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Developing Leaders from Within
By Joel Comiskey
ne pastor of a thriving cell church seemed to be making disciples through cell ministry so effortlessly. I asked him, "How do your people so readily multiply cells?" He looked at me a bit puzzled and then said in a matter-of-fact way, "Our people are born again within the cell structure. They naturally speak the language of discipleship and multiplication." In other words, becoming a multiplication leader was as natural as a baby learning his or her mother tongue.
I’ve discovered over and over that effective cell churches build a culture of making disciples through the cell system. They develop future leaders from within the cell system by patiently waiting for the fruit of discipleship to mature. And isn’t this what Jesus did with his disciples? He walked with them, naturally taught them in the group environment, and sent them out to the surrounding houses. These same disciples became the foundational leaders of the early church and naturally continued the house to house philosophy of their Master.
A few weeks ago, I saw this firsthand. I was in Cusco, Perú, which only twenty years ago was known as the graveyard of missions and churches. Missionary agencies had poured lots of money into Cusco, paying the salaries of national pastors for years. But when the foreign funds dried up, the pastors moved on, and the churches died. However, I spoke at a fully indigenous church planting movement called the Vine that had some 800 cell groups, a staff of eleven pastors, and fifty church plants.
As I talked to the pastors on staff, I realized that each one of them was at one time a cell member (and often converted in the cell), part of a cell leadership team, cell leader, multiplication leader, supervisor, network leader, and eventually became part of the pastoral team. I asked Luis Alberto, the lead pastor, "So those who are fruitful in multiplying cells become part of your pastoral staff?" He replied, "Fruitfulness is one of the measures. However, we also want to ensure that the leader is godly, called to be a pastor, and has the right attitude." I was so impressed because most of the pastors were twenty-five to thirty years old. I also sensed a complete willingness to leave the pastoral team at the mother church to plant a Vine Church somewhere else. I realized that God is using the cell system at the Vine to change the Cusco "cemetery" culture into an explosion of harvest workers.
Just last week I was in Newark, New Jersey doing a cell seminar at Bethel International Church. Armando, one of the pastors at Bethel, picked me up at the airport. As we drove to the church, I asked him about how he became part of the pastoral staff. He told me he was born again in a cell, became an associate cell leader, a cell leader, a multiplication leader, supervisor, and eventually was asked to become part of the pastoral team. Each pastor at Bethel has gone through a similar process, as well as all of the church planters (25 cell church plants). I realized that I was witnessing in Newark, New Jersey the same thing I saw in Cusco, Perú.
Do you need to have a big church to do this? No. You simply need to think differently. I was recently coaching a pastor in California who has seventeen cells in his church. This pastor was talking about one of his youth cell leaders who not only successfully multiplied and coached cells, but also demonstrated godly character and faithfulness. This young person is now taking part-time classes at the local Bible school, while fully engaged in cell ministry at the local church. This lead pastor is applying those same principles found in larger and more developed cell churches.
Two things are essential when thinking about developing future leaders from within. First, it’s essential to fully embrace the cell church vision that develops future leaders through the cells and cell system. Second, pastors and churches need to wait long enough for the development to occur. How long will it take? It depends on where the church is in the transition process, receptivity in the country, and the pastor’s long-term commitment to the church and cell vision.