By Joel Comiskey, May 2021
I recently spoke to a group of leaders in an older denomination about cell ministry. Several expressed disbelief when I talked about developing lay people in home groups. The potential division it might cause dismayed them. Their view of the church was closely tied with their buildings.
During one of the breaks, a pastor approached me to ask about cell ministry and for me to recommend a book that might help in starting new groups. I asked him what he was planning on doing, and he told me he planned on starting four groups in the homes of four different lay people. I was impressed with his idea, but as he explained more, my attitude quickly changed.
He said that each of these four groups would only meet once every three months and that he, the pastor, would lead each group! In the conversation it became clear that he didn’t trust the lay people to facilitate groups. He was convinced that he, the minister, was the only one who could lead these groups, even if they only met four times per year!
Some pastors, like the one mentioned above, believe that they are responsible to do the work of the ministry, rather than preparing lay people to do it. They are not willing to give away their authority to others, even though Ephesians 4:11-12 is crystal clear that the main role of the pastor/teacher is to prepare lay people to do the work of the ministry.
On many occasions I’ve heard pastors talk about the dangers of allowing lay leaders to do the work of the ministry through cell groups. Sadly, the focus is always on the disastrous consequences, rather than the potential for discipleship growth. We can learn a lot from Jesus and the apostles who trusted the Holy Spirit to guide and direct new leadership. Bill Hull, pastor and prolific author on discipleship, writes in The Disciple-Making Pastor,
The priesthood of the believer implies that Christians have the authority and responsibility to minister for Christ as the priesthood traditionally did. If you join the priesthood of the believer with the common believer’s call to ministry, you have the reasons for teaching that every Christian is called to Christian service (p. 126).
God said through Moses, “Let my people go.” Just as it was true back then, it’s equally true today. God wants his people set free. He wants them to learn to be disciples as they minister to others.