By Joel Comiskey
How to Avoid them and enjoy a fruitful, effective cell ministry
Appeared in Cell Group Journal (Spring 2002)
When it came right down to it, I was pressured to perform. I had to get to know my neighbors, build community in my neighborhood, and help grow our new cell church plant in Moreno Valley.
On a positive note, the pressure drove me to attend association barbeques and hang out at the Monday night football gatherings at the clubhouse. But I knew it wasn’t a healthy way to build my church.
Although I had been feeling this pressure for months, I kept it to myself. One night, I confessed the pressure to perform at my cell meeting. “I feel so pressured to reach my neighbors,” I told the group. I received prayer, but couldn’t pinpoint the source of the problem and I still felt like I was going about my ministry in an unnatural, unhealthy way.
After the meeting I talked with my wife and realized I was feeling pressured to perform by placing all the responsibility on my own shoulders. I was assuming responsibility that only God could take!
Yes, God is intensely concerned with reaching my neighbors and building a cell church in Moreno Valley. However, I figured that I had to make it happen. The result was a vague sense of tension that turned into pressure — which began to eat at me.
God showed me that He desires to give me His light yoke in exchange for my heavy yoke. When I realized this, the burden lifted. Through this experience, God revealed four deadly sins that could easily wipe out your ministry as a cell leader.
#1 ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY THAT IS NOT YOURS
I was making unrealistic goals that were vague and unattainable. God reminded me of Larry Crabb’s comments in The Key to Caring about the difference between a goal and a desire. Crabb said:
“A goal may be defined as a purpose to which a person is unalterably committed. He assumes unconditional responsibility for a goal, and it can be achieved if he is willing to work at it. A desire may be defined as something wanted that cannot be obtained without the cooperation of another person. It is an objective for which a person can assume no responsibility, because it is beyond his control. Reaching a desire must never become the motivating purpose behind behavior, because then a person is assuming responsibility for something he cannot fulfill on his own” [italics my own].
It dawned on me that I was confusing desires with goals — that which I could accomplish and that which was beyond my control.
My desire was to see conversions in my neighborhood and to create a sense of community. Of course, this is a wonderful desire. But you’ll notice that only God can make this happen. I was trying to take the place of God.
I now realize that God wants me to make clear-cut, bite-sized goals that are in my power to accomplish. For example, I can accomplish the following goals:
- Invite my neighbor to play tennis.
- Invite my neighbor over to my house for a special event (dessert, etc.).
- Make it a point to talk with my neighbor in the front yard.
- Encourage my potential cell leader to begin the training track.
- Give my potential cell leader opportunities in the cell to use his gifts and talents.
These goals are feasible. I can accomplish them. Desires, on the other hand, are beyond my own ability to accomplish. Here are some examples of my desires:
- That my neighbor responds to my invitation and actually plays tennis with me.
- That my neighbor accepts the invitation to come to my house for a special event.
- That the person I’ve identified as a potential cell leader actually enters our leadership training track.
To make this difference practical, let’s take a typical concern for cell leaders: Group multiplication.
Many leaders experience tension when thinking about this topic. A major cause of this tension is making unrealistic, vague goals based on lofty desires, rather than bite-size, feasible goals based on what can actually be done. The following goals are obtainable and will lead to the goal of multiplication:
- Talk to a cell member about facilitating the next cell group meeting.
- Guide this potential cell leader through your church’s training.
- Set a multiplication date and continually remind the group of that date.
- Give the future cell leader ample opportunities within the cell to participate in ministry to others and facilitate meetings.
- Remind the group weekly of their need to evangelize and invite non- Christian friends.
As you can see, your goals should be feasible and measurable. They should be based on clear possibilities in which you have control.
Confusing desires with goals, while subtle, makes a huge difference in your emotional well-being. When you’re pressured to perform — to fulfill the goal yourself — your peace disappears and you feel stressed, knowing you’re not going to succeed.
Sadly, many cell leaders simply turn in their resignation at this point, never citing the real reason. They don’t know why they feel the way they do. I suspect confusing desires with goals is the culprit on many occasions, leading to burn-out. Don’t get caught in this trap.
#2 DO ALL THE WORK
“I’m the cell leader. I need to do all the work.” Wrong.
The cell leader is the facilitator, not the work horse. You are the person who orchestrates the work for the whole group to carry out.
Remember the concept of net fishing versus pole fishing? It’s the team that does the work. Everyone participates!
There’s too much work for one leader to do alone. Consider the pressures that a cell leader places upon himself when he embraces the statement “I need to do all the work.”
- Prepare and facilitate all the various parts of the weekly meetings, making it look very polished and professional.
- Personally reach your lost friends (and your member’s lost friends) for Christ.
- Meet with everyone in the group as often as possible to mentor and disciple them into strong believers.
- Train an intern or apprentice by having them watch what you do so that when he gets his own group, he’ll know what to do.
Instead of doing everything yourself — which will never create a feeling of community or new leaders — involve the team! Ask others to help you in every aspect of cell life and leadership:
- Delegate all the various parts of your weekly meetings to others a month at a time and watch them learn as they do it. Ask someone in the group to be in charge of meeting refreshments, prayer, worship, and the ministry time.
- Ask each host family to keep the “Blessing List” poster and display it in the room where you’ll be meeting. Every host can also be given the responsibility to plan and hold one fun event in the next three months to connect their unbelieving friends to the group.
- Establish mentor-protégé relationships in your group (or accountability partnerships) and call them to see how they are doing. These relationship will be very fruitful if they have a difficult task to complete together, like your church’s discipleship or equipping track.
- Meet with your intern or apprentice every week and together decide what the next steps are for your group. Then, let him or her learn by first-hand experience by leading the cell into one-another ministry and outreach, as well as facilitating weekly meetings. This will reduce your workload and give new leaders a vision for the future.
By involving others and forcing yourself to give away responsibility, the group will become an exciting place of ministry and growth. And you will not feel like Atlas, with the weight of the world on your shoulders.
#3 THINKING THAT EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON YOU
I forgot that only God can bring conviction and create open doors for the Gospel. The key question we should be asking ourselves is: “Where is God working?”
I discovered this with my neighbors. I was concentrating on my next door neighbor because they’re immediately visible when I open my own front door. But God showed me that I needed to broaden my perspective to include those at the other end of the street who were far more receptive. With this new thinking, I was able to establish contacts quickly because God opened the doors.
The Psalmist wrote, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Pursue those non-Christian contacts in which you see God working.
Paul the apostle said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
Only God can convert a soul, motivate someone to enter leadership training, or multiply his or her cell group.
Effective leaders don’t take responsibility for making it happen because this would only result in pressure to perform and succeed without God’s power. But, the same leaders do take practical steps to plant and water, leaving the rest to God. And, they take responsibility to make sure there are enough positive concrete actions (goals) that eventually result in a breakthrough.
So, plan to work with your team and sow into relationships with the lost, sharing the Gospel whenever possible. Then water the soil by praying and fasting, loving these folks unconditionally. God will send His Spirit to them and draw them to Himself. Watch and see how God works when you do your part and you allow Him to do His part.
#4 GIVING UP WHEN THE RESULTS ARE FEW
Effective leaders are not necessarily talented, gifted, or outgoing. But they do have one thing in common. They’re persistent. They don’t give up!
Each week they ask their members to invite someone. Each week they try to make contact with members of the cell by phone and whenever possible, in person. Eventually, something clicks. God works.
You could compare what I’m saying to sowing and reaping. If you sow sparingly, you’ll reap sparingly. If you sow bountifully, you’ll reap bountifully.
For example, let’s discuss the Blessing List (the list of non-Christian people attached to each member of your group). It’s tempting to give up when we don’t see our prayers answered quickly. We should remember that George Mueller, a man who modeled effective prayer, prayed throughout his lifetime for five friends to know Jesus Christ.
The first one came to Christ after five years. Within ten years, two more of them received Christ. Mueller prayed constantly for over twenty-five years, and the fourth man was finally saved. For his fifth friend, he prayed until the time of his death, and this friend, too, came to Christ a few months after Mueller died. For this last friend, Mueller had prayed for almost fifty-two years.
God doesn’t view time in the same way we do. He hears every prayer you make, and He desires that you persist until the end. At times you’ll want to give up. Don’t. God is hearing your prayers and is pleased with them. In His time the answer will come — quickly.
Keep on encouraging your cell members to reach out and invite people, even when you see few results. Remember the Scripture Proverbs 14:23: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Your diligence will lead to success if you keep on pressing on. God’s blessing is right around the corner.
To continue to lead a group, multiply that group, and care for the new leaders as a coach, you need Christ’s light and easy yoke (Matthew 11:30 ). Avoid the common cell leader sins that will damage or even kill your ministry. Make feasible goals; use your team; discover where God’s working, and persist until you see breakthroughs. With this kind of ministry, you will be able to avoid burnout and continue a fruitful cell ministry throughout your life.