by Joel Comiskey
Being accountable to other believers, living out the Christian life, and then inviting non-Christians to join is simply biblical. When we win people to Jesus, we must win them into the biblical, one-another lifestyle. It’s not a question of whether this ministry “works” in a western context. Rather, the question should be, “Is it right?”Cell church cuts across the grain of individualism. It challenges the church to live a New Testament lifestyle of community. It shouts loudly that Sunday attendance is only half of the equation. Lifestyle change takes place in an accountability structure where people are growing in relationship with one another.
Writing the book, Relational Disciple, was very hard for me, but it changed my life (2009). At that time, I was biased against what I considered an over-emphasis on community in the small group movement in the western church in general and in North America more specifically. I had dedicated much of my earlier writing to cell evangelism and multiplication and became convinced that the “community emphasis” of many small group ministries was an excuse not to reach out.
Yet, as I struggled through the writing of that book, I realized that I didn’t have the option of accepting or rejecting community. Scripture simply didn’t give me that option. The Bible, in other words, is chalked full of references to community. Jesus repeatedly told his disciples to love one another and that the unbelieving world would come to faith in him through their unity (John 13).
The one-anothers are woven throughout scripture and there are more than fifty Bible references that teach believers to serve, wait, care, give, and in general, practice community. I had to submit to the Bible’s clear teaching, even if it went against my pre-conceived notions. God began to show me that all cultures have good and bad points. Some cultural traits are in accordance with scripture, while other aspects need to be corrected by scripture.
Scripture is clear when it talks about community, the one-anothers of scripture, walking in unity, hospitality, and many other New Testament norms. Joseph H. Hellerman, professor at Talbot Seminary, wrote a book called When the Church Was a Family. His conclusion is that the New Testament culture was group oriented, and that God instructs us to live like a family.
The biblical norm is not individualism but mutual ministry and a group oriented lifestyle. Becoming relationally oriented is painful to individualists. We want to do our own thing. Yet, scripture, not culture, must determine who we are and what we do.