Christ’s command to disciple the nations also involves the
perfection of the saints’.
Christ punctuates this fact
by adding the words, “...and teaching them to obey everything
that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:20).
From the many passages in the Bible which link the gifts of the
Spirit with the church (Eph. 4; Rom. 12; I Cor.12-14),
the Scripture seems
to teach that the responsibility
for the ‘perfection of the saints’ rests squarely with the church.
It is to the leaders of the church that God gave His gifts so that,
“…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach
unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become
mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”
of the writing about discipleship type ministry comes from parachurch
Peters speaks to this issue,
“One on one discipleship
is not the New Testament norm....Pentecost introduced a new method of
making disciples. The Church of Jesus Christ...was born on the day of
Pentecost. From then on the ‘making of disciples’ was different. The
maturing and equipping of Christians happens in the body of Christ and
in the temple of God as manifested in local congregations” (Peters
If the responsibility of D-3
discipleship (McGavran’s terminology)
rests upon the church, then how does it accomplish this task?
Ephesians 4:11 tells us that gifted leaders are important
instruments in this process. Discipleship
is accomplished through such ministries
preaching, counseling. Along with these traditional and Biblical methods
of discipleship, can the
ministry of cell groups also play an important part?
One exciting contribution of the cell group ministry to the
discipleship function of the church is
the care of new
converts. People are
longing for individual care. Without it,
there is a strong possibility that new converts will fall away.
Yet the cell
movement that is bursting upon the church today
seems to be a reaffirmation of
individual caring. This
new wave of cell-based churches do
not call their cells ‘Bible
Study Groups’ or ‘Discipleship
Groups’. Rather, it’s not uncommon to hear names such as,
‘Kinship Groups’, ‘Tender
Loving Care Groups’, ‘Shepherd Groups’, or
‘Care Groups’ (Logan 1989:125). These names reflect the
indispensable calling to care for one another. .
new people are linked with members who care,
they are much more likely to continue the discipleship process.
It is because of this lack of care, that new believers in
so many churches ‘fall
by the way side’. The phrase ‘the back door is a big as the front
door’ is a sad commentary of many of today’s
churches. People are often converted, only left to ‘defend for
themselves’. The cell groups can help bridge that gap.
Some helpful steps ‘to close the back door’ of the church
Direct the new converts to a cell group in accordance
with their age, location, and civil status,
thus enhancing the natural cultural integration into the group.
Immediately contact the new convert. This is primarily accomplished
through the leadership of the cell group. The leader
to make that initial contact
and assure that he or she becomes part of the group. Ideally,
each new convert is assigned to someone in the group who will help them
become established in their Christian walk (Neighbour 1992:26).
Results are carefully controlled by the weekly form that each cell group
must turn in (Galloway 1986:149)
Warren, who ministers to some 10,000
people in his church every
week, believes that his
small group ministry is the principal
way to keep the new converts coming back. He says,
“Small groups are the most effective way of closing the back
door of your church. We never worry about losing people who are
connected to a small group. We know that those people have been
effectively assimilated” (1995:327).
Personal care is not the only aspect of D-3 discipleship (the
perfecting state). God calls us to be perfected into the image of Jesus.
Paul tells us that God has sovereignly
called us ‘to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,..”(Rom.
8:29). This process of molding and shaping is a lifetime journey.
It’s not a simple a ’ten step procedure’ or even a series
of classes about spiritual growth. Rather, it’s a process that takes a
lifetime to complete. This
maturing process is most
accurately depicted in the
Biblical doctrine of
sanctification. The Bible tells us that our sanctification is both a
instantaneous experience and
a progressive process (I Cor. 1:30; Heb. 10:14). While the
church doesn’t sanctify anyone, she does facilitate the process
through the preaching of the Word, the partaking of the sacraments, the
educational ministries of the church, etc.
The small group is particularly helpful in the sanctification
process. Through worship, exhortation, ministering to one another, and
vision casting a believer is helped in his spiritual growth. The Bible
tells us that we should encourage one another daily so that we are not
hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb. 3:13). Howard Snyder highlights
“The priority of sanctification is another reason why the
church needs close-knit small groups or covenant cells to under gird its
life. Such groups are just as important as the other aids toward
spirituality and edification which the church provides” (1983:89).
Malphurs adds, “There is
one major, all-encompassing purpose for small groups. That purpose is
the transformation of a person’s
life or life change through community” (1992:213).
It is often in the small group that sins are exposed, confession
is made, love is experienced, community is felt, and thus, spiritual
growth and sanctification takes place. Bill Hybels, who has well-known
for his huge seeker-sensitive church, is less known for his commitment
to small group ministry. Huge, seeker-sensitive services might gather a
harvest, but transformation and sanctification takes place in community.
significant decision and step of growth I’ve made in the last decade
of ministry have come in the context of community,…That’s why we
want Willow Creek not to be a church that offers small groups but to
become a church of small groups” (1995:178).
Particularly helpful in the growth and edification of the
believer is Christian fellowship. The apostle John declares, “But if
we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one
another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I
John 1:7) John uses the word Koinonia which literally means ’a having of all things in common.’
Jesus is our common ground for
Christian fellowship and He is the one who binds us together.
Bonhoeffer comments on
how Christ works in our midst,
“...the Christian needs another Christian....He needs him again
and again when he becomes discouraged, for by himself he cannot help
himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer
and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother
solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker
than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain,
his brother´s is sure.” (1954:23)
Like sanctification, the need for
Christian fellowship can probably best be met in the context of a
small group. The cell group
takes the believer from the large, impersonal church
gathering, and lovingly compels him to communicate and interact
with other believers on a deeper, more personal level (Hamlin
1990:52-59). Malphurs notes,
“It’s difficult for people who meet in
large groups to get to know one another. These kinds of meetings are not
designed to facilitate the development of significant personal
relationships. Yet, it’s the relational element that Baby Boomers in
particular need and want. Again, the answer to this dilemma is small
group ministries because they promote vital, interpersonal
relationships. When a limited number of people ranging from five to
twelve meet together, something has to happen because of the size of the
the Dr. Malphurs use of the phrase ‘something
has to happen’. There is nothing quite like the
face to face interaction with
fellow human beings to draw out the deep, unspoken thoughts of
our heart (Hadaway, Wright, & DuBose 1987:34). It is so true that
intimate fellowship does not take place in a group of 50, 100, or 1,000
people. It is not natural to express one’s needs in a large group
atmosphere. Rather, true Christian
fellowship takes place in a small loving group where one feels the
liberty and confidence to share exactly what’s going on in his or her
life. Concerning this
koinonia in the small group Mallison
“This distinguishing mark of true Christian fellowship will
most likely not be rediscovered in large meetings, where the
participants seldom have more intimate gatherings to complement these
experiences. For in such situations the numbers gathered and the
physical aspects of the building and seating arrangements prevent us
from truly knowing each other. We cannot truly love in these gatherings
in more than a relatively superficial manner because we are not able to
be involved in each other’s lives. In large congregations most must
remain strangers. Few have opportunity to share themselves or feel free
to be truly honest” (1989:9).
Yet, gathering together a small group of
fellow believers doesn’t assure that Christian fellowship will
take place. It’s possible that the group merely gathers to learn information about the Bible. Although increased Bible
knowledge may be a part of the
small group ministry, the
application of that
information to one’s daily life should
be the chief goal.
Price and Pat Springle, two experts on
small group ministry put it this way, “Effective small groups
focus not only upon ideas but on how people feel about those ideas”
(1991:95) . In other words,
there are no topics that are ‘off limits’ in the small groups.
People are expected to share what is happening in their lives—whether
they are experiencing a period of victory or of agony.
small group dynamic of open communication is not new.
Wesley established the Methodist movement upon this
small group (class meetings) fellowship. Everyone was expected ,
“…to speak freely and plainly about every subject for [from] their
own temptations to plans for establishing a new cottage meeting or
visiting the distressed” (Sheppard 1974:127). It is in the warmth and
care of small group koinonia that people are allowed and should be
encouraged to share their true feelings. Price and Springle say,
“When people experience
love and acceptance, they will often express how they really feel about
the situations in their lives. They may even express pent-up feelings in
powerful ways by bursting into sobs, shaking uncontrollably,...This
emotional release can be a healthy way for people to face the truth
about how they really feel” (1991:57,58).
It is this fundamental
need for fellowship, warmth, and
understanding that make the small group ministry so attractive (Peace
Some wonder if a system of ‘open groups’ can truly experience
intimate fellowship if new people are being added to the group. How can
a member of the group open up and share personal information if
strangers are present? I have
personally heard and read this type of
criticism on many occasions. I think that there is validity to
this criticism, but oftentimes that fear is more imagined than real.
Oftentimes, the addition of new members to a group can actually enhance
the sense of purpose and community within a group. I would tend to agree
with Steve Kunkle’s observation when he said, ‘We saw that…the
healthiest groups in fellowship were those that were winning people to
Christ’ (Kunkle in Hadaway 1987:138).
We have been describing the perfecting state of the discipleship
process. We have discussed the role of
sanctification, koinonia fellowship, and personal care as three
discipleship functions that the cell group is uniquely equipped to meet.
However, the church’s discipleship role
is not complete until the believer is actively involved in
ministry. The role of the
church, according to Ephesians 4:11,12, is to raise up the laity to do the work of the ministry.
Paul asserts that Jesus has raised up gifted men for the church,
“To prepare God´s people
for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”
Revelation 1:6 tells us that
Christ has made us to be a kingdom of priests.
As children of the reformation, we would agree
that every Christian is a minister.
from a practical perspective the church
has oftentimes only allowed certain specially chosen people to do the
work of the ministry. As David Sheppard points out, “We’ve settled
for the priesthood of all educated believers” (1974:123). Only those
who have The rest of the saints sit and listen to these gifted men and
women Sunday after Sunday. Aubrey Malphurs pinpoints this problem,
“The great tragedy is that far too many
Christians are either not involved or not properly involved in any
service for Christ or His church….According to a survey by George
Gallup…only 10 percent of the people in the church are doing 90
percent of the ministry of the church. Thus, 90 percent of the people
are typically unemployed ‘sitters and soakers.’ Of the 90 percent,
approximately 50 percent say they’ll become involved for whatever
reason. The remaining 40 percent say they’d like to become involved,
but they’ve not been asked or trained (1992:145,146).
of the laity is a very
serious issue that is
facing the church today.
The typical teaching and preaching ministry on Sunday morning
does not involve enough lay people.
Only very ‘gifted’ and ‘highly educated’ people are
allowed to use their gifts. The
Western church has in many ways contributed
to the widening gap between lay people and clergy. Hadaway
“The clergy-dominated Christianity of the Western world has
widened the gap between clergy and laity in the body of Christ. This
division of labor, authority, and prestige is common when a professional
clergy exists (Hadaway, Wright, and DuBose 1987:203).
the solutions to this wide gap is the
cell church model. The word that perhaps best captures the true
meaning of this type of ministry is ‘decentralization’. Ministry is
taken out of the hands of a ‘chosen few’ and placed in the hands of
the laity No one is allowed to sit passively. Everyone must be involved.
Due to the rapid multiplication in many of these churches, there is a
constant need of new leaders, interns, hostesses, song leaders,
witnessing teams, etc. In other words, the responsibility is shared
among many people (Hadaway,
Wright, DuBose 1987:171).
example of this type of church is the Yoida Full Gospel Church in Seoul,
Korea. Never before in the history of Christianity has such a large
group of people belonged to the same church. The miracle of that church
is that every person feels personally involved and responsible. It is
their church. This sense of lay involvement takes place among the cell
members. Describing this phenomenon, Logan states,
“Every one of the half million members of
the church interacts each week in a cell-group body life. Whereas the
typical church grows to a point where it stretches to the limit its
pastors’ ability to minister to each member, a cell group church has
no limit as long as you are effectively mobilizing laity to minister
through cell groups” (1989:120).
that the cell group is uniquely furnished
to provide ample
opportunity for lay involvement.
The cell leaders pastor, visit, evangelize, counsel,
administrate, and generally care for their cell members. For example in
pastor Cho’s church, it would be impossible to effectively minister to
the 650,000 people who attend that church apart from the cell groups.
However, with 55,000 trained cell leaders in
22,000 cell groups, the church is fully
able to disciple her members.
ask the question, how is Cho able to raise up so many leaders for these
cell groups? Where do they come from? First, Cho is committed to using
female leadership as well as male leadership. In fact, over 70% of the
cell leadership in Cho’s church is female. Secondly, and perhaps more
importantly, the cell group itself provides an excellent training
atmosphere. Hadaway writes, “…small home-centered groups provide the
intimate atmosphere (all other factors being equal) conducive to maximum
important factor is a willingness to use lay leadership.
I have heard on more
than one occasion about the
dangers of allowing lay leaders to do the work of the ministry through
the cell groups. And yes,
there are very real dangers involved.
the ministry of
Paul, the apostle, one discovers that Paul was willing to take risks.
As Paul evangelized the then known world, he trusted in the Holy
Spirit to guide and direct the
new lay leadership (Allen
1962: 84-94). I believe
that God calls upon us to do the same.
I have found, as well as many others,
that leading a cell
group is an excellent way to give
the laity ‘hands on experience’ (Malphurs 1992:217).
people who lead cell groups often sense the significance and
responsibility of their work. Carl
George accurately states, “I´m convinced that lay people take
ministry to a limited-sized group so seriously that they prefer a role
in cell leadership to most any other office or honorific title in a
church” (1991:98). How
exciting it is to hear reports of cell churches who
allow their cell
leaders to fully fulfill the role of pastor to their cell members. In
some churches the cell leaders baptize new converts who have been won to
Christ through one of the group meetings or the individual outreach of
cell members (Logan 1989:128). I’ve hear of other churches where the
cell leaders serve communion. Lay ministry through the cell
groups can better fulfill the church’s role of discipleship by
raising up lay leaders to pastor the flock.
everybody in the church can serve as a leader
of the cell group. However, the cell groups are so designed so that
everyone can participate and use their spiritual gifts. I
Peter 4:10 tells us that “…one should use whatever gift he has
received to serve others, faithfully administrating God’s grace in its
various forms.” Peter reminds us that each believer has
received a gift.
the church at large, it is very difficult to use those gifts. Only a
few, selected, and well-trained people can fill the traditional offices
of the church. Quite often the rest (unless very creative and self
motivated) are resigned to inactivity.
This is not true in the cell group. Members should be encouraged
to participate and use their spiritual gift. When a need arises in the
group, various gifts are put to use (e.g., the gift of mercy,
exhortation, teaching, service, etc.) (Neighbour 1992:160-171) Since the
goal of the group is participation which results in communion, everyone
is encouraged to be involved.
The functions of the true church of Jesus Christ are numerous. We
have analyzed one of those functions
and tried to relate that function to the cell group ministry.
In addition to the
edification of believers
and the evangelization of the lost, the church must have a very
practical social concern for those around us. This is the second
function that I’d now like to explore.
the subject of social concern can be best summed up by the words of John the apostle, one who had
traveled with the Master for some three years. He says,
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in
need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear
children, let us not love in words or tongue but with actions and in
truth” (I John 3:17,18).
Shaeffer addresses the church by using the same biting language,
“Let me say it very
strongly again: there is no use talking about love if it does not relate
to the stuff of life in the area of material possession and needs. If it
does not mean a sharing of our material things for our brothers in
Christ close at home and abroad, it means little or nothing”
subject of social concern is not only about feeding the hungry. It includes the condemning of unrighteousness as well as
meeting physical needs. At times it involves simply alleviating the
hurt, while at other times
it requires changing the circumstances that have caused the problem.
the head of the church, is
our example. He healed the
sick and hurting (Mat. 9:35-38) and
fed the hungry (Mat. 15:29-39). At the same time, he boldly
condemned hypocrisy and oppression (Mat. 23; 21:12-16).
He expected the believers to do the same (Luke 10:25-37). This
same emphasis is seen in the epistles. James covers a wide range of
social issues. He reminds the believers to look after
the orphans and widows (James 1:27), to clothe
poor and feed the
hungry ( 2:15-17), and yet he also condemns the unjust social structures
of his day which at the root cause of the poverty (James 5:1-6).
men are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), we are called to show
our social concern to all men- both believers and unbelievers. Paul
writes to the church in Galatia, “Therefore, as we have opportunity,
let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the
family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).
The church of the New Testament is an excellent example of
practical outreach to ‘those who belong to the family of believers’.
They demonstrated their practical
social concern by helping each other in time of need.
Many passages in the Bible set
forth this truth (Acts
2:43-47; 4:32-37;5:1-11;6:1-7). For
example, we read in Acts 11:29 that the Gentile church in Antioch sent
money to help the Jewish congregation in Jerusalem. The Macedonian
congregations were commended for their rich generosity in times of
severe trial (II Cor. 8:2).
even helps the church carry on His social work by specifically gifting
her. Stephen Mott comments,
“Christ has given to his body, the church, gifts for carrying
out the work of his reign. These spiritual gifts include a social
ministry: giving to the poor (2 Cor. 8:7), and service, sharing, giving
aid and acts of mercy” (Rom. 12:7-8) (1982:134).
This quote by Stephen Mott
is crucial to a better understanding
of this aspect of the social
task of the church. For what separates the social ministry of the church
from the work of any other secular institution?
The answer seems to lie in the area of empowering.
church is empowered by Christ through the gifting of each member. This
giftedness can be harnessed on
a centralized level (e.g., church
offering for a particular need, church action against abortion, etc.),
but to meet more personal, specific social needs, the level of cell
outreach appears to be more effective. It is upon
this subject that we
will now focus.
just mentioned, the church can
and should carry on a program of social concern. Many churches, like my
own, take an offering once a month after the communion service. That
offering is called a ‘benevolent offering’.
That money is placed into a special
emergency fund for
the purpose of providing help to hurting members
of the congregation. However, in my opinion, such a fund is
limited. First, it is not sufficient that a person simply has a need in
the church. Rather, those needs must be ‘judged worthy’ by those in
many hurting people will never make their needs known to a board of
elders, head pastor, or church board. The process is often too formal
and wooden. Third, oftentimes it’s not possible for a pastor or elder
board to understand the person’s need from an insider’s perspective.
The request is often judged on a more superficial basis.
same cannot be said about a cell group. ‘Knowing each other’ is one
of the primary goals of the cell
group. ‘Sharing needs’ is one of the principal events that take
place with each meeting.
“Small groups can play an important role in helping each other hear
and respond in practical ways to the cry of our suffering brothers and
sisters in our alienated, hurting world” (1989:11).
In Ecuador, my wife
led a cell group in our home. A poor, single lady named Maria
began to attend. Her family lived in another province in Ecuador,
and she was alone and hurting. Maria’s trusted boyfriend had deserted
her, and she suddenly was forced to face life alone, but worse yet, as a
group became a family to her. They prepared
and planned for the baby as if it were their own. As the birth
date drew near, one of the
regular cell group meetings
was converted into a baby shower for Maria.
When the baby finally came,
the cell members were the first to visit Maria in the hospital.
It was a joyful Maria,
with her baby, that attended the cell
group in the weeks that followed. I can’t help but think of the
emotional scars and trauma that might have befallen Maria had it not
been for the loving outreach of my wife’s cell group.
examples are not uncommon in cell group ministry. Ron Nicholas gives a
“When my car failed to start once in ten-below-zero winter
weather, Steve and Cathy (a couple in our Koinonia group at church)
loaned me their brand new car so that I could drive to work. When my
wife, Jill, returned from the hospital with our new twin girls, we
enjoyed several meals brought in by members of the same small group. We
cried together when one member told of a car accident and problems at
work. We all feel the pain when a couple’s child is
in the hospital” (1985:25).
In Paul Cho’s
cell church in
Korea, it is not uncommon for the cell group to take an offering up an
offering or to find some other practical way to meet a difficulty.
Living Word Community Church in Philadelphia is another example of
practical love in action. The church reorganized its entire structure in
1970 around the concept of home cell groups. The church began to
radically change both in numerical expansion and in community living.
The cell groups
maintained their spiritual dynamic while beginning to practically
meet the social needs of their members. Ron Sider writes,
“Members of home
meetings have dug into savings and stocks to provide interest-free loans
for two families who purchased house trailers for homes. When members
went to sign the papers for an interest-free mortgage for another family’s
house, secular folk present for the transfer were totally perplexed!
be admitted that many cell groups do not function at this level. Not all
cell members are close enough to provide this type of personal care. At
the same time, there is
much potential for social outreach through the cell ministry. As cell
leaders and cell members are
instructed and encouraged to reach out in a practical way, many needs
will be met.
addition to social concern among members,
a particular cell group might decide reach out to the community.
Perhaps the group will decide to visit
a retirement home, minister to street kids, serve in an
orphanage, etc. In the book, Good Things Happen in Small Groups
the suggestion is made,
“Each small group could
care for one shut-in from the church. You can send cards on birthdays
and special occasions, provide a visit at least monthly, bring a meal
and eat with them, bring families (children included) when appropriate.
If there are many shut-ins in our church, each family unit could take
one as their care-burden.” (1985:176)
is quick to point out the reason for his church’s
indisputable success in attracting new
people to cell groups. Simply put, the leaders and members
are encouraged to “find a need and meet it” (1984:59).
seek to discover ways to show
acts of kindness to the non-Christians around them.
addition, to ‘doing good’ to those around them, the members are
instructed to invite to the cell groups those who seem particularly
needy (e.g., in the midst of a divorce, problems with alcohol, etc.).
Oftentimes, it’s the ‘needy people’ who find the cell group the
most helpful. They are the ones that are the most receptive, and it’s
these people that often
find the answer to their dilemma in the midst of a warm, loving group of
God’s people (Hurtson 1995:104).
The Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. has practiced social
outreach for quite a while. It has become a pioneer in
this area. The five
to twelve people that make up each cell group are instructed to pray,
study, and worship together. However, these mission groups are also very
conscious of their social responsibility
to those who are outside the group. Sider explains,
“The goal of many
of the mission groups is liberation for the poor. Members of the mission
group called Jubilee Housing have renovated deteriorating housing in
inner-city Washington. Along with other mission groups..., they are
bringing hope of genuine change to hundreds of people in the inner city”
Although I’ve given several examples of how social concern can
be practiced in the cell group, to be honest, the vast majority of the
cell literature talks very
little about social outreach. The
above examples comprise the preciously
few exceptions to the rule.
cell movement needs to be critiqued at this point. I would agree with
Sider’s commentary on the cell movement, “Though the numerous small
groups flourishing in the churches today are useful and valuable,
they seldom go far enough” (1984:188).
In the next chapter, when
we talk about the kingdom of God and its relationship to cell groups we
will further explore this critical subject.