Not so long ago I had the privilege of listening to the pastor of a very large church from south-east Asia. The first session, as he recounted tales of persecution, faith, miracles and enormous courage captivated his audience.
The reaction to the second session was different. It soon became clear that the subject was cell church and you could visibly see pastors from the west switch off. ‘Been there, done that, not trying again’ would have filled the thought bubbles above their heads.
Now there were certain cultural aspects to the presentation and style that made this a greater challenge. Of course, that just means in our increasingly diverse contexts we shouldn’t assume that ‘our way’ of communicating is going to have the same impact with people from other cultures and backgrounds.
More significantly though was a misunderstanding of what this pastor was saying. He wasn’t saying ‘cell church is the way to grow your church.’ If we’re honest this was the main reason many evangelical churches adopted cell church in the UK. We would after all do much pretty much anything if we thought it would grow the church, after years of moribund statistics about church decline, we were desperate to grow.
No, but this pastor didn’t talk about growth, he didn’t really mention numbers (and when he did it was more numerology than growth statistics). He wasn’t talking about growing your church but what it meant to be the church. More ecclesiology than missiology if you will.
For this pastor, to be a part of a church meant being in a place where you could live out the ‘one anothers’. You know the list: love one another, be kind to one another, be at peace with one another, serve one another etc… these can only truly be lived out in the context of knowing and being known. It is also the place where learning happens, prayer happens, use of gifts happen, leadership develops, training takes place, pastoral care is given and received, evangelism and mission happens and so on. Or as we might say, ‘do life together.’
The challenge in contemporary life is to have sufficient proximity to one another to make this possible. This desire for proximity has shaped our missional vision, to be proactive in starting missional groups closer to where people live and then to gather them together. To see the gathered meeting as the place where the life and the mission of the church is equipped and resourced and not as the thing itself.
This line of thinking is very similar to the language of missional communities. The more recent upsurge in interest in missional communities and missional thinking in the West has sought to develop our thinking around what it means to be a part of the church although again gets sidetracked by being presented as the solution to the not growing problem.
There is a sense in which people realise that we fall short of what church is, if we think it is attending a meeting. We have taught our people that the church is not the building, we haven’t done so well at teaching them that it’s also not the meeting.
As a result, while I don’t think the cell is the way to growth (that comes through people sharing their faith and life with others), I appreciated what it taught me about what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
Photo by healthmindandkat