Encounter Retreats Are Not Enough

joelEncounter retreats are not enough! Some cell churches have become so enamored with Encounters, they’ve lost their way. I was in one cell church that strayed from the cell church vision of making disciples who make disciples by trying to get everyone to go to an Encounter Retreat. They became an Encounter Retreat Church!

As I shared on Monday’s blog, when I attended my first Encounter retreat, God worked powerfully and I confessed strongholds of bitterness and anger, as well as other sins. God transformed my life, and I experienced an incredible new freedom and liberty. Yet, as the months passed, I noticed that I still struggled in some of these areas. I realized that in order to remain free, I needed to approach God on a daily basis, confessing any reoccurring sin. God showed me that I needed the strength of my daily quiet time to walk in continual victory.

Camps and retreats are great. God uses them to speak to us clearly and powerfully. But there’s a danger in living today on a yesterday’s washingFEETone-time experience. We need to walk in daily repentance.

In biblical times, dirt roads were the norm. Since everyone wore sandals, no matter how hard a person tried to keep his feet clean, they would naturally pick up the dirt and dust of the Roman roads. Footwashing wasn’t a religious rite; it was a practical need.

The quiet time is our footwashing. It’s the time to come to God and His Word, asking Him for restoration and renovation. The apostle John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).
The good news is that there is power in the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse us from all sins. Quiet time provides the perfect opportunity to let God speak to us, restore us, renew us and give us power to overcome the Enemy.


Balance Training and Discipling


By Steve Cordle

One of the core responsibilities of a cell leader is to develop another leader. When working with an apprentice/intern, it is strategic to balance training and discipling.

While we need not make an absolute distinction here, I see a difference between training and discipling. Training refers to equipping for ministry activity, while discipling refers more to personal and spiritual development.

It is important for leaders-in-training to be given instruction and feedback on how to do things like lead the cell’s prayer time or Bible discussion, follow-up with new people, or plan an outreach. Cell leaders need to be handing off parts of the ministry to their developing leaders. But doing tasks is not all there is to leading a group! If we simply train people to do ministry teasks without sufficient attention to growing their inner being, then the crash we hear one day will be the sound of the cell group falling apart.

It is vital that leaders also see themselves as helping their apprentices to grow spiritually as children of God, not just servants of Christ. This isn’t quite as clear cut as handing off part of the meeting. This involves personal work, prayer, and transparency. It might take more time and energy than training, but it is essential.

Do your leaders have a gasp on how to develop people spiritually? Are they replicating a process they experienced?

Training and discipleship go hand in hand; one is “doing”, the other is “being”. Effective group leaders will do both.

Removing Hindrances to Victorious Christian Living

joelI used to live in Quito, Ecuador. Like many cities in Latin America, there wasn’t a lot of centralized planning. Squatters would often build shacks on the outskirts of the city, hoping for a better life. After erecting their make-shift houses, the government had a hard time removing them.

Paul says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” ( 2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The word picture in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 is of the conquest of Canaan. God told the Israelites to wipe out the heathen nations because of their blatant idol worship and animism.SETfree The Israelites took some of the land–but not all of it. Certain strongholds were under the control of others and the heathen people remained “squatters” for centuries.

Here’s the application: even though we have given our life to Christ, some areas may be “out of control” (e.g., anger, lust, fear, resentment). Satan gains ground in our lives through such entry points. Strongholds can come from: habitual sin (e.g, pornography), unforgiveness, occult Involvement, generational bondage, traumatic life experiences.

I’m increasingly convinced that Christians need to be set free from enemy strongholds that weigh them down and cause them to live defeated Christain lives. An Encounter Retreat is designed to help believers deal with areas of bondage and to live victorious Christian life–to get rid of the satanic squatters that have erected strongholds in our lives.

As part of my five-book equipping series, I’ve designed an Encounter Retreat, that you might want to check out. I’m increasingly convinced that churches should take their people through the process of being set free. This is what Jesus wants for His church. He said in John 8:34-36: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”



Advancing Through Adversity

One thing that all my close friends have in common with each other is adversity.  How about your circle of friends?  It’s true isn’t it?  Maybe we should go find some new friends!  If we did, then we would probably figure out that our “new” set of friends are plagued with adversity as well.  Adversity is common in life and in relationships.  If you are not experiencing any adversity right now, then please be patient.

A cell is a set of relationships.  Therefore, don’t be surprised when adversity comes your way.  We see adversity in the lives of almost every major character in the scriptures.  By my count, there are forty-six scenarios in the book of Acts in which God’s servants are facing adversity.  Jesus taught us that we will face trials, tribulations, persecutions and more.  We will, indeed, face adversity.  How can we advance through adversity?

God forms us in many different ways.  One of his primary ways of shaping us and preparing us for service to Him is through adversity.  Adversity can become our greatest motivation for spiritual growth or the deadliest means of discouragement.  Our challenge is not to get stuck in adversity, but to grow through it.

God does not permit adversity for the purpose of defeating us but for the purpose of benefiting us.  I love bald eagles!  When I go to a zoo with my family, I head straight for the bald eagles.  They are majestic creatures.  Did you know that an eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it breaks?  The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come.  When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm.  While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it.  The eagle does not escape the storm.  It simply uses that storm to lift it higher.  It rises on the winds that bring the storm.  May we emulate the eagle as storms will come our way.  Here’s why.

Our response to adversity displays to others what we think of God.  It also reveals our life’s lenses.  Typically, people walk around with the following lenses:  Is it what I want?  Is it what I deserve?  Is it what I always expected?  Does it make sense to me?  Does it fit into my plans?  Does it make me happy?  Does it inconvenience me in any way?  Will others understand?

Those who successfully advance through adversity are astute and consistent in asking the following two questions.  First, how can this adversity in my life glorify God?  Next, how can this adversity fulfill God’s purpose in the earth?  Your faith is weighed on the scales of adversity than any other way. 

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles…”  (Isaiah 40:31)


by Rob Campbell



Freedom from Sin and Satan

joelWhen I first went through an Encounter Retreat, Jesus set me free from bursts of anger, love of money, and way too much liberty in watching movies, etc. Up to that point, I really didn’t think I needed to go through an Encounter Retreat. Although I had studied Encounter Retreats in a wide variety of cell churches, I really didn’t think that our church (the Republic Church in Ecuador) needed Encounter Retreats because of the added administrative responsibilities. All that changed when I actually went through an Encounter retreat and Jesus set me free and gave me a new sense of holiness.

But why Encounters? Part of the reason is that Satan is alive and well and likes to gain ground in the lives of believers.encounter John says, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). In Matthew chapter 4, Jesus took Jesus up to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. He then offered those kingdoms to Jesus in return for Christ’s worship. Satan had the power to give the kingdoms of this world to Jesus. He’s the prince of this world and controls those who don’t know Jesus. The reality is that he’s also ferociously attacking believers and looking for ways to make them stumble and fall.

And he has a hosts of helpers to do his dirty work. Scriptures indicate that when Satan was cast out of heaven, he took a myriad of fallen angels with him called “angels who abandoned their place of habitation” (Jude 6), demons (Mark 1:34), or unclean spirits (Mark 3:11). Ephesians 6:12-18 says, ” For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Yes, I believe that God is sovereignly in control–even over all demonic power. Scripture says that God in us is greater than the demonic powers in the world (1 John 4:4).Yet when believers live in unholiness and compromise with the world, they give the demonic forces entry points into their lives. And thus, I’ve come to believe that having regular Encounter Retreats is one essential component in maintaining a healthy, victorious church.

I’m only half way there! Come back for more on Wednesday’s blog. 

Comments thus far?


Southern Baptist Church Planting–a Case Study

joel I talked last Wednesday about Centro Cristiano Nueva Vida–a Southern Baptist church plant that started in Miami in 2002 and has continued to grow in both quality and quantity. The church has grown to thirty-seven cells, approximately 200 worshippers each Sunday, and they recently planted their first daughter church.

I had the privilege of preaching in the church last Sunday and there were a few things I really liked about the church.

First, pastor Pedro Saavedra is a student of the cell church. He’s not afraid to research growing cell churches around the world and “steal the best with pride” (even through some of those growing cell churches are different from his own denomination). He’s used material from Ralph Neighbour and others with the goal of adapting such materials to his own context. He’s also sought out cell church coaching to fine-tune what he’s doing.

Second, the church exudes passion. I loved the way the Sunday celebration started with passionate prayer (much like the way Koreans pray all together). CHURCHPLANTINGThe worship and preaching was passionate. Remember that this is a non-Pentecostal Southern Baptist Church, yet the passion was very reminiscent of my experiences at the Elim Church (and who said that Southern Baptist Churches can’t lead the way in passion for Jesus Christ!).

Third, the church is willing to work hard. Cell church ministry demands sacrifice and few are willing to pay the price. Pastor Pedro opens his home for cells, training, and supervision. Pedro’s wife, Isabel, is the lead guitar player in the worship group, leads a ladie’s cell, and is truly Pedro’s number one encourager. As I ate dinner with the Saavedra’s and their key coaches, I reminded them not to be weary in well-doing. I told them that hard work for Jesus is the New Testament/kingdom lifestyle and to simply press ahead for His glory. CCNV is leading the way in Southern Baptist circles because they’re willing to pay the price.

Fourth, they have a well-laid out cell church structure: the cells goals are clear, the equipping track is well-known, and every leader is coached by a trained supervisor. Pastor Saavedra even goes over the cell lessons with the key leaders each Sunday evening.

Although cell church is a great startegy, it’s not an easy one. It requires sacrifice and grit. Jesus has to birth the strategy within because He’s the only One that can sustain us to press on.


Joel Comiskey

Beware the vision vacuum


by Steve Cordle

Pastors who are considering cell ministry sometimes express concern over the possibility of divison. What if a cell leader takes off on their own band wagon and pulls their people away from the church?

Some of that concern can be attributed to unnecessary insecurity and lack of trust. But some of it can be traced to experience! They have seen rogue leaders make their group a personal fiefdom, and they don’t want to sign up for that.

In all honesty, over the years I have to admit I’ve seen a couple of disaffected leaders influence their groups away from our church. So why do I keep equipping and releasing leaders? Mostly because I have seen the awesome minstry that results, which far outweighs the occassional heartache.

I am also learning to recognize the conditions which make leader open to drift: the vision vacuum. When leaders are connecting with their coaches and attending our monthly leadership gathering, they virtually never drift. That is because they have a steady infusion of vision that shapes the way they look at their groups, their ministry, and the mission of the church. If a leader is not willingly connecting in those ways, they lose their focus and become susceptible to other visions and agendas because they don’t have a vision directing them. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but so does cell leadership.

Fill the vacuum with your vision, or something else will!

Southern Baptist Cell Church Planting

joelLast Friday through Sunday I spoke to 275 Southern Baptist Spanish pastors and leaders at a two-day cell church conference near Miami, Florida. It was the first of its kind among the Southern Baptist of Florida. Even many of the high-level directors attended the conference.

Southern Baptists had shown little interest in the cell church strategy in the past. What happened to stimulate such interest? In 2000 the Southern Baptists launched a church planting initiative called “For You Miami.” The goal was to plant 100 churches between the years 2000-2005. I was told that approximately seventy churches were planted and most of them either closed or dwindled down to a handful (this goes along with the general U.S. statistics that say between 80-95% of church plants fail). There was one shining star, however, called Centro Cristiano Nueva Vida. churchplantingCCNV started like the other SB churches, but it has continued to grow in both quality and quantity. And you guessed it, CCNV is a Southern Baptist cell church.

Pastor Pedro Saavedra planted CCNV in Miami in 2002, and the church has grown to thirty-seven cells, approximately 200 worshippers each Sunday, and they recently planted their first daughter church. Pastor Pedro is a student of the cell church. He has taken several trips to Elim, gone to various Touch conferences on cell church, and even sought me out for personal coaching. I had the privilege of preaching at CCNV on Sunday and was impressed by the passionate prayer, worship, and vision. I also witnessed the presentation of several new cell leaders.

Southern Baptists in general are pragmatic. The top leadership that organized the cell church conference last week realized that their people were interested in an integrated cell/celebration strategy. Florida and all the U.S. is being flooded with Latin American immigrants. Cell Church is a growing phenomonenon throughout Latin America, and many of the SB leaders and pastors settling in the U.S. are wanting to continue the two-winged church (both cell and celebration). I believe that the cell church strategy will be a key future tool for Southern Baptists throughout the U.S.



Joel Comiskey

Don’t Dump….Delegate!

There’s a great difference between dumping and delegating. Dr. Roger Fritz wrote, “Dumping is indiscriminate. It’s done for expedience, taking no account of the strengths and weaknesses of the person who is supposed to do the work. In its worst form, it’s a matter of the manager [or cell leader/pastor] dumping whatever he or she doesn’t personally want to do. It’s demeaning and perpetuates unhealthy workplace hierarchies.”

An excellent cell leader/pastor knows how to delgate. It’s an important attribute to develop and employ. However, many struggle with delegation. Here’s why you may choose not to delegate.

You may enjoy the task too much and can’t imagine “allowing” anyone else to do it. Or, you may have had a bad experience in your past with delegation. Maybe you believe that you are hard pressed to find quality people. Some who have difficulty delegating want to maintain total control. There are a myriad of other explanations, aren’t there?

You won’t be surprised to hear me say that delegation is a healthy practice when done appropriately. Here are some questions to ponder.

WHAT needs to be done? WHY does it need to be done? WHEN does it need to be done? WHO is the best person to do it? WHAT equipping needs to take place?

If you want to be a great delegator, then know yourself and your cell/team members. Clearly define priorities and tasks. Provide equipping and resources. Hold people accountable for their actions. Recognize their efforts and extend your gratitude to them consistently.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) is known for having built one of the most powerful and influential corporations in United States history. Later in his life he gave away most of his riches to fund many libraries, schools and universities in America, Scotland and other countries throughout the world. “Carnegie” is a well known name worldwide.

What follows is the epitaph on Carnegie’s tombstone: “Here lies a man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than himself.”

Two closing questions.

What is God teaching you to delegate?

What did Jesus delegate to you through the power of the Holy Spirit?


by Rob Campbell


How Elim Survived A Major Crisis

joelWhen I visited the Elim Church in San Salvador for the first time in 1996, the church was going through a major crisis (Elim is the second largest church in the world). The founding pastor had divorced his wife, run off with another woman, and was mismanaging the church’s finances. elimHis wild living was splashed across the headlines of the San Salvadorian newspapers. The leadership of Elim dearly loved their pastor and made the mistake of not quickly dealing with his sin. The church leaders did eventually deal with this problem openly and honesty,and I deal with all the details of this situation in my book, Passion and Persistence: How the Elim Church’s Cell Groups Penetrated an Entire City for Jesus.

Yet, I noticed an interesting phenomon: even when the crisis was at a boiling point, the church didn’t fall apart. Why? Because absolutely everyone at Elim is either a member of a cell, a cell leader, or part of the coaching structure. Surely, the fall of their beloved pastor was enormous. Yet, each person who attended Elim had an invidivdual pastor–the cell leader. And each cell leader had a coach. And each coach was pastored by someone else. You get the picture.

Cell churches are like starfishes, which have the ability to regenerate lost arms and can regrow an entire new arm in time (and a few species can grow an entire starfish from a single ray). I do believe in the key role of the senior pastor in the cell church and thankfully, Elim made the wise decision in 1997 to call Mario Vega to take over the senior pastorate of the church. Yet the beauty of the cell church is that members are personally pastored and can better withstand the Satanic storms than most church structures.


Joel Comiskey