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Cell Churches and the Problem with the Dones

by Joel Comiskey

Summer 2015

Josh Packard tells us that certain faithful members of the church are done with church as we know it. They are tired of sitting, listening, and giving. Or put another way, they are tired of plopping, praying, and paying. The good news is that this could be a wakeup call to reform the church and get back to New Testament Christianity. After all, the church was never designed for sitting and listening. God designed the early church as a dynamic face to face community. The New Testament church gathered as either house church networks or full-blown cell churches (Acts 2:42-46 & 1 Corinthians 14: 23).

Several bloggers have noted that cell churches can also lose people who aredone with the church. This is especially true when cell churches practice the following:

Solo-pastor oriented. Cell churches can create dones when one pastor develops too much power, has to make all decisions, and is the sole focal point of growth. Effective cell church pastors, on the other hand, share the ministry, boldly develop other leaders, and depend on their team to move forward–knowing that in a multitude of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14). Effective cell church pastors understand that all leadership in the New Testament was plural. They believe and practice team ministry.

Celebration Centered. The cell church was never meant to focus solely on the larger gathering. Rather, the celebration service is a time for the cells to come together, grow together, and receive new vitality. Some pastors, however, become consumed with their sermons and the worship service, while neglecting other important aspects of the cell system–like coaching and equipping. People soon realize that cells are simply a way to keep people within the four walls of the church, and some become done with the church. In reality, the lead pastor is the main coach. He must actively coach the cell leaders, supervisors, and cell pastors. Effective cell pastors also realize that unless new believers are prepared in the discipleship equipping (e.g., school of leaders, etc.), the cell church will not prepare the next generation of disciple-makers.

Leap-frogging. Wise cell pastors don’t shepherd the people personally. They care for the people through the cell leaders, supervisors, and cell pastors. The system breaks down when the pastor accepts all counseling that comes to his attention without first asking whether the person has first received care within the chain of authority established in the cell system (e.g., cell member to leader; leader to supervisor, and so forth). Effective cell pastors delegate and then respect those delegated authority lines.

Building Dependent. The New Testament church never owned a building, yet they changed the world. Some pastors become too enamored with their buildings and the fund-raising necessary to build and maintain them. I’ve seen cells dwindle and become secondary when building campaigns go into full swing. Faithful members can convert into those done with the church when they sense that the New Testament life is sacrificed at the altar of bricks and mortar. I was reminded of this as I drove this evening to Long Beach, CA on the Garden Grove 22 Freeway. I peered out my window and noticed the Crystal Cathedral, a dazzling relic that was supposed to attract people to the “church.” Yet all the crystal on that building couldn’t keep it going bankrupt and eventually selling all the real estate to the Catholic Church.

Perhaps the done phenomenon is a blessing in disguise. Perhaps Josh Packard is asking all of us to re-examine what the church was supposed to look like in the first place.