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Spiritual Gifts and the Cell Church

By Joel Comiskey

Summer 2002

Natural Church Development, a book written by Christian Schwarz, is an increasingly popular tool for churches throughout the world. Schwarz discovered eight quality factors that are present in all growing churches. One of those qualities is gift mobilization. Schwarz discovered that growing churches allow members to discover and use their spiritual gifts.

What isn’t clear, however, is how a church must structure its ministry to allow spiritual gifts to flourish. Unleashing the Church, a popular book written in 1982 by Frank Tillapaugh, recommended that each member of the church create his or her own ministry based on spiritual gifting. The pastor’s role was to help create and oversee the ministry structures that naturally came into being.

Several well-known seeker sensitive churches have modified Tillapaugh’s approach and try to direct church members to particular established ministries within the church according spiritual gifting. Several of these seeker-sensitive churches promote ministry fairs after Sunday worship, so that members can pick and choose their particular ministry.

Gifts and the Cell Church

How does all this look in the cell church? Should a cell church try to design church ministries and programs so that members—or seekers—can use their spiritual gifts? Wouldn’t this create multiple programs in the church that would lead us back to the PBD church? Wouldn’t we be setting up ministries that would eventually develop a life of their own and compete with cell-based ministry?

First, I believe that each believer should know and deploy his or her spiritual gift (s). The key question is NOT whether we should know and exercise our gifts. The main point is how and where we are to primarily exercise our spiritual gifts.

Remember that the early church met in houses for the first couple centuries. The entire New Testament, in fact, was written to these house churches. The first discovery of a Christian church building dates to the year 150 AD and by that the time the church possessed the entire NEW TESTAMENT. Without a building of their own, the early church continued to exercise spiritual gifts in an unprecedented fashion (Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians). Paul wrote the gift passages, in fact, to members of house churches.

Where to Use Your Spiritual Gift

The first place to exercise spiritual gift (s) is in the cell. Taking the early church as our example, I believe the small group environment is the perfect place for a person to exercise his or her spiritual gifts. The person with the gift of teaching, for example, might give clarity to a difficult passage. The person with the gift of mercy might propose taking an offering or visiting a hurting cell member in the hospital. The believer with the gift of evangelism might feel compelled to invite friends and relatives. You get the picture.

Effective cell leaders depend on the giftedness of everyone in the group. They mobilize everyone to use his or her gift so the body might be edified and non-Christians might be won to Christ.

Cell churches also develop excellent training that train cell members in how to discover their spiritual gift (s) with the goal of using those gifts within and outside of the cell group.

The second place to exercise spiritual gifts is in the work place. Many overlook this, but a key place to exercise spiritual gifts is on the job--whether showing mercy, offering hospitality, leading a share group, practicing friendship evangelism, or praying for miracles to happen. For some reason, we’ve connected spiritual gifts with the church building, which in my opinion is the least effective place for believers to use their gifts.

The THIRD place is in the celebration wing of the cell church. The reason I said least effective is because only a few believers can actually exercise their gifts in a large group atmosphere. How many can lead worship? How many can preach? How many can usher? In reality, ministries involved with the celebration wing of the church are limited.

Broaden Your Spiritual Gift Horizons

Sadly, the programmed church today has made the celebration wing of the church the MAIN PLACE TO EXERCISE SPIRITUAL GIFTS. They’ve created a multitude of ministries and programs to SUIT the gifts of everyone in the congregation. I believe that over-emphasizing the use of the gifts on the celebration level will bog down the implementation of cell church and ultimately cause well-meaning pastors to lose direction. Remember the words of George Barna:

In speaking with pastors of declining churches, a common thread was their desire to do something for everybody. They had fallen into the strategic black hole of creating a ministry that looked great on paper, but had not ability to perform up to standards. Despite their worthy intentions, they tried to be so helpful to everyone that they wound up being helpful to no one.

Don’t fall into the strategic black hole of creating something for everyone—only later to realize you’ve drained the precious time resources of your people. Sadly, a lot of excellent material about discovering your spiritual gifts suggests that you first must design multiple ministries (programs) within your church before you can teach the people about spiritual gifts.

My advice is to concentrate on the first two places to exercise spiritual gifts (the cell and the workplace) and only establish church ministries as the need arises—concentrating on those ministries that feed and benefit the cell or celebration.

Further reading on this topic: Comiskey's book Cell Church Solutions dedicates an entire chapter on the gifts of the Spirit in cell ministry. More also in The Spirit-filled Small Group: Leading Your Group to Experience the Spiritual Gifts. Order HERE or by calling or by calling 1-888-344-CELL.