Is the Cell Church about Control?

Outsiders reading about the model and proponents of other small group models (those models that are far more attractional for consumer Christians) often think: "The cell model is controlling. We don't want that here."

This could not be further from the truth. Cell based churches provide the cell group environment and supportive coaches for cell leaders TO PROTECT them as they go about their missional calling. In every cell church I have researched and visited around the world, no one is forced to be a member of a group or a certain group. No group is forced to multiply either. Group closure? Groups in these churches are rarely closed by leadership because of the damage it does to the individual members and the leader.

Now when a leader is found in sin and unrepentant, they're moved out of their role until they begin to walk with Christ in that area of their life instead of run their own way and direction. But this should happen in any model of church life found on this planet (although it's rare).

NOTE: While some second generation G-12 model churches have become very controlling and even cult-like in their practices, one must not throw the cell church movement baby out with this dirty bathwater—and it is indeed dirty bathwater! I am no fan of what a few of the sons and daughters of Cesar Castellanos are doing in their own churches or modeling for others to follow.

Exoskeleton vs. Endoskeleton = Control vs. Protection
I have a marine aquarium in my office, which I've maintained myself for fifteen years. In it, I have fish and corals. The fish are all endoskeleton creatures, with their supportive structure in the middle and unprotected flesh on the outside. My hard stony corals are just the opposite. The flesh is in the inside and peeks out of bits of the outer skeleton.

Endoskeleton animals grow their bones to a certain point and stop growing. Exoskeleton creatures can continue to add the exterior protective and structural support to any size possible!

If your concept for church structures is birthed out of an endoskeleton paradigm (by first creating the structure and then inviting people to attach themselves to it) you will view the cell model as controlling. And it will be if you maintain this mindset.

However, if you think about cell groups and cell group oversight like protective exoskeletal structure for missional living that is already in existence, it becomes protective and opens up an unlimited plan of expansion.

So let me ask you a pointed question: Have you been thinking about cell groups and cell ministry like a fish or a coral?


Joel Comiskey said...

Great post, Randall. My understanding of cell church is one of liberation, not controlling. The goal is to help pew sitters to exercise their muscles and serve as mini-pastors. Those who are fruitful are already prepared experientially to become pastors of their own churches (if they feel called to do so).

I will admit that SOME cell churches have NOT EMPHASIZED church planting and have rather wanted one large mega-church. I believe this is changing.

Cell church is all about liberating the laity to do the work of the ministry.

Conventional churches ask people to sit under the teacher/preacher. Church growth is how many can be gathered at anyone time. The subtle effect of this mentality has been an anemic laity who pays the preacher to do the work of the ministry. I have little excitement for these one-winged church growth models (or those churches who use small groups as holding pens to keep the people in the celebration service).

Again, cell church is about liberation of the laity to lead groups, multiply them, and even to plant churches around the world!

Ben said...

Thank you for posting this article. The cell group is a tool. A tool to try to make church structures work better. The cell group can be about liberty and the edification and empowerment of believers. The cell group can also be about control and be an unnatural appendage of despotic leadership. It can be either one of these things and various degrees of each mixed together. So in reality it is not an either or proposition.

Randall Neighbour said...

Ben, what you don't seem to yet understand is that the cell group itself is not a tool or a program to make church structures work better. it IS the church.

Two or more are gathered in Christ's name and that makes it church.

My point in my blog post was to dispel the notion that cell groups are formed by a lead pastor to control people... which is actually done here and there but it never lasts. God never blesses ungodly actions.