Concerns about the G12 Movement
by Joel Comiskey
I greatly respect
My understanding of ICM comes
from visiting ICM each year from 1996-2000 in order to write my two books: Groups
of Twelve (Touch Publications, 1999) and From
Twelve to Three (Touch Publications, 2002).
Both Steve and I are deeply
troubled by what we are observing in the G12 movement today. The
concerns I share with you fall into three categories:
Spiritualization of the Number Twelve in the Bible
I listened to the entire audio cassette series of ICM’s 2002 cell church conference in preparation for my book From Twelve to Three. I was aghast by the spiritualization of the text (eisegesis) to justify the primacy of the number twelve.
told that Elijah would not have chosen Elisha if he had been plowing with
eleven instead of twelve oxen and that the number twelve was the key to the
Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost.
We’re told that the twelve stones that Elijah used to build Jehovah’s
sacrifice resulted in God answering his prayer
and that “the model of the twelve restores the altar of God that is in
freely admit that the number twelve is an important number in the Bible, but
it’s not the only number that carries great weight in the Bible. There were three
disciples who had special intimacy with Jesus, Jesus was raised up on the third
day, and there were three crosses at
On top of this, the
New Testament provides no evidence that the apostles or other church leaders
attached any significance to a specific number of disciples chosen in a
church. In Acts, the New Testament history book, you won’t find the apostles
diligently looking for twelve disciples in order to follow Jesus’ pattern of
twelve disciples. In order to apply theological significance to a particular
number of disciples in the church today, it is necessary for the entire bible
to give witness to this practice. I find no substantiation for the
idealization of the number twelve or any other number in Acts or the Epistles.
In addition, it is absent in the rest of church history and 2000 years of
Franchising of the G12 model
Franchising is the new talk circling around the G12 world. You have to follow the entire G12 model, just as a McDonalds franchise has to follow exact standards. Granted, some church programs on the market also require that you follow the exact methodology (e.g., marriage encounter, E.E., etc.). But following a distinct, specific program is quite different from following an entire church structure. It’s like asking all C&MA churches to look exactly alike!! (if you want to receive a special anointing, of course).
This wasn’t always true. When
I first studied the ICM G12 strategy back in 1996-1997, I observed a carefree
excitement and open sharing of information. Yet in 1998 and beyond, I’ve
noticed a certain exclusivity that has progressively become more iron-clad and
closed minded. This exclusive thinking is reflected in the quote by José
Rivas, senior pastor of IPETRI, an independent Pentecostal Church that
represents ICM in Chile, “One of
the first things we learned in the vision was: you must adopt; not adapt. We
must not forget this premise. To adapt the vision reveals pride, vanity, and
self-sufficiency. Pastor Castellanos says this: ‘why should we try to
re-invent the wheel, when it’s already been invented.’ He is
The division this model is causing
In a very real way, the G12
movement has separated themselves from the cell church movement, claiming to
be God’s new wineskin for the last days. Listen to
I hesitate, for example, to
freely send pastors to iron-clad G12 churches because instead of receiving an
open-ended cell church message based on principles, they’ll receive a
one-way model that is either accepted or rejected. I’m greatly saddened by
the cleavage this is causing.
Two Rebuttal Arguments
The “I want to be just like César Castellanos” argument
Castellanos took Cho’s cell system and totally adapted it to fit his circumstances. If Castellanos had the liberty to change and adapt at will, we should take the same liberty. Let’s follow Castellano’s example and never lock ourselves into one closed system!!
Furthermore, what makes us think that ICM has now arrived at THE model, when the church has been continually revising its model ever since it adapted Cho’s model in 1986.
I believe, in fact, that we must
keep innovating in order to stay relevant. If we copy
someone else’s model in its entirety, there is the danger of always being
several steps behind, which will force us to play “catch-up.”
example, if you try to copy ICM’s model, what will you do when they change?
Will you have to go back to ICM and re-learn their new adjustments? (and in
this situation it’s even more difficult since they speak a different
language and come from a different culture).
The “one-meal menu” argument
When I go to a restaurant I want to choose from a variety of food on the menu. Granted, some restaurants only let you pick the one lunch special or one dinner special. Yet having only one item on the menu is not a positive sign.
When I go to a cell church conference, I like to see a creative model because it shows me the senior pastor and staff have done their homework and paid the price to discern what works for them. Yet, I want to take from the conference principles that I can then apply to my distinct cultural context and situation.
John Wesley is a great example
of adapting small group concepts to establish his own cell church system (the method
of the Methodists) over 250
years ago. We’re told that
Wesley had an “…an unusual
capacity to accept suggestions and to adopt and adapt methods from various
quarters” (Latourette 1975:1026). George Hunter says, “He learned from
exposure to the home groups that the Lutheran Pietist leader Philip Jacob
Spener developed to fuel renewal and outreach, and Wesley learned particularly
from the Moravians. Wesley also learned from Anabaptist groups and from the
occasional ‘societies’ with the church of England, so his group movement
was eclectic Protestant” (1996:84).
George Lucas’s recent Star War’s movie, The Attack of the Clones is relevant to what we’re seeing in the modern day G12 movement. We need to resist this cloning by magnifying God’s wondrous creativity through the application of the principles behind the cell church strategy.
One of those principles that we
hold dearly to in the cell church movement is that the cell
is just as important as the celebration and that both of them must be equally
emphasized. We find this principle in the New Testament church. The early
church celebrated together in large temple gatherings and then met from house
to house (Acts
But let us humbly admit that none of the current cell church models are perfect. I
wouldn’t promote Yongii Cho (
God is using the cell church throughout the world. The cell church strategy will constantly need refinement and adaptation to improve its overall quality and effectiveness. G-12 principles help us refine the cell church strategy—not replace it.
Claudia and Cesar Castellanos, The Vision Of Multiplication, Audio Cassette.
Claudia & César Castellanos, Audio cassette. How to Influence Others (
César Castellanos, The Ladder of
José Rivas, Carta Pastoral, in
the bochure for the Convención Celular (March 2002), p. 23.