Denominations and the Cell Church


By Joel Comiskey

Some people look at Brazil as the Mecca of cell church ministry. Much of the credit for the widespread acceptance of cell church principles in Brazil can be attributed to Robert Lay’s ministry, Ministério Igrega em Células. The beautiful thing about Lay’s ministry is the training and coaching of a multitude of denominational leaders and churches.

During my last conference in Recife, Brazil, a Presbyterian cell church pastor co-led the seminar in a Baptist cell church. I spoke on Sunday night in an Anglican cell church. Each denominational group maintained its unique identity while fully embracing cell church principles. I sensed a unity among these pastors that went far beyond denominational ties. And these denominational churches understand that transitioning to the cell church is a marathon, rather than a 50-yard dash.

Yet, on another occasion I spoke in a growing cell-based conference which partly attributed its growth to leaving the denominational church and being free from the constraints of denominational rules and regulations. One of the leaders questioned the biblical base for denominationalism and felt that denominational tradition hinders cell ministry.

Some denominational pastors want to become cell churches but feel trapped through criticism, regulations and lack of encouragement. What can denominational churches do to ensure successful cell church transitions? What can denominational leadership do to help individual churches in cell ministry?

This month on the JCG blog, we will be exploring the question of denominations and the cell church. Experienced cell church pastors will write 20 blogs on this topic during the month of November. We’ll cover:

• Week 1 (November 04-10): We know that many successful cell churches are within older denominations. Some denominations, like the Baptists, view each individual church as an autonomous entity. The local church, rather than the Baptist denomination, has ultimate authority. Other denominations exercise more control over their churches and might discourage their churches from following the cell strategy.

• Week 2 (November 11-17): Many positive examples of cell church vision and growth exist within denominations today. We will look at some of them and specifically examine what they did to lead their church.

• Week 3 (November 18-24): We will look at some ways denominations can hinder cell involvement. Denominations often want their churches to follow specific programs and overload them with the latest strategy from headquarters. If the superintendent is not excited about cell ministry, the pastors can feel hindered. This is why a pastor needs a cell coach. A pastor also needs to have the ability to say “no” to promoting programs that will clutter the people’s time and energies away from relational evangelism and leadership development through cell groups.

• Week 4 (November 25-December 01): What can denominations do to help their churches in cell ministry. Here are a few suggestions: 1. Learn about cell ministry 2. Encourage cell ministry as one of the options 3. Provide coaches. 4. Offer seminars and cell resources.

What has your experience been concerning denominations and the cell church?

Korean blog (click here)

Portuguese blog (click here)

Joel Comiskey

Spanish translation:

Algunas personas ven a Brasil como la meca ministerial de la iglesia celular. Gran parte del crédito por la aceptación generalizada de los principios de la iglesia celular en Brasil puede atribuirse al ministerio de Robert Lay (Ministério Igrega em Células). Lo bonito del ministerio de Robert Lay es la formación y el entrenamiento de una multitud de diferentes iglesias denominacionales y lderes de estas denominaciones.

Durante mi última conferencia en Recife, Brasil, un pastor de una iglesia celular presbiteriana co-dirigió el seminario en una iglesia celular Bautista. Yo hablé en la noche del domingo en una iglesia celular Anglicana. En esta red de iglesias, cada denominacion mantiene su identidad única al abrazar los principios de la iglesia celular. Sent una unidad entre los pastores que iba mucho más allá de los lazos denominacionales. Y estas iglesias de denominaciones entienden que la transición a la iglesia celular es un maratón.

Sin embargo, en otra ocasión hablé en una conferencia de crecimiento basado en células la cual atribuye parte de su crecimiento a salir de la iglesia de denominaciones y estar libre de las restricciones de las reglas y reglamentos denominacionales. Uno de los lderes cuestionó la base bblica para denominacionalismo y sintió que la tradición confesional dificulta el ministerio celular.

Algunos pastores de denominaciones quieren llegar a ser iglesias celulares, pero se sienten atrapados por la crtica, reglamentos y la falta de aliento. ¿Qué pueden hacer las iglesias de denominaciones para garantizar el éxito de las transiciones en la iglesia celular? ¿Qué puede hacer el liderazgo denominacional para ayudar a las iglesias individuales en el ministerio celular?

Este mes en el blog de JCG, vamos a explorar la pregunta de las denominaciones y de la iglesia celular. Experimentados pastores de la iglesia celular van a escribir 20 blogs sobre este tema durante el mes de noviembre. Si desea recibir estos blogs en tu correo cada da, por favor reg­strese aqu­. Vamos a cubrir:

  • Semana 1 (Noviembre 04-10): Sabemos que muchas iglesias celulares exitosas están dentro de las antiguas denominaciones. Algunas denominaciones, como los bautistas, ven cada iglesia individual como una entidad autónoma. La iglesia local, en lugar de la denominación Bautista, tiene la autoridad final. Otras denominaciones ejercen un mayor control sobre sus iglesias y podra disuadir a sus iglesias al seguir la estrategia de la célula.
  • Semana 2 (Noviembre 11-17): Muchos ejemplos positivos de la visión de la iglesia celular y el crecimiento existen en las denominaciones de hoy. Vamos a ver algunos de ellos y especficamente examinar lo que le hicieron para dirigir su iglesia.
  • Semana 3 (Noviembre 18-24): Vamos a ver algunas maneras de las denominaciones que pueden dificultar la participación de la célula. Las denominaciones a menudo quieren que sus iglesias sigan programas especficos y los sobrecargan con la última estrategia de la sede. Si el superintendente no está muy entusiasmado con el ministerio celular, los pastores pueden sentirse obstaculizado. Por eso, un pastor necesita un entrenador celular. Un pastor también debe tener la capacidad de decir “no” a promover programas que abarrotan el tiempo y las energas de la gente de un evangelismo relacional y desarrollo de liderazgo a través de los grupos celulares.
  • Semana 4 (Noviembre 25 a Diciembre 01): ¿Qué pueden hacer las denominaciones para ayudar a sus iglesias en el ministerio celular? Están son algunas sugerencias: 1. Aprenda sobre el ministerio de las células. 2. Aliente el ministerio celular como una de las opciones. 3. Proporcione entrenadores. 4. Ofrezca seminarios y recursos celulares.

¿Cuál ha sido su experiencia relativa a las denominaciones y la iglesia celular?


4 thoughts on “Denominations and the Cell Church

  • Or parent church, Indonesian Full Gospel Fellowship, started as a fellowship of Christian Indonesian college students in America and became a group of autonomous, non-denominational churches. When we grew internationally and planted churches back in Indonesia, we had a problem since Indonesia required churches to be under a formal denomination. A few kind denominations like the Assembly of God and Bethany let us operate under their name and leadership which was a great help and honor. But eventually we prefered to have our own denomination with headquarters in Jakarta.

    However, many churches in other nations did not need or wish to change their bylaws or organizational structure, so those churches became City Blessing Churches while the denominational churches retained the old IFGF name.

    Growth in IFGF was fast and more mature Christians were not only encouraged to consider becoming pastors but were also well supported by the denomination educationally and with excellent mentoring. City Blessing has typically been more cautious, slow, and methodical in growth.

    My pastor in Silicon Valley IFGF and my pastor and best friend here at Fresno City Blessing challenged me to develop some kind of evangelism program. And I agonized for years praying for wisdom. It doesn’t make sense since my parents and I were involved in bringing Evangelism Explosion back to our church around 30 years ago as trainers, and I’d been through cult evangelism training, but I felt God impressing on me really hard there was more to evangelism than this.

    I saw Way of the Master on TV and my jaw dropped. I bought the beginning and intermediate programs and presented them to our church, and it was very good. It did not excel in home visitations as EE did, but I felt the Gospel presentation was more solid and clear and that people were less likely to fall into false repentance or a premature and false sense of security in their salvation.

    Still, I felt a need for a much greater dependency on prayer than some folks who might tend to tell people to get off their knees and start doing something. I have seen the impact on prayer where human efforts alone could do nothing but prayer alone or prayer together with obedience to God’s calling would break through and accomplish the impossible. I felt the importance of sincerity and faithfulness to God and repentance of sin to remove the blockages keeping God from answering prayer. I felt a sense that evangelism is not so much about a sales job as it is about reproducing after our own kind and becoming that faithful Christian that should be reproducing.

    Going back to care cell growth, or Claremont church in Southern California has been the most successful church in cell growth and evangelism and have helped to mentor or church. Our church in Fresno has two cell groups currently–the “Family” group and the “Young Adults” group. It seemed our group was going well under the leadership of Denny and Felecia until our group took a hard hit a year ago June. Denny suddenly died at age 37 leaving behind Felecia and her three small children.

    Eileen and I were asked to help take over and support her during the crisis, and Felecia shook us all to the core with her continual love, courage, and heart to minister to others who were hurting from Denny’s passing. Felecia returned to Indonesia for awhile and Eileen and I continued leading the cell group and were very happy with it’s growth and with the people becoming close to God and encouraged to minister as well.

    As the group became near to the point where we were feeling the need to divide, Eileen and I reproduced, and little baby David was born just 9 1/2 weeks ago. Two ladies in our group, Yan and Fify, have done an excellent job of keeping the cell going. When we come back into a more active role, I believe we will find that this group has grown some very excellent potential leaders including Yan and Fify, Yun Cang (Fify’s husband if he finds work in Fresno), Henry and Ruth (who are active in evangelism and missions). Felecia may be returning to Fresno soon, too.

    Several of the young adults graduated and returned to Indonesia leaving a couple who are in the leadership of the church and a couple other young adults. And one challenge we have is that our church grew up as an ethnic church of sorts, and services for both IFGF and CBC churches are primarily in Indonesian making it difficult to grow here. I’m a white American who speaks Indonesian somewhat, and my wife is a Singaporean who speaks English and Chinese.

    How do we grow? For years, we seemed to minister to Indonesian students, train them up, and then when they returned to Indonesia, they typically became involved in ministries. Many became pastors of solid, growing churches. Some went to various countries and planted churches there.

    Now, few Indonesians come to study in America as the immigration rules have become much tougher. Our church consists mostly of families now, and some of the IFGF churches in the bay area around San Francisco have consolidated. And we have been working together with some other churches to help in outreach there, to an apartment ministry and now to a Spanish speaking church. God is best at opening up the right doors to those who are willing to serve Him faithfully, prayerfully, in love.

  • In my last (very lengthy) comment, I think I missed the core issue totally. Sorry.

    I think the core issue was how we handle conflicts in beliefs between churches or between denominations in a cell group setting that serves multiple churches. It’s tough. Really tough sometimes.

    Most people agree some differences are more serious than others. At the same time, the Bible warns us very sternly against lying under pain of hellfire and brimstone. So, we cannot just sweep or differences under the rug or lie and say something we don’t believe. But this scenario is ripe for conflict.

    For example, suppose two cell leaders disagree on a teaching but both caved and pretended to agree with the other in order to keep peace within the group. That may sound nice and humble, but it’s lying–it is compromising one’s integrity. There are better, more sincere ways to be humble, teachable, benevolent, and cooperative than to lie.

    It comes down to authority and integrity. For instance, suppose a Calvinist church asked you to teach a class to new believers, and you were an Arminian at heart. Would you started the class teaching that Calvin was a murderous heretic and that his doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and persistence of the saints were all wrong?

    If so, you would have violated the trust of that church and every other church simply because you overstepped your authority. Furthermore, you would have taught under deceptive terms–terms the church never agreed to. If you were asked what you believed, there are a number of approaches you might take. Which would you take?

    For instance, suppose you was asked whether you believed in once-saved-always-saved or predestination or free will. You might say, “I want to stay on topic for the class, but if you would like to talk to me after class, I would be glad to discuss it at that time.” One good thing about this approach is that it helps encourage people to stay focused and avoid distracting controversies that may work against what the class is trying to learn.

    Another approach is share the church’s view in a positive note with some good reasons for those beliefs and share why your beliefs are slightly different, but doing it with as much caution as if the pastor of the church and his entire staff were sitting in the class listening and scrutinizing every word you say and may interrupt you and stop your class short if you overstep your authority or violate the trust they put in you.

    But, now let’s say you’re co-leading a cell. You and your partner disagree and come from churches with conflicting beliefs–one being Calvinist and the other Arminian. Which church do you represent? Which set of beliefs to you present as “correct” in the official beliefs of your cell?

    If you are teaching, you might want to teach as if the pastors of both churches were present showing the best reasons supporting both sides and simply stating what your views are as well as your partner’s views, fairly and honestly and perhaps ask your partner to verify that you have understood him or her well. Avoid making any kinds of jabs your partner will feel are dishonest misrepresentations of his or her words and beliefs.

    Above all, pray for wisdom, calmness, integrity, understanding, and for the meeting to go well for the greatest good of everyone present and that God would be happy and glorified in the meeting.

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