Making Yourself Dispensible

Cell Leadership Development

by Joel Comiskey

Fall 2007

Sometimes we get in the way of Christ’s work. I often use the illustration in my seminars of a cell leader “getting sick on purpose” in order to allow another member of the group to lead the cell. The idea is to get out of the way and allow others to sprout and grow. jesus

In studying the life of Paul the apostle, Roland Allen reminds us that Paul made himself dispensable. That is, he made sure that the congregations were not depending on him–rather that they were depending on the Holy Spirit. Allen says:

We are not indispensible. The church is Christ’s church. Paradoxical as it may seem, I think that it is quite possible that the shortness of his stay [in the churches he planted] may have conduced in no small measure to St Paul’s success. And this is a truism. There’s a grave danger in thinking that we have to plant the church, when in fact, God must plant it. He’s the one that makes it work. There is something in the presence of a great teacher that sometimes tends to prevent smaller men from realizing themselves. They more readily feel their responsibility, they more easily and successfully exert their powers, when they see that, unless they come forward, nothing will be done. By leaving them quickly St Paul gave the local leaders opportunity to take their proper place, and forced the church to realize that it could not depend upon him, but must depend upon its own resources (Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962, p. 93).

I’m not sure how this will look in your situation and ministry. On a cell member level, it means being willing to participate under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (don’t expect the cell leadership team to do everything). On the cell leader level, it means raising up other leaders to replace you. On a pastoral level it means planting new churches. I’ve seen various examples of pastors who clung to power, trying to control those under them (often in the name of trying to grow a mega-church). Their leaders ended up departing in discouragement. God wants to give us a larger picture of His desire to extend His church throughout the world.

One of the key failures, according to Allen, is that we try to educate people to think like ourselves. Holy SpiritRoland Allen says:

We educate our converts to think, as we, accustomed to a long-established and highly-organized church, naturally think, that none but duly appointed ministers may preach.We dread the possible mistakes of individual zeal. The result is that our converts hesitate to speak of religion to others. They throw the responsibility upon the licensed evangelist and ‘the mission’. They do not feel any responsibility themselves to evangelize the world. Their mouths are closed. Here and there, of course, we find a man so full of the Spirit of the Lord that he cannot hold his peace, but he is a comparatively rare exception (Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962, p. 94).

Various China watchers have said that the best thing that happened in China was Mao. The missionaries had to leave and could no longer control who would preach and who would not preach. They no longer had control over how to organize Christ’s church. The Holy Spirit took over and began to use all and every fiery soul that wanted to speak in His Name. If you haven’t read the book The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun (with Paul Hattaway) you really need to read it. God’s work is incredible. We just must make sure that we don’t get in the way of His work. And I know from experience that “getting in the way” is really easy to do.