LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: THE ESSENCE OF
by Joel Comiskey
As I was chatting with Vern, one of the pastors I’m coaching, he asked,
“Joel, in a nutshell, what is the essence of the cell church? What is the key
message that I’m supposed to communicate with my people? How do I describe
cell church in a clear, succinct way?”
I fumbled around a bit, looking deep within for the answer. What surfaced
was a long-term, yet sometimes forgotten, conviction. I told him that I believed
the cell church was primarily a leadership
strategy. I told him that the essence or
the key principle of the cell church was the development, training, and deployment of leaders (or you might call
them facilitators or guides).
I believe, in fact, that cells are just the vehicle to allow a potential
leader to emerge, develop, and eventually lead. Cells are leader breeders, and
ultimately should focus on mobilizing the laity to do the work of the ministry.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the details: cell systems, definitions,
the statistics, coaching, etc. Yet, we must focus on the big picture: converting
pew sitters into harvest workers. The rallying cry of the cell church is found
in Matthew 9:35-38; 10:1:
went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching
the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When
he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and
helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his
disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask
the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest
field.” He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive
out evil a spirits and to heal every disease and
The need was too great for Christ alone. He knew that only way to get the
job done was to raise up more laborers. He then practiced what he preached by
calling his twelve disciples to help him in the harvest.
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.
“The 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.”[i] With this quote, Gwynn Lewis pinpoints
the essence of the cell church. Cell leaders are not primarily called to form
and sustain cell groups; their primary job is to find, train, and release new
The best forum for leadership emergence and development is the cell, where everyone is able to exercise spiritual gifts and influence others. Such development simply doesn’t happen in a large celebration context. Nor does it effectively take place in choir groups, usher groups, Sunday School classes, or board meetings. Potential cell leaders are best developed in groups that emphasize evangelism, discipleship, and multiplication. Thus a cell should be:
"A group of 4-15 people that meets weekly outside the
church building for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship with the goal of
I cling so tenaciously to a
clear definition of a cell because leadership development takes place when
the developing leader learns how to evangelize, disciple, raise up a new
leader, penetrate the society and participate in regular group meetings. I
emphasize the need for cells to meet weekly, outside the church building,
evangelize, disciple, and multiply. Just remember that beyond the “correct
definition” is the purpose: develop leaders who reap the harvest!!
I have discovered one flaw to the theme that leadership multiplication is
the key essence of the cell church.
To avoid this, we must encourage our leaders to get their core people
from the Sunday celebration (perhaps 7 people) but to then mobilize that core to
continually exercise their “outreach muscles.”
Cell church is all about how to do raise up leaders for the harvest. If
you measure your success by this standard, you’ll develop disciples into
harvest workers who will reach a lost and dying world for Jesus Christ.
For a more detailed understanding of this subject, please see my book Leadership
Explosion (Touch Publications, 2000).