TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION...............
How the Tutorial Fits into the Dissertation
Definition Of A Cell Group..................
CHAPTER 2 CELL GROUPS AND THE TRUE CHURCH...
The Meaning of the True Church.....
A Biblical Perspective..........
Meaning Of The
Definitions Of The Church Throughout History.
Cell Groups As They Relate To The True Church.....
Cell Groups And Biblical Imagery
The Body Of Christ
Temple Of The Holy Spirit.
People Of God.........
Family Of God.........
Cell Groups As Part Of The True Church.
Cell Groups As A Key Way To Experience The True
Cell Groups As An Arm Of The True Church.........
CHAPTER 3 CELL GROUPS AND
THE BIBLICAL FUNCTIONS OF THE CHURCH...
The Evangelistic Emphasis............
Life Style Evangelism......
The Perfecting Emphasis............
The Care Of Converts.........
The Sanctification Process.........
The Fellowship Of Believers.........
The Use Of The Laity In Ministry.........
The New Testament Pattern Of Social Concern
The Opportunities For Social Concern In Cell Ministry
CHAPTER 4 CELL
GROUPS AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD....
The Concept Defined....
The Gospel Of The Kingdom..
The Power Of The Gospel.
The Completeness Of This Gospel.
The Church And The Kingdom..
And The Kingdom Of God.........
CHAPTER 5 THE
ROLE OF CELL GROUPS IN THE EARLY CHURCH...
The Function Of The House Church In The Early Church.....
Among The House
The Emphasis On Cell And Celebration................
New Testament Patterns Utilized Today......
CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION................
In this tutorial, my hope is
to interrelate bedrock theological truth with the methodological
practice of cell-based ministry. This tutorial will not only
focus on theory but on application as well.I found that this tutorial was an exercise of ‘picking and choosing’.
Among the many theological riches from which to choose, I had to choose
which ones were most appropriate for my topic. Due to the theme of my
Ph.D. research (cell-based ministry),
I decided on two important Biblical truths, namely, the Church
and the Kingdom of God.
With regard to the church, in
this tutorial I will attempt to answer the questions, What is the nature
of the true Church of Jesus Christ and what are the
key Biblical functions of the Church? To answer the second
question, I will attempt to define the Kingdom of God and explain how
that the gospel of the Kingdom must affect our preaching right here and
now. While exploring both
of these theological truths, I hope to analyze both
the Biblical perspective as well as
Again, this tutorial will not only focus on theological issues. Throughout the tutorial, I will be
defining the meaning of ‘cell-based
ministry’ as I interact with the considerations of the Church and the
Kingdom of God. My goal is
show how a’
Theology of the True Church’ and ‘A Theology of the Kingdom of God’
apply to cell-based
This tutorial is designed to lay the theological foundation
for the rest of my study. As mentioned earlier, my Ph.D. research
focuses on cell-based ministry in the church. Because I will be studying
small groups within the church, it’s essential to begin by studying
the Church of Jesus Christ.
How will this tutorial fit into my actual dissertation? This tutorial will
serve as the very first chapter, an introductory chapter . It
will set the tone of the rest of the tutorial, by giving direction and
substance to that which follows.
It will also be an important
guideline as I visit my
five case study churches and attempt
to understand how their cell-based structure allows them to more fully
become the true Church of Jesus Christ and serve the interests of the
Kingdom of God.
The purpose of this dissertation is to lay a theological
foundation for cell-based ministry.
It is to show how that cell-based ministry relates not only to
the true church of Jesus Christ but also to the Kingdom of God.
Many people view cell-based ministry in the church as merely a
methodological tool for church growth (Hadaway, Wright, & DuBose
1987:34). Others promote
small groups as an effective tool outside of the Church of Jesus
Christ. Support groups today come in all shapes and sizes. There are
also various parachurch
organizations which operate
outside the church, yet seek to use small groups to indirectly build the
local church through a systematic program of evangelism and
In this tutorial, my
purpose is to show how that
a Biblical cell group
ministry should be placed at the very heart of the church. It is to
examine how that cell group
ministry can add vital life to the true Church of Jesus Christ and
even lead a local
church to experience of Christ’s presence and fellowship with one
another in a new, exciting
Many scholars believe the Kingdom of God motif is the central thread of
both the Old and the New Testaments. Because this concept is so central
in the Bible, I will seek to apply it to cell-based ministry today. I
will also critique the small group movement from this theological concept.
My goals in this tutorial are:
To clearly define the
theological meaning of the true Church of Jesus Christ
To analyze how small groups
fit into the overall structure of the church
To show how cell-based
ministry can add vital life to the true Church of Jesus Christ.
To define the theological meaning of the Kingdom of God
To show how the Biblical
truth of the Kingdom of God can
both critique as well as give vision to the cell movement today.
The central research issue of this dissertation is an analysis of the
contribution of cell-based ministry as a positive factor
for church growth in selected growing churches in Latin America.
What have been the patterns
of church growth that these churches have experienced before and after
the implementation of a cell-based ministry?
How have these churches
cell-based methodology as
a tool for church growth?
What have been the patterns
that characterize effective cell leadership in these churches?
How have the cultural distinctives of these churches affected their
There are at
least two major delimitations to this tutorial:
Scope of the theological topics
I know that
there are other theological topics that could
be considered. For example, it would be helpful to study specific
aspects of God’s nature or perhaps the study of man. These topics
would lead toward a better
understanding of small group ministry.
Basically, I have made a ‘judgment call’ by focusing in on
two particular theological truths. Because of my many years of
experience in small group ministry (both leading small groups and small
group ministry), I believe that these
two truth are at the very heart of my research theme.
Depth of the theological topics that are covered
Volumes have been written both about the church and the
kingdom of God. It is not the purpose of this tutorial to add
new knowledge to the extensive literature that is already
available. Neither will this tutorial try to extensively cover these two
theological truths in great detail. In fact, I will only
coverage of these
two foundational truths. My aim is to arrive at a better understanding
of cell-based ministry as I interact with the nature of the Church and
What does the term ‘cell
group’ actually mean? The
communists have their form of cell groups. Liberation Theology promotes
their brand of cell groups. Across
the land, various types of cell groups
are forming to help heal physical disorders, chemical dependency,
marital problems, and the list continues.
U.S. alone, it is estimated that 80 million out of the estimated 200
million adults are in a small group (Wuthnow 1994:370).
One out of six of those 80 million people are new members of the
small group movement, thus disclosing, that at least in the U.S., the
small group movement is alive and growing (Wuthnow 1994:371). After
listing twenty new innovations in the modern U.S. church scene Schaller
says, “…perhaps most important of all, the decision by tens of
millions of teenagers and adults to place a high personal priority on
weekly participation in serious, in-depth, lay-led, and continuing Bible
study and prayer groups” (1995:14).
William Beckham wrote the book The Second Reformation to
express forcefully his conviction that the church is the midst of a new
small group revolution (1995:66,67).
does one define a small group or a cell group?
The reader will become aware that I often interchange
the term cell group with small
group. I do that because in one sense,
cell groups are small groups. However,
I believe that there is also a
danger in equating the two because
my definition of cell groups really refers to a particular type
of small group. In a nutshell, the small group that I’m defining in
this tutorial is one that is squarely based within the
church. Here’s a
sample definition: Cell groups, as
they are used in this paper, are small groups of people (between 5-15) which are intimately linked
to the life of the church (Acts 2:46). These groups meet for the purpose
of spiritual edification which overflows in the form of evangelistic outreach. Those in the cell groups are
committed to participate in the functions of the local church and when
new people outside the church are added to the group, they too are encouraged to become responsible, baptized
members of Christ’s
body. The cell group is never seen as an isolated gathering of believers
who have replaced the role of the local church.
definition makes it clear that I’m referring to
church based small groups. They are not isolated units. Rather, they are intimately linked to the life of the church.
Those who attend the cell groups are expected to attend the church.
Those who attend the church are expected to attend the cell groups. This
is precisely the model that is used in Korea. In referring to Cho’s
model, Hadaway states,
“Members of Cho’s home cell groups are also expected to
attend the meetings on a regular basis. Attendance is not taken lightly,
and when a member is unexpectantly absent from a cell group meeting, the
house church leader contacts the absentee person the following day to
learn why” (1987:99).
reiterate this point because
of the growing ‘house church
movement’ that is expanding
rapidly throughout the world and especially in such places as
China, England, and Australia. Dr.
Ralph Neighbour’s makes a helpful distinction here,
“There is a distinct difference between the house church and
the cell group movements. House Churches tend to collect a community of
15-25 people who meet together on a weekly basis. Usually, each House
Church stands alone. While they may be in touch with nearby House
Churches, they usually do not recognize any further structure beyond
themselves (Neighbour 1990:193).
I’m also making a clear distinction between small groups in general and
those which are based in the church. For example, many
Christian authors, seeing the positive potential of small groups
for Christian growth and discipleship, have produced a multitude of
literature which extols the virtues of small groups in general.
Two Christian organizations,
Serendipity and Navigators, are known for their numerous books
and study guides on small group ministry.
Johnson (1985), and Price and Springle (1991) are examples of a
more general type of small group literature.
However, most of this type of literature
apples both the sodality as
well as the modality structure of church life, and therefore will not be
as uniquely specific to my
Even within the church, there are a number of ways of defining small
groups. Hadaway, Wright and DuBose refer to the home Bible study, the
home fellowship group, base-satellite units, the house church, and
finally the home cell group. It is this latter definition that is more
in accord with my overall thrust in this paper. They say,
“Home cell groups are…controlled and organized by the host
church. This is the model coming out of Korea where a congregation is
divided into small groups which meet in the home during he week for
prayer, singing, sharing, Bible study, and other activities”
definition places the focal point on the church and not on the cell.
The other types of small groups, according to these authors, are
viewed as connected to the church, but in a more independent way (1987:
There is another aspect of my definition which I must emphasize. For the
most part (there will be exceptions to this generalization), I will be
investigating ‘open cell
groups’ as opposed to ‘closed cell groups’.
For example, there are some churches that use cell groups
exclusively for discipleship. It’s a system of closed cell groups
(Price & Springle 1992: 46,47).
The goal of these groups is spiritual growth with little
reference to evangelistic outreach (Hull 1988: 225-250).
It is my opinion, that
churches which primarily use cell groups
in this closed manner do not grow numerically and often stagnate.
The cell group ministry is certainly an important tool
in the hands of God to help the church grow rapidly in number
without losing the quality care of each member. However, it is my
conviction that the cell groups by themselves should not be the
principal focus. The growth of the church must be the priority. If the cell groups do not contribute to the growth of the
church, it is often better
not to use them because of the resulting ‘cliques’ that develop.
for the most part, the small
groups that I will be studying will
be comprised of
not only believers,
but also unbelievers, since the group must be constantly evangelizing.
This point is made very clear by Carl F. George when he states,
“Show me a nurturing group not regularly open to new life, and
I will guarantee that it’s dying. If cells are units of redemption,
then no one can button up the lifeboats and hang out a sign, ‘You can’t
come in here.’ The notion of group members shutting themselves off in
order to accomplish discipleship is a scourge that will destroy any
church’s missionary mandate (George 1991:99).
Although ‘outreach’ will be one important distinguishing
feature of the cell groups that I will be studying, the edification of
believers is the central concern. Since these cell groups are church
based, it’s expected that believers will comprise a
majority of the cell group. In the cell-based churches that I
will be studying for my actual dissertation research, sixty percent or
more of those who attend the church, also regularly attend a cell group.
What is then the relationship between Christian edification and
effective outreach. Perhaps it can be summed up in the prayer
of Jesus in John 17:21, “…that all of them may be one,
Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so
that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
We have found that the open sharing of believers in spiritual
communion is often the most effective evangelistic tool.
The main objective,
then, of the cell group is that each cell group member experience true
koinonia fellowship (Neighbour 1992: 60-65) which results in the
evangelization of those who don’t know Jesus Christ.
Since I will primarily be exploring the theological foundations
for cell-based ministry, I will seek to analyze four
important essential theological issues:
The Meaning Of The True Church Of Jesus Christ
The Functions Of The True Church
Of Jesus Christ
The Kingdom Of God And Cell Groups
The Role Of Cell Groups In The Early Church
The objective in this first
chapter will be to discern how cell
ministry relates to Christ’s church and whether or not it should be an
integral part of Her life.
What is the true church of Jesus Christ?
In Ecuador, where I’ve served as a missionary for the past four
years, the Catholic Church claims to be the sole representative of
Christ. There are other groups and sects
which make similar statements. How does the Bible define the true
church of Jesus Christ?
Although the size of this paper limits a detailed study of all
that the Bible says about the church, the effort will be made to explore basic Biblical truths about the church and then
to determine how the cell groups relate to those concepts.
To understand the N.T. church we must first examine the Hebrew
background. There are two significant Hebrew words which are helpful: qahal & edah. The word edah
is regularly used to refer to the gathered congregation of Israel as
a whole (Coenen 1975: 294-295). However, it is the word qahal which serves as the basis for the N.T. concept of the church.
The word qahal refers to a
summons to an assembly and the act of assembling. Millard Erickson helps
clarify this meaning when
is not so much a specification of the members of the assembly as a
designation of the occurrence of assembling. A religious significance
sometimes attaches to the word (e.g., Deut. 9:10; 10:4; 23:1-3).
The term can also denote a more general assembly of the people
((e.g., I Kings 12:3). Women (Jer. 44:15)
and even children (Ezra 10:1; Neh. 8:2) are included. The term is
also used of the gathering of troops, and in Ezekiel it refers to
nations other than Israel (1984:1031).
The key concept, then, is that of the
assembly. However, there is a distinct difference between the
assembly that is represented by edah
and the assembly represented by qahal.
According to Coenen, unlike the word edah, which is the common term
for the assembly of the ceremonial community as a whole,
the word qahal is the
expression of the assembly which results from the covenant (1975: 295).
This can be seen by how the Septuagint translates these two
Hebrew words. The word ecclesia,
which is the common word for church in the N.T., is only used to translate qahal
and not edah.
It is this concept
of the assembled, covenant people of God
represents in the O.T. It is this meaning which serves as the
basis for the word ecclesia in
the New Testament. David
Watson provides additional
background information into the implications of the word ecclesia in the N.T. by
emphasizing that it was a ‘called out’ community (holiness), a ‘called
for’ community (God´s purpose), a ‘called together’ community
(unity), and a ‘called to’
community (future inheritance) (1978: 67-74).
The assembled, covenant people
in the N.T. , which is represented by
ecclesia, is referred
to in a variety of
circumstances. For example, Paul, John, and Luke
use the term to refer to the assembled believers
in a specific city (I Cor. 1:2; Rev. 1-3; Acts 5:11).
The word is also commonly
used to refer to all believers in a given city (Acts 8:1;13:1). More
pointedly touching the bounds of this paper,
the word is used to
designate churches which met
in particular homes (Rom. 16:5; I Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15).
Before we touch on how cell groups in particular relate to the
Biblical perspective of the church, we must first examine a variety of
imagery that the Bible uses to describe the church.
One such example involves the church as the People of God (2 Cor. 6:16) .
The church is made up of people who have been specifically
chosen by God. This N.T. concept had deep O.T. roots.
Israel, God’s chosen instrument, was often depicted as the
people of God (Erickson 1984:1033).
With the O.T. background in mind,
Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always
for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the
beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and believe
in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13-14).
Ladd´s contribution helps us understand this Biblical concept,
“The term ‘people’ in biblical thought often has a
technical sense designating those who stand in a special relationship to
God. This usage is by no means unique to Paul but appears frequently in
the New Testament” (1974: 537).
The church as the people of God stands in direct contrast to the
view of many that the church is primarily an institution. Rather, the
Bible paints a different picture. It is seen as a living, spiritual
household of God´s people. Snyder
punctuates this point by saying, “The
power of seeing the church as the community
of God’s people has been challenging and undermining entrenched models of the
church as a religious institution dedicated to a kind of technical
spiritual work...” (1983:15). Banks
points out that although the New Testament world had a general
understanding of community life, Paul
vastly enriches this idea and brings it to a higher level (Banks
The church is also described as the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:27). Christ
is seen as head of His body
(Cor. 1:18; 2:9-10). He has chosen the members of His body and every
part is of equal importance (I Cor. 12:12-26).
Just as in the human
body there are many different parts with various functions,
so also in the body of Christ.
differences do not affect the fact that there is a fundamental unity
(Morris 1958: 173). In fact, some believe that the main emphasis of
the body of Christ metaphor
is the unity of the all believers (Ladd 1974: 545). In other places we find that the members of the body of
Christ need to bear each others burdens (Gal. 6:2), have genuine
fellowship with one another (I Cor. 12:26), and be instruments for the
extension of Christ´s kingdom (Mat. 28:18).
Temple of the Holy Spirit
Finally, it must be added that the church is the Temple of God or the
Temple of the Holy Spirit. This
metaphor first of all reminds us that the Church is not a human work.
Jesus said, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not
prevail against it” (Mat. 16:18). The Church is God’s
work from beginning to end, and He is the One who dwell within
it. This can be seen as
well by several other metaphors used to describe the church. The church
is also seen as: God’s
building, His planting, His vineyard, His temple, His household, His
olive tree, His city, and His people (Robinson 1983: 124).
He established the N.T. church through the coming of the Holy
Spirit at Pentecost (Acts
2) and new members are added only
as they are baptized into His body by
the Spirit of God (I Cor. 12:13).
The church, as the temple of the Holy Spirit, has a threefold emphasis.
First, the individual believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit because
God dwells in him (I Cor. 6:19). Secondly,
the entire congregation is indwelt with the Holy Spirit (II Cor.
3:17). Finally, Paul applies this metaphor to the universal church (Eph.
2:19-22). With this in mind, Ladd reminds us that,
fact that Paul uses the metaphor of the temple to designate both the
local and the universal church reinforces a fact already evident in the
use of ecclesia, namely, the unity of the church in its diversity. The
local congregation is not part of the church; the universal church is
not thought of as the sum and total of its parts; rather, the local
congregation is the church in its local expression” (1974:541).
The church has traditionally been defined since earliest times as
one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. During the Reformation, the
Reformers added yet another mark to that
of the true church (while not discounting the four credal marks)
by underscoring the place
of the ‘Word’. Through the preaching of the
Word , the Reformers hope to
bring the church back to Her true purpose” (Van Engen
In their significant
Theologies of Mission, Donald McGavran and Arthur Glasser summarize
several key definitions that the church has held down through the ages,
“Evangelicals also hold a high doctrine of the church. They
will, however, not limit the church to the Church of Rome. For example,
the Dordrecht Confession of Faith says
the church consists of those who ‘have truly repented, and rightly
believed; who are rightly baptized, united with God in heaven, and
incorporated into the communion of the saints on earth.”
“The Westminster Confession holds that the ‘visible Church,
which is also catholic or universal under the gospel...consists of all
those, throughout the world, that profess the true religion, and of
their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house
and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of
Speaking of the centrality of the church, McGavran and Glasser
make this comment, “Evangelicals
believe that outside the church ‘there is no ordinary possibility of
salvation.’ They also hold, therefore, that the proper expansion of
the church is of the highest priority if we are to meet the deepest need
of the human race” (1983:186,187).
Snyder shows his agreement
with the Westminster Confession by asserting,
“The truth is that no one can be joined to Christ the head
without being joined to Christ’s body. And the error is to think,
first, that a person can become a Christian without being born into God’s
family in a visible way and, second, that evangelism can be authentic
while ignoring this dynamic relationship of head and body. We need to
recover the classical doctrine that ‘outside the church there is no
authors are writing against
the notion of an ‘individualistic
salvation’ that finds meaning apart
from the body of Christ. They are not trying to set up a competing
religious institution to the Roman Catholic Church that demands outward
membership in order to be saved. Rather,
they are referring to a very natural,
Holy Spirit guided process that involves
at the same time, both regeneration and inclusion into the body
church of Jesus Christ is not only in the business of ‘receiving
members’ Rather, it is actively engaged
in reaching non-Christians. Dr. Van Engen has
helped us understand the true nature of the church of Jesus Christ as a
missionary church. The thesis that he develops is that the church of Jesus Christ only enters into the fullness of Her
calling as a missionary church (1991:17). The church is not a static
entity but one of action and engagement (Van Engen 1991:66). He
“…when a local congregation understands that it is, by its
nature, a constellation of mission activities, and it intentionally
lives its life as a missionary body, then it begins to emerge toward
becoming the authentic Church of Jesus Christ” (1991:70).
Jurgen Moltman is
also clear on this point as well, “…the mission of Christ creates
its own church. Mission
does not come from the church; it is from mission and in the light of
mission that the church has to be understood” (1993:10).
Recognizing that too
often the church becomes a fortress instead of an outreaching body, Jim
Peterson in his book Church Without Walls
offers this definition,
“…the ecclesia of the New Testament describes God’s people,
indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who are being transformed and gifted for
service among their brothers and sisters and the unbelieving world”
In this chapter, though in a limited way, I have tried to
describe the meaning of the true church. However, the
purpose of this tutorial is not primarily
to study the nature of
the true church. Rather, I hope to relate this key foundational teaching
to the concept of cell-based ministry. I will attempt to do this primarily by looking at the
Biblical imagery of the church and how that relates to cell ministry.
It is my contention
that much of the imagery used to describe the church can best be
grasped and experienced in a cell based model of church ministry.
The key word here is experienced.
Small group ministry has the unique advantage of
bringing the church into such a close proximity that they
experience the true meaning of the body of Christ.
three of the major passages (Eph. 4; Rom. 12; I Cor. 12-14) in which
Paul talks about the body of Christ, he defines each member’s part by
their corresponding gifts. In fact, when Paul talks about the church as
the body of Christ, the
implication is that the believers were able to participate in the
exercise of their spiritual gifts. They had the opportunity to interact
Banks reminds us, “Paul’s communities were instead theocratic
in structure. Because God gave to each individual within the community
some contribution for its welfare, there is a strong democratic
tendency. Everyone participates authoritatively in its activities”
everyone participate? Along with the united celebration (Acts 2:46a), we
read that they also broke bread in their homes and ate together
with glad and sincere hearts (2:46b).
Paul taught the people, not
only publicly, but also
from house to house (Acts 20:20). It
is with this intimate atmosphere in mind that Paul could say, “When
you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction...”
(I Cor. 14:26).
It is my
contention that there is no better atmosphere for the exercise of one’s
giftedness than in a cell group. As we will
study more thoroughly later on in this tutorial, the primary
atmosphere of the early
church was the intimate character of
the home. This atmosphere of participation is being rediscovered in a
fresh way through the cell group movement.
Churches are realizing that as they grow bigger, they must also
grow smaller. Only in the intimacy of a small, closely knit
group will many Christians ever be able to exercise their
spiritual gift. George
reminds us that, “Because
of the intimate, accountability-inviting context of an affinity-based
group, participants will readily accept the call of God that accompanies
the discovery of their gifts” (1993: 136).
Following the same line
of thought, Dr. Ralph Neighbour asserts,
“All are to
exercise spiritual gifts to edify others. The early church did exactly
that! Recognizing there cannot be total participation by every member
when the gatherings are only made up of large, impersonal groups, the
people of God moved from house to house in small groups. By moving among
their residences, they became intimately acquainted with each person’s
surroundings (Neighbour, 1990:41).
The body of Christ motif also demands that we not only exercise our gifts,
but that we also recognize other parts of the body, and that we are
sensitive to meet their
needs. It is this intimate sense of community in the body of
Christ which the cell movement today
has recaptured (Snyder 1975:143-148).
In so many churches today, those who attend are consumers and not
participants. There is the tendency to
go to a building on a special day of the week, in order to receive
some type of ministry , at a price—the offering . The church at large
has become an audience of consumers (Beckham 1995:43-45). Yet, the
Scripture is filled with passages about our responsibility to minister
to one another (e.g., I Thess. 5:10; 5:18). Yet, is so many large
churches the ministry one to another is sadly neglected. Malphurs
do we implement these commands and ‘each other’ passages in the
church? Most people note them mentally and attempt to apply them when
possible. Small group meetings and ministries provide an ideal community
in which these may be implemented” (1992:216)