Rivalries and Sheep Stealing


by Joel Comiskey

One pastor of a cell church with 200 cells recently asked me two questions:

1. “How do I solve the problem of rivalries between the leaders?”

2. “How to I make sure that leaders don’t rob members from other cells and from other leaders?”

I answered him saying:

There is no easy answer to this problem. You will need to speak to these issues in your training and coaching. I believe that the essence of the cell church is to make disciples that make other disciples (generate other leaders). I believe that the atmosphere of the cell is the best one to produce disciples. At the same time, we must take heed to what Jesus said about those who would be His disciples. Jesus said that the entire world would recognize His disciples by their love, service, humility, and how they consider others better then themselves.

Jesus has been showing me lately the importance of applying the “one anothers” of the Bible and how a disciple of Jesus must practice these principles. Success in God’s kingdom revolves around serving one another and walking in humility–just like the community that exists within the Trinity.

You are going to have to teach your leaders and future leaders these principles. Yes, you could make “rules” to prevent “member stealing,” etc., but it seems to me that it’s much better if change comes from the leader’s heart, rather than from an external rule.

Perhaps you’d like to comment on one or more of the following questions:

Have you experienced rivalries between your leaders? Cell leader sheep stealing?

How have you dealt with such problems?

p.s.: remember to check out the cell symposium seminar sessions at  cellsymposium.com (I teach on cell church transition and cell church planting)

6 thoughts on “Rivalries and Sheep Stealing

  • I tell my leadewrs all the time to hold people loosely. None of us own the people who come to our groups. I’ve seen people come to a cell and stay for awhile and shift to another cell that they feel they have more connection with. Cells have personalities and some cell leaders are very geat with people.

    As a cell pastor I would not tolerate a leader who actually goes after people from other cells intentionally. I would have a talk with that leader. Our desire is that everyone would be connected somewhere and as long as they are connected we are encouraged.

    I think some rivalry is good in that it brings out the best. The presence of God is what attracts people and every cell can focus on that. Sometimes I give the names of newcomers to three cells and encourage them all to reach out to the person. The cell leader who is diligent usually grows the cell.

  • Hey, Michael, I also love to see passion and initiative within a cell leader or potential cell leader. I also like cell leaders to go after people. There’s way too much passivity. And that’s why I initially loved the zeal of the G12 movement to produce cells. The Lord has been showing me that we have to make sure that future disciple/leaders manifest kingdom qualities of love, service, etc.

  • As a leader it can be frustrating to see the people you lead make a move to another cell or even another ministry. Sadly, sometimes I have to ask myself, “whose kingdom am I building?” It’s easy to get focused on MY kingdom or MY church or MY cell group or MY disciple. Undoubtedly, as Michael was saying, there will be a better match for some people. So as tensions rise and rivalries build, I find it necessary to ask and equip those I lead to ask, “what is best for this person and for God’s Kingdom?” and “how can I be a part of blessing that?”

  • Well said J C Lowry. “Your Kingdom Come…Your Will be done” We need kingdom mindsets in all we do!

  • If the energy of the cell is going into reaching the lost and focusing on lost people, I would believe that sheep transferring their membership from one cell to another would be rare – there would be no empty seats. Growth by transfer into receptor churches – excuse me, cells – is a dead church characteristic. It’s kind of embarrassing to the cell leader to grow by transfer rather than evangelism.

    If there is a pattern to the transfers in, then it’s possible that you have either consumer Christianity developing – i.e., “this cell has better refreshments, so I’m going here” – or diagnostic indicators that would guide you into addessing cell weaknesses.

    If people are drawn to change cells by peer relationships – “my friend Cindy goes to this cell” – then the personal relationship with the cell leadership may not be strong because the cell is more about activities and less about building relationships.

    Another reality is that the cells may have slipped into a specialization – this cell is good for new Christians, this cell is good for intermediate Christians, this cell is good for advanced Christians – so the cells have become a sort of graded Sunday school program and cell members are moving on to get their spiritual growth needs met at the next level. When a cell develops a strength with one level of spiritual maturity, does it also develop a weakness in ministry to its members that draws it away from body life?

    If the transfer to a new cell is because the new cell is sooooooooooooo exciting or that’s where the cute girls are, then there may be a need to emphasize servant ministry in the cell they come from. Baby Christians may be learning to please themselves rather than to seek to please God.

    So there may be a reason for cell transfers that would help diagnose opportunities to tune up the cell program as a whole.

    The other reality is going into the cell that the person later leaves. I would guess that these folks are assigned to cells after first attending worship, rather than being brought into the cell evangelistically and then brought by the cell the worship. If an assignment process of worship attenders to cells is in place, it may be inadequate to meet a new believer’s needs.

    Of course, if the cells are gaining new members primarily after worship attendance, perhaps the emphasis on cell evangelism has been lost.

    All behaviors are diagnostic – they all have a meaning. Now I’m wondering which of all the many possibilities might be what’s happening in that congregation.

  • Great insight and diagnosis, David. Although this church has decided NOT to go the pure G12 model, I BELIEVE (not sure) that they have been highly influenced by it. In some G12 churches, there’s a HYPER-MACHINE like mentality to raise up new groups and gather your 12. I think (again not sure) that some of the rivalry, competition, and sheep stealing had to do with this. I’m interested in getting to know more about this church. . .

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