Last week I ministered to 100+ Episcopal ministers (both fulltime and lay ministers) among the Episcopal Church of Albany, NY. This is a conservative, Evangelical group who is at odds with the direction of the Episcopal denomination in North America (e.g., liberal doctrine and the ordination of a gay bishop). There are six Episcopal diosece in New York and the diosece of Albany is the only conservative one among the six. The diosece of Albany only allows priests to minister who have graduated from conservative seminaries and believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. The bishop of the Albany diosece was present for the entire cell conference.
I was brought up in the Episcopal Church and even went through Episcopal catechism as an adolescent. Yet the symbolic language and religiosity practiced in my particular church made me think that God was far off. I felt like I needed to win his favor by good works. I remember many nights trying to fervently pray to this far off God, hoping He would hear me. I thought God would hear if I offered “canned” prayers, but I soon grew tired of my one-way effort. This distant God just seemed unreachable. In 1973, however, I cried out to Jesus in my bedroom, and He changed my life. God regenerated me and I became a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Each morning and evening during the conference, a different priest led the prayer/meditation time from the Common Prayer book. My mind flowed back to my Episcopal upbringing. In the olden days, the words on the pages had no meaning. Now they sprang to life. Great biblical content. I could repeat the prayers with fervor and zeal. I went away edified, rather than mystified.
When I do cell seminars around the world, the greatest challenge is to take the universal cell church principles and apply them to each specific situation. For example, I’m accustomed to singing worship songs during the WORSHIP time in my cell. Yet, Episcopal worship centers around the liturgy of the Common Prayer book. I challenged them to choose specific prayers to use in the cell, mixed with silence, confession, and meditation. I also had to adjust my presentation about the growing worldwide cell churches. Why? Because many of the Albany parishes only have 15-25 people attending on Sunday morning. I had to make sure I encouraged them to envision growth in smaller increments–from 25 to 35, for example, after starting the initial group (s).
Many of you reading this blog come from denominational backgrounds with specific traditions. What are some of the ways you need–or have needed–to adjust cell minsitry to make it work in your particular situation?