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)

Quotes to Consider

Woke culture requires we weigh in on every injustice lest we are complicit in evil, and call-out culture requires anger without grace.

Vrbicek and Beeson, Blogging for God’s Glory

The prospect of Sheol was frightening for those who knew (or felt) themselves to be astray from Yahweh. We saw this in Psalm 30, the dread of dying if God’s favour has been withdrawn (compare Psalm 6:5; etc.). But, in contrast, there is the bright expectation of life and light for those who belong to him. The saying is true: ‘Death is not the extinguishing of the light, it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come.’ To those right with God, death brings a reversal of the inequalities of our present life (Psalm 49:14b); it leads to a blessed ‘taking’, undefined in Psalm 49:15 (nkjv ‘receive’), but which Psalm 73:24 says leads to ‘glory’. The night is over (compare Romans 13:12); morning has come (Psalm 49:14). Shadows have passed away, death is ‘swallowed up’, let the feasting begin (Isaiah 25:6–10a)!

Motyer, Psalms by the Day

Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.’ The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’* For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

Lewis, Mere Christianity, 37

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.

Quotes to consider

Any time self-will emerges—“I must have this”—an idol lurks underneath. An idol is always, to echo Augustine’s phrase, a love out of balance or a love not rightly ordered.8 The right order is God at the center and our lesser loves in submission.

Miller, A Loving Life, 152

But if we are going to chase contentment, then we must learn the hard lessons of self-denial.

Raymond, Chasing Contentment.

When you are in a ship at sea which has all its sails spread with a full gale of wind, and is swiftly sailing, can you make it stand still by running up and down in the ship? No more can you make the providence of God alter and change its course with your vexing and fretting; it will go on with power, do what you can.

Jeremiah Burroughs as quoted in Chasing Contentment

So short is the time of man’s continuance on earth, and so infinite the joys or miseries of the future world, that to make much of these little differences would be like estimating the weight of a feather, when engaged in weighing mountains. Who thinks it a matter of any concern, whether the circumstances of persons who lived a thousand years ago were affluent or destitute except, so far as these external enjoyments and privations contributed to their moral improvement, or the contrary? If we could be duly impressed with the truths which respect our eternal condition, we should consider our afflictions here as scarcely worthy of being named.

Archibald Alexander

Will there be a time for answering questions? My work with people tells me that, in fact, there is, but it’s after the moment of suffering. As they begin to emerge and try to move forward with their life—and to try to figure out: How do I create this suffering as something that’s part of my history but not determining who I am?—at that point, they start asking questions, and we can begin to give answers.

David Wenzel, Counseling Suffering People

A Psalm of Asaph.
1 The Mighty One, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
3 Our God comes; he does not keep silence;
before him is a devouring fire,
around him a mighty tempest.
4 He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 “Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge! Selah

Psalm 50:1-6

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!

Some quotes that have made me think…

Peace is the rest our soul receives when we embrace our circumstances as from the hand of our God. The test of the reality of our God and the veracity of our peace is the depth of pain this peace is able to handle.

I had this written down in my journal. I am sure the idea came from someone much smarter than I, but the word order came from me.

Oddly enough, Christians have labeled Naomi “bitter Naomi.” But neither our sin nor our environment defines us. We are not trapped by our own moodiness or despair. We can change because an infinite God is personally involved in the details of our lives. As bearers of God’s image, we can cry out for mercy and see God act in our circumstances or in our hearts. Jesus’s “judge not” is a call to give people space to change, to back off from locking in on exclusively negative views. Especially in long-term relationships, we run the risk of locking onto a person’s negatives and going pagan on them.

Miller, A Loving Life, 130

Here are five bad moves that our hearts can make when life isn’t fair: 1. Self-pity. Nourishing an internal-feeling world of victim; compassion turned inward. 2. Bitterness. A simmering demand that God make my world just. 3. Cynicism and mocking. Restoring balance by mocking the other person. 4. Gossip and slander. Creating a community of empathizers who see my pain. 5. Emotional revenge. Withdrawing my heart to punish the other person.

Miller, A Loving Life, 133

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?

When someone spills their pain on us…

Taken from the words of Naomi in the book of Ruth, when she thinks God has abandoned her…

That doesn’t mean that Naomi’s judgment of God is correct. God is good and just. He will answer her frustration with more goodness. Naomi was interpreting God through the lens of her experience. She stopped in the middle of the story and measured God. A deeper faith waits until the end of the story and interprets experience through the lens of God’s faithfulness. Is this something we tell Naomi? No. It is what we tell ourselves. Good theology lets us endure quietly with someone else’s pain when all the pieces aren’t together. It acts like invisible faith-glue.

Miller, A Loving Life, 58