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Men’s Hierarchies and The Cell Church Movement

  

The Cell Church Movement

There is a definite shift in large congregations to have what are now called cell churches. For terminology sake, cell churches are not the same as home churches – although cell churches are typically in homes. Home churches are autonomous in nature. In other words, in a home church, each group is independent. Home churches are completely free to have any focus, vision, or emphasis the Lord is leading them in at any time. A cell church on the other hand, typically is an expression of a larger, traditional meeting with a definite hierarchy in place. The pastor provides the vision for the group and the cell group leaders carry out that vision in the cell church meetings. Cell churches can be a wonderful place of fellowship, intimacy, and connecting – and I don’t speak against them in that regard. Although cell churches are the new thing, the hierarchy in the traditional church system that governs cell churches is nothing new.

Autonomy for a gathering is critical. Every home gathering is different. We all are in different places. The dynamics of those you are meeting with and are being knit with is going to change and grow all of the time. There will be different seasons with different focuses and emphasis. If the Lord wants to provide a particular focus on a particular night or accomplish certain things in the group for a season, it can easily be short circuited by the cell church agenda. Handing down the topics and subjects to be covered in the home meetings can kill the flow of life.

Of course, many people don’t tend to have much of a relationship with the Lord. They have nothing to share, not much to give, they tend to not function or participate very much, and they are mostly dead in their life with God. Many people  just want to listen to an occasional inspiring message and have some close friends. This vast majority would probably really enjoy a cell church and get a lot out of it. However those who are growing, daily walk close with Jesus Christ, receive from the Lord often, and have a daily hunger for God – these tend to have plenty to give away. In fact, they must give and share because it’s spilling over. Although the “healthy Christian” could grow and enjoy a cell church/traditional setting for a while, if they continue to grow, they will eventually feel stifled and frustrated in any setting where a hierarchy or man made contraints are present.

A man instituted hierarchy may seem like it provides safety, vision and promotes growth. This may be true to a certain level. But ultimately, it will stifle the church if growth continues to occur individually and corporately. A hierarchy is like a lid that will only allow growth and various expressions to go so far. Let me explain.

If I were part of a large group of people who all went on a trip to the planet Mars, I would definitely want a system of hierarchy in place. I’ve never been to Mars before. I would not know what I was doing. I would not know how to put on the space suit. I would not know what to do in the space ship, etc. I would definitely want a group leader to be my authority. I would need my group leader to tell me what to do and when to do it – and I would like it. I also would feel much more comfortable if my group leader was under some sort of authority as well. If I am going to a distant planet, I want my group leader to report to a project leader. And I want the project leader to be a man of great experience. If I am getting on a rocket and flying out into space, I want to know for sure that the project leader is held accountable by the science technicians and by the safety engineers. Ultimately, I need to know that someone is in charge, like a director of the space program. This man had better be a trained and licensed professional and have great experience. All of those in leadership had better be trained and licensed professionals because I certainly don’t know what I’m doing in this whole situation. I would want a hierarchy to be in place, I would want to be told what to do, and exactly when to do it.

I understand that a lot of people feel this way in the church. They don’t know what they are doing. The spiritual life, functioning in the church, operating in their gifts, leading their families, meeting in simple ways, and proper relating to one another is all like a trip to Mars. I understand that people largely want someone else to take the responsibility for them. It’s just a fact of where people are at. This is largely due to the fact that we’ve enabled people to stay where they are in basic Christian skills.

But as a Christian, with the Spirit of God in you, you are not on a trip to Mars. God is in you and is leading you. He gives you wonderful things to share with others all of the time. By simply opening the bible, and praying a little, the Holy Spirit usually reveals something to you that you can pass on to others. With just a very little bit of direction, and perhaps a tiny bit of modeling from others, any believer can function fully in a healthy home church environment. There is no need to be goverened and restricted by a hiearchy of man to tell you what to do, when to pray, what to study and to tell you what God is supposedly saying to you this week.

The traditional church setting has largely caused the basics of the Christian faith to remain a mystery. We’ve not required anything of men. For hundreds of years now, the common Christian man is only required to show up to a meeting, sit down, stand up, throw some money in the plate, and then go home. Passivity is now engrained in our entire Christian culture. We’ve learned and have been trained to be dependant on an artificial and unbiblical hierarchy of man. We feel the need for this type of leadership because we’ve grown accustomed to others having the spiritual responsibility in the church. We all as individuals are to carry much more responsibility than we are used to having.

The hierarchy we see in the church today is not a Biblical one. Sure, in the early church there were men who led. There were people who did overseeing, but they never exercised control. Their leadership was extremely loose and hands off. The elders in a city didn’t hand out a worksheet each week to all the home meetings to complete in order to make sure the past Sunday morning sermon was emphasized.

There would be no problem with a man doing the work of an apostle in a town, and a network of believers was established in that city who were sharing life together. It would be good for the man who planted the church there (the apostle) to give plenty of teaching especially in the beginning stages of the work in that city. But then he would move on to a different city as Paul did. Once the true seed of the Kingdom was planted in the city, a true apostle would not have to make sure that each house gathering was all on the same page each week. He would not have to make sure that every gathering was focusing on what he thought the weekly focus should be. The church is not to be micromanaged. The apostle Paul did however, bring correction when needed, and he provided encouraging letters of teaching that were read in all the gatherings. He trusted the Spirit of God to grow the church.

The gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia were encouraged by the leading brothers in Jerusalem with this… “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, blood, things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15). That’s a very hands-off approach. We can trust the Lord to organically and naturally lead a gathering of saints in the way He sees fit.

Because we have created and promoted largely an entire culture of spiritually starved Christians, many believers will not feel adequate to be a part of a fully functioning Biblical home church meeting. Because true hospitality is so rare in the West, the setting of home church is difficult to maintain in our culture. If healthy, Biblical, relational church were a part of our daily climate, people would grow much faster, have confidence in functioning, and be able to fully thrive in a simple church setting without the need for an artificial hierarchy to be in place.

The cell church movement is a hybrid. It is a compromise. I think the close relationships that are developed within the cell churches are good however. But, the agenda handed down from the pastor, the hierarchy that is in place, and the name other than the one church in the city, are not good.

I’ve wondered however if cell churches are not the Lord’s mercy in some way. Knowing how kind He is, I would not be surprised if through the cell church movement, He is shedding light and meeting us where we are as a culture. Of course, the more likely case is that the Lord is shedding light to vast numbers of people by helping them to meet in more simple, New Testament ways. And the traditional church has simply observed this and has created its own version.

I do believe that very soon (and it’s already happening) as the church grows and learns how to live and function more Biblically, that we will see a mass exodus out of traditional meeting places and even the cell churches to autonomous living room gatherings throughout every city.

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