CELL LEADER'S MANUAL
PART ONE: Working with Cells
The focus of this manual is leadership in cell or small groups, primarily those that aim to nurture disciples, though the skills and insights will also apply readily to ministry teams and evangelistic outreach/discussion groups, the other main types of cells.
Logically, the first focus is on the cell strategy, and on clarifying key issues, objectives and tasks. This is the focus of the first module, Handling a Cell Group. Given the importance and controversy surrounding it, the issue of spiritual gifts in cells will be addressed. The section rounds off with a Bible study on body life, suitable for use in a cell group to orient its members to Christian life and service.
It is expected that participants will read and discuss the first module. Gifts in cells can be studied with this module in one session, or separately, depending on circumstances. Cell leaders will also benefit if they do the Bible study together.
A very useful practical exercise would then be to plan a term or semester of meetings and activities for your cells, in light of what you have learned. Then, through regular meetings of the cells of cell leaders, implementation challenges can be raised and addressed. After the semester, it would be very useful to meet again to review what was studied, in light of concrete experience.
Handling a Cell:
1. The Dynamo
2. Body Life
3. Group Dynamics
5. The Cell Meeting
6. Building Disciples
7. Odds and Ends
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
Appendix I: Handling Gifts in Cells
Appendix II: Body Ministry
HANDLING A CELL GROUP
"And (Jesus) went up to the mountain and summoned those whom he himself wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve that they might be with him, and that he might send them out . . . " (Mark 3:13, 14; NASB.)
When we chip off the sapwood, the heart of what Jesus did before he was crucified was to stake his Kingdom on a group of twelve very ordinary men.
Was he taking a mad gamble, risking all on one throw of the die, or did he know something so powerful that he could calmly leave his Kingdom in the hands of twelve -- no, eleven -- ordinary men?
1. The Dynamo
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He had in his hands a strategy that even with ordinary men could change the course of history. I believe it can do so in our cell groups.
The first point of the strategy is the power of example:
Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
(Luke 6:39, 40: KJV and NIV.)
The blind can lead the blind -- straight into the nearest ditch. Men become just like their leaders and teachers. Example is the essence of teaching and leadership.
Jesus used this principle of example to build disciples. First, he challenged them to follow him: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt 16:24.) He lived with them, taught them, and set an example for them. Eventually, he could say "they are not of the world even as I am not of it. " (John 17:16.) Then, he sent them out under his authority and with the power of his Spirit to challenge and change the world.
Therefore, we also must be good guides and examples -- we must know where, and why, and how, we are going.
"But Jesus is the example -- not a mere man!"
Let's put it another way: "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:6.) If there is anything at all in our lives that we cannot hold up as an example, we must get rid of it. Those who follow us will follow our example . . . even into the ditch.
We must be able to join Paul as he says "Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you." (Phil. 3:17, cf. I Cor 11:1, I Pet. 5:2, 3)
We must see situations, people, and issues the way God sees them. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (I Sam 16:7.) We must therefore learn to listen to and obey God:
If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you and even more. Whoever has will be given more: whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (Mark 4:23 - 25; cf. John 10:27, Prov. 3:5,6.)
If we fail to make full use of what God shows us, we will become blind leaders of the blind. Further, our own walk with God, built on the foundation of prayer, worship and practically-focussed Bible study, is the basis for building true vision, living lives of example, and effective service to Christ. Let us, therefore, "keep watch" over ourselves and those in our care -- for whose souls we will give an account to God (Heb 13:17), making sure to diligently obey the word of God which builds us up. (Acts 20:28 - 32; cf. 2 Tim 3:14 - 17 and John 17:17.)
2. Body Life
The second dynamic in a cell group is body-life. The same Holy Spirit who transformed twelve ordinary men and changed the course of history forever is available to each of us:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good . . .
[Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . .
The whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work. (1 Cor. 12:7, Eph. 4:11 - 16.)
We do not have to rely on our own ability. "Our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant . . . of the Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:5, 6) Further, God has called each Christian into a significant sphere of ministry, so that works of service are to be done by all of "God's people."
Our task as leaders, then, is to teach, guide, set examples, encourage, and regulate, so that there is freedom, flexibility, and growth, without disorder; "God is not a God of disorder but of peace." (1 Cor. 14:33a.)
We should therefore work to help each member blossom in his own relationship with God, in his relationships with the rest of the body, and in the unique ministry into which God has called him. When each member is fulfilling his or her role, the group and the wider body will grow in size, strength, truth, holiness, love and unity.
3. Group Dynamics
Cell groups are groups of people. The ordinary processes that go on in any group will thus affect their operation.
Groups come together around shared purposes in the face of a common situation. This association forces the members to work out relationships, roles, responsibilities, norms, goals, and tasks. Each person seeks to derive personal benefits - "What is this group doing for me? Is it what I want?"
Out of the interaction between the members, the tasks, and the team they form, a definite pattern of processes results:
1.) Goals have to be worked out and pursued. This leads to planning, interacting, and working together.
2.) Friction results from trying to interact, communicate, and cooperate. Conflicts break out between members, and inside the minds of members: "This is not what I really want! What will I do?"
3.) Conflict is the key. Correctly handled, it builds both the individual and the team, providing much of the fuel for progress. Poorly handled, it will deeply wound the individual, and can shatter the group.
4.) The best approach first admits that conflicts exist. It sees them as neutral, even beneficial. Even Jesus conflicted with his Father in Gethsemane. Second, it is willing to forgive hurts -- it only brings up problems to correct, encourage, and heal. It looks first for "the plank in your own eye," and only then will it speak to the other person. "Judge not, that you be not judged" speaks to just this point. Finally, it seeks to work out problems face to face - "just between the two of you." (Matt 7:1-5, 18:15-17; I Cor. 13:3-7; Gal. 6:1-5.)
5.) The process of positive conflict resolution helps the group to grow and achieve its goals. Of course, resolving one conflict is no guarantee against the emergence of another.
6.) Finally, no group is static. New people come in, and old ones go out. Projects are completed, and group wind up. We must learn to adjust and come to terms with success, failure, and goodbyes.
How can we best work to harness the power of example, group dynamics and the potential put in each of us by the Holy Spirit?
This problem was successfully tackled by the very first church:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47.)
Four factors stand out: sound biblical teaching, fellowship and mutual ministry, worship and prayer, and effective evangelism. These factors should clearly be present in our cell groups and ministry teams, and in our individual lives. But, what was the point?
Without a clear aim, we will get nowhere. That aim is quite simple:
[Jesus] said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you . . ."
The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
He who descended [Christ] is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way.(Matt. 28:18,19; Titus 2:11-14; Eph 4:10, 1:22 - 23.)
Together, the texts tell us the goal of the church, and therefore of the cell group: a people, from all nations, who are the holy people of God, filling the world with the fulness of Christ. To this end, we reach out to men, to challenge them to follow Jesus as his disciples. Evangelism is a means, not the end.
Secondly, good programmes start with people where they are, and work to help them towards a definite objective, being rigorous in pursuit of excellence, yet compassionate. People are the point.
With this, we can state three basic goals:
These objectives will require much work. Typically, our cell member will not be really sure he is saved -- much less, being able to show why or help another find salvation from the Bible. He probably cannot study the Bible properly, and has a shaky prayer life. He is more likely to want, and need, ministry than to be active in ministering.
If that sounds strong, ask people things like "How does prayer (or, faith) work?", or “What is praise (or, worship)?" Discuss other things, too: what he really thinks about himself (self-image), family life, sex, handling time and money, handling problems. This will give a fuller picture, and help keep the cell group on target.
We must therefore work to build men and women of vision and power, people who are firmly grounded and whose aim in life is to build the Kingdom of God. We should stress personal growth and involvement, against the backdrop of discipleship, body dynamics, and group dynamics. Cell meetings should balance teaching, Bible study, sharing, and ministry by all members; worship and prayer, involvement in the wider campus fellowship and the wider church, and strong evangelistic activity. Outside of meetings we should learn to share with one another, pray for one another, visit, counsel, and so on. A cell group is far more than just a meeting.
5. The Cell Meeting
The cell meeting, however, is the central feature of a cell group. It brings us together, to share, to minister, to study, to worship, and to reach out. It sets the tone and focus for the group.
Paul sums it up:
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. [1 Cor 14:26; cf. context and Heb 10:23 - 25.]
The key factors are focus and flow. Imagine a cafeteria, full of students eating and talking. Suddenly, there is a ghastly noise and a sudden scream in one corner.
Every head will turn, to see what is happening. There is now a focus. For a meeting to develop, it must begin to flow. For instance, the commotion could be the opening moments of a dramatic presentation.
Meetings, generally, develop a focus, and the focus must flow. The question is how the Holy Spirit wants to form a focus, and how it should flow in theme, time, space, and style. Flexibility, spontaneity and creativity are vital.
Too often, everything is "up front centre", and even our usual row by row layout shows it — performers and audience:
The focus of a circle can be anywhere on its circumference or in the middle, not just "up front centre". Circle-based layouts are thus open to wider interaction, are more personal - we can see one another's faces, and so are better fitted to true body ministry. Since a "U" layout has a natural focus at its open end, but allows a focus to form anywhere along its arc, it has the advantages of both row and circle layouts.
Time is vital. Meetings should start - and end - on time. The pace should neither drag along like a hearse nor race like a fire truck heading for a conflagration. Cut a slow item, and move on. Give people time for interaction and reflection, but don't waste time.
The key to focus, though, lies in the idea of "drawing near" - near to God and near to one another:
Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . . and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience . . . Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another . . . [Heb 10: 19 - 25.]
Access to God has always been a problem for sinful man. Even though we can't hide from him, we cannot approach him, for we are defiled by sin. The elaborate ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament drove this point home, again and again. It is only by sin-free blood that sin can be removed, and it is only then that men, as forgiven sinners, may approach God.
By the guiltless blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross, we have access to God. Under the Old Covenant, only the High Priest, once a year -- and with a rope to pull out his body if God should strike him dead for unconfessed sin -- could go behind the Curtain into the Most Holy Place. In it, above the Ark of the Covenant, was a visible radiance -- the Shekinah Glory, God's visible manifestation of his presence in the Temple.
But now, we have free access to the immediate, manifested, intimate presence of God.
This is no mere fine point of Theology. Rather, it means we don't have to try to work up God's "presence" by singing, shouting, complex liturgy, or whatever. We boldly draw near to God, since our hearts have been sprinkled to purge our consciences of guilt. As we draw near, we "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise." We approach God freely and gratefully, as forgiven sinners, forgiven because we put our trust in Christ. Praise His Name!
Let's pause to look at praise, worship, and thanksgiving. In the strict sense, they refer to different things. We thank God for what he has done or promised to do. We praise him for Who he is. We worship, falling down before him, literally or figuratively, as man before God, creature before Creator. Worship is the underlying attitude, which finds vocal, musical, or bodily expression. That is why speech, song, dance, raised hands, or bent knees can all be expressions of worship.
The second aspect is our drawing near to one another, before God. Christianity is not a solitary business - God calls us to be his people, his royal priesthood, his family, his house, his body. Even the command "be filled with the Spirit" is corporate: "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph. 5:18-21.)
It is against this backdrop that the framework of Bible study, teaching, fellowship, body ministry, worship, and outreach take place. Prayer, in particular, is an aspect of worship — it acknowledges our dependence on God for our needs. Worship, then, deals with our drawing near to God. The other three foci deal with drawing near to one another under God.
The basic idea is that "we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (I Cor. 10:16, 17). Our relationship with Jesus makes us one body - the inter-dependent body of Christ. That is why we must meet regularly to share, encourage, and build one another.
Outreach is the key point. We must be witnesses, in the power of the Spirit. We must reach out with the only really good news there is. It is our privilege, and duty.
Teaching and Bible study form the basis for everything else. We must understand what we experience, and experience what we understand. The focus must be inductive, probing the Bible's text to see what it actually says, asking questions to discover what it means, and seeing how it relates to real life. We must balance three emphases: dealing with God's advice for facing the problems, issues, and struggles of practical living; the fundamentals of discipleship -- how to lay a firm foundation, put down roots in God, and bear fruit; getting to know the Bible itself, so that we both know what it teaches, and where and how it teaches -- basic knowledge of the Bible and its teaching.
If we fail to establish our cell members on a firm Biblical foundation, we have failed. Full stop. We must give the Bible priority in our ministry, and stress "seeing it for yourself from the Bible." Paul summed it up, beautifully:
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of . . . you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Tim. 3:14-17.)
Generally, cell meetings should first focus on God: worship. They can flow into interaction, sharing, and body ministry by the members. The study and teaching element should not be confined to a slot for "the word". Let it pervade the whole as well -- it's natural to give explanations as we go along. A good explanation can really ignite times of worship, prayer, or sharing and ministry.
But don't be afraid to break the mould. Hold a planning and evaluation session. It's great leadership training, and will improve the meetings. Go out to a play, or to dinner. Watch a video. Go fishing. Sponsor an ice cream lime. Be flexible and creative.
6. Building Disciples
After all is said and done about programming and cell meetings, our cell groups will be judged by one sharp question: "have they built effective disciples?" Disciples are the point.
First, we must focus on laying a firm foundation: a disciple must be saved and know why. Jesus must be his Lord. He must see and use the Bible as his basis for thinking and living, especially principles such as repentance and faith, holiness and the power of the Spirit. He must know the principle of ministry: God working with him and through him. He must live as a steward who will give account to God, his Judge. (See Heb. 6:1, 2 for "Foundations.")
A disciple must have firm roots in his relationships with Jesus, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the body of Christ. All spiritual sustenance comes through these relationships. His devotional life, therefore, must be rich and practical - he must spend time with God in worship, and learn how to listen to him as he speaks (John 10:27). Fellowship, encouragement, and body ministry must be integral to his life.
It is only then that a disciple will be able to face hardship successfully. Hardships are inevitable. A disciple must be ready for them, so that they will build him, training him in godliness. "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruits of righteousness." (Heb. 12:11, cf. John 15:1-8; James 1:2-4).
Out of our own hardships comes ministry, because God "comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (II Cor. 1:4). Moreover, "to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." (I Cor. 12:7). Effective disciples must learn how to help others turn to and grow in God, and must see themselves as called to be ministers in the body of Christ. They must fulfill their callings.
There are many other things - planning, administration, apologetics, preparing and presenting talks, leading inductive Bible studies, and so on, but these can be picked up along the way as they become necessary. Bluntly, effective disciples are people who learn to read and think for themselves. They must become independent -- able to teach and fend for themselves. The central issues in a cell group must be foundations, rooting relationships, and ministry.
The problem is that many young Christians do not see these things as vital, and that people come into a cell group at different levels and have varying interests and, consequently, grow at different rates. The rates vary from zero to very rapid.
The trick is to balance what you do. By taking an input from the members, and by getting feedback from them, we can keep the general focus of cell meetings, personal visits, prayer, and so on relevant and interesting. Quite often, the underlying factors that cause the problems our members face lie in the three central stresses. If we dig for the roots and bring out the links, our focus on these issues will make sense to our members, and, because of the stress on solving practical problems, will be relevant, practical and effective.
"But people will think I'm nosy, trying to stick my nose into other people's business."
That's the catch. Unless we lead the way, setting an example of openness and honesty, we will simply stir up hostility. People, justly, resent nosiness. If, however, they see that you, too, are open, serious, and honest, even about shady things, and understand why it is necessary to be open, it will make all the difference.
In short, the key to building disciples is good relationships. By building openness into the cell group, you lay a basis of trust, caring, and sharing. Individuals will respond at different levels. Don't force them . Some are not ready to take off yet. Use personal visits to build on the basis of the meetings. Encourage those who are ready to take off - hand over some leadership responsibility to them. Give them some extra training. In fact, in the situation above, if someone knows what you are doing, and is prepared, it can really make a difference . . .
(That's why having a co-leader can make a big difference.)
What we must keep in the back of our minds is balance.
We must balance dealing with people where they are, and the need to take them through a definite programme of training in discipleship. A good objective is to leave behind you at least two people who are ready to take over the cell group at the end of the year.
7. Odds and Ends
There are all sorts of other things that could be said. Here are some things that deal with likely problems and issues. You think of more.
a) The First Meeting: A job that's been started right is half done. The first few meetings should serve as a gentle introduction to cell group life, and set the tone for the whole year. Focus on getting to know one another and on laying a basis for the relationships, tasks, and goals that will be the group's focus for the year.
b) Working With a Co-leader: In many cell groups, leadership is shared. It is vital for you to meet regularly to discuss, plan, share, and pray. A good rule is that you must seek a consensus about everything you do with the cell group. Share up leadership responsibilities by mutual agreement. Work together.
c) Taking Charge: Don't be afraid to lead the group. It is your responsibility before God. The point about authority isn't that you have to start everything or do the whole job. The point is that you coordinate and enforce the rules and standards of the group. Establish the standards from the Bible and fearlessly enforce them.
d) Older Members: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." (I Tim. 4:12.) It helps to seek advice from older or more mature members, and to give them some responsibilities, but you must not allow age or "maturity" to become an excuse for undermining your importance as the appointed leader. Do try to work closely with such members -- they have much to contribute.
e) Lateness and Irregular Attendance: The truth is, we do what we see as important. We tend to ignore or forget what's unimportant to us. Make sure the cell group meetings are relevant, lively and speak to the burning issues. Involve all the members, actively. Don't have "just another (boring) religious meeting." Start on time, and finish on time. Point out that being late is actually very arrogant, and start on time with whoever is there. . . the others will get the point. Remind people.
f) Doctrinal Clashes: Establish that the Bible is the basis for what we believe and do. Teach the principles of inductive Bible Study. Develop the attitude of being willing to follow wherever the Bible leads. Most problems come from ignoring or misreading the Bible, so get people to look at the Bible itself, carefully. If the point is side-tracking a meeting, stop it, sum up the sides, put it off for a future meeting, and get back on track. Research the point, and deal with people one on one, as much as possible. Keep your promise to deal with it in a future meeting.
g) Inviting New People: Encourage the practice. Lead by example.
You think of others. How should you deal with them?
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Why is the example set by how a leader lives such a powerful influence on those who follow him or her?
2. In what ways can you improve the quality of the example you set? (What does it mean to be "blind"?)
3. What do you think of when you hear terms such as "the body of Christ" or "the church"? How well do your impressions fit in with scriptures such as Acts 2:41-47; I Cor. 10:16,17; 12:7-12; Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:11-16? How do these relate to a cell group, or a drama group, or an outreach committee?
4. Think of some group situations you have been in - family, church, cell group, whatever. Do the group processes outlined above help to explain what happened?
5. If you were in a conflict situation in a group, how would you respond? What do you think would be the most effective way to act?
6. Think of some meetings you have attended. Do the principles outlined in the paper correctly explain what happens in meetings? How could these meetings have been more effective and fulfilling? How would you, therefore, plan a cell group meeting?
7. Someone starts attending your cell meetings about half way through Christmas term. She is not a Christian, but keeps on attending. She becomes a Christian over the Christmas holidays. How will you work with her to help her become established and grow up as a solid disciple?
HANDLING GIFTS IN CELL GROUPS
In many cell groups on campus, we have people with a charismatic or Pentecostal flavour, and also people who do not have such a background. This calls for us to carefully address the question of how we should deal with the unfortunately controversial question of spiritual gifts.
The basic validity of gifts is no longer a problem - a broad consensus is building up that accepts them. (See for instance Hummel's Filled with the Spirit or Mallone's Those Controversial Gifts, both IVP.) In simple terms, the purpose of gifts -- manifestations of the Holy Spirit through believers to build up the church -- is clearly not fulfilled until the church is complete when Christ returns. Nor is the history of the church kind to those who argue that gifts ceased after the Apostles and those they worked with died out! The real question today is how gifts should be handled.
Much of the problem is a matter of style: "thus saith the Lord . . ." has a quite different flavour from "I believe the Lord may be saying . . . to us" — especially when what is said is backed up by an appropriate biblical reference. For, the latter is more open to being weighed and tested. As a rule, this is wiser, as “prophesyings” (just like “preachings” and “teachings”) are neither to be rejected out of hand nor accepted without testing based on the Bible. (1 Thess. 5:19 - 22; Isaiah 8:19, 20; Amos 3:7, 8; Rom 12:3 - 6; 1Cor 14:24, 25, 29 - 33.)
Many issues can be resolved in this way. Once we accept gifts as the manifestation of the Spirit given to and through each of us "for the common good", then we can take into account the background and exposure of each of us as we work together in love to build up one another. Surely, the point is to build up, not to unnecessarily antagonise! (See 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 14-26).
The scriptures are quite clear, too, that manifestations involve a working of God through man, and that how a person works a gift out is subject to that person's own control. This is why one can refrain from speaking in tongues where this is wise (1 Cor. 14:27, 28), and why Paul said, "the spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets" (v. 32). We must be wise, gentle, sensitive and winsome.
A far larger problem, however, is the lack of such manifestations in our lives, not disorder or antagonism. Bluntly, the Church is the body of Christ, and we are its limbs and arms. If we refuse to function, it will not grow as it should, due to our disobedience.
It is not that the gifts are not given. It is that we fail to see ourselves as the ministers in the church, the limbs and organs of the body of Christ. As Paul puts it, leaders were given "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . . the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Eph. 4:12, 16).
Every Christian is called to work in some aspect of the ministry of the Church. When we work together, the Church will grow and develop, reflecting our Head. The cell group, in fact, is the ideal place for us to begin to explore and grow in this pattern of mutual support and service.
In cells, we must therefore first properly understand what gifts are, and how they work in practical contexts. The Bible says that prophecy is a gift, but so is administrative ability. Some manifestations are spectacularly supernatural; others are not. The key is that each is an endowment, an expression, a work of the Holy Spirit through us.
For, God is at work, through us — his cracked pots [see 2 Cor. 4:7!] — transcending mere skills, talents or hunches. Thus, it is the Divine element that is crucial, as our God powerfully manifests Himself among us to convict of sin, save, heal, reveal the secrets of men’s hearts, transform lives and do wonders as he works to fill all things with Christ. [1 Cor 14:24 – 29; Eph. 4:9 – 16, cf. 1:9 – 10, 17 – 23.]
"But how do gifts fit in?"
They were there all along. As we work with God, consciously opening ourselves to his guidance and power, he will act. Quiet insights give us wisdom that comes from God, not man. A song or scripture comes to mind and transforms a "dead as dust" meeting into one that reaches into hearts with God's healing and glory. We feel an impression to speak about a particular problem and it's just what someone needs. The list could go on and on, but the picture is clear.
They have names: words of wisdom, revelations, words of knowledge, prophecies, and so on. While it is important to understand what such terms mean, it is more important to keep the main point in view: gifts are manifestations of God which work into practical, concrete settings, through ordinary Christians, to build up the Church.
God wants to act through each of us. As we open ourselves to him, we will learn to recognize his leading. At first, God deals with the basics, speaking to us to correct, encourage and guide. As we obey, he moves on. The key is to obediently listen. What God says often hurts, but always, it is to heal and to build. It is Satan who lures us with pleasant lies leading to pain later on, not God. God deals with truth and honesty. Ninety percent of the problems with gifts in the church, judging from Paul's rebukes to the Corinthians, come from a lack of honesty, love and obedience. It's no good to expect God to show us step three when we are not obeying Him by taking step one yet!
Character first, then Ministry. God's priority is plain.
Gifts, then, have a clear and vital role in our cell groups. Paul himself placed them in the context of meetings: "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the Church." (I Cor. 14:26.) These words are especially apt for cell meetings -- where else can everyone contribute in a given meeting?
Of course, gifts must be regulated. "Prophecies" must be tested against the Scriptures: they fall under the authority of the Bible, not in addition to it! Tongues, Paul requires, are such that only "two or at the most three should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church (assembly) and speak to himself and God" (I Cor. 14:27, 28). Prophecies are to be tested and the good held onto. (I Thess. 5:19-22). Similar things hold for all gifts. Study the relevant passages.
The gifts also have other uses, especially in prayer, planning and counselling. The key is close and open relationships, which all members give to and receive from one another.
There is, in short, tremendous potential for gifts in our cell groups. We must however, use them wisely, winsomely, and biblically.
"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." (I Peter 4:10,11.)
In an odd way, we already know about Body Ministry. For instance, we all know we are supposed to bear witness to Jesus, love, care for, and support, one another, and to pray.
Why then this study? Another question will help. How consistently and effectively are you testifying, praying for others, and so on? (Do you find yourself saying "I know I should but . . ."?) To know "what" we should do is one thing. To know "how", and "where", and "when" is another. What we will do, then is to work through some key points, discuss our responses and see how, together as a cell group, we can go forward.
1. Work through this study, section by section.
2. Pause after each section to discuss, note down, and pray.
I. We are all the ministers of the Church
Read Ephesians 4:11-16. Jesus gave leaders to the Church "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up... From him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work".
1. "Works of Service" can be translated "works of ministry".
When you think of "ministry", what pictures come to mind?
2. How do your pictures relate to what Paul wrote in the above
3. How would you relate this Body Ministry to
a) Our cell group?
c) Church, generally?
II. Each of us has his own special area of service
Paul used the human body to explain how ministry works in the Church. Each part of our bodies, though made of the same bone, muscle, nerves and such like, is shaped for its own job. ("If your nose runs, and your feet smell, you're built upside down!").
1. What is it then, that gives each of us a unique role?
(Hint, examine I Cor. 12:7-11, 29-31; II Cor. 1:3,4)
One way to look at Christian service is to see God as calling each of us to serve him in a way fitted to our personality, experiences, and talents. He equips us with gifts to fulfil our calls, and puts us all together so that we can help one another.
2. Do you believe God has called you to serve him, and do you
know in what area?
III. Ministry springs from our relationship with Jesus
Skim Mat. 7:15-20 and John 15:1-8. Fruit grow out of our relationship with Jesus. (The results of our service are simply a kind of fruit; fruits are visible results or products.)
1. In what way does the quality of our relationship with Jesus affect
the quality of the results of our service? (cf. Luke 6:39, 40)
2. Take a hard, honest look at how close you are to Jesus Christ.
What kind of fruit should you expect? (What should you do?
How will you do it?)
IV. Effective service arises from eager obedience and thorough preparation
Paul sets us an example. As soon as he was baptized, he was powerfully arguing for the gospel. (Acts 9:20-22).
After he had returned home to Tarsus for some time, Barnabas could ask him to help in teaching the disciples in Antioch (11:25-26). When the time came for God to send him out as an apostle, he was fully ready (13:1-4). He made sure to prepare himself and seized opportunities when they came.
1. What opportunities for service have you seen in this cell group, in
UCCF, on campus, in the congregation, or town, or neighbourhood?
2. Did you seize them?
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he advised him about how to prepare for service: Bible-based study, and Bible-based practical training and obedience. (II Tim. 2:15, 3:14-17).
3. How much Bible-based study have you worked out in your life and
1. What have I learned?
2. What has challenged me?
3. What action steps will I take?
4. In what areas does God want my service? In what ways?