he cannot lead except by the grace of God, he should take the chance. If you face something and think, “I can’t do it,” then you must depend on Jesus to accomplish it through you.
God will lead you into tunnels with no light. So many times we focus on the darkness—problems, criticisms, fears—and we fail to hear the voice of God. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). You will never do anything for God if you do not believe these words. He moves in the things that you alone cannot do, but you can boldly say, “Yes, I can, because God is on my side.”
To make church or cell meetings boring is a sin. God is anything but boring. Church should be fun and exciting, reflecting God’s nature. People want to bring friends and neighbors to a fun church, not to one where they will fall asleep during the service. If newcomers enjoy your church, they will come back and bring others with them. If cell members leave a cell meeting wearing a bigger frown than when they arrived, they will stop coming.
Learn to distinguish between being serious and being solemn. We can be serious about God and our ministry and be “wild and crazy guys,” too. It’s OK for Christians to have a sense of humor. Chinese churches, for example, are traditionally very solemn. This creates heaviness over people, and people return to church only out of guilt or hurt. A fun church atmosphere is to a nonbeliever what a free gourmet meal is to a starving man. Who can turn it down? Break out from your old church mold!
Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard psychologist, and Lenore Jacobsen, a school principal in San Francisco, tried something novel. As primary school began, new teachers casually received the names of five or six students in their classes who were designated as “spurters” based on a test the year before. Though these students actually were chosen at random, the teachers believed they had exceptional learning abilities. The teachers described these selected students as happier and more curious, affectionate and apt to succeed than their classmates. The only change for the school year was the attitudes of the teachers.
The result: These five or six pupils in each class scored far ahead of the other students, gaining 15 to 27 IQ points over the previous year’s test results. The study proved that the way we perceive people is the way we treat them, and that the way we treat them is the way they become.
Remember this important principle: You put people in touch with their faults when you assume a negative attitude toward them and reflect back to them only your perception of their weaknesses. Conversely, by assuming a positive attitude and concentrating on their strengths, you put them in contact with their good attributes. Their behavior inevitably improves. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as a man thinks within himself, so he is.”
Jesus said in John 4:35, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” The fields Jesus referred to are in the world. The harvest is in the world, not in the church. Ideally, Christians go to church to get healed and encouraged so they can serve the Lord in the world, fighting the war against Satan. The church equips ministers to fight that war, and the world is the battlefield and our place of service.
Jesus told us in the Great Commission to “go.” He did not tell the world, “Come to church.” People all around us—co-workers, neighbors, 7-Eleven clerks, cousins, golf partners—live in darkness. How will they know about the Light of the World if we do not show it to them and tell them about it? Their bondage keeps them from coming to the place of truth. Therefore the church, YOUR church, YOUR cell group, must go to them.
A “go” atmosphere creates expectation and excitement, and transforms a dull Christian life into an action thriller. You find yourself waiting to see what God will do next. Start praying for, relating to and inviting the pre-Christians in your life and watch this aspect of your church attitude change.
People, including many Christians, are dying for something to live for. Yet a large percentage of churches tell people to attend the Sunday service and the weekly cell meeting—period. Is this all there is to “church”? No! Everyone has a call on his or her life. God has called everyone into ministry. No one is excluded.
No one is in your cell by accident. Yet we often think people will reach their God-ordained destiny by accident. We get frustrated waiting for people to grow up. Shepherd Community has learned to prepare people to find and then attain their destiny. We equip them to live victoriously in Jesus’ freedom, and we teach them how to reach non-Christians. We disciple people within the context of relationships so they can discover their destiny, their “something to live for,” in the Kingdom of God.
We challenge people with a big vision. When I was a 6-month-old Christian, I started a weekly group meeting with six other young people. Some well-meaning Christians told me that I was supposed to grow up spiritually before I could help others grow. But I was being discipled by a friend named Peter, who showed me what being a Christian was about. Then I gave it to others. I saw God’s vision for ministry very early, and I took the challenge even though it was risky and some said I was wrong.
I alone am not a good pastor. I need others, a community, around me. I must work smarter, not harder.
When I assembled my leadership team for Shepherd Community Church, I looked for people who were different from myself. We are different in temperament and strengths, and we even look different. One has long hair and another prefers short hair. Some are modern, while others are more conservative. We have the jokers and the extra-serious.
God works through variety. Some in your cell group will be strong at prayer. Others will lead out in evangelism, or will have a deep knowledge of the Word. Learn to work with the diversity of giftedness surrounding you. Delegate tasks, and use people in their strengths. Don’t try to do everything by yourself.
Shepherd Community succeeds because of the team, not because of one person, and certainly not just because I am the senior pastor. For example, Tony Chan wrote me a letter stating that his purpose was to help me be the best senior pastor in Hong Kong. What support and selflessness! That’s what makes a successful team. United we stand; divided we fall.
To work together in unity, the team needs to submit to the leader. The leader needs to shepherd with love, but the followers need to submit. Without this dynamic, teamwork doesn’t exist.
Fake people hide behind faces and masks. Real people outwardly reflect what is going on inside them. The key to relationships is to be real. The Bible tells us to “walk in the light,” and this means to walk in openness, to let others see our failures and weaknesses.
Failure is a prerequisite to success. All successful people fail, even the great people in the Bible (remember the mistakes that Moses and David made?). Leaders who go to great lengths to hide failures are foolish and hypocritical. Strong people make as many mistakes, and just as ghastly, as the weak people. The difference is that strong people admit them, laugh at them, learn from them. That is how they become strong and gain the respect of their followers.
Some managers refuse to accommodate failure, and they fire employees who stumble. But the best managers expect their people to make mistakes. Instead of replacing staff members, they teach employees how to cope with failure and how to learn from their mistakes. Leaders who impart perseverance and tenacity, and help others learn from their errors, perform a vital service while creating a superior organization.
Abraham Lincoln was a great U.S. president, but look at this string of failures: failed in business in 1831; defeated for legislature in 1832; sweetheart died in 1835; suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836; defeated for Speaker in 1838; defeated for Elector in 1840; defeated for Congress in 1843 and 1848; defeated for Senate in 1850; defeated for Vice President in 1856; defeated for Senate in 1858. If Lincoln had given up anywhere along the way, he may never have been elected President in 1860.
Where did Lincoln gain the ability to remain undeterred? From the people who believed in him when he lost, encouraged him when he despaired, taught him that failure is not permanent and pushed him to continue. We must surround God’s people with the same level of encouragement.
Our God is the God of change and the new. His “compassion is new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). God promises that the old things will pass away. Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
When Jesus comes into our lives, He transforms us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Many people in your church or cell group can testify to the former and the current change in their lives.
A man once said, “I was a revolutionary when I was young, and my prayer to God was this: ‘Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that my life was half gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to this: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me; just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I see how foolish I have been. My prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I would not have wasted my life.”
God desires for each person to build up the Body of Christ. When any one person doesn’t fulfill his or her part, the Body is incomplete. The “priesthood of all believers” is the community of God’s people. A church is not a building or a program, but people living in love for one another and demonstrating the love of God to the world. This is why Jesus told us to love one another as He loved us.
A cell has no room for spectators. Members who don’t fully participate in the life of the Body are also not fully plugged into the life source. For example, Samantha and Peggy are members of the same cell who came to know the Lord at the same time. Both are from broken families and had many hurts expressed through bitterness. After about eight months in their cell, their leader asked each of them to care for a new believer. Peggy accepted, but Samantha refused and said that she had not overcome her own problems. One year later, Peggy was growing by leaps and bounds, while Samantha was struggling with her same issues. When asked why, Peggy said, “Because I took the challenge to build up another person even through I was still very imperfect.”
The church as Christ designed it has no pew-sitters. If you try to sit idly by and observe, others will nudge you, push you, pull you. You will be forced to change your ways either by participating or by leaving for another church.
We are spiritual beings. Therefore, we are people of the supernatural and not just the natural. We must learn to operate in the supernatural, in the spiritual realm. The supernatural is the dimension of faith; the natural is the dimension of sight. We are told to live not by sight, but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).
This means we must have faith to believe God and to see with His eyes. Jerry had God’s eyes for a new believer named Edward. When Edward first came to Shepherd Community, he had a bad temper and became especially angry when he felt dishonored. However, his life did not deserve honor. He was lazy, undisciplined and mean, and he could not hold a job. Even his parents had given up on him.
Through supernatural eyes, Jerry saw beneath the surface, prayed for Edward and spoke truth into his life. He and his cell saw a beautiful person inside, someone who needed help to surface. Through the love of the cell, Edward began to shock his family. He saw the dreams God had for his life. He became an effective minister. Now he is a cell leader who excels in helping other people who see themselves as failures.
Anyone can lead a cell meeting, but only God can touch someone’s heart like this. A cell member can speak the truth in love, but only God can convict someone of unforgiveness or jealousy. A cell leader can visit and pray for a cell member in the hospital, yet only God can heal. God alone can restore marriages or turn selfishness into love. Only He can turn a prostitute into a church leader, or transform a youth on drugs into a worshipper.
This last condition can turn the tide of the other nine. If your cell group and church need an atmospheric change, begin with this value. Start with prayer and repentance.
Only God can turn death into life. He will touch those places that smell more like a dead skunk than a spring breeze. As your church adopts this culture of new values, a new way of living emerges. This culture creates a fresh atmosphere, and your church will become a magnet drawing people who need Jesus.
Ben Wong is the senior pastor at Shepherd Community Church in Hong Kong.
The Key is the Coach
I’m a card-carrying coach for my son’s T-ball team. For this honor, the National Youth Sports Coaches Association taught me things like, “Don’t tell an injured player lying motionless on the field to get up and run it off.” So I now press 7-year-old boys and girls to endure a 90-minute game on Saturdays, and in the process they sometimes catch the ball and run the bases in the right direction. They’re learning.
Teams need the direction of a coach to get down the basics, to play well together and to win. A group of 7-year-olds without training, direction and encouragement will languish on the playing field. My goal as a T-ball coach is to help my team learn the essentials that will cause them to fall in love with baseball so they can enjoy it all their lives.
Frankly, coaching cell leaders isn’t a whole lot different.
Our church’s mission is to meet people where they are and to grow them into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Through cells, we seek to accomplish this by encouraging our people to grow spiritually, know community, reach lost people and raise leaders. Coaches make sure that all the cells under him or her stay on track to accomplish these objectives.
Getting off track, unfortunately, is far too easy. We tend to get lazy about accountability relationships, or we fear transparency and hide behind an “everything’s OK” mask. One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to pull the group off balance by getting members to focus solely on, say, evangelism but ignore transparent relationships or spiritual growth. Balance in a cell is as important as balance on your car. I get my Michelin tires rotated and balanced every 6,000 miles because good tires can go bad otherwise.
Like the technician at my garage, a good coach keeps his cells in balance. They regularly watch over the condition of their cells, and they step in and correct any problem when they see imbalance or undue strain. That’s why David Yonggi Cho, pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea—the world’s largest church—says, “THE most important role in cell ministry is that of the section leader (a coach).”
I have discovered a key difference between cell church systems that work and those that don’t: Strong cell systems include quality coaches who love cells and pass that joy along so cell leaders can effectively pastor five to fifteen people. Good coaches enable the system to work because they equip and support the shepherds, the cell leaders. They model, mentor and manage in a way that motivates cell leaders to stay at their task and produce Kingdom impact in the lives of their cell members.
Coaches model the ability to pastor people through cell groups. Coaches are raised up within the cell system, rather than appointed, because you can’t train others to do what you are unable to do yourself. Don’t merely decide that each of your elders will be a coach, or that someone will make a good coach because he or she is a godly person. Coaches must know from personal experience how to help people mature spiritually, experience community, extend themselves to their lost friends, and raise leaders within the context of cell life.
At East Side Grace Brethren Church, we are seeing anew just how critical modeling is. From the beginning, we have operated in a five-by-five cell model, meaning that each coach steps out of cell leadership to fully focus on the five cells he or she oversees. Each coach belongs to a cell but no longer leads a cell. We recently realized that a yearning to “get back to the action” of cell leading was frustrating some of our coaches. To meet their need, we are restructuring our coaches’ duties so each will lead a cell and oversee one or two other cell leaders. Certainly, any coach who has been a proven cell leader understands the authority gained in being able to direct a cell leader on the basis of past experience. This authority strengthens when coaches speak out of their current experience as well.
For example, I am a cell leader and a coach. I encourage my cell members to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus, so I earn the right to tell the cell leaders I coach to do the same. When I juggle my schedule to meet a cell member for breakfast, I gain the clout to push my cell leaders to do the same. A cell leader cannot readily dismiss the direction of a coach if that coach is following his or her own advice, and with success. That is the power of modeling.
Coaches who aren’t currently leading a cell, model for their leaders by how they live out cell life and cell evangelism. This is why we insist that every coach be part of a cell. Our coaches meet together regularly and love one another, but this isn’t a cell. To effectively model the New Testament lifestyle to the leaders they oversee, coaches (as well as every pastor on staff) must live out a dedicated cell life, accountable in relationships and evangelism.
Another of the coaches’ responsibilities is managing the cell leaders under their care. In this capacity, they ensure that cell leaders practice the skills necessary to correctly lead a healthy, thriving cell.
Our coaches regularly attend the gatherings of their cell leaders, in part to show support for the group and their leader. Taking part in meetings and outreach events gives coaches a feel for the cells and for what is or isn’t going on there. Visits put them in touch with their undershepherds’ (cell leaders’) members. These also are opportunities to observe the cell leaders “on the job,” to find out what is and isn’t working. A coach’s feedback can correct a bad habit, such as a cell leader doing all the talking during the meeting or not beginning or ending the meeting on time. Maybe a leader isn’t sharing the facilitation with an intern or isn’t comfortable giving away portions of the meeting. A coach will recognize these and other shortfalls, as well as positive actions, and provide ongoing, fresh evaluations of the leaders’ strengths and weaknesses.
The coach also is the vision caster for his or her leaders. My experience is that people stray from the vision if they aren’t regularly reminded of it. Nehemiah discovered the same thing when, halfway through the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, the people needed reinvigorating to complete the task (Nehemiah 4:10). Nehemiah reminded the people of their vision, and they completed the project in a mind-boggling 52 days! This led Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Church,” to conclude that people need to be reminded of the vision every 26 days, or roughly once a month.
Likewise, your cell leaders will lose track of their vision. Their cells will digress into self-focused clubs or denigrate into “nice” weekly meetings. Perhaps members will grow complacent about pushing each other toward spiritual maturity. These are the outcomes when a cell loses sight of evangelism, or when the cell gathering becomes a cognitive time to discuss scriptures and pray instead of a time to be transparent about what’s really going on in members’ lives. Good coaches know when cells and their leaders stray from the vision, and they work with the leaders to bring the cells back on track.
Administration and paperwork also fall under managing. Each of our cell leaders submits a weekly report to his or her coach. This report tells the coach what happened in the cell gathering that week (who was there, what they did, any special needs or concerns that arose). More importantly, though, the report highlights the leader’s efforts to be involved in the lives of the cell members. A cell leader’s greatest impact occurs not during the meeting but between the meetings, when he or she is connecting with members and facilitating “community happening.” For example, are they talking with their members during the week, either in person or on the phone? Are they sharing mealtimes with members? Who are they praying for, and in what ways? Answers to these questions tell a coach how the leaders are doing.
Perhaps the most critical element of coaching is mentoring the cell leaders. Coaches model what they want the cell leader to copy, and manage them so they are technically doing things right. But if coaches fail to do all this in a relational way, they miss the point of a cell church—“relationships,” not “programs.”
Cell leaders will copy their coach’s example. If coaches only manage, they will produce a bunch of cell leaders who manage but don’t pastor. To produce cell leaders who pastor their people, coaches must pastor their cell leaders. This means being intimately involved in their lives, not discussing only the practical aspects of their leadership. Coaches must care enough about their leaders’ lives to ask how the marriage is going. How much time are they spending with their kids? What’s going on with their job? How’s their personal walk of faith? Their quiet time with the Lord?
This deep level of relationship naturally occurs when a coach oversees cell leaders they have helped raise up from within their own cell. They already are involved in each other’s lives on a personal, pastoral level, and this continues with the addition of the managing and modeling aspects. Whether a cell leader is a product of his or her coach’s cell, or whether the coach inherited this leader along the way, the coach must care for this leader on both a personal and a leadership performance level.
Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, said, “A coach is someone who makes people do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to achieve.” Cell coaches can’t make a cell leader do something, any more than cell leaders can make the people in their cells grow spiritually. But the coaches’ primary tool of motivating cell leaders to success is their influence through modeling, managing and mentoring.
Cell coaches have the vision. They’ve proven themselves as knowing how to pastor people. Through cell coaching, they expand their kingdom impact beyond their personal cell to include multiple cells, and then beyond that to a successful cell system. This system is part of a church that is about God’s Kingdom business of impacting the world for Christ—people getting saved and discipled, leaders being raised up and equipped, Christians living out “one-anothering” in a way that makes the world around them wake up and take notice.
Jay Firebaugh is the senior associate pastor at East Side Grace Brethren Church in Columbus, OH, where he oversees the structure of 33 adult cells. He also teaches several TOUCH seminars, including the newly revamped Cell Coaching Seminar being offered this fall.
Thirty-four years ago, I seemed to be a bird flying alone with a dream of a New Testament church. I did not know what to call what I was looking for, so I just said, “I want to start an experimental church that can be like the Body of Christ in the book of Acts.”
This was a lonely period. Gradually, I found fellow travelers around the U.S. and then overseas. We seemed to have but one desire: to think Kingdom thoughts. I well remember the letters and phone calls when we shared freely what God was giving to us. We shared an excitement about pioneering, and turf-building was unthinkable. Rather, this was a spirit that said, “Let’s get the job done!”
Eventually the theology, values and principles of the cell church movement emerged.
Those were days when my wife, Ruth, filled orders for my primitive writings and maintained the office, without compensation for years. I ghostwrote books, lectured in seminaries and conducted cell seminars to support my family and keep TOUCH Outreach Ministries afloat. The dream kept us inspired and certain that God was up to something new on Planet Earth. A couple of dear friends bailed out our debt each year.
Things have changed. Some who have used cell concepts to grow large churches seemingly have forgotten about building the Kingdom. They instead are building Castles where they can be the Kings. In England, Brazil, Colombia, the U.S. and elsewhere, I hear the same comments as Kings arrive from abroad: “Use my system and no one else’s! You cannot mix systems!” The rigid conviction that one “system” is best is the spirit of man, not the Spirit of God. Perhaps it is too late for these Kings to tear down their Castles and return to ground level, where they are servants who want to wash feet and who do not want to control others.
This day I am grieving—at arrogance, at thirst for power.
For those of you who have not heard my famous story about saliva, let me share it: Each person swallows several ounces of saliva daily. Without this function, we would experience discomfort. Consider how you would feel if you were asked to spit several ounces of your own saliva in a cup and then drink it. Ugh! Why? It’s your own spit, isn’t it? Yet it now seems like a “foreign” substance. But how would you feel if I handed you a cup filled with my spit to drink? Could you tolerate that?
I spent years developing models of how to equip believers and then usher them into ministry. To monitor their effectiveness, I served as a senior pastor in Houston and then as a senior associate pastor in Singapore. I rebuilt each module over and over, refining them as they were tested. I did this not to sell materials, but to provide working models of key principles for the next generation. My desire was that my work would serve as a platform for others, who would internalize and adapt the structure to fit their cultures and the Christians who would be equipped. And some marvelous examples of internalization have come to my attention. Godly men abound in the movement!
Let me urge those in the cell church movement to examine all models, go with one or merge it with concepts from others, but please do so with wisdom from above. Certain PRINCIPLES either are included or ignored in any of the systems. To use equipping materials without regard for taxonomy, values and especially Holy Spirit anointing is folly.
One giant cell church has a monthly goal for conversions in each zone. A cell leader reportedly said to one convert, “I already have my quota of converts for this month. Would you mind delaying making your public profession of faith so I can get credit for it next month?” As an old friend taught me, “God forgives all sins instantly, but stupid is forever.”
Protect yourself and your ministry from Castle Thinkers. Remember Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 3 about those who plant or build churches and use wood, hay and stubble as the material for their ministries: “Every man’s work will be tested with fire.” Castle Thinkers build with the wrong ingredients. Kingdom Thinkers use gold, silver and precious stones.
Can All Cell Leaders Be Coaches? - Taking established pastoral relationships to the next level.
As pastors, we know that cell leaders need ministry if they’re going to continue to minister. All effective cell churches include a system of care for cell leaders on the front lines. Yet, if you’re like most pastors, you struggle to find these “coaches” who excel in ministering to and supervising cell leaders.
An excellent grassroots way to provide this middle-management care is for each cell leader to coach those new leaders raised up in his or her cell group. The “parent” cell leader has a history of personally pastoring the cell member throughout the life of the cell. When that member launches his or her own group, the parent leader can continue to minister and mentor the new leader out of the loving and supportive relationship already established.
We adopted this pattern for cell leader oversight and care at Republic Church in Quito, Ecuador. We tell our cell leaders, “Each of you is a potential coach. All you have to do is multiply your group, and you will supervise (coach) the new group under your care.”
This approach to coaching opens up new potential for all leaders. Not only are they spiritual parents, but they have the opportunity to become spiritual grandparents. Their goal for ministry expands beyond what they can do alone. Cell leaders now envision and strive to live out 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
In Republic Church’s former system, Vinicio served as a cell supervisor who oversaw cell groups. With the introduction of the coaching system, Vinicio is on the same playing field as every other cell leader. He coaches the groups he starts or births, rather than overseeing groups apportioned to him. Vinicio serves his cell leaders with new vigor, because he took part in raising up the leaders and in birthing the new cells. He knows the cell leaders, their needs and their history. Men and women serving under Vinicio are more loyal to him as their coach, since he helped develop their leadership from the beginning of their cell life.
This new style of coaching works for two reasons:
1) The vested interest the parent cell leader has in both the daughter cell leader and in the daughter cell.
2) The established relationship between parent cell leader and daughter cell leader.
Embracing this approach to cell oversight is a process. You cannot force leaders into this coaching pattern overnight. Begin by casting the vision to your current cell leaders. Show them how to become spiritual grandparents. Help them understand the value of long-term relationships before you enforce a new structure.
The next step is to encourage every leader, from the senior pastor down, to lead an “open” cell (one that anyone can join) in addition to any “leadership” cell they already lead. Using this method at Republic Church keeps every leader on the front lines of ministry. I lead an open cell group Thursday nights, and this is how I stay in touch with the needs of the people in the church and in the world.
As new cell members are developed and released as cell leaders, they come under the care of their former “parent” cell leader. As this happens, the cell leader/coach continues to lead his or her own group. Those who coach and lead a cell of their own have the authority to say to those under their care, “This has helped me in my cell group. I think it will help you.”
At some point, the cell leader/coach should have the option of no longer leading an open cell group. The coach’s focus shifts, and his or her energy is devoted solely to coaching cell leaders and groups.
Some churches say that a coach who raises up twelve leaders should cease to lead an open cell. At Republic Church, one coach may care for a maximum of twelve cell leaders. You might place that number at five. Whichever number you choose, a specific number helps each leader to envision multiplying his or her cell more than once. From a pragmatic perspective, a maximum number gives each cell leader a goal to pursue. Leaders won’t rest content with birthing only one or two groups.
Multiplying the ministry and leadership is at the forefront of most pastors’ minds. I am always looking for more effective ways to multiply myself through others. I cannot keep up with all the needs of the cells under my care. I need people like René Naranjo, who coaches the cell of Santiago and Mabis. René feels like a parent who is personally obligated to see his daughter cell leader succeed. Santiago and Mabis were long-time members of René’s cell group. When they started their Wednesday cell group, the established relationship between parent and child continued. The pastoral staff simply confirmed the relationship and ensured that the supervision took place.
This coaching pattern can succeed in your church, too. Introduce it slowly and prayerfully, following the outline above, and your cell leaders will thrive under their coaches’ care. Natural relationships between cell leaders and their members are built on transparency, trust and servanthood. As those members become leaders and the parent cell leaders become spiritual grandparents, these nurturing relationships will ensure that no cell leader is without the hands-on pastoring he or she needs to survive and thrive on the front lines of ministry.
Dr. Joel Comiskey serves as a missionary in a growing cell church in Quito, Ecuador. His books include Home Cell Group Explosion and Reap The Harvest.
Boot Camp for Spiritual Parents - Cell leadership primes much needed “fathers” and “mothers.”
Imagine a Christian more mature than yourself giving you a hug and saying, “I see God’s potential in you. I want to stand with you for the long haul and see God work in your life.” After the initial shock wore off, how would you react? By giving a hug back and shouting “hallelujah”?
If you are like most Christians, another sermon on Christian living isn’t going to scratch your spiritual itch. What you need is more of the Lord, along with a mature, compassionate “father” or “mother” to parent you spiritually.
God is raising up spiritual parents who are willing to nurture spiritual children and help them grow up in their Christian lives. This is a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). Although this scripture certainly has implications for our natural families, its significance for spiritual parenting in the church is profound. As I travel throughout the world, training leaders week after week, I see a consistent and desperate need for three types of spiritual fathers and mothers.
1) The grassroots spiritual parents. These cell leaders see their group members as a spiritual family who need nurturing and training to become spiritual parents. This is basic training, boot camp.
2) Pastors and church leaders who see themselves serving as spiritual parents to the group leaders in their church. “Fathering” cell leaders is a priority for these leaders of healthy churches.
3) Apostolic fathers. These pastors mentor local church pastors, offering a shoulder to cry on and ears to listen. Regardless of what your denomination or movement calls them, pastors and leaders throughout the Body of Christ are crying out for apostolic fathers.
True spiritual parenting is built upon healthy, God-given relationships. A Christian learns spiritual parenting by leading a cell group. This is the Lord’s boot camp for training spiritual fathers and mothers to serve in all levels of spiritual parenting.
Let me tell you Carl’s boot camp story. Carl and his wife, Doris, live in the small town of Manheim, PA, and he was in his 50s when they started attending our cell church. Carl was an unassuming, quiet member in his cell group who worked at a local feed mill. Doris worked as a buying agent for a local firm.
Carl and Doris’ cell leaders asked them to consider leading the cell. With fear and trembling, they agreed and completed our cell leader training. After a few months as interns, Carl and Doris assumed leadership responsibility for their cell. They were not flashy, but they loved people, and those people responded. Their living room soon filled to capacity. They continued to mentor assistant leaders (interns), and raised up enough leaders to start another cell. Before long, they launched their third cell, and soon thereafter birthed a fourth group. Over the next few years, their cells continually grew and multiplied.
As our church rapidly expanded, we needed to add more support pastors who would “father” the cell leaders. As we prayed and looked for spiritual fathers among the cells, our eyes fell on Carl, a true pastor. He had been trained in the seminary and boot camp of the “Basic Christian Community,” the cell group. Carl joined our paid staff and continued to “father” the cell leaders in the Manheim area.
A few years later, in early 1996, the Lord called us to decentralize and plant eight new cell churches in our region, all at the same time. Who became the senior pastor of the new church in Manheim? You guessed it—Carl.
A Scottish couple, Duncan and Kath, attending our cell-based “Church Planting and Leadership School” joined a cell in the Manheim church. They returned to Scotland to plant a new cell, and it evolved into a cell church. Duncan looks across the ocean to Carl as a spiritual father.
Carl turns 65 this year. His story has been, and remains, amazing to watch. Various church leaders throughout our nation and the world look to Carl as their spiritual father. He serves on our Apostolic Council, which oversees leaders of more than 50 cell churches scattered across four continents. A few months ago, a leader in the Body of Christ from another part of the U.S. told me, “I have been looking for a spiritual father all of my Christian life, and God has answered my prayers. Carl has become a father to me.”
Carl worked in a feed mill when the Lord called him to learn how to be a spiritual father. The Lord used Carl’s experience of cell leader servanthood to prepare him for future service in His Kingdom. Carl did not aspire to pastor a church, much less to pastor other pastors. He just loved Jesus and wanted to serve in a supportive role in the local church. God had other plans.
Less than 20 years ago, I was a chicken farmer when the Lord called my wife, LaVerne and me to serve as spiritual parents to new believers involved in cell ministry. He was training us in the basics of spiritual fathering and mothering.
Our God is no respecter of persons. Some of us are housewives, others are high-school students, others run corporations or work in law firms, factories or department stores. The call is the same. He is calling you and me to become spiritual parents. And he is training us today in His boot camp, the cell group.
Larry Kreider is the International Director of DOVE Christian Fellowship International (DCFI), a worldwide network of cell-based churches. DCFI has used the “house to house” strategy of building the church with cell groups for the past two decades.
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.