Yesterday at the public meeting at Frankford & Norris we were celebrating our cells. The pastors at all four of our congregations were answering the question “why cells?” We’re trying to start a new holiday that celebrates the things we do and gets us sentimental about them. Cells are circles of hope of about ten where lives are shared and Jesus is present. One of the things that is distinctive about Circle of Hope is the stuff that happens in our cells, that we are organized in cells as our main way of connecting and living. Most of our people are in cells, they aren’t just an auxiliary function of the church—they are the church. So the question is apropos. I offer ten reasons in my speech: here they are.
- They are an alternative to civil religion. The first reason for me was all about cells being more than a reactionary alternative to American civil religion. The people of the U.S. have had too much marketed to them, too much bad evangelism, and too much “religious” language indoctrinating them. Cells are an alternative to that. They are new, organic, and fundamentally relational.
- They help us include and welcome others. You get this idea right when you come to a PM. An excited cell leader’s gonna find you, and love on you, and invite you to be in their cell. And that’s great. They’ve been impacted by a cell personally, and their experience is something they want to share with you. It’s amazing that our most excited people, the ones who are committed to creating the alternative, are doing it because they love and their love overflows.
- They are containers for love that give people a chance to be known. Without cells, people get ignored just like they might in real life. The boisterous, narcissistic extrovert gets all of the attention, just like he did in high school—please, save me, Jesus, from the trauma that high school jocks gave me. I guess that’s why I’m such a fan of cells—I found a place to belong, when everywhere else I turned rejected me. When we are involved in the “little house churches,” the relational work happens there. People are known, cared for, understood, and connected with. Lives are changed, hearts are shared. The church actually does what it is allegedly supposed to do.
- They give us an opportunity keep the vision and build the movement. The cells are the church. They are place where the work happens. Our cells, when they are vibrant and moving, protect our gravity. We keep our gravity protect through dialogue, but also through faith. Cells don’t work without relying and trusting on God and not our own skills (really). When we pray for our cell, we lean not on our own understanding.
- They decentralize pastoring. We share the load. We have over 400 people connected to our nearly sixty cells. It’s a dream come true. In many churches of our size, the work of discipleship happens among a small percentage of leaders. Not surprisingly, the pastor becomes inordinately elevated and potentially unapproachable (and also seriously prone to burnout). Just look at this chart—pastors want to leave their jobs, 1,500 quit monthly because they are burned out, most don’t make it past four years, many work more than 50 hours a week and feel like their work is never done. Cells help alleviate that pressure and help pastors be human because we are all doing the work of pastoring in our cells. Cells make it possible for untrained, 24-year-olds (like I was when I started) to be pastors.
- They are an opportunity to be dignified. The cell leaders are given the freedom to do as God leads them to do—there’s a basic framework, but cell leaders are responsible for the work they do and they aren’t micromanaged. A cell is creative and forms how it agrees to form. Our dignity is embraced in a cell. Our cell leaders have a major responsibility and even high expectations. They need to take themselves seriously. Cells give us an opportunity to be that serious.
- They multiply and show us there’s enough love for us. Cells reinforce our basic principle that there is enough love to go around. Our cells build our capacity for love. Although you can increase your personal capacity, the best way to spread love is by multiplying leaders and cells. Cells function best when they are growing and multiplying. They are healthy that way. The basic measure of health for a newborn or an infant is weight gain. And we can use that criteria for how our cells function too. But there isn’t pressure to grow and multiply, just opportunity. We might feel pressure because of our own anxiety, how we were raised, or even the anxiety of the people that led us, but hopefully we can work through that so that we don’t dominate the system with our bad feelings.
- They can die and that’s OK. Cells can die and end if they aren’t working, or if the leader just wants to do something else. It’s OK. The cell system should be mobile and moving. You don’t lose your friends just because your cell closes or it multiplies. All of the attachment issues and abandonment issues that occurred in your childhood don’t need to be duplicated here. Sure, you’ll find hurt and pain—you’ll suffer because of your cell too—but I suppose that’s what makes it real. People get emotionally invested in their cells, and so there’s going to be conflict.
- They are another chance at family. It might even feel like you’ve recapitulated your family system in your cell. But there’s light ahead. My cell gave me another chance to love and be loved. I was caught in a sinful pattern that was born in my childhood—it came unconsciously and entered my conscious framework. For me, I couldn’t stop thinking about my upbringing and “the father wound” I have, and how it has conflicted with how I relate to God, whom Jesus calls Father–in fact, “Abba” which is so close to the Arabic word I used to call my dad, “babba.” It was hard for me to think that God would be any different than my authoritative dad. Through life as the church and specifically in a cell, my image of fathers, the Heavenly Father, and family have been restored. My relationship with my dad and others too has improved because of the restorative presence we have in each other’s lives. You’ve shown me God’s love in new ways.
- Jesus was in a cell and he sent off his disciples to do the same. Cells are a delivery mechanism for Jesus Christ and the Gospel. And that is amazing. They teach us how to be Christians practically. They teach us to be the Bible. Jesus organized his whole life around his “cell” (his twelve disciples can be seen that way), and he developed a movement through it. His cell “multiplied” too. You can see some of that happening in Luke 10 when he sends out his seventy two disciples, two-by-two (like a cell leader and an apprentice). Jesus started the movement relationally, and we are continuing in that tradition. His disciples are planting cells all over the country side—Paul does a similar thing across the Mediterranean too.
Good for now? Maybe you have more to add.