I recently saw
a video called The Harvest, which tells the true story of a farm boy
who lost his father. The farmer
had impressed upon his son the importance of harvest time. When he was
twelve his father died, right before the grain harvest. Grief struck the
boy, but he was also sickened by the thought of a ripening harvest and no
one to reap it. He knew he could not reap it by himself. As the hot sun beat
down, the fear of losing the harvest overwhelmed him.
afternoon a sound in the distance pierced his state of anxiety. He looked up to see dozens of tractors approaching the farm.
Friends and neighbors had gathered together to reap the harvest.
It was their way of expressing appreciation for their deceased
friend. In one day, the entire
harvest was reaped.
Today we’re seeing the greatest harvest of souls in Christian history.
This is the good news. The bad news is that much of the harvest is not
completed and is often left to spoil. The harvest is ready but workers are
needed to successfully bring the harvest in. When Jesus saw multitudes
swarming around him, he said to his disciples, “Do
you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open
your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). Jesus
told the church to make disciples, not gather multitudes. If the church is
going to reap the harvest today, it must make disciples who are willing to
lead others; they must be willing to influence others for the sake of
Christ. They must take the risk to lead those who want to follow.
often we see the multitude but don’t contemplate their awful state. Jesus
did more than analyze the condition of the lost. He had compassion on them
because “. . . they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”
(Mt. 9: 36). Yet, this
compassion stirred Christ to exhort his followers to,
“. . . Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers
into his harvest field” (Mt. 9:36-38). We can’t reap
the harvest alone. We need help. This book is about raising up leadership to
reap the harvest.
researched small groups around the world. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
Small groups are not the answer. In fact, there is a danger in thinking that
small groups are the answer. Small groups come and go; they rise and falter
over time. Unless small group members are converted into small group
leaders, little long-term fruit remains.
Churches do not reap the harvest because they have small groups. They reap
the harvest because they have harvest workers. Churches that have no plan to
develop people have by default planned to lose the harvest.
growth of the cell movement is based on raising up leaders from within. The
highest priority of the cell leader is to identify prospective interns and
begin the mentoring process.”
With this quote, Gwynn Lewis pinpoints the purpose of this book.
Cell leaders are not primarily called to form and sustain cell groups; their
primary job is to find, train, and release new leadership.
Jim Egli expands on
this same point: “The cell model is not a small-group strategy; it is a
leadership strategy. The focus is not to start home groups but to equip an
expanding number of caring leaders. If you succeed at this, your church will
Some react negatively to the word leader because of its connotations
of position and power. In some cultures, for example, a leader is a person
who controls and dominates. Others imagine that a Christian leader must hold
an official position in the church. A new consensus, however, has developed
that defines the word leader in one word: influence.
When I use the word leader in this book, I’m referring
to a person who exercises his or her God-given capacity to influence a
specific group of God’s people toward God’s purposes for the group.”
In this book, my
use of the word leader implies such Biblical words as servant, disciple,
or harvest worker.
hope that by reading this book, you will obtain small group leadership eyes,
so that you can see your
congregation in a new light. What
a difference it made in my church when we began to see people with
leadership eyes! For years we primarily focused on Sunday morning
attendance. We considered ourselves successful because we filled the pews on
Sunday morning. If attendance dipped, we urgently planned special Sunday
events to reverse the downward trend. Today, we still long for multitudes on
Sunday morning, but we now recognize that God’s concept of church is more
than the people who attend on Sunday morning. We now prioritize the
converting of Sunday worshippers into cell leaders who are reaching their
neighbors for Christ. Our yearly goal is how many new cell groups we’re
going to start. We’ve
discovered the secret weapon of the cell church:
developing an army of committed cell leaders who will reap the
This book draws principles from each of the most prominent cell churches
around the world, so that you can apply what best fits your present needs.
As you read what other cell churches are doing, you’ll do well to remember
the church growth axiom: “Don’t follow methods; extract the underlying
principles from the methods and apply them to your situation.” Your
circumstances are unique. The methods practiced in other churches won’t
fully meet your needs. The principles behind those methods, however, are
transferable to any situation, including your own. If you capture the
importance of cell leadership development and gain insight into how to do
it, this book will have served its purpose.
leaders are tired,” the pastor said to me. “They’ve been leading a
small group for some time now, and they want a break. What should I tell
them?” Without waiting for my reply, he tested me with his own answers,
“Maybe I should just let them rest for awhile; maybe I should open
and close the groups each semester. What should we do different?”
noticed that his church was already full of activity, and that new programs
would soon be added to the agenda. Hoping for a miracle answer, he attended
my cell seminar, in which I focused on breaking down the leadership barrier.
I taught those attending how to develop new workers and how to keep
their present leadership healthy. He thanked me profusely after the seminar,
which had touched a vital chord in his own life and ministry. This pastor,
like the myriads before him, was face to face with the leadership barrier.
Churches rise or fall on available leadership. One of the reasons that
church attendance is at an all-time low is the lack of leadership.
Unless you have a clear plan to develop church attendees into
church leaders, the ebb and flow of church attendance will continue to drop.
Why is there such a dearth of lay leadership? Here are a few reasons:
“I’m overloaded at work, pastor.” “Maybe next year I can get involved in the church.” Have you heard these excuses? More and more church members insist that they have no time for leadership involvement. The time drain barrier tops the list, although this obstacle should be called the priority barrier.
Recent studies indicate that Americans work
the longest hours in the industrialized world—nearly 2000 hours per year. Between 1977 and 1997, the average workweek among salaried
Americans lengthened from 43 to 47 hours. Over the same years, the number of
workers putting in 50 or more hours a week jumped from 24 percent to 37
percent. Scarcely a decade ago, Americans were horrified with the work
habits of the Japanese. Now, according to a recent report of the
International Labor Organization, the United States has slipped past Japan
to become the longest-working nation in the world.
The average American works eight weeks more per year than the
average western European; yet the same report says that Americans run a risk
of burning out.
Church members know that in order to keep their job
they must work the extra hours. The load of ministry, therefore, falls upon
the church pastor. Church work is volunteer work, and with the precious
little time that we all possess, it’s important to choose where and how we’ll
spend it. In an increasingly secular society,
many people scratch church work off their list of “things to do.”
Admittedly, this is a big hurdle for pastors to overcome, but solutions also
believe in church growth. My core church philosophy centers on church growth
theory, and I believe that God wants His church to grow in both quality and
quantity. If the major focus,
however, is how many people attend on Sunday morning, a leadership void can
When a church primarily focuses on Sunday morning, the people feel like they’ve
fulfilled their purpose by showing-up on Sunday. The goal is Sunday
attendance and members hear this in many subtle ways. A church, without
knowing it, can produce a grand multitude that keeps shifting as people
shuffle in and out. The back door is often as large as the front door and in
the meantime, few leaders are developed.
Peter is a perfect example of this malady. He came to our church after many
years in a denominational church that emphasized the Sunday morning service.
God had miraculously saved Peter from a life of wild living, but the church
found little use for him. When he came to us, we immediately saw his
potential. We asked him to enter the training track to eventually become a
cell leader. In the meantime, one of our youth cell leaders began leading a
group in Peter’s home. We didn’t view Peter as an attendee in our
church. Instead, we saw him as a potential leader in the harvest and even a
future leader of leaders.
From 1991 to 1997 we prioritized Sunday morning attendance and grew each
year. In 1997, however, we performed house cleaning. We examined the inner
workings of our church and didn’t like what we found. An exceedingly small
percentage of the Sunday worshippers actually participated in prayer,
training, and small groups. Our unbalanced Sunday morning emphasis produced
few leaders. We were doing all the work and seeing little fruit.
When your church begins to focus on developing leaders, those attending
Sunday worship will catch a greater vision and will become fishers of men,
thus reaching out to others. The result is church growth, the very thing
that pastors desire. With our new emphasis on producing leaders, we’re
experiencing the best of both worlds. We’re experiencing record levels of
attendance and giving, but our focus is leadership development. We have our
cake and we’re eating it too.
Many church leaders know how to develop teachers but not leaders. Education, not leadership, dominates the agenda. The first volunteer position to fill is the Sunday school teacher. When the Sunday school spots are occupied, the pastor might look for committed people to lead other church programs, but the creative, energetic lay person is stymied. Since few leadership positions exist, those aspiring to lead feel frustrated.
Leadership is more than volunteering to complete a
task in the church. Leaders lead people. A leader with no one following is
only going for a walk. A teacher can impart information and a department
head can administrate a program, yet leaders minister to others and
influence their lives. They get involved in the nitty-gritty details of
other people. This requires a shift from academic training to leadership
education in many churches is simply not conducive for mobilizing lay
leadership. The goal of the training is unclear and the training process is
even fuzzier. Everyone is encouraged to enter the classes, but few know what
they are being trained to do. The hope is that leaders will develop by
themselves. This barrier is often imperceptible. “After all,” many
pastors muse, “I have many leaders in my church.” Yet when you examine
more closely, you’ll discover self-made leaders who were often developed
outside the church.
phrase “general education” characterizes the training in most churches.
The goal is often to prepare a person to live the Christian life, rather
than to lead a group of a people. I’m in no way criticizing general
education. My love for learning propelled me to acquire a Ph.D. Lifetime
learning, in fact, is a highly valued leadership trait. Churches, however,
are uniquely positioned to help exercise the muscles of the lifetime
learners and to transfer head knowledge to the feet. Effective leaders come
down from the lofty tower and succeed in the trenches, where the battle for
souls is won or lost.
Yet, even when a person does feel prepared, often there’s a lack of
available openings for service. For these reasons and others, a few key
people do all the work. Researchers have repeatedly discovered that in most
churches, 10% of the people do 90% of the work.
Studies show that North American culture is the most individualistic in the
This mindset doesn’t
encourage a humble posture of learning and helping others in a mentoring
relationship. Mentoring others, a relational experience through which one
person empowers another by sharing God-given resources, is not common in our
Most of us learn new truth by osmosis—lots of knowledge making
its way through a wide variety of sources.
Gratefully, others worked their way through my shell and helped mentor me. I
was especially privileged to work under Pastor Henry Alexander, a mentoring
pastor. He took me under his arms and imparted years of experience to me. As
I looked down upon Henry at his funeral, I thanked God for the resources he
poured into my life. I said to the crowded church that morning,
“Pastor Henry was a spiritual father to me.” More than anything
else, Pastor Henry was there for me.
Very few mentor like Pastor Henry. I worked under one pastor who developed
few relationships with others (including myself), wore an attitude of
superiority (rather than the attitude of a learner) and was eventually asked
to leave the church. The
failure to mentor potential leaders has erected a huge leadership barrier in
the church today.
Pastoral theology in the traditional Bible school or seminary focuses primarily on what the pastor should do. To be honest, I fell in love with this view of the pastor. I romanticized the pastor’s role, secretly reveling in how many people would be dependent on me in my future ministry. In numerous courses on pastoral theology, I was taught how to visit, preach, marry, bury, administer, evangelize and all the other jobs of the pastor. The clear message that I received was that everything depended on me, the senior pastor.
Perhaps the seminaries simply reflect what most churches expect: that the pastor performs and makes it all happen. After all, he’s getting paid for it. The suggestion that members should do the work of the ministry is offensive to some. The expectations of church members along with traditional pastoral training, erect a high leadership barrier.
While the church has done a good job of training people to go directly to God, by in large it has failed to train people to minister to others. The pastor is still considered the priest, the only one fit to minister. This barrier, tied in with lack of mentoring, produces a church of spectators who watch the pastoral performance each Sunday. Long accustomed to sit and soak, the sermon tasters in many churches become experts in critiquing the pastor and grumbling when their needs aren’t met. How far have we fallen from New Testament Christianity of Peter’s day when he depicted the church as “. . . a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:6).
Just what is the role of the pastor? To care for those
who attend church each week? To offer services to those who pay tithes? This
goes to the heart of the issue and the major reason for writing this book.
Maybe you are reading this book as a frustrated pastor looking for answers.
You’ve grown weary with the traditional role of pastor. You feel locked
into a box, playing a tit-for-tat relationship with church members and
church boards. This book will suggest a reexamination of Scripture
concerning the role of the pastor. Theology must breed practice and not vice
versa. Many of the problems in today’s church stem from faulty theology.
Small group ministry doesn’t provide the cure all for all the
problems in the local church. It does, however, satisfy several key needs.
First, it provides a significant role for lay people. As Carl George says,
"I´m convinced that lay people take ministry to a limited size
group so seriously that they prefer a role in cell leadership to most any
other office or honorific title in a church”
Small group ministry prepares a person to pastor, evangelize,
administrate, care for others, and use his or her gifts and talents. Lay
people feel like they’re doing something significant.
Second, small group ministry is the perfect training ground for future
leaders in the church. Small groups have correctly been called leader
breeders. People learn to
labor. They are equipped for ministry. They are encouraged to exercise their
gifts. They develop vision. Ultimately, they become leaders.
I started my ministry in a small group. I learned to lead, teach,
exhort, administer and above all, pastor a small group of people. Doubtful
potential leaders learn to spread their wings and fly in a small group
atmosphere by taking baby steps in leading a group dynamic, worship, prayer,
and eventually the small group lesson. Would-be leaders learn through an
incremental process of doing and learning.
Third, small group ministry makes the pastor’s job easier. Because small group leaders assume a pastoral role, they do the work of the ministry and truly minister to the needs of the congregation as well as reach out to non-Christians. We find parallels here with the apostles and the needs of the early church. When the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food, the early church gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-4).
Yet, placing people into small groups does not guarantee leadership development. That’s only the beginning. First, you must see your people differently—as God does.
[i] Gwynn Lewis, “Time Bombs that Kill a Cell,” Cell Church magazine, Summer, 1995, p. 10.
[ii] Cell Leader Intern Guidebook (Houston, TX: Touch Publications, Inc., 1995), p. 101.
[iii] Jim Egli, “The Ten Commandments of Transitions,” Cell Church magazine, Summer, 1996, p.14.
[iv] Most books on Christian leadership agree that leadership is influence. Dr. Bobby Clinton defines leadership like this: “A leader, as defined from a study of Biblical leadership,…is a person, with God-given capacity and with God-given responsibility who is influencing a specific group of God’s people toward God’s purposes for the group” (Leadership Perspectives (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1993), p. 14). Wagner uses the idea of influencing a group of people towards God’s purpose to define the “gift of leadership” in the New Testament (Rom. 12:8). He says: The gift of leadership is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to set goals in accordance with God’s purpose for the future and to communicate these goals to others in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work together to accomplish those goals for the glory of God”(Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1979), p. 162. The Touch Outreach seminar for zone supervisors describes a leader as, “. . . a person who encourages others, who motivates others to meet the group goals . . .”( Zone Supervisor Seminar, (Houston, TX: Touch Outreach Ministries, 1997), p. F-1. In this book, I will follow the above consensus that a leader is one who influences a particular group to meet its goal.
[v] Robert J. Clinton Leadership Perspectives (Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1993), p. 14.
“Study: Americans Work Longest Hours,” Infobeat Morning
[ix] Geert Hofstede, Culture’s Consequence (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1980), pp. 230-231.
[x] Paul D. Stanley & J. Robert Clinton, Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992), p. 12.
[xi] Carl George, Prepare Your Church for the Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1992), p. 98.