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Don't Steal Sheep

By Joel Comiskey

Winter 2014

The amazing thing about cell ministry is that lives are changed, spiritual gifts are discovered, people experience camaraderie in evangelism, and new disciple-makers are formed. When Sunday morning rolls around, those involved in cells are hungry to receive God’s Word because they are active in New Testament ministry. Naturally, those in the cell group want to invite everyone they know to experience the power of cell ministry. But should they invite everyone? No. Let me explain. Your cell ministry is for two classes of people:

  1. Those who are part of your local church.
  2. Those who are unchurched.

Allow me to be super clear here: Your cell group is not for people from other evangelical churches. This is called sheep-stealing and it’s unethical!!

If a person is part of another evangelical church, that person is under the authority and spiritual direction of that pastor and local church. If you are a cell leader, you need to respect that spiritual, God-ordained relationship and encourage that person to go back to his or her church to start a cell group or get involved in one of the church’s existing groups.

Cell members have the tendency to invite their fellow Christian friends and work associates to their own cell groups. After all, it’s easier to invite a friend and fellow Christian, rather than doing the hard work of getting to know an unbeliever or unchurched person. But filling up your cell group with Christians from other churches will eventually stagnate your cell group and cell ministry. Here’s why:

  1. The space problem. That person is filling up space in the group that should be taken by a member from your church or an unchurched person (non-Christian or person who doesn’t have a church home). Didn’t Jesus say that the harvest is plentiful? (Matthew 9). In most places around the world, there are plenty of people who need Jesus, and that’s a key reason why your group exists. I’ve seen many cells stagnate because they were dominated by people from other churches. Don’t allow this to happen!
  2. The direction problem. You can’t truly disciple a person from another church. For example, how are you going to take that person through your church’s discipleship equipping (i.e., training) that teaches your church’s doctrine, vision, and eventually leads to the person becoming a disciple-maker in one of your new cell groups? In other words, you can’t move forward with this person because he or she is already under the direction of another pastor, church, set of values, and vision (e.g., ministries, programs, doctrine, etc.)
  3. The vision problem. The person isn’t on the same page with you concerning direction, goals, and oftentimes doctrine. These differences often come up when talking about cell outreach, pastoral issues, or what is happening in your church’s Sunday celebration.
  4. The ethical problem. God has designed order and leadership in the local church (e.g., Hebrews 13:17; 1 Timothy 2&3) and you as a cell leader need to respect that order.

Granted, there are exceptions. We have found that some people “say” they attend the popular mega church, but in reality these people aren’t hooked in, don’t attend, and are sheep without a shepherd. They need to hook into a local church. Some people also attend churches who don’t preach the gospel and are not even saved. You need to get them involved in your local church. And remember that some might decide (by their own free will) to change churches and start attending both cell and celebration in your local church.

Let us remember that Jesus is desirous of reaching your city and discipling those who are part of the local church that he has established. Go after the unchurched and also diligently make disciples from your own local church. Although it might be easier to fill up your cell group with people from other churches, refuse the temptation to do so!

Joel