FOUNDATIONS FOR THE CELL CHURCH
By Joel Comiskey, C&MA Missionary in Quito, Ecuador
This article appeared in C&MA Cell-Net #36
"Principles of Biblical Leadership
in the Cell Church"
What is the core
concept in the cell church? Community? Evangelism? Church growth? Steve Irvin
and I debated this idea over dinner one night in my home. We batted around a few
commonly held assumptions about the main theme of the cell church. Then I sprang
on Steve a growing conviction of my own heart. "I believe that the essence
of the cell church is preparing leaders who are sent out to reap the harvest.
The cell church is a leadership strategy," I told him.
As Iíve studied,
practiced, and reflected on the cell church over the last few years, Iíve
concluded that the cell church is all about developing and releasing leaders to
reap the harvest. The perfect environment for leaders to begin and thrive is the
Rick Warrenís best
selling book The Purpose Driven Church provides important principles for
the church at large. Iíd like someone to write a book for the cell church
called The Leadership-Driven Church. Raising-up a continual flow of
healthy multiplying cell leaders is the heart of the cell church. Cells are
leader breeders. Cells breed new leaders. If you catch the awesome power of
raising up an army of leaders through the cell strategy, youíll succeed.
Some cell churches do
better than others in producing and sustaining the leadership flow in their
churches. Some transitioning cell churches start out well, but as soon as the already
prepared saints are taken, their cell church begins to sink. Such
churches fail to understand how to develop and supervise new leaders. Itís a
What are some of the
key Biblical principles behind leadership development in the cell church?
Choice of the Twelve
Itís surprising that
Jesus did not choose key, prominent men to form part of His twelve. None of
Christís disciples occupied important positions in the synagogue, nor did any
of them belong to the Levitical priesthood. Rather, they were common laboring
men, having no professional training, no academic degrees, and no source of
inherited wealth. Most were raised in the poor part of the country. They were
impulsive, temperamental, and easily offended. Jesus broke through the barriers
that separated the clean and unclean, the obedient and sinful. He summoned the
fisherman as well as the tax collector and zealot. Jesus saw hidden potential in
them. He detected a teachable spirit, honesty, and a willingness to learn. They
possessed a hunger for God, a sincerity to look beyond the religious hypocrisy
of their day, and they were looking for someone to lead them to salvation. In
calling the despised to Himself, in sitting down to a meal with publicans, in
initiating the restoration of a Samaritan woman, Jesus demonstrated that even
these people were welcomed into the kingdom of God.
at the Heart
Most of the leadership
problems can be solved if you are willing to develop the lay people within your
own congregation. True, this will require that you open your heart to a broader
spectrum of lay people in your church.
A study of three
hundred highly successful people such as Franklin Roosevelt, Helen Keller,
Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi, and Albert Einstein,
revealed that one-fourth had handicaps, such as blindness, deafness, or crippled
limbs. Three-fourths had either been born in poverty, come from broken homes, or
from exceedingly tense or disturbed situations.
Sometimes we fail to
see emerging leadership because we are looking for the wrong things. We often
look for those who mesh with our personality but pass over those who follow a
Samuel misjudged the
Lordís choice for the second king of Israel because he focused on height and
stature: "Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ĎSurely the LORDís anointed
stands here before the LORD.í But the LORD said to Samuel, ĎDo not consider
his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at
the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks
at the heartí" (1 Samuel 16:6-7).
Jesse was just as
surprised that his older children were not elected. He had not even considered
inviting shepherd boy David to the ceremony. But even though David was a
"ruddy" young boy, ". . . the LORD said, ĎRise and anoint him;
he is the one!í" (1 Samuel 16:11-12)
God tends to use the
"ruddy, young boys" that are fully committed to him. Our tendency is
to hang educational nooses around budding leaders. Yet, the harvest is so
plentiful and the laborers are so few that God would have us look at all
leadership possibilities around us.
What kind of
characteristics should the perfect leader possess? Donít worry too much if you
get as many answers as those attending your group. Most authors do the same.
Itís difficult, if not impossible, to find an exact definition of leadership.
The study of leadership is broad and varied. The numerous definitions of
leadership provide validity to this quote by Bennis and Nanus: ". . .
leadership is the most studied and least understood topic of any in the social
sciences. . . .Leadership is like the Abominable Snowman, whose footprints are
everywhere but who is nowhere to be seen." These experts in the field of
leadership go on to say:
thousands of empirical investigations of leaders have been conducted in the last
seventy-five years alone, but no clear and unequivocal understanding exists as
to what distinguishes leaders from non-leaders, and perhaps more important, what
distinguishes effective leaders from ineffective leaders and effective
organizations from ineffective organizations.
contemplating future leadership, be encouraged. God uses all kinds of leaders.
There is no such thing as the perfect leader. Nor is there one mold labeled
leadership. God wants to use you in your uniqueness. Leadership has many
personalities. Although the Bible doesnít promote one "personality
type" for great leadership, it does give us the characteristics of
effective leadership. The following provides clues to Biblical leadership.
When I do cell
training, I know that I need to share the following leadership requirements
because God requires them. Several of these traits can be summarized in one
phrase: dependence upon God. God is looking for leaders who have the right heart
attitude. The following Biblical reference actually mention what God expects of
Samuel 23:3 & Leviticus 25:43-53
Dependence on God
godly Christian leader must desire God above all else. This quality of hungering
and thirsting for God will guide all the other skills. Jesus says to seek first
His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you
(Mt. 6:33). The strongest disciples are those who long for the presence of God.
The Holy Spirit will be hindered if the leader is spiritually indifferent. A
person who is not allowing the Holy Spirit to work in his or her own life can
hardly be a channel for His working in the group. The Holy Spirit is the great
Leader, so we need him in our ministry to be effective. His will and glory above
all else. "My food," said Christ, "is to do the will of my Father
and to finish His work" (John 4:34).
Spirituality is a prerequisite for effective cell leaders. Iím not referring here to a super spirituality, which characterizes certain high-minded people. We are all aware of those who use their "spirituality" to mask deep-seated pride. Rather, Iím talking about a humble dependence on God. Iím referring to a person who truly believes "that apart from Him, we can do nothing."
Ray Prior, the president of the Borden Corporation, one of the largest business structures in America, was asked how he led such a large corporation. He answered, "Each morning when I wake up, I meet with the Lord and begin to listen to His voice. In that period of time, I ask Him to bring to my mind the needs of the key men who report directly to me. As I think about their weaknesses, I plan my day." Letís follow the example of Ray Prior, staying in tune moment by moment with Jesus Christ.
tells us that the Father is looking for such worshipers (John 4:24). Effective
leaders understand that the most important preparation for the leader before the
cell meeting begins is to wait in His presence. As the leader waits in the
listening room, he or she will receive direct orders from God. Lesson
preparation is important, but spiritual preparation comes first. More important
than time spent pouring over the cell lesson is quality time with God. I agree
with Icenogle when he says, "The hope for healthy Christian small groups
lies in group leaders who Ďare willing to be ledí by the Spirit . ."
Cell leaders must lead the group in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Overcoming the Obstacles
studying leadership in the Old Testament is obliged to take note of the life of
Nehemiah. Notice some key principles from Nehemiahís life:
Nehemiah possessed Godís passion, was willing to get involved, knew where to go, how to get it done, and was able to motivate people toward the fulfillment of his goal. His leadership transformed a depressed and oppressed group of Godís people into a lightning task force, capable of accomplishing Godís purpose.
if I could pinpoint the most important trait from the life of Nehemiah, it would
be the ability to overcome obstacles. Trials and tribulations piled up against
Nehemiah--to the point of trouncing him. Yet, we read how he overcame them time
and time again. He was so consumed by his God-given task and vision that he
never allowed obstacles and difficulties to deter him.
Luther King Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he
stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy." Nehemiah lived in the midst of adversity but he
faced it, confronted, and triumphed over it. Cell leadership can learn from his
Richards is the leader of a young professionalís group. As a single mother,
she has many personal obstacles to overcomeólong work days and endless
motherly responsibilities. Yet, she doesnít allow the very real obstacles to
stop her from effective cell leadership. She sees them as a stepping-stone.
"Cell leadership has done wonders for me," she told us during one
leadership meeting. "Each week, Iím forced to depend upon God as I
prepare. Iím dependent on Him to help me find solutions to the needs of my
group." Miriam leads a solid, growing group, in which two atheists
noticed that some cell leaders always have an excuse. You know what pastors,
"No one in my neighborhood is open to the gospel." "This cell
ministry is hard, I just donít have the time."
spies came back with a report based on the reality of the situation.
"There are giants in the land! There is no way we can win this war."
Joshua and Caleb saw two realities: the giants and the God who made them. They
came back excited for the chance to see Godís mighty power at work.
"Letís go for it. Right now. This land is full of milk and honey and we
serve a big God. Heís easily able to take us into the land and bring us the
victory. Letís go."
you see obstacle or opportunity? Herb Miller gives this advice to leaders,
"Never sidestep challenges. Grab every charging bull by the horns and slap
him twice across the face. Remind him that God is in charge of you, . . ."
cell leader will face moments of discouragement, loneliness, and pain. Conflicts
often surface in a cell group due to personality differences, constant talkers,
overly "spiritual ones," late arrivers, poor communication, cultural
differences, etc. A cell leader might even face direct criticism from members of
the group. A common assumption that many cell leaders make is to consider all
conflict as "bad" and to be avoided if possible. Yet, if conflict can
lead to deeper consideration of the issues at hand, and if it challenges members
to look at their own behaviors, then itís beneficial to the group.
overcame the obstacles, but he also had his moments of intense discouragement.
Thomas Edison once remarked, "Many of lifeís failures are people who did
not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." Edison tried
10,000 times before he finally found the right materials for the incandescent
light bulb. Every time he failed he gained valuable information about what
didnít work, bringing closer to the solution.
New Testament passages specifically deal with leadership characteristics. Iíve
summarized these traits in the following list. Notice how these characteristics
focus on godliness and servant hood.
3:1-13 (Titus 1: 5-10)
pure life (3:2,3)
good reputation (3:7)
of one wife (3:2)
given to wine (3:3)
ř Able to teach
a lover of money (3:3)
ř House in order
Moody once commented, "Character is what you are in the dark." Most of
the requirements in the New Testament involve character. Virtues such as
honesty, faithfulness, and good judgment are synonymous with New Testament
leadership. No amount of talent or giftedness can replace these characteristics.
Bad character qualities will ultimately disqualify a person from leadership.
a young Christian studying at college in Long Beach, California, I once tried to
witness to a friend in Biology class. She politely listened and even nodded, but
nothing more. One evening several months later, I was eating with friends in a
nearby restaurant. To my surprise, this girl from college appeared as our
waitress for the evening. We talked, ordered our food, ate, and then asked for
the bill. Trying to please us (at the expense of her boss), she came back
saying, "Iím not going to write on the bill all of the food that you
ate." God spoke to me immediately and I said to her, "I appreciate
your gesture, but weíre Christians and God wants us to pay for what we
was quite surprised and probably thought we were a bit weird, but the message
was clear. Before leaving, I invited her to our church. The next Sunday she
showed up at church and said to me, "When you didnít accept my offer last
week at the restaurant, then I knew that you were a Christian." This girl
heard me talk about Jesus previously at college, but she had to see Jesus played
out in my character before believing. My actions, as opposed to my words, made
the difference in her life.
are watching our lives. They want to make sure that our actions correspond with
our words before receiving the gospel message. They want to make sure that the
leader they are going to follow is credible and honest. Godly character refers
to Christís work in our actions, attitude, and daily Christian living.
we face a dearth of godly character. Weíre inclined to cry out with the
Psalmist, "Help, LORD, for the godly are no more" (Psalm 12:1). So
many gifted Christians, who minister to multitudes, fall prey to their own moral
words of Paul to Timothy are pertinent for this issue of character,
"Donít let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an
example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in
purity" (1 Tim. 4:12). Paul knew that Timothy was surrounded with older
critics who wanted nothing more than to see him fall. Ephesus, though one of the
most prominent cities in the Roman world, was filled with idolatry, orgies, and
magic. It was in Ephesus that "A number who had practiced sorcery brought
their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value
of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas" (Acts 19:19).
advice to Timothy in the midst of temptation and corruption was, in effect,
"silence your critics by your actions." Be an example to the
believers. . . in purity. The word purity (hagnos) is always used with a moral
sense. It is not limited to sins of the flesh, but covers purity in motive as
well as in acts. The age-old saying rings true: "Actions speak louder than
words." Cell leaders must maintain godly ethics and character at all times.
Iím currently ministering, people often use this saying: "In Ecuador lots
of oil flows." The oil mentioned in this phrase is the oil of bribery, not
petroleum. The system in Ecuador flows smoothly when itís greased with lots of
Santana was one of my most trusted cell leaders. This man was respected as a
first class architect, but more importantly as a godly Christian leader. Daniel
confessed to me that by refusing to offer bribes, he lost many, many contracts
as an architect. Yet, because of his refusal to mess around with sin, he
maintained a pure testimony in the midst of a corrupt society. Make sure that
what you are in the dark is the same person that lives in the day.
characteristic of leadership that is unique to the New Testament is the concept
of servant hood. Jesus taught His disciples to aspire to serve rather than
"lord over." According to Jesus, the greatest leaders were the most
diligent servants. He then uses Himself as a personal illustration: " For
even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his
life as a ransom for many" (Mt. 10:42-45).
continually modeled this attitude with His small group to the point of washing
their feet (John 13). Cell leaders must be willing to extend themselves as
servants to the entire group. Steve Barker points out:
. a cell group requires lots of service. When a group starts, someone must
decide on the who, when, where, why and how. This translates into placing phone
calls, reserving rooms, arranging chairs, making coffee, offering rides,
reminding people and finally, making introductions. Such nitty-gritty work is
thankless but necessary. Itís the behind-the-scenes effort that often
determines whether the initial small group meeting is a miserable failure or a
itís always good to delegate, ultimately the cell leader is responsible for
the activities in the group, the order of the meeting, where the group will
meet, the refreshments, follow-up on the newcomers, etc. A servant heart is a
necessary ingredient in effective cell ministry.
Leadership Requirements in Cell Churches Worldwide
Bible gives clear guidelines for Christian leadership, but they are only
guidelines. The specific application of Biblical leadership principles varies
from church to church. How long, for example, should a person know Jesus before
leading a cell group? Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:6 that a Bishop must not be
". . . a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same
judgment as the devil." But what does the word "recent" mean? The
Greek the word "recent" literally means "newlyĖplanted,"
but we still need more information for a precise application. Does a
"recent convert" mean three weeks or three years? We also must
remember that Paul was referring to the office of bishop, the highest office in
the church. Is it correct to place the requirements of bishop on a cell leader
the eight cell churches in my study the length of time a potential leader needs
to be converted varied from three months to three years. The average length of
knowing Jesus before leading a cell group was one year. It must be noted,
however, that the International Charismatic Mission, which is the fastest
growing cell church today, turns unbelievers into cell leaders in six months.
These new believers still have fresh contact with their non-Christian oikos relationships
and often become flaming evangelists.
the requirements varied from church to church, the core requirements of
salvation, membership, water baptism, cell attendance, and completion of
specific cell training applied in all the churches. The amount and content of
the training, however, varied greatly from church to church.
Will You Leave Behind?
Wesley and George Whitefield were famous preachers. Each lived during the 18th
century and belonged to the same holy club at Oxford University. Both desired to
win a lost world for Jesus Christ and were eager to try new methods to do so. In
fact, George Whitefield preached in the open air before John Wesley. Most
believe that George Whitefield was a better preacher than Wesley. Benjamin
Franklin once calculated that Whitefield could easily preach to a crowd of
30,000 people (without a microphone!) Whitefield probably even recorded more
decisions than Wesley because of the huge crowds he attracted.
at the end of his life George Whitefield said this: "My brother Wesley
acted wisely--the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in
class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my
people are a rope of sand"
labors died with himself, but Wesley's fruit continued to grow, increase, and
multiply. Wesley organized the movement and brought it under systematic
management; Whitefield hoped that those who had been "awakened" would
follow through on their initiative; Wesley left nothing to chance. Wesley raised
up a movement that produced leaders, while Whitefield only could produce
need to concentrate on converting church members into dynamic cell leaders who
will produce new cell leaders. We need to view our congregation with leadership
eyes and then make sure that you have a training track to prepare them. Start a
movement and you wonít have to preside over a monument.