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The Rabbit and the Turtle: God's Qualitative Work in Brazil

by Joel Comiskey

Spring 2010

Some of you have read the old English story of the hare (rabbit) and the tortoise (turtle) called Aesop’s Fable. In the story, the rabbit ridiculed the turtle for having short feet and a slow pace. The turtle replied, “Though you be swift as the wind, I will beat you in a race.” The rabbit agreed to a race, believing that the turtle could never win. The two started the race together, and the turtle never stopped, following a slow but steady pace to the end of the course. The rabbit, lying down by the wayside, fell fast asleep. At last waking up, and moving as fast as he could, he realized the turtle had already finished and won the race.

I see this story played out in the cell church world today. Some cell models, like the rabbit, offer quick growth and the promise of rapid numbers. Here in Brazil, various pastors started following a cell model in Latin America that promised instant growth for those adopting their entire model. These pastors abandoned the slow, steady training that Robert Lay and Ministerio Igrega em Células offered.

The purpose of Ministerio Igrega em Células is to teach values, principles, and to network pastors and leaders together on the cell church journey (four modules, annual confernces, and lots of material). Some began to criticize Robert Lay’s ministry as being too “turtle like.” They felt that he and his ministry over-emphasized cell chruch theology, values, starting with a prototype, and making transitional change in a slow, steady manner.

The good news is that many churches who took the time to study cell church principles and network with other pastors are now shining models for others to follow. I heard testimony after testimony from these pastors at the two annualMinisterio Igrega em Células conferences this past week (1400 attended the southern Brazil conference and 900 attended the northern Brazil conference). Some of these model churches now have 100s of cell groups and are giving birth to new cell churches in other places.

On the other hand, many of the “quick growth” churches are realizing that the glitter quickly fades in the reality of day to day cell church minsitry. Some are now rejoining Robert Lay’s network.

I’ve seen the same phenomenon played out in the U.S. One famous church helped other churches start dozens and dozens of groups very quickly. Churches gave glowing reports of the rapid growth of their small groups. The problem was that these groups only lasted a couple months. According to this strategy, they weren’t supposed to last any longer. Some pastors then tried the “bait-and-switch” technique of convincing the temporary groups to continue. Most dissolved.

Turtle-like ministry requires long-term persistence, passion, and perseverance. It’s easy to give up along the way, or jump on the bandwagon of the latest, greatest sucess story. Yet, I’ve been encourged afresh to take the long-term approach. Why? Because the results are lasting and eventually such a strategy will win the race, just like the turtle.