When I visited the Elim Church in San Salvador for the first time in 1996, the church was going through a major crisis (Elim is the second largest church in the world). The founding pastor had divorced his wife, run off with another woman, and was mismanaging the church’s finances. His wild living was splashed across the headlines of the San Salvadorian newspapers. The leadership of Elim dearly loved their pastor and made the mistake of not quickly dealing with his sin. The church leaders did eventually deal with this problem openly and honesty,and I deal with all the details of this situation in my book, Passion and Persistence: How the Elim Church’s Cell Groups Penetrated an Entire City for Jesus.
Yet, I noticed an interesting phenomon: even when the crisis was at a boiling point, the church didn’t fall apart. Why? Because absolutely everyone at Elim is either a member of a cell, a cell leader, or part of the coaching structure. Surely, the fall of their beloved pastor was enormous. Yet, each person who attended Elim had an invidivdual pastor–the cell leader. And each cell leader had a coach. And each coach was pastored by someone else. You get the picture.
Cell churches are like starfishes, which have the ability to regenerate lost arms and can regrow an entire new arm in time (and a few species can grow an entire starfish from a single ray). I do believe in the key role of the senior pastor in the cell church and thankfully, Elim made the wise decision in 1997 to call Mario Vega to take over the senior pastorate of the church. Yet the beauty of the cell church is that members are personally pastored and can better withstand the Satanic storms than most church structures.