Church in Many Houses read through Ch.12

Chapter 12: Only the Spirit Gives Life

Summary:Without the work of the Spirit, no structure, program, or style will change anyone.

“To focus exclusively on cell structure and philosophy is to build the fire-place without starting the fire. A spiritually dead church does not spring to life simply because it is organized as a cell church.” (Location: 1,993)

Note:This is true.

“I have learned that whenever my energy and attention to structural issues rises higher than my attention to matters of the spirit and the heart, I have crossed over into self-reliance.” (Location: 2,015)

Note:This is very convicting.

“The most attractive part of a cell meeting is not the Bible application discussion or even the sharing of our personal stories; it is the presence of Christ. When people experience the nearness of the risen Lord in our cell meetings, we will not have to cajole them into attending the following week. Christ’s presence will accomplish more than we can imagine.” (Location: 2,048)

Note:This is a crucial concept. I am not sure what the author specifically means by this, given his charismatic slant, however there is truth here. Individually, believers are indwelt by the Spirit. Corporately, as the Body of Christ, we are together a temple for the Spirit. So when we are together there is a real sense that Christ is in our midst – his presence mediated by his Spirit. When I can recognize that, there is a change that I can see in myself.

“Of course, we know that Christ will be present whenever we gather. After all, he promised, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20 NIV) Although Christ will be present, we need to welcome Him. Two ways to open the door of the group to God’s presence are worship and prayer.” (Location: 2,053)

Note:Will he not demonstrate his presence if we don’t properly “welcome” him? It would seem as though the author is suggesting that we somehow control God’s presence. God has no obligation to fulfill my requests. However, we do have the promise of his presence through the Holy Spirit. And it is also true that we will not recognize his presence if we are not, according to Paul, “filled with the Spirit,” or “walking in the Spirit.” But I do not think we want to follow the reasoning of special actions by which we invite him in.

Church in Many Houses Read Through: Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Frequently Asked Questions

Summary: There are many questions that come with thinking about the Body of Christ in a non-programmatic way, but it is worth the time to consider and answer the questions.

“Q: How can we be sure the group leaders will not drift into wrong teaching or a different vision?” (Location: 1,862)

Note:This is a very important questions. I wonder though if we have considered the idea that all of us are capable of drifting or diving into false teaching, and perhaps many of those in our church are currently there, we just don’t hear them talking about it. It seems to me that instead of worrying that if we give individuals the opportunity to talk they will walk into heresy, we should be concerned that if we don’t give them the opportunity to talk they will continue in heresy.

“Q: Won’t we be breaking up friendships by asking the groups to multiply?” (Location: 1,868)

Note:Good question. Along with the author’s answer, I think we need to address this idea that “church” is where my friends are. Seems like we are walking down the wrong path when we go to church because of our friends, leave a church because of our friends, or only find friends in our church. That does not mesh with the teachings of Jesus.

“Q: Where do leaders and coaches find the time for all those meetings? (Location: 1,879)”

Note:Good answer here: Cut the programs.

“Q: Can our Sunday School classes function as cell groups? Sunday School classes are fundamentally different in nature than cells. By definition the cell meets outside the church and has a strong evangelistic goal. Sunday School classes are instruction-based, and meet inside a church building. The environment of a home is much different than the institutional feel of a church facility. In a healthy cell, members do life together, sharing experiences outside the group. A classroom environment produces a classroom culture. It is highly likely that in spite of the Sunday School class’ intent to become a cell group, if they meet at Sunday School time in a Sunday School room they will revert to being a Sunday School class instead of a true cell group.” (Location: 1,919)

“Q: How do you minister to children in a cell-based church?” (Location: 1,932)

This is a great question, but the author gives a poor answer. One thing we are doing is studying the same passage with the children and the adults, just shortening it and including a project for the children. While the adults continue with the same passage, the children are coloring or creating, and often then speak up and answer questions during the adult time. This isn’t perfect, but we sacrifice some things so we can gain the experience of studying together with our children and setting them up for a future of studying God’s Word with others, not just watching videos.

Church in Many Houses Read Through Ch. 10

Chapter 10: First Steps

Summary: How you transition to a cell model will impact how the cells will multiply (or not).

“When lay people ask me how they can get cell ministry started in their church, I am compelled to tell them that without the involvement and support of the senior pastor they will not be able to sustain a meaningful cell ministry.” (Location: 1,759)

Note:See later note.

“When the cell-based Cypress Creek Church in Wimberley, Texas built their beautiful new worship facility, they intentionally included no offices for pastoral staff. They want their pastors to be out reaching and discipling people, not holed up in offices working on church programs.” (Location: 1,797)

Note:This is a novel concept. I wonder what their thoughts are now? Would it make sense to cut the offices and not the building all together? I wonder, what they use the building for during the week?

“As senior pastor, you do not need official Board action or a congregational vote in order to begin cell ministry; just start a cell! Start small; don’t try to launch a dozen groups at once. If you do, you probably will not be able to train and coach leaders adequately, and the cells will not stay healthy. Build the ministry on the firm foundation of well-equipped leaders who have experienced healthy cell ministry. Launch slowly and think long term. Start one cell, equip a new leader, then multiply that cell into two groups. Coach the new leader and repeat the process for each group. The power of multiplication will expand your ministry in a sustainable way.” (Location: 1,801)

Note:While the concept of starting one group and then multiplying is a good idea, would this be underhanded if you started something without talking about it with the other leaders? What if a lay person wanted to do this? Why couldn’t they? Earlier in the chapter the author said that an individual really couldn’t do anything if the pastor wasn’t on board. But it seems as though cells are natural inside a church anyway, right? So then it would be natural for someone to invite others into their home in order to talk through and apply the sermon or teaching from that week. That is biblical right? So a lay person is not necessarily a lame duck, even though they might not see massive top-down change.

“Emphasize and model outreach right from the beginning; do not allow it to be a closed group under the guise of training future leaders. People will reproduce what they experience.” (Location: 1,822)

Note:That last sentence is a tough one. Perhaps that is why we don’t see churches reproducing very quickly in most US contexts.

“As they lead the group, pastors need to realize that they are setting the precedent for what future group leaders will be and do. Therefore, lead as you expect future leaders to lead. For example, during group discussions, cell members may be inclined to ask the pastor for the “right” answers to any biblical or theological questions. Resist the temptation to provide those answers. As a pastor, if you teach or become the resident theological expert, you will find it hard to develop another leader because the group members will think, “I can’t lead a group like Pastor does, I don’t have the theological education”.” (Location: 1,824)

Note:This is a dangerous place to be, group members afraid to answer a question or lead a group in case they get it wrong.

“Publicly share stories of the life change which is happening in the groups.” (Location: 1,846)

Note:There is a great under appreciation for testimonies of growth and change. The difficulty is finding the best medium for it.

Church in Many Houses read through: Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Moving from Church with Cells to Church that is Cells

Summary:What is the church? Looking at how we address the functions of a church will help us determine what we truly believe about the church.

If aliens were to try to determine what “church” was by listening to people’s routine conversations, they would end up very confused, because we use the word in so many ways. For example, we say that we: “go to church” “construct a church” “attend church” “belong to a church”. So, is church a building to enter or an organization to which we belong? Or is it an event to attend? The way we answer that question deeply influences the way we do ministry. (Location: 1,643)

Note:This is an interesting thought experiment. It also works with asking our children what “church” is.

Church history documents that during times of ease and prosperity, the Church can take on a variety of forms. However, when the church experiences the intense stress of persecution, it is stripped away of anything superfluous, and it reverts to its most basic components. (Location: 1,661)

Note:What will the church look like in North America ten years from now? How many people will have the “privilege” of shallow bathing in hereditary Christianity?

In other words, the answer to most ministry questions is, “the cell group”. For example, how will church members find meaningful connection (fellowship) with other believers? In a cell group. How can evangelism happen best? Through a cell group. How will people be discipled and grow spiritually? Through a holistic cell group (that is, a group which fulfills all the purposes of the church). (Location: 1,693)

Note:How we answer this same question, “How can we make ______ more a part of our church?” will tell us what mindset we have.

The reason that cell groups are the answer to most ministry questions is that the purposes of the church are accomplished best through relationships. (Location: 1,696)

Church membership. If the cell is the church, can someone be a member of a local church without belonging to a cell group? If so, what exactly are they joining? (Location: 1,716)

This is a crucial discussions for this author as well. Someone might be very active in a cell, but are they a member? Is there some way of measuring who is in and who is out? If not, then one of the most important functions of the local church, that of recognizing one’s citizenship in heaven, is hindered – if not lost. (See 9Marks, Membership)

Church in Many Houses Read Through Ch. 8

Chapter 8: Moving From Programs to Relationships

Summary:In order to focus on the most important ministries of the church, we need to cut the programs.

While natural forces shape natural features, people are shaped by other people. (Location: 1,471)

Note:I like this concept. God uses circumstances, His Word, and even nature to mold our hearts, but the truth is still there. It is a person who makes an impact, not just a solitary fact.

The Bible reveals that God wants to shape us into the image of Jesus. One of the primary means God uses to reshape our lives is Christ-centered relationship. (Location: 1,474)

Since people shape people, a church which seeks to stimulate genuine spiritual growth in its members must catalyze authentic, Christ-centered relationships. (Location: 1,489)

Note:Seems like he is stating the obvious, but how often do our programs fail in this regard?

Tragically, churches can be very lonely places for far too many people. Even while actively involved in church programs, countless men and women are living with quiet desperation and secret hurts known to no one else. We cannot hope to truly disciple people into Jesus’ image if we leave them in their isolation. (Location: 1,495)

Note:I wonder what an anonymous survey in our churches would reveal about this fact. Probably more than we want to admit!

The following are some of the common ways cell churches assure that authentic relationships remain at the core of the church. 1. Eliminate Programs…2. Promote cells over service…3. Cultivate transparency…4. Provide pastoral care through cell groups

Instead of spending hundreds and thousands of hours producing that program, what if our members had invested that time in building their small groups? (Location: 1,527)

Note:I think the reason it is easier to spend time on programs instead of people is because you have something to show for it. You can never look at a person and say, “Well, here is the final product!”

But the reality is that every program we call our people to support means there is that much less time for them to be engaged in relational evangelism and discipleship. (Location: 1,535)

Note:Take note.

If each week the church announcements center on the need for workers in various ministries, then people understand that service is valued highly. But if each week people hear an invitation to join a group or a sermon illustration about cell groups, then they pick up the idea that cells are where the action is. (Location: 1,556)

Note:This is an interesting concept. What do the bulletin and announcements say about a church?

A small group will not become a true community just because they spend time together in a living room. It is quite possible for people to pull their chairs close to one another while keeping their souls hidden from one another. Unless the members allow one another to see what is going on in their hearts and lives, they will remain at a relational distance. (Location: 1,568)

Note:This one is tough. Trust is not easily earned, but can be quickly lost.

At Crossroads Church we are pleased when a cell member steps up and serves on a ministry team. However, our main goal is not to get new people involved in ministry team. Our primary goal is to help people connect to a cell group. They can serve in addition to, not instead of, growing spiritually in a group. If people are evangelized and discipled in cell groups, then every member can be on the front lines of the church’s mission. (Location: 1,611)

Note:This is a good question, where is the front line of the church? I think most people would look at who they see up front on a Sunday, but that wouldn’t be the whole story.

By making cell groups the center of its ministry, the cell church leverages the power of relationship. When we invest time in developing relationships with both believers and pre-Christians, we are focusing our attention on what is most important in ministry. The relational nature of cell groups is consistent with the relational nature of the church itself. This makes sense, since the cell group is the most basic expression of the Church. So when we are focusing on building relationships we are focusing on making disciples and building the church. (Location: 1,623)

Note:Good summary of the chapter.

Teaching around the world

This past Saturday evening, from 8:00-11:00 pm I was participating in online education. Santiago and I were co-teaching a course on studying the Bible using tools from the 21st century, namely Logos. The two of us have taught this same course a variety of times around Spain, but this was the first go at it via Zoom.

I don’t particularly like purely online courses, first and foremost because it allows me to distance myself from the students. I can talk all I want and completely disregard any potential distractions. However, the current global situation has forced us into this new version of learning, and when you have lemons in hand…

However, I do believe that with the right mindset, online education can be extremely helpful. This class was scheduled for the benefit of our intern here in Ponferrada, Itziar. She meets regularly with us to discuss ministry philosophy, her doctrinal statement, her progress in leading Bible studies, etc. This online course is just a talking point for the bulk of the training – that which takes place right here in our city as we personally interact.

If the local church is clear, strategic, and faithful with discipleship, I believe online courses can be of incredible value.

This course will last five Saturdays, two hours of teaching each session. There are students joining in from all over the world, and from differing religious backgrounds. This past week I believe there were 18 of us all together. But we are all trying to learn how we can better understand this incredible gift of God’s Word, and how it leads us to Jesus Christ!

If you are interest in joining in, and your Spanish abilities are up for it, let us know!

Church in Many Houses Read Through ch. 7

Chapter 7: Moving From Educating to Equipping

Summary: Educating is not the same as equipping. One can be educated but remain separated from obedience in the Great Commission. We must understand the difference between educating and equipping and provide a strategic plan to equip believers to follow Christ.

For many Christians, “discipleship” is synonymous with “education”. As a result of this mindset, the classroom has become the center of discipleship in most churches. When people think of advancing spiritually they most often think of learning more about biblical and theological matters. (Location: 1,217)

Note:The first half of this paragraph is true. However, the second half indicates that biblical and theological matters are not practical. We need to jettison the first idea of education equals discipleship without destroying the second, that discipleship is based upon, and a deeper understanding of, biblical and theological truth.

Not all cell churches are structured alike, but one trait they share is the goal of mobilizing each member to be a disciple who can make disciples. Cell churches seek to help each member adopt both the character of Christ (the Great Commandment), and the mission of Christ (the Great Commission). (Location: 1,224)

Note:Our problem seems to be that we think “teaching” ends at the reception of knowledge. In the Great Commission, Jesus was teaching his disciples. And the teaching that they were receiving was to teach and train others. But…it is easier to just go and sit and listen so we structure our churches around that concept of discipleship.

Amazingly, in just three years of ministry he literally changed the world. (Location: 1,228)

Note:This may seem picky, but it is important. Jesus didn’t change the world in those three years. What he did shook the world to its core through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. The entire cosmos was reeling. This is true. But Jesus said himself that the spread of this news, this act of war, would be at the hands of his followers who were indwelt, protected, convicted, secured, motivated, and kept by His Spirit. And this is who we have today, leading us, teaching us, transforming us. The Holy Spirit continues to change the world – starting with us.

People are educated when they know something. People are equipped when they can do something with their knowledge. (Location: 1,251)

Note:I need to review every part of my ministry in light of this simple truth.

In reality, I had been shaped more by the academic thrust of the Reformation era than the strategy of Jesus. (Location: 1,258)

Note:Careful with this one. I don’t think a full picture of the Reformation includes the idea that they were merely intellectual snobs. I think it can be argued, defended, and proved that the Reformers were the exact opposite.

As a pastor, I am always pleased to hear people say they want to grow spiritually. However, I have discovered that a great many Christians equate “going deeper” with acquiring new information. This is not necessarily an accurate equation. (Location: 1,288)

Note:This has been repeated multiple times in this book, and for good reason. “Going deeper” when my heart is not right is an easy way to sidestep the practical application of Scripture when I am being convicted. The issue isn’t studying more, it is me. I often would rather study more than repent.

When we teach people too often, the hearers frequently do not have enough time to grapple with the text and apply it to daily life. (Location: 1,305)

Note:It was once explained to me as the “incredible cumulative weight of the moral imperative.” If the people are hearing from me “you must…you must…you must…” all the time, they will slowly shut down and resign themselves to “I can’t…I can’t…I can’t.” That is why there is a warrant to not bring new teachings frequently throughout the week but rather apply the same one. And also why there is a warrant to teach “Because of Christ you can…”

Can I really be expected to change my life several different ways each week? Or are we being educated beyond our obedience? (Location: 1,309)

Note:Obviously it is the Spirit who changes us, but I must be an active participant! And my flesh is weak.

There are several benefits to using a sermon-based group curriculum, including: a) There is no teaching pressure placed on the group leader. A group leader is not a teacher. Since the pastor has already done the teaching during the weekend sermon, the group leader merely facilitates as the group members discuss how to apply it…b) Using sermon-based questions promotes worship attendance…c) Each lesson is self-contained…d) The lessons are application oriented.

The newly emerging leader is called an “apprentice” instead of an “assistant” in order to communicate that this person is a trainee not just a helper. (Location: 1,356)

The main difference between the cell and the non-cell church approach to teaching lies in the fact that in the cell church a member cannot opt out of leading a group and still participate in Bible study classes. The cell church offers classes only for those who are (or who are preparing to become) group leaders. This approach helps to prevent members from adopting a “sit-and-soak” mentality. It also sends the message that helping others grow (as a group leader) is an indispensable part of normal Christian development. (Location: 1,425)

Note:I wonder what would happen if we put restrictions on teaching times. Would the average believer in the congregation feel a relief from not “having” to attend a class? Or would it encourage them to move forward in their Christian faith? Perhaps there is something else they would feel?

Church in Many Houses Read Through: Chapter 6

Chapter 6: From Member to Disciple-maker

Summary: If we are not able to clearly define what a disciple is and what a disciple does, we will not be able to help believers grow into what Christ is calling them to be and do.

“Too often, churches settle for making attenders and listeners instead of producing disciples who make disciples. Therefore, most church members consider helping others grow spiritually to be beyond the call of “normal” Christian living.” (Location: 983)

Note:“Listener” does not necessarily equal “learner”. A learner can go on to be a teacher, a mere listener doesn’t necessarily go anywhere.

“If making disciples is our goal, how do we know when we have one? What does a mature disciple look like?” (Location: 987)

Note:We could go to Ephesians 4:11–16 (ESV): And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

“That is, mature believers are disciples who can make disciples.” (Location: 990)

“For example, in 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul urges his young protégé Timothy: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Paul was challenging Timothy go beyond making believers; he was to equip believers to pass on their faith to others.” (Location: 994)

Note:We can’t “make” believers, but we point others to Christ and help them see what it takes to follow him. That would be considered “making a disciple”.

“However, many members of program-based churches resist the idea of becoming cell leaders. One reason for this resistance is that many church members have not been taught to think of spiritual reproduction as part of “normal” Christianity. They have been trained to be church members instead of disciple-makers. Therefore, they are comfortable with membership activities such as attending worship regularly, believing the basic doctrine of church, contributing money, living a moral life, and serving where they are needed and able. By regarding each church member as a potential cell leader, cell churches are redefining the popular understanding of discipleship. They communicate that it is “normal” for Christ followers to share their faith and to grow to the point they can help someone else grow.” (Location: 1,004)

Note:I agree with this. However, is trying to correct the language of a program orientated church by adding in a new, extra-biblical term helpful? Wouldn’t it be better to remind people what being a “disciple” really is better than stating that “to be a disciple you need to be a cell leader”?

“The New Testament teaches that helping others grow is not reserved for a select few. For example, Titus 2:3-5 (NRSV) says, ‘Tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.’” (Location: 1,021)

Note:Perhaps one of the reasons that individuals in the church push back against this idea is because of their idea of teaching. The concept of teaching as fact distribution has both made it easier and harder to encourage others to teach. It is easier because I only need to find some novel facts in order to impress the students and make them feel as though they are learning. It is harder because if I have sat under a convincing teacher, and I do not have the same resources, I will feel like I could never say what they said, or say it with the same speed, passion, eloquence, etc. that they did. The contrast is to realize that teaching is not mere fact distribution. It is something better.

“That is because cell ministry is based on spiritual maturity, not on spiritual giftedness.” (Location: 1,035)

Note:I think there is value in this statement. The next task then is to biblically define what is spiritual maturity.

“Cell leadership involves ministry tasks such as staying in touch with members, showing personal care, praying for members, listening, and sharing the faith. These are expressions of living out the faith more than they are of exercising the spiritual gift of leadership.” (Location: 1,039)

Note:These actions are so much harder than just presenting a load of facts about a certain passage, but yet they are accessible to us all.

“Factors which do not affect group multiplication: Leader’s gender, income, age, marital status, or education; Leader’s personality type: both introverted and extroverted leaders multiply groups; Leader’s spiritual gifting – all types of gifting multiply groups…Factors which do affect group multiplication: Prayer, Goals, Training, Contacts, Apprentices, Care” (Location: 1,051)

“Healthy cell groups multiply. In chapter one, a cell group was defined as: ‘a group of 4-15 people that meets weekly outside the church building for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship with the goal of multiplication.’” (Location: 1,091)

“Group leaders want their members to grow into full maturity in Christ. Multiplication is an indicator that is happening.” (Location: 1,102)

Note:Perhaps one of the problems of this movement, as a movement, is that we might be looking at an individual who is not leading an official group and think they are not growing. However, that same person might be meeting with a couple others and reading the Bible, praying together, sharing the gospel, etc. If we use the cell terminology and infrastructure instead of the discipling and church terminology, we will run into confusion.

“Joel Comiskey offers one way of viewing discipleship in progressive terms, as follows: “D-1 disciple”: one in a cell and the School of Discipleship learning the basics of the faith. “D-2 disciple”: an apprentice leader, living out what he or she is learning and consciously preparing to be a cell leader. “D-3 disciple”: a cell leader who has gathered some friends and family and is leading a cell group. “D-4 disciple”: a multiplication leader; the leader has developed another disciple who is leading a cell group .5” (Location: 1,113)

Note:Is there a way we can classify this in biblical terminology so as not to introduce more problems later on?

“It is important to note, however, that those first deacons were involved in evangelism and discipleship as well as the food distribution.” (Location: 1,128)

Note:Do we consider this in the calling of our deacons?

“It is a good thing that Peter did not respond to Jesus’ invitation by saying something like, ‘Jesus, I can’t preach like you, but I am good with boats and fish. Here’s an idea: You keep preaching, and I’ll help the cause by forming a boat ministry! I can help with transportation, with feeding your team, and with financing your travel. I’ll contribute 15% my fishing business income to underwrite your ministry. And when you are preaching to big crowds, I’ll let you use my boats as a platform. In fact, I’ve got contacts all throughout this region. I’ll set up a network of boats all along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. You do the preaching you’re good at, and I’ll do what I’m good at!’” (Location: 1,151)

“When members say ‘I could never share my faith, or pray for others’, we need to share with them that Christ can equip them to do what they cannot naturally do themselves. We must not limit people’s Christian service to areas of their natural strength. The Christian life is a supernatural one. We need to let people know that the Holy Spirit can empower them to do what they cannot do themselves. (Location: 1,165)

Note:So when I say, “I could never do that” I am referring more to my faith in God’s work than showing humility.

“There comes a point at which believers hit a spiritual ‘glass ceiling’. After growing rapidly as new believers, eventually they become restless or spiritually stagnant. At that point they might think that in order to grow deeper they need to learn some new truths, but, in fact, what they need to do is to start passing on what they have learned. Whether they know it or not, no matter how much good teaching they hear, they will not grow significantly until they start helping someone else grow! Reaching out to others is an indispensable component of growing deeper in the faith.” (Location: 1,169)

Note:There is truth here.

“When I look around my group for the person who will enter the equipping track and become the next leader, I am looking for potential rather than readiness to lead. I want to find someone who is ready to begin the development process. I look for a person with the following traits: a) A growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Not spiritual perfection, but authentic growth and evidence of a changing life. b) Faithfulness to the group; This person makes it a priority to regularly attend the group meetings, and follows through with any assigned ministry tasks. c) Commitment to the vision of the church. Cell leaders have delegated pastoral authority, and therefore they significantly influence their group members. It is vital that they influence them in a way which is consistent with the philosophy and vision of the church. Someone who does not agree with the church’s values cannot be a group leader. d) Relational connection with other group members. Do others in the group respond to the potential leader?” (Location: 1,182)

Church in Many Houses Read Through: Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Moving From “Growing Deeper” to “Reaching Outward”

Summary: While not the complete totality, you cannot have healthy growth in your life in Christ if you are not actively and consistently involved in looking outward to share the love of Christ. The cell model provides an opportunity for this to happen and to enable pre-believers see the work of Christ in the Body of Christ.

“We encourage Christians and churches round the world not to focus on their own needs and desires! If you do, you will surely shrivel up and die”– Chinese house church leaders” (Location: 789)

Note:In our lingo, the key to being able to go church shopping is “I’m not being fed”.

“Cell groups reach out to pre-Christians to offer new life in Christ.” (Location: 802)

Note:The term “pre-Christian” can be a helpful reminder that we have no idea what God is doing in this person’s life.

“Perhaps the biggest difference between program-based small groups and cell groups is that small groups are generally focused inward while cell groups are focused outward. Program-based small groups are usually avenues for Christians to “go deeper” through Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. Cell groups also study the Bible, pray together, and form close relational bonds; but a healthy cell is resolutely pointed out the door, too. Cell ministry is not about organizing the congregation into groups for better care; it is about reaching and discipling new believers. This outward emphasis does not hinder the spiritual growth of group members, it enhances it.” (Location: 802)

Note:We have believed the lie that spiritual growth comes at the cost of reaching out. But we don’t have to live that way. Oftentimes the best way to grow deeper is to look outward.

“In the popular book and movie trilogy, Lord of the Rings, a small band of mythical creatures embark on a quest to save the world. Their task is to destroy a magical ring, so that it can never fall in to the possession of an evil entity which wants to use its power to rule “Middle Earth”.” (Location: 808)

Note:**All Tolkien fans groan when they read “creatures” in this sentence.

“Groups and churches are healthiest when they are pursuing the quest to reach pre-Christians. As they share the love and good news of Christ with others, they also grow spiritually. If a church allows evangelism to slip from the primary focus to a secondary activity, not only will the church’s numerical growth slow down, the church will also decrease in spiritual vitality.” (Location: 832)

Note:One reason why a culture of outward focus is healthier is because we are constantly forced to realized how much we need God’s grace everyday. We don’t sink so quickly into thinking we have it all together.

“In spite of persecution, 30,000 Chinese per day are coming to faith in Christ.” (Location: 835)

Note:I am interested to know where this statistic came from. I’m skeptical.

“Larry Kreider points out,   ‘The primary focus of each home cell group should be outreach and discipleship, rather than fellowship, although great fellowship will be a healthy by-product of the home cell group that is constantly reaching out to others’.” (Location: 855)

Note:There is a fellowship that is unique to the Body of Christ. But there is also a love that can only be seen and experienced when the believer interacts with a pre-believer.

“We need not fear that emphasizing outreach will weaken our spiritual depth.” (Location: 860)

Note:I would argue that an individual will not be able to grow to a depth necessary without engaging with pre-believers over Scripture. The reason is that a pre-believer can be honest about where we are just living out a Christian culture, not the true Faith. We need that interaction!

“There are two main ways groups can reach out and grow numerically: 1) directly, by inviting unchurched pre-Christians to their group meetings, or 2) indirectly, by inviting unconnected worship attenders to their cells.” (Location: 867)

Note:Here the author is sliding back into the numerical growth trap. He would do better to keep his focus on “healthy growth” rather than “numbers”.

“Direct cell outreach is very exciting because it decentralizes evangelism and makes each cell an entry point for new people.” (Location: 871)

Note:In this example, isn’t the believer still farming out the responsibility of sharing the gospel to the cell group? The individual would have had to already share something of the gospel to arrive at the point of inviting a pre-believer into seeing a group of believers. It seems to me that the author should be focusing on the unique witness opportunities available when the pre-believer can observe and interact with a group who share a common bond in Christ.

“We find that the majority of new people (though not all) attend a worship celebration before they attend a group.” (Location: 876)

Note:How much of this is unique to the American culture?

“A mainline church leader once emailed me, “I really like the idea of outreach-focused cell groups. But in my denomination most parishioners believe evangelism is the pastor’s job. They seem terrified of inviting someone to worship. Will lay people really do this?”” (Location: 885)

Note:The pastor, and author, are equating “evangelism” with inviting someone to a service or group. This is a trap.

“Believers will reach out if they have: 1) the passion, 2) the training, 3) the determination, and 4) the prayer life to sustain their efforts.” (Location: 887)

Note:This is all individual focused. Evangelism starts with God. When someone come to know and love Him through His work in their lives, they will share that with others.

“Church consultant Bill Hull, author of The Disciple Making Pastor, says, “I think this reflects the deadening effect of much institutional Christianity. When you have a pulpit-centered, institutional church model, where accumulating Bible knowledge and being involved in insulated programming shuts you off from the world, it desensitizes Christians to others’ needs. There’s an old axiom, ‘No contact, no impact’.”. (Location: 901)

Note:This is both pastorally and congregationally fed. It is so easy to slide into.

“I encourage them to tell the group who they are seeking to reach, and then to enlist the group’s prayer support. Then, at future meetings, the leaders give updates on how their outreach efforts are going. And, of course, it is important to share the victories. This way the group gets involved in the action.” (Location: 910)

Note:I have been incredibly encouraged when others have done this with me.

“One time-tested format for training individual believers to share their stories is to ask them to think through the following three prompts:   a. Before I followed Christ… b. How I started following Christ… c. Since I followed Christ…” (Location: 921)

Note:This is the format Paul followed as he was dragged before crowds and leaders in the book of Acts.

“a. Make a list” (Location: 928)

Note:If we pray for everyone, we essentially are praying for no one.

“The most effective cell churches see their mission as nothing less than reaching their city for Christ. Cell ministry is a city-taking strategy; it will not work if it is seen as simply a membership care tactic.” Location: 954

Note:We are not truly caring for our members if we intentionally, or unintentionally, encourage them to stay wrapped up in themselves.

Church in Many Houses Read Through: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: The Challenge of Thinking Differently

Summary: The cell-based church is not merely a church with a small group program. The cell-based church fundamentally sees itself in a different way and behaves appropriately.

“Most people, especially long-time church members, carry a mental picture of “church”. Just as a mosaic is made up of many small pieces of colored material which are artistically arranged to form an image, our picture of “church” is formed by a cluster of assumptions. Based on our experiences, we form assumptions about the nature of ministry, the role of leaders, basic expectations of members, and so on. We may not even be aware of our presuppositions, but they profoundly influence us anyway.” (Location: 692)

Note:We need to consider and confront this as we ask the question, “How many hurdles are we asking an unbeliever to jump over when we invite them into a study or service?”

“However, I also came to realize that at the core of the resistance was a conflict of assumptions. Cell ministry is not really about structure and method. It is about values. It is driven by a specific way of thinking about the church. Conflict arose because the assumptions upon which cell ministry are based are quite different than those of the program-based church of which all of us have been part.” (Location: 707)

Note:We are blind to our assumptions until we are confronted with them. In order to be confronted we have to ask, read, listen, imagine, and study to get a better view.

“The biggest difference between a program-based church and a cell-based church is not the existence of small groups. A church can have dozens of small groups and still be thoroughly program-based. The biggest difference between a program-based and a cell-based church lies in the understanding of ministry upon which the church is built.” (Location: 714)

Note:This is key!

“There are five essential philosophical shifts program-based churches need to make in order for the cell approach to succeed.   These are:  

1) From “growing deeper” to “reaching outward”

2) From membership to disciple-maker

3) From educating to equipping 

4) From programs to relationships

5) From a church with cells to a church that is cells.” (Location: 726)

Note:I think #2 has a differing view of “membership”. See Jonathan Leeman’s book on Church Membership. I look forward to reading how he defines it later in the book.

“As we prepare to take a fresh look at commonly-held assumptions, it might be helpful for you to pause and take a brief personal inventory of what you currently believe about topics such as:  

Church: When someone says the word “Church” – what image comes to your mind? Some may see a building. Others may picture a worship service, or possibly acts of service to the poor. What is your dominant image?   At your church, what does it mean to be “active”? Does it mean attending worship services? Volunteering in service in the church or community? Something else? What do you think of when someone says they “go to church”?  

Church Membership: When one is a member of a church, to what do they belong? An organization? A family? A mission?  

Ministry: What does it mean to be in ministry? What kinds of activities does it involve? Who does ministry? How are people prepared to do ministry?  

Spiritual Growth and Maturity: What exactly does it mean to grow spiritually? What does spiritual maturity look like?” (Location: 735)

Note:Ask these!

“Our society may be changing around us, but little has changed within us. Technology continues to advance at dizzying speeds, changing the way we work, play, communicate, and learn. Major political changes have altered world alliances and the balance of power. Nonetheless, all human beings still have a deep need to be in relationship with God and with others. The priorities of the cell church focus on meeting those deep, unchanging needs. In many ways, shifting to a cell ministry mindset does not spur the church to keep up with the times, they help the church become independent of them.” (Location: 757)

Note:This last sentence is especially poignant.

“Cell ministry can cut against the grain of our American radical individualism, entertainment orientation, and consumerism.” (Location: 766)

Note:We don’t want to admit this, but it is true in so many of us. I find it easier to come, listen, and leave than to prepare, participate, and grow.

“Instead, we can think of the church as a furnace. Any working furnace will produce heat, but some are more efficient than others. The point is not that the program-based church will not produce any heat (disciples). However, when it is working right, the cell-based church is the most efficient way of making disciples who make disciples. That is why the world’s largest churches are cell-based churches.” (Location: 775)

Note: “Don’t reject this idea merely because you feel like it is attacking what you have done all your life.”

Overall, I think the main takeaway to this chapter is that we need to reconsider our assumptions of what the church “looks like”.