In 2002 I traveled to Fuller Seminary for a Doctor of Ministry class on cell churches. There were seven students in our class, including one who was involved as a Southern Baptist church planter in communist China, working at a time when planting such churches was illegal. As he may still be doing this work, I=ll call him AJack.@ Simply put, Jack told us many stories about the new model for church planting at the Southern Baptist International Mission Board called Church Planting Movements. He secured a number of copies of a little black booklet which is now available online. Jack=s role, he explained, was to put together a network of lay led small churches; this new model was extremely productive, resulting in hundreds of churches and thousands of converts in a very inhospitable environment. As we studied the various alternatives, as a class we came to the conclusion that mother churches networking cells worked better in congested, urban areas and that the church planting movement form of independent cells worked better in more isolated rural areas.
Our class did not meet over the weekend, so I was able to achieve another wonderful first. I had first heard of Neil Cole through the training resource on Aleadership farm systems@ entitled Raising Leaders for the Harvest. In a leadership farm system you raise up pastors for next year=s church plant out of this year=s converts; the primary tool for making disciples is a small 2-3 person group called a Life Transformation Group, originally based on John Wesley=s bands. Neil=s book, Cultivating A Life For God, talks more about these groups and how they work to make disciples. Life Transformation Groups became the foundation of the equipping track I designed for that cell church class, and a foundational concept for the D.Min project. They are described as JUMP groups in Seminar Three. In 2008 I attended a second Greenhouse training in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and became aware of how great a debt I owe to the thinking of Neil Cole.
I am a United Methodist today because the pastor of the United Methodist Church on campus back in 1973 loaned me a copy of John Wesley=s journal, saying that he believed that I would find in Wesley a kindred spirit. He was right. Wesley brought structure to a discipleship system that endured; people continually tested and rebelled against his Adiscipline@ as adolescents have always rebelled against structure and limitations. Over time, the discipline brought forth spiritual maturity.
If George Barna is correct, I believe that we will see, almost thirty years later, another cycle in the coming decade of the ferment similar to charismatic movement within the mainline churches in the seventies. Small groups outside of local church control will stoke up the fires of personal revival. In the past, most of this spiritual energy was wasted on chasing after one spiritual fad after another. Can this energy be harnessed and directed in order to make disciples and fulfill the Great Commission?
If Barna is correct, pastors have three choices. If the past repeats itself, people in your church will soon be looking for opportunities to grow in their faith outside their church. Perhaps this is already happening in your church. In my experience, these groups typically bless their participants, but they drain energy from a local church and are not evangelistic; they add no new disciples to any church. Nor do they do much ministry in the community, focusing instead on exciting spiritual experiences … sort of like a spiritual version of the rides at Disney World. A discipleship system that does not result in new disciples is just another self-centered indulgence.
http://www.imb.org/CPM/; this link is also in the Assignments folder for this course.
Robert E. Logan & Neil Cole, Raising Leaders for the Harvest, http://www.churchsmart.com/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=1065.
Hebrews 12:5-11 RSV.
NOTE (my response)
The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.