Team Ministry (part 2)

Monday’s blog highlighted the reasons for team ministry. But what about the practicalities?

First and foremost, those on a team should exemplify love for God, wife, and family. Second, team members should be  totally committed to the cell vision. They should be on the team, in fact, because they’ve clearly demonstrated their commitment to cell leadership, either my leading and multiplying a cell group in the past or currently leading one. Third, their lives should line up with the Biblical requirements listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (in my book Leadership Explosion, I go into great detail about the Biblical requirements for leadership).

When the team comes together the senior leader–whether called lead pastor, lead elder, or senior pastor–should start out on a relational/spiritual note. This is a great time to share from Scripture and speak truth ito team members. I like to follow the sharing time with prayer, encouraging each team member to pray.

Next is a time to review the progress of the cell groups. In our weekly Wednesday team meeting, for example, we each have a sheet of paper that tells us:

1. How many cells we’d like to see at the end of the year (our goal)
2. Names of people who we perceive to be future cell leaders
3. A list of each cell with the attendance in the cell from the previous week

We then talk about each cell group, allowing team members to share what they know about the cell, the leader, potential problems, praise reports, etc.
In this way we truly pastor the church–rather than mainly focusing on programmatic details. Since the cells are the base of the church, going over each cell is essential to properly care for the Christ’s church.

After discussing the cells, we cover additional issues in the church, such as celebration service, various ministries, calendar items, etc.

Our weekly team meeting lasts approximately two hours. .

You might do it differently, and that’s fine. The key is to remember that the team guides the cell-driven strategy for the glory of Jesus Christ.

What have you found essential in team ministry?

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Interest in House Churches

A friend sent me the following article from the March 2006 Time Magazine. I only include bits and pieces of it here (to keep it short and web-friendly). This is an article on house church, which I believe is a close cousin to cell church. I believe it’s best if house churches meet together for worship, share the same training track, and pro-actively coach the cell leaders. But that’s why I’m a proponent of cell church! However, I do love the fact that the house church movement sees the house church as the church and not as simply an add-on to “real Sunday church.” I’m also excited about the return to New Testament Christianity that the house church movement provides. Tomorrow, I’ll post part 2 of team ministry.

Title of article: “There’s No Pulpit Like Home: Some Evangelicals are abandoning megachurches for minichurches–based in their own living rooms”


Mar. 6, 2006

Since the 1990s, the ascendant mode of conservative American faith has been the megachurch. It gathers thousands, or even tens of thousands, for entertaining if sometimes undemanding services amid family-friendly amenities [however, this is changing].

George Barna, Evangelicalism’s best-known and perhaps most enthusiastic pollster, named simple church as one of several “mini-movements” vacuuming up “millions of believers [who] have stopped going to [standard] church.” In two decades, he wrote, “only about one-third of the population” will rely on conventional congregations. Not everyone buys Barna’s numbers–previous estimates set house churchers at a minuscule 50,000–but some serious players are intrigued.

The Maclellan Foundation, a major Christian funder based in Chattanooga, Tenn., is backing a three-year project to track Colorado house churching. The Southern Baptist Convention, with more standard-church pew sitters than any other Protestant group, has commissioned its own poll and experimented in planting hundreds of its own house churches. Allan Karr, a professor at the Rocky Mountain campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary who is involved in the poll, guesses that three out of 10 churches founded today are simple and that their individual odds for survival are better than those of the other seven. House churches are not known for denominational loyalty. That doesn’t bother Karr, however. “I want the denomination to prevail,” he says, “but I have an agenda that supersedes that: the Kingdom of God at large.”

House churches claim the oldest organizational pedigree in Christianity: the book of Acts records that after Jesus’ death, his Apostles gathered not at the temple but in an “upper room.” House churching has always prospered where resources were scarce or Christianity officially discouraged. In the U.S. its last previous bloom was rooted in the bohemian ethos of the California-bred Jesus People movement of the 1970s. Many of those groups were eventually reabsorbed by larger congregations, and the remnants tend to take a hard line. Frank Viola, a 20-year veteran Florida house churcher and author of Rethinking the Wineskin and other manuals, talks fondly of pilgrims who doctrinairely abjure pastors, sermons or a physical plant; feel that the “modern institutional church does not reflect the early church”; and “don’t believe you are going to see the fullness of Jesus Christ expressed just sitting in a pew listening to one other member of the body of Christ talking for 45 minutes while everyone else is passive.”

Yet the flexibility of simple churches is a huge plus. They can accommodate the demands of a multi-job worker, convene around the bedside of an ailing member and undertake big initiatives with dispatch, as in the case of a group in the Northwest that reportedly yearned to do social outreach but found that every member had heavy credit-card debt. An austerity campaign yielded a balance with which to help the true poor.

Indeed, house churching in itself can be an economically beneficial proposition. Golden Gate Seminary’s Karr reckons that building and staff consume 75% of a standard church’s budget, with little left for good works. House churches can often dedicate up to 90% of their offerings. Karr notes that traditional church is fine “if you like buildings. But I think the reason house churches are becoming more popular is that their resources are going into something more meaningful.”

Evangelical boosters find revival everywhere. Barna says he sees house churching and practices like home schooling and workplace ministries as part of a “seminal transition that may be akin to a third spiritual awakening in the U.S.” Jeffrey Mahan, academic vice president of Denver’s liberal and institutionally oriented Iliff School of Theology, doesn’t go that far, but he does think the trend is significant. American participation in formal church has risen and fallen throughout history, he notes, and after a prolonged post–World War II upswell, big-building Christianity may be exhaling again in favor of informal arrangements.

If so, he suggests, “I don’t think the denominations need be anxious. They don’t have a franchise on religion. The challenge is for people to talk about what constitutes a full and adequate religious life, to be the church together, not in a denominational sense, but in the broadest sense.” Or as Jesus put it, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I.”


Team Ministry (part 1)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about team ministry. Team ministry at the top level (pastor and team) is critical for healthy cell church ministry. And I’m not only talking about team ministry at the mega church level. Even if you only have one cell–like one pastor I’m coaching–you need to think now about forming a team.

The very nature of the Trinity is team ministry. The Trinity is One, yet each person of the Trinity has His distinct function.

In Exodus 18, God spoke through Jethro to Moses to stop his lone-ranger activity. God directed Moses to form a top level team of seventy elders, which would then direct the leaders of the 1000s, 100s, 50s and 10s.

Jesus worked on a team of twelve, but you could argue that Peter, James, and John were Christ’s true team. And Paul ministered on teams throughout his missionary career. I’m sure Paul’s team prayed, strategized, and sought to discern God’s will in every unique situation.

Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Team ministry takes the load off one pastor and distributes the yoke to others. Team ministry not only helps a pastor to minister more effectively but also prevents the yoke from becoming too heavy.

I first learned about team ministry in Ecuador (my previous church planting experience in Long Beach, CA from 1983 to 1989 was more of the lone ranger approach). Upon landing in Quito, Ecuador in 1990, I was immediately placed on a team of pastors at the El Batán Church. This church was part of the Encounter with God strategy that started in Lima, Perú back in the 70s. One cornerstone of Encounter with God was team ministry. When we at the El Batan church planted the Republic Church, we started as a team of one national couple and two missionary couples. Team ministry is so much more effective than the lone-ranger approach. In my church plant here in Moreno Valley, we meet as a team of two couples every Wednesday to pray, nurture the cell ministry, and oversee the church.

Your team might consist of elders, cell leaders, or pastors. The team might be paid or volunteer. In the cell church, however, those on your team must be 100% involved in cell ministry and totally committed to it. In my next blog, I’ll fill in more details about team ministry. Until then, let me ask you, Are you practicing team ministry? Having a hard time finding a team? What think yee?



Answers to Questions

On Wednesday, I asked for you to send me questions/suggestions to bring to JCG team meeting here in Myrtle Beach. Here are some that were sent to me:

I see that your board consists of two men pastoring churches with over 100 cells. And although I do praise God for their apparent success, I humbly ask that your new blog forum please remember us folks who are pursuing the cell church vision in rural America and even those who are attempting to plant cell-based churches in metropolitan areas

The fact is that most churches are small. The average size church in North America, for example, is 72 people. And we as a JCG team (board) are acutely aware of this fact. I coach one pastor who is planting a cell church with only one cell group of 8 people after 2.5 years. I coach another church of five cell groups. My church plant has 9 cells and 55 people. We at JCG are very much aware that rapid growth depends on prepared soil and God-ordained receptivity (e.g., Latin America, Africa, parts of Asia, China). In North America and the western world this is just not the case. Two of the JCG team members pastor larger cell churches, but they are also aware of how difficult North American ministry really is. Today, we were discussing a name change for my book Cell Church Solutions in the next printing. Someone had suggested title, Cell Church Fire! The Expanding Cell Church in North America. Yet, as we discussed this title, we agreed that we don’t believe that FIRE is here in North America (although we’re praying that it will come!).

Another question sent to me was: I notice that you waffle between the terms “cells” and “small groups”. I see (on your website) that your church is named Wellspring Cell Church but many of the books you write interchange the two terms. So, which do you advocate?

My answer is this: I have strong convictions about the nature of the cell. I describe a cell as: A group of 3-15 that meets weekly outside the church building for the purpose of evangelism, community, and discipleship with the goal of multiplication.

I only promote this type of cell (according to the definition) because it’s a holistic definition of a cell. For me, the quality of the cell is everything. It’s the foundation upon which the cell church is built. However, I’m not dogmatic about the name for a cell group. I might use life groups, heart groups, cell groups, or small groups. Yet, when I use the term small groups I’m certainly not referring to: closed groups, short term groups, program/ministry groups, or any other group that doesn’t meet the above definition. For me, the key is the definition and not the name of the group. All of the JCG team members would agree.

Finally, someone wrote, Please, as you are able, make your resources available to financially poorer churches. Perhaps, challenge financially stronger churches to sponsor seminars, coaching, and resource material for poorer churches that are known to them or to your Joel Comiskey Group.

This is one of the key reasons why JCG exists. When I go to speak, for example, in poorer countries, I know they can only afford to give me a small amount. Yet, I can still go because certain wealthier churches have made a commitment to support me through JCG. Support that is given to JCG allows us to offer all our web site material for free. We don’t charge for people to see our resources because we know that many poorer churches couldn’t afford to pay. And we are working hard to translate our web site into Spanish, Chinese, and Korean. The only way we can pay translators is because certain wealthier churches give to JCG. As money becomes available we’d like to help sponsor other workers to hold cell seminars and coach pastors.


Robust Cell Groups

While visiting a dynamic cell church in Costa Rica I (Steve Cordle) picked up a simple principle which has hepled our church build healthier cells. I was traveling with Joel Comiskey, and we had the privilege of spending a day with the church’s pastor. He shared that his church had come through a hard time of shrinking numbers of cells, and discouragement among the leaders. As a result, he started to emphasize what he called “robust” cells. that is, they closed and consolidated a lot of smaller cells, and established a guideline that each cell should have at least 10 people in it. The result is that they had fewer cells, but more people involved and a higher percentage of healthy groups.

We have made the same change at Crossroads Church, although we made 7 the new minimum number for a cell. Before a cell group can birth, we require there to be at least 7 people committed to the group. Where a group has dropped below that number we carefully work with the leader to discern whether it is time to merge with another cell.

I’m not saying God can’t work with a fewer number, but we found that smaller groups have a harder time with group energy, it’s less appealing to visitors, and harder to get consistent when people have to miss. Surely where there are 2 or 3 gathered together in Jesus’ name He is present. But the sense of body life seems to be stronger and the meeting richer because of more voices/contributions. I’d rather have fewer cells if they are healthier and more people are involved.

What’s your experience?