By Joel Comiskey
Appeared in Cell church network, http://www.cell-church.org, May 2001
One hot topic that is often discussed on the e-mail chat forum “cellchurchtalk” is the place of programs in the cell church. The definition of a PURE cell church is often debated. My friend Rick Diefenderfer writes with godly fervor:
Most importantly, there are NO PROGRAMS to be overseen, administered or budgeted in a pure Cell Church!! None, nada, no mas, nothing, no thing to compete with or distract from the structure and strategy of the pure cellchurch system. No Alpha group, no singles group, no Bible study group, no Sunday school, no choir, no FIRST PLACE weight loss program, no SUCCESSFUL LIVING group, no Equipping Track, no JOURNEY GUIDE, no 5-week New Believer’s Station, no Spiritual Formation Weekend, no Arrival Kit, no ENCOUNTER GOD Weekend, no sponsoring 10-week target groups (Alpha included!!), no signing of a commitment for 2 years of service, no six months of mentoring program, no COVER THE BIBLE 5-min-per-day, 5-days-per-week interactive CD program, no ‘you-name-it group’… no, No, NO!! [i]
Diefenderfer is rightly cautious about programs in the cell church, but must we also cut out ministries that might contribute to cell church health? What is the difference between a ministry and a program?
The word ministry comes from the Greek word “diakonia,” where we get our English word deacon. Ministry speaks of humble acts of service for others. The word program, in contrast, often carries the idea of self-perpetuation—something that has a life of its own. Ministries serve and sustain both the celebration and cell structure; programs divert the attention away from cell life. Ministries add to the success of the cell system; programs compete for time and activity.
When you look at most of the growing cell churches around the world, they have ministries that are closely connected with cell and celebration. These growing cell churches have ministries that strengthen the two-wings of the cell church. Such ministries include, but are not limited to, worship, teaching in the equipping track, missions, social outreach, etc.
Those planting a cell church shouldn’t be burdened with adding ministries. Follow the policy of adding new ministries only as the need arises. Yet, many established churches reject the cell church philosophy outright, thinking that the cell church teaches that all ministries are of the devil.
The main point is NOT whether it’s permissible to have ministries in the cell church. The main point is not to allow those ministries to become programs that compete with the cells for time and resources. In my opinion, the word INTEGRATION best sums up how a cell church links ministries with cells. I believe that Integration is one of the hottest issues in the cell church today. We must be urgently concerned that ministries don’t develop a life of their own and compete with the cell-base, but to avoid certain ministries could actually weaken cell and celebration (e.g., worship, etc.).
I see four types of integration: the first two are used in a church with cells. The second two are used in the cell church.
|Non-Integration||Faulty Integration||Cell Member Integration||Cell Leader Integration|
Non-integration is used in the programmed based church. If there are cells, they are simply one option among a variety of programs. There is no attempt to integrate ministries and small groups.
Faulty integration is practiced in churches that try to equate all small groups as cell groups (e.g., Meta Model). The motivation is noble (desire to integrate), but the problem stems from a faulty definition of a cell. In this approach, A Sunday School class, a board meeting, a choir group, a parking lot attendant meeting, and a life-giving cell group are all classified as “cells.” This might bring instant integration (all ministries are small group), but many people will think they’ve experienced cell life, when in reality they’ve experienced a programmatic small group.
Cell Member Integration is practiced in many cell churches. Cell churches who use cell member integration say, “Everyone must actively participate in a cell, but not necessarily lead a cell group.” With Minimum integration, cell attendance is the key requirement before involvement in another ministry in the church. The 150,000 member Works and Mission Baptist Church in Ivory Coast, West Africa (Pastor Dion Roberts) promotes cell member integration. Everyone must be in a cell to participate in one of the departmental ministries. Cell attendance is necessary for ministry involvement. Everyone is placed in a ministry according to gifting. While 40-60% of the members at WMBC actually lead a cell, not everyone is expected to lead one[ii]. The key is that everyone must faithfully attend a cell to participate in a ministry. Another growing cell church called Love Alive Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras has chosen this option. They consider themselves a cell church with specific ministries. In this church everyone must participate in a cell group before choosing a ministry. I often counsel churches beginning their transition to choose the cell member integration option.
Cell Leader Integration is practiced by a growing number of cell churches. According to this option, a person must be leading a cell group or in the process of preparing to lead a cell group to be involved in additional church ministries.
The International Charismatic Mission practices cell leader integration. They encourage everyone to enter the leadership track to become a cell leader. They view leading a cell as the natural process of spiritual maturity (e.g., gathering one’s friends, evangelizing, discipling, etc.). Sometimes the word LEADER causes us to hold back, but the primary functions are fatherhood, discipleship, etc. Lon Vining, commenting on cellchurchtalk said it best,
I think that those who have advocated an equipping track that ends in “everyone becoming a cell group leader” have done so with the idea of raising the bar. I think they are trying to say, in essence, that instead of cell group leadership being “for highly-trained ministry specialists,” or “super-spiritual Christians,” (an elite few), that instead, cell leadership (and the type of disciple that fits that profile) is something much more closer to the NORM of Christian life as one matures. The track ending there also indicates to the general congregation that it’s a spiritual goal that is reachable by many, not just a few. From a practical standpoint, it seems like it would be hard to point people toward this goal (leading a cell group) when you don’t indicate that it’s the goal for everyone. Some people, who just underestimate themselves, may “opt out” in the beginning and never “push to the top” unless they are put on track to begin the process of becoming a cell leader in the beginning. [iii]
According to cell leader integration only those who are leading a cell group or in the equipping track to eventually lead a cell group can be involved in an official church ministry (note that in the cell all members exercise their particular gifts). While this option asks everyone to prepare to lead a cell, it doesn’t require that everyone participate in a ministry (the ministry part if optional, not the cell leadership part).
Comments about Cell Leader Integration
There are no second-class citizens in God’s kingdom. All those in Christ have received Christ’s righteousness and God’s favor.
While I firmly believe that everyone can lead a cell group, I realize that not everyone will lead a cell group (time, personal fears, etc.).
The role of leadership is to cast the vision and watch God work. Casting the net that everyone can lead a cell group and enter the equipping track will launch many (not all) into ministry. Those, who for whatever reason, decide not to lead a cell group will still receive ministry in the cell and in the celebration. They will even have a chance to exercise their gift (s) within the cell group and outside of it. Involvement-or non-involvement–in the official ministries of the church should not limit a person from exercising his or her gift.
The key point in cell leader integration is that those who are not leading a cell or are not preparing to lead a cell will not be allowed to participate in the official ministries of the church. Even though our church has chosen the cell leader integration option, in reality, we don’t do a lot of policing. We simply focus on cell multiplication, encouraging everyone to enter the equipping track with the goal leading a cell group. However, if and when a person says, “I’m in this church ministry, but I have no intention of eventually leading a cell group,” then we become concerned. That person is taking the church in a direction that is not in line with our philosophy of ministry.
Three Points to Remember
- First, remember that whether a cell church chooses the cell member integration option or the cell leader integration option the decision must come from the top leadership. The senior pastor, staff, and/or lay leadership team need to pray and set the integration option for the church.
- Second, if you’re transitioning your church from the traditional, programmed based design church to the cell church, you can’t require complete integration immediately. Start with the Prototype cell, multiply it, and eventually build the cell church components (one of these components being the integration issue).
- Third, don’t add ministries just to be like the church down the street. Cell churches only add essential ministries that connect with cell or celebration.
[i] Rick Diefenderfer in e-mail with the subject, “Why Do You Stress the Word “Pure”? Sent to various persons on 12/13/2000.
[ii] This statistic came from the research of Les Brickman for his doctoral dissertation at Regent University. Comments made during the doctoral defense on Friday, December 15, 2000.
[iii] Lon Vining, Cellchurchtalk, Wednesday, April 11, 2001.