Myth: Leading People into Cell Church Is Similar to Leading People into Other Church Programs

Church Leadership

by Joel Comiskey

2012, the following article is from Comiskey’s book Myths and Truths of the Cell Church.

Myth: Leading People into Cell Church Is Similar to Leading People into Other Church Programs

Most pastors have experience in starting new programs such as AWANA, Evangelism Explosion, Vacation Bible School, or a new program from their denomination.

Programs normally have a built-in life-cycle which can be discontinued after a semester, one year, or when the church decides to change programs. Many pastors approach starting cell church ministry in a programmatic way. They want to take it out of the box, set it up, and then delegate others to make it work.

They view the cell church strategy as a technique or program that can be used for a time and then discontinued.

Truth: Leading a Cell Church Requires a Different Kind of Leadership

Cell church is not another program. Rather, it focuses on people. Pastors need to consider the new challenges this strategy will have on how they lead the church before they begin the journey into cell life.

Steep Learning Curve

Most pastors have been trained in seminaries that taught the traditional model of the paid pastor who does the work of the ministry. It’s not easy for pastors and congregations to prepare lay people to do the work of the ministry and then to coach them to make sure they fulfill their pastoral ministry.

Extra Work Required to Train and Coach Leaders

Cell church asks potential leaders to go through a specified training. In fact, all members are encouraged to take the training. Those who become cell leaders (or part of the leadership team) need on-going coaching. Pastors need to realize this and count the cost to make sure training and coaching takes place.

Misunderstanding from People with Other Agendas

When a church moves forward with a vision, there will always be people who attack it. Whenever a leader goes in a particular direction and asks people to follow, some will resist, preferring another direction or keeping things just as they are.

Finding Leaders Who Will Be on the Same Page

It’s one thing for the senior leader to be on board, but it’s also critical that every member of the leadership team also supports the vision. When this happens, a team can go forward together. Cell church is really all about leadership development and the leadership team is the steering wheel of the cell church. If the leadership team is united and guiding the cell church vision, there’s a good chance the rest of the church will follow.

Losing People

Richard Houle caught the vision to transition his conventional French-speaking Baptist church in Granby, Quebec to the cell church vision. He believed in the theology behind the cell strategy and realized that the new direction required commitment and change. In the process, sixty people left the church. Houle continued to press on out of obedience to God’s calling.

As the years passed, the church reached new people and began to produce fruit. Eventually, they became a cell church planting movement with four daughter churches connected to the mother church. When I visited them in 2009, I was thrilled to see Richard Houle’s apostolic role over the four daughter churches and especially how Houle’s example had positively impacted his entire Baptist denomination. A large number of denominational leaders came to my cell seminar because of their relationship with Richard Houle and his French-speaking congregation.

Ramon Justamente is a southern Baptist pastor in Florida. He counted the cost to become a cell church by studying the literature and visiting various cell churches (he and his wife even visited our cell church in Quito, Ecuador in 1999). He was totally convinced he should transition his church.

I don’t think Ramon was ready for what happened next: four hundred people left the church. Yet, Ramon believed God had called him to cell church ministry, and he wasn’t going to back down.

When I held a seminar in his church ten years after the transition, I saw a vibrant cell church. God has not only won back far more than four hundred who had left, but the people were excited, motivated, and serving Jesus with zeal and passion. I spoke on how to transition a church, and Ramon gave his testimony.

If Ramon was just “testing the waters” he would have only lasted a few months. His commitment to the vision and values of cell church ministry helped him to “weather” the violent storms and stay afloat when things got rough. Ramon’s church is now a great model for those doing cell ministry in Florida.

Both Houle and Justamente could not foresee all obstacles, but they were convinced of the Biblical foundation of cell ministry. They never viewed cell ministry as a technique that could be discarded if it didn’t work. Rather they viewed it as a biblical way of life.

In The Challenge of the Cell Church, Phil Potter details his own journey of transitioning a traditional Anglican church in England to the cell church model. Potter guided his congregation to grasp the cost involved before jumping into cell ministry. They spent months planning and preparing for the transition. Because he faithfully counted the cost, Potter was able to start cells that continued to grow and multiply.

Phil Potter exemplifies the need for careful planning and counting the cost before plunging into cell ministry. Jesus encouraged similar planning when he challenged people to count the cost to follow him. He warned the crowd of the danger of starting and failing to finish (Luke 14).

Cell church is not a program. Pastors who have successfully planted or transitioned to the cell church model have done their homework and are ready to stick with it for the long haul.