Tag Archives: cell groups

Can the Church as We Know it Survive?

In a recent blogpost Neil Cole contrasts two (very different) Non-Western Churches:

When the communists took over the nation they arrested the church leaders (like Nee) and seized all church property. The indigenous expressions of simple churches meeting in homes not only survived…they thrived. The Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-Tung sought to eliminate all religion from society in China but instead mobilized the church and it grew from about 2 million Christians in 1949 to over 60 million. It is estimated today that there may be upwards of 80 million Christians in China.

Contrast this with the church of Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church was dependent upon three things: holy buildings, holy men in robes, and holy services performed by those men in those buildings. When the communists took over in Russia they seized all the buildings and arrested or compromised all the leaders of the church. The church was devastated.

He goes on to ask the question – which structure most reflects the way we do church in America? Are we dependent on buildings, holy men, and holy services performed by those men? Could we survive the arrest of our church leaders and seizure of church property? Are we more like the Chinese church or the Russian Orthodox Church?

Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow

Without a doubt the American church is going to face ongoing persecution in the future. However it wouldn’t even take any real persecution to dismantle most churches, just a few legal changes (especially to tax law) could cause the church as we know it to implode, or more likely to become unsustainable.

The problem is that the western church concentrated all our people, resources and ideas into a few large groups. This is bad investment 101 – don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Much like the Russian Orthodox church, who put all of their energy and resources into holy buildings, holy men in robes, and holy services performed in those building the western church is liable to experience real devastation if (when) persecution or legal action is taken against the church as we know it.

In the future, most churches will not be able to sustain the model we are running on. This will, lead many churches into times of intense suffering and hardship. There are only two types of churches that will be able to survive those times. The only churches that will survive are the churches that are large enough to sustain themselves without all the tax benefits that the government offers to non-profits and religious institutions and those churches that are small enough not to need those benefits. When clergy stop getting tax benefits, many pastors in small churches will not be able to get by economically. When churches lose tax benefits on their properties, many churches will no longer be able to afford their mortgages. Either you will have to be large enough to generate enough capital to pay your mortgage or you will need to be small enough not to require funds to pay a mortage (i.e. because you don’t own any property). Either way tt’s a bleak future for the church as we know it.

The church will need to learn to survive without the government’s help. The church will need to learn to survive under government opposition. Non-Western churches have much to offer us in learning how to do both of those things.

However we aren’t there yet. We aren’t facing those difficulties yet, and it may be many years before we get to that point. However, its my own personal belief, that the church needs to prepare itself for that day. One of the best ways to get ready for that time is to emphasize the importance of what some have called “cell communities” or “small groups” or “community groups.” These small communities seem to be the essential building block of the church in the non-west. We have much to learn from our non-western brothers and sisters. They are clued in to the many strength of these sorts of communities.

According to Scott Sunquist (Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary) these communities are the “strongest organizational unit in world history” – here are the reasons why this is so:

  1. It is a remorseless self-multiplier.
  2. It is exceptionally difficult to destroy.
  3. It can preserve its intensify of local life while vast organizations quickly wither when they are weakened at the center.
  4. It can defy the power of governments.
  5. It is the appropriate lever for praying open any status quo.

It really sounds to me as though “cell communities” (simple churches, small groups, community groups, missional communities, call it what you will) are going to be vital to the future of the church in the west, especially in the US. If this is true – are we preparing for the future?

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The Essence of Coaching (pt. 1): Cultivating Transformation

Hey Friends! This week we start a new series about Lifegroups, specficially coaching Lifegroups. In this series I am going to be working around what Bill Donahue and Greg Bowman call the “Essence” of Lifegroup Coaching.

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The Essence of Coaching – Cultivating Transformation

So recently I have been reading some stuff about coaching, specifically a book by two pastors at Willow Creek: Bill Donahue and Greg Bowman. The book has been really helpful for me so I want to share some of the stuff that I have been learning with you. Hopefully it helps!

As we go into this next quarter and year of coaching its important to stop and ask ourselves, what does it take become an effective coach? Better yet we should ask ourselves what is the heart behind this whole coaching thing that we are trying to figure out? Over the next few days/weeks I want to highlight some core elements or fundamentals of coaching. The first fundamental is that coaches embrace a culture of transformation.

As small group leaders and coaches our desire is to see people grow in Christ, we want to see them “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of fullness in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) If this isn’t your passion then you are in the wrong business. This is the vision that the apostles had for their followers, for instance Paul in Galatians 4:19 says that he suffers pains like those of childbirth until Christ is formed in them. Also in all of his epistles he is always talking about how he prays incessantly for these churches to know the height depth and width of Christ’s love for them so that they might become more like the Son. So you get the point… our desire is to see transformation. This is a super important fundamental to instill into the people that we are coaching because their Life Group will likely reflect the values we have emphasized in our coaching meetings.

Now as coaches we might run into some difficulties… some Life Group leaders will lose focus when it comes to moving people towards transformation in Christ. Some might approach Life Groups as merely a social gathering or merely a time to learn. These groups will not move into the direction we desire for them, namely personal growth that leads to greater faithfulness in whatever context God has placed them. So as a coach you will need to redirect them and help them focus at the task at hand: creating opportunities to encounter Christ so that transformation might occur.

Before we even approach the task of helping our leaders foster transformation we need to really believe that God is the one who changes lives, not us. We don’t make people grow and people can’t make themselves grow, that is Jesus’ job.  Our responsibility (and the responsibility of LG leaders) is to pray, encourage, and challenge those we are shepherding. Point them to Jesus! Exalt him, make him bigger, more beautiful, and more glorious in their eyes and change will happen! Consider 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives growth.”

So once again the point is: God simply asks us to create environments that nurture growth.

 So here is how we can do this in our coaching relationships:

  1. Modeling: What you do and how you do things will likely be the way that those under you end up doing things as well.  (1 Cor 11:1)
  2. Words: Your words are so important. They have the power to build up or tear down. So use your words to encourage and build up. Have ICNU conversations! Always point them to God’s grace in Jesus!
  3. Prayer: This is obvious. Pray for the people you coach. For some reason God has made it so that our prayers are effective. If we don’t pray we are missing out in what God wants us to partner up with him to do in the lives of these leaders.
  4. Listening: This skill is easily overlooked. Listen to your leaders more than you talk at them. Listening to your leaders will show that you actually care for them as people, not just as leaders under you.

Some Questions to Reflect On:

  • Who has been your most influential model for leadership?
  • How do you see yourself leading like them? Unlike them?
  • Of the four tools mentioned above (modeling, words, prayer, listening) which ones do you lean towards? What steps could you take to grow in the other areas?