Worldwide Cell Churches
by Joel Comiskey
Adapted from the book From Twelve to Three (2002). Updated in Winter 2007.
Jesus freed us to serve—not sit. John writes, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6). The most dynamic principle that we can learn is that the harvest is too big for one person:
When Jesus 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 spirits and to heal every disease and sickness (Matthew 9:36-10:1).
The vision to reach a world for Jesus must compel us to see everyone as a potential harvest worker. The cell is the best atmosphere to guide a person toward spiritual maturity (e.g., gathering one’s friends, evangelizing, discipling, etc.). Does everyone become a leader? No. But I can assure you that many more do because of their pragmatic stance. Now, if they would have said, “Only those who feel a calling should become cell leaders,” we wouldn’t even be talking about ICM today. The vision that anyone can become a leader is contagious.
Pastor Obajah, the pastor of GBI (also called the Family of God Church), one of the largest cell churches in Indonesia, learned about the G-12 structure when he visited ICM in the late 90s. He couldn’t speak a word of Spanish or English, but he went back to Indonesia with one important principle: every person is a potential leader.
He started his equipping track with the goal of preparing everyone in the church to become a cell group leader. He encouraged the spirit of leadership in his church, and this principle struck such a fire that his church has grown to 1,500 cell groups and 15,000 members. Many people all over Indonesia and Asia now attend conferences at GBI (note 1).
When I taught in Pastor Obajah’s church in 2001, I noticed that whenever Pastor Obajah spoke, he highlighted one major theme: anyone can be a cell leader. He gave example after example of ordinary people leading cell groups: rickshawdrivers, uneducated people, and even children!!
Lon Vining, cell church planter to a post-modern community in North America, explains it this way:
I think that those who have advocated an equipping track that ends in "everyone becoming a cell group leader" have done so with the idea of raising the bar. I think they are trying to say, in essence, that instead of cell group leadership being "for highly-trained ministry specialists," or "super-spiritual Christians," (an elite few), that instead, cell leadership (and the type of disciple that fits that profile) is something much more closer to the NORM of Christian life as one matures. The track ending there also indicates to the general congregation that it's a spiritual goal that is reachable by many, not just a few. From a practical standpoint, it seems like it would be hard to point people toward this goal (leading a cell group) when you don't indicate that it's the goal for everyone. Some people, who just underestimate themselves, may "opt out" in the beginning and never "push to the top" unless they are put on track to begin the process of becoming a cell leader in the beginning (note 2).
Sometimes the word leader hinders us from thinking that anyone can truly be one, but the issue we are really talking about is spiritual parenthood. It is part of the maturing process. Maturity doesn’t come from sitting on the sidelines; it comes from being involved in the game.
How many parents do you know that felt like they were ready for parenthood? Most of them would tell you they learned through having children. Leading a cell group and caring for cell members is the same way. We develop spiritual muscles as we serve. Mark Goodge, a leader in the cell church movement, said this,
No one would suggest, for example, that some men are more qualified and/or gifted to be the head of the household in their own home than others. That's just part of the territory that goes with being a husband and father. You don't need special training or gifting, you just do it. Of all the various comparisons that can be made, I would say that cell leadership comes closest to being "head of the household" in the context of the cell. Sure, there are ways to improve, and ways to learn how to be more effective in what you do, but that simply means making the most of the abilities you already possess rather than seeking out completely new ones (note 3).
Some people think it is wrong to ask everyone to eventually lead a cell group. They say that not everyone has a gift for leading a cell group. I used to think this way until God and statistics showed me otherwise (note 4). Many of you reading this book will have already read my first book Home Cell Group Explosion (Touch Publications, 1998), which reveals research about how anyone can successfully lead and multiply a cell group.
I now teach that everyone can lead a cell group, although not everyone will lead a cell group. Scott Boren has developed a continuum of spiritual growth from a lost person to church leader that looks like this:
- Observer text here
- Worshipper at celebration
- Participant in cell life
- Servant doing activities in a cell group
- Person of influence leading a cell group
- Mentor developing other cell group leaders (note 5).
As soon as we look only for the brightest and the best to lead cell groups, or only those with the gift of leadership, we will severely limit our pool of leaders and short-change those under us.
1. Jonatan, son of the Obaja, the founding pastor of GBI in Indonesia. E-mail sent to me on 3/15/201.
2. Lon Vining wrote this comment to cellchurchtalk on 4/11/2001.
3. Mark Goodge, cellchurchtalk, 6/20/2000, http://www.cell-church.org/list/highlights.html.
4. According to my questionnaire of 700 cell leaders in eight different countries, it was determined that anyone, with any combination of gifts, can successfully lead a cell group and even multiply it.
5. This progression was sent to me from Scott Boren in an e-mail on Friday, June 30, 2000.