Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 28 May 2017
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Go and Grow
The Bible book of Matthew ends with a stunning climax. After death and his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples, saying:
Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Because the risen Jesus now possesses all authority in heaven and on earth – because he conquered sin, death and the devil on the cross (dying on our behalf and then rising in triumph) – and because he is with us always (through the Holy Spirit that he is making dwell within us), we are to disciple all nations. We are to make all of humankind obey everything that we have learned from Jesus.
This is stunning – a grand vision at the end of Matthew (when the disciples are catching up with the risen Jesus) – breathtaking – but is even Toowoomba (let alone the whole world) waiting for any one of us – ready to listen to our instructions and obey Jesus? How do you disciple nations?
This morning, I want to reflect on some of God’s hands-on strategies – get into the practical side of discipling nations – and therefore take the following two points for granted: 1) We will only prevail if we remember our unceasing dependence on him. Jesus is the one that has all authority in heaven and on earth and we only live by his promise that he is with us always, to the very end of the age. 2) None of us will do anything or disciples anyone unless Jesus changes our heart and fills us with love and compassion for a lost world.
Matthew 9:35-38: Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
2 Corinthians 5:14-21: For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.] God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This morning, I take these two points for granted. We always depend on Jesus – 1) his authority and 2) his compelling love that motivates us. If this covered in our lives, then how does discipling nations look in practice?
Yonggi Cho, a pastor in Korea, had a good go (or God had a good go through him) at discipling the nation of Korea. And he has a story to tell about God giving him the strategy to be successful.
Originally, Pastor David Yonggi Cho (formerly known as Paul Yonggi Cho) had been nurturing the dream of building the largest church in Korea. Then, in 1961, he acted on this dream and began reaching out to new people. However, God did more than granting his wish. He made him the Senior Pastor of the largest church in the world. [John Allen, The Global War on Christians (New York: Image 2013), 68: “The largest single Christian congregation anywhere in the world is thought to be the Yoido Full Gospel Church….” The Economist, November 1, 2007 adds: “Yoido Full Gospel Church…boasts 830,000 members, a number it says is rising by 3,000 a month.”] In the heart of Seoul, the Yoido Full Gospel Church sits directly across from Korea's National Assembly.
A newspaper correspondent, Lucky Severson, observed [in 2012] that sixty years ago there were about 50,000 Christians in South Korea. Today it is more than 10 million [In 1900, only 1% of the country’s population was Christian, but in 1962 there were 5% and today about 30% of all South Koreans identify themselves as Christians], and almost one-in-ten were baptized in the Yoido Full Gospel Church where Pastor Cho, the founding pastor, served as the chairman of the board until 2011 [75 years of age then] (http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/475903.html).
How did all of this happen? God showed mercy by showing Yonggi Cho that there was a better way of leading a church than he thought and practiced. At first (actually for a long time), Yonggi Cho didn’t want to listen – was kicking and screaming all the way – but God persisted and blessed him.
Here is his story (tell in abbreviated form):
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p4-47: By 1964 we were behind schedule, compared with my request to God for 3,000 members. Our congregation had grown to 2,400, but I was already in big trouble. I still thought I was really accomplishing great things for the Lord, rushing around from early morning until late in the evening, but my nerves were beginning to wear out. I suffered from constant fatigue, yet I continued to force myself to keep the church moving. I preached, I counseled, I visited the sick, I knocked on doors—I was always on the move.
[Fatigue, collapse and ten years of sickness:] The crisis came one Sunday following the second morning service. We were scheduled to baptize 300 people. (According to our custom, we held believers’ baptism only twice a year.) Dr. John Hurston, an American missionary who was helping me to pastor the church, was there to assist me. However, because of the attitude I had developed, believing I had to do everything myself, I had told John I would baptize each new member personally. Considering myself a “specially chosen vessel of God,” I thought God could bless these people only through me.
But John saw that I was already tired, as I went down into the water to receive the first member. “Cho, you’d better let me give you a hand,” he said.
“No, no, I’m all right,” I protested.
But I did not even dare think about the huge crowd of people waiting to be baptized. I took them one at a time, calling out, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” as I lowered them into the water. Then, of course, I had to lift them out again.
I managed quite well with the first few people, but then came some ladies who were a little plump, and it really took a lot of effort for me to support them and lift them back out of the water. It was not long until I really began to feel the exhaustion, and I could feel the muscles in my arms begin to tremble.
At that point John Hurston said, “Cho, you look a little pale. Are you all right?”
“I’m okay,” I said, nodding vigorously to emphasize my determination.
“No, I think you need to rest for a while,” he persisted. “Come on out of the water and let me take over until you get your strength back.”
“I told you I’m all right,” I said firmly.
He nodded doubtfully. I knew he wasn’t convinced. In my mind I asked the Lord to strengthen me.
To this day I don’t know whether He actually did or whether I simply forced myself to stay on my feet through sheer willpower, but I held up through all 300 baptisms. By the time the last person left the water, I was dizzy and almost delirious.
Exhausted as I was, my work was not over. That afternoon I was scheduled to meet a visiting evangelist from the United States, and that evening I would be his interpreter.
Again John was concerned for my health, and he said to me, “You look so tired. Please rest this afternoon, and I’ll go to the airport.”
I shook my head. “He’s expecting me,” I said. I did not want to give up even one of my responsibilities as pastor.
So without even eating lunch, I drove out to the airport, greeted the evangelist and drove him to his hotel. All the while my legs were quivering whenever I stood up. Then I managed a short rest before I had to pick him up and drive him to the church.
At the beginning of the evening service some of the deacons joined John Hurston in expressing concern for my health. “Pastor Cho,” one of them said, “you look so haggard. You cannot possibly interpret tonight. Let me go and find another interpreter.”
But, I thought, who could interpret this man’s message instead of me? God’s power was flowing through me, and I was the only one who could interpret properly.
“No, I will be all right,” I assured them.
So the evangelist began to speak, and right away I knew I was in trouble. He was a typical fiery Pentecostal preacher, and he began to jump around and shout so much that, as an interpreter, I had a difficult time following him. He had the anointing, and I did not.
To compensate for my own lack of anointing, I began to try to put a little more expressiveness into my voice, and it was not long until I was shouting out the interpretation to every sentence. The evangelist glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, and then he, too, began to shriek and shout. Soon we were both shrieking and shouting, and jumping all around the podium.
By the time we were about a half hour into his message, I began to feel terrible cramps around my heart. I couldn’t breathe. My knees were trembling. Finally, my body could take no more and, against every effort of my will, I simply began to sag. Although I could still hear the evangelist shouting as my knees began to collapse, it seemed as though my eyes had suddenly been switched off. Everything went black.
As I was going down, I remember saying to God, “Lord, why are you punishing me publicly? You could have done this to me privately, in my office.”
My eyes cleared as I lay there, and I looked up at John and said, “John, I’m dying.” My heart seemed to be trembling, and I struggled for breath—my whole system seemed to be crying out for oxygen. Finally, I lost consciousness.
Meanwhile, the congregation was praying for me, but the visiting evangelist was left standing there at the podium, momentarily forgotten. Embarrassed, he simply looked on helplessly. There was nothing he could do; he had lost his mouthpiece.
When I regained consciousness, I struggled to my feet and feebly made my way back to the podium. The only thing I knew to do was dismiss the service, and I did. Then the deacons carried me out to an ambulance, and I was taken to the hospital.
In the emergency room I felt humiliated. I was the pastor who prayed for the sick, and the sick became well. What was I doing here? My ego simply could not accept it. I began to claim my healing; that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I expected the Lord to perform a miracle and send me home from the hospital.
“Take me out of this hospital,” I cried. “I’m trusting the Word of God! By His stripes I am healed! I won’t accept any injection. Don’t give me any medicine.”
The doctors finally gave up and the deacons drove me home.
But God was not ready to heal me. I continued to claim all the promises for healing in the Bible. If anybody ever claimed the Word of God, I did. I was a bachelor at the time, and I would sit up in my bed in my apartment and claim all of the Scriptures I could find concerning healing. I kept quoting them and quoting them, saying, “God, this is your promise. You cannot deny yourself! I claim it! In the name of Jesus, I’m healed!”
But I got no better. My heart continued to feel cramped, and I struggled to breathe. There were several doctors among the deacons of our church, and they offered to help, but I refused. “I’m standing on the Word of God,” I said.
As I look back on that now, I realize I had only head faith at that time, not heart faith. Head faith cannot claim anything. I was claiming only the logos, which is the general Word of God. I have since learned that it is only when the Holy Spirit gives specific confirmation (rhema, the revealed Word of God to an individual) that we can claim any of those promises as our own. Then our faith becomes heart faith, and with that kind of faith we can move mountains.
I didn’t know that then, so I just kept on claiming those promises, using head faith. I tried to ignore the symptoms. Never mind the fact that I couldn’t even get out of bed. I tried to ignore the presence of death I sensed in my room. I would not give up.
The following Sunday I asked the deacons to take me to the church so that I could preach. I was so weak I couldn’t leave the house for fear of fainting, and I needed a housekeeper to take care of me, but I still insisted on carrying out my responsibilities as pastor of the church. (In my absence, Dr. John Hurston and the woman who was to become my mother-in-law, the Rev. Jashil Choi, were carrying out many of the pastoral duties.)
After the deacons helped me to the podium, I stood in front of the anxious congregation. My body trembled all over. I began to preach in a very weak voice, speaking slowly and halting after every few sentences. I lasted for only eight minutes. Then I fainted.
The deacons took me to my office, and, when I awoke, I began to claim the promises of God again: “By His stripes I am healed … He took my infirmities and carried away my sickness. . .”
I tried to exercise blind faith, yet in my heart I had no confirmation from the Holy Spirit that I was going to be healed.
“Take me up to the second service,” I told the deacons. “I am going to depend upon the Lord to give me strength.”
At the second service I stood weakly at the podium and prayed, “Lord, now I am exercising faith, standing on your Word. Strengthen me.”
This time I was able to preach for only five minutes before I fainted. Later, after the deacons took me home, I felt certain at last that I really was dying.
But then something happened within me. God seemed to be trying to reach me, telling me I couldn’t just go on claiming all those promises blindly. I had never asked Him what His will was in my situation. In fact, until then I had never considered the possibility that God might choose not to heal me.
“Father,” I said, “you gave all of these promises to us. But I claim them and you don’t heal me. Aren’t you going to heal me?”
Then I was startled by the very distinct voice of God: “Son, I am going to heal you, but the healing is going to take ten years.”
It had not been an audible voice, but it was so clear that I knew I had not been mistaken. I was shaken. It was as though God had passed sentence on me, and yet there was a kind of peace in my trembling heart. I wanted to argue, but I knew I could not argue with God.
For the next ten years, from 1964 to 1974, I felt as though I were dying at every moment. It has become clear to me that an arrogant man pays a very high price—a hardened heart is very hard to break. I had wanted to be broken in an instant; instead it took ten years to destroy “the Great Cho,” as I had come to consider myself.
It is difficult to describe the suffering I endured. Each morning when I woke up I would immediately feel my heart palpitating. There was a burning feeling of death that would begin to creep up from my toes, and I would say to myself, “Oh, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it today.” But then I would think of God’s promise to heal me, and I knew I was not going to die that day. So I would get out of bed, perspiring and dizzy and gasping for air, and take the medicine I now knew I needed.
Convinced of his own importance and indispensable need to control everything, Yonggi Cho thought that with his health problems, his work and church were finished. How can you become the largest church in the country – let alone be the world – when you are not even strong enough to pastor the 2,400 which Yonggi Cho had at the time?
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p4-47: [Strategy of cell groups:] My dream of having the largest church in Korea flashed before my eyes. How could I ever reach such a goal, I wondered, when I couldn’t even pastor a church of 2,400 members?
But God said He was going to heal me, so I was not ready to give up. Even though I was too weak to stand at the podium and preach a sermon, I insisted that the deacons help me to the platform so that I could sit there while John Hurston preached.
As I continued on in this desperate state, I gradually became aware that God might have a higher purpose in my suffering, and I knew I needed to become more open to His leading. It was only then that He was able to begin unfolding His plan for me and for Full Gospel Central Church.
It was about a month after my collapse when God began to get through to me that I had been wrong in the methods I had been using to pastor our church.
I was flat on my back in my apartment. I was determined not to give up my ministry, yet I was completely unable to carry it out. John Hurston and Mrs. Choi were carrying the load, but with 2,400 members they were unable to minister to all of the needs of the people. John was not fluent in Korean, and therefore he was able to counsel and pray with very few of the members. Because Mrs. Choi was a woman, the men were reluctant to seek her counsel.
On top of that, Korea was still a poor country, and our members were having a difficult time paying the financial expenses of our growing congregation. Somehow I knew I needed to mobilize more people and get more lay members involved in the ministry of the church, but I didn’t know how. Besides, I didn’t know if asking them was justified.
In my state of exhaustion there didn’t seem to be much that I could do. I was in bed most of the time, in and out of depression, feeling like a pile of broken junk. I couldn’t leave my apartment unassisted for fear I might faint on the street.
I had fallen into the routine of napping and praying, napping and praying, fighting back at that feeling of creeping death and meditating on God’s purpose in leaving me in this predicament. That led me into a number of intense Bible studies that were to prepare me for the time when God could begin to use me.
Before He could give me the full revelation, however, He took me through two preliminary Bible studies. The first was on divine healing. I had preached about divine healing with real conviction and had seen many people healed. Yet I seemed unable to muster the faith to be healed myself, and I realized I did not have a sound scriptural understanding of the topic.
The second subject was the need to have intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
Both of these studies led me to write books. The first was entitled Jesus Christ, the Divine Healer, and the second was called simply The Holy Spirit. Through these studies I grew in my own faith and understanding. I found the study on the Holy Spirit especially revealing.
For instance, as I studied the Bible, I saw that, although we are told to have fellowship with the Father and with the Son, we are to have “communion” with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14). I learned that communion goes deeper than fellowship. One dictionary defines communion as “an intimate relationship with deep understanding,” and another says it is “the act of sharing one’s thoughts and emotions with another.”
In my need, God spoke to me of the necessity for having communion with the Holy Spirit—to have intimate fellowship with Him, to share my deepest thoughts and emotions with Him.
“Think of a marriage,” the Lord said to me. “When a man marries a woman, he doesn’t just bring her into his house and leave her there. He doesn’t treat her as just a ‘thing’ in his house. No, he loves her and shares his life with her—intimately. That is the kind of relationship you are to have with the Holy Spirit.”
During the year from 1964 to 1965 I continued to be terribly ill, spending most of my time in bed, but during that time my fellowship with the Holy Spirit began to deepen and take on the characteristics of communion. I finished both of those books, and they went on to become best sellers in Korea, and later in Japan.
But those studies were only preliminary to the real revelation God wanted to give me. That revelation was to have the most powerful effect on my ministry. Simply stated, the Lord wanted to show me that I needed to delegate responsibility in the church.
As I lay there on my bed, wondering how I would ever again be able to manage the congregation of Full Gospel Central Church (let alone an even larger one), I asked the Holy Spirit, “Lord, what can I do?”
Suddenly I felt the Spirit speaking to my heart: “Let my people go and grow.”
I was stunned and puzzled. What did that mean?
He continued, “Let my people go from the kingdom of Yonggi Cho, but let them grow.”
“What do you mean, ‘Let them grow’?” I asked.
“Help them to stand on their own feet. Help them to carry out ministry.”
That made me really begin to search the Scriptures. I came to Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, and that gave me courage. In Eph. 4:11 it said that God “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (NIV).
Then I saw it. God’s servants (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) are given to the Church to equip the lay people, so the lay people can carry out ministry, both inside and outside the Church.
Next, I read in Acts 2:46-47 that there were two types of meetings in the early church. Not only did the disciples gather regularly at the Temple, but they also met together daily in their homes to break bread and to have fellowship.
I knew that in the early days of the Church there were 100,000 Christians in Jerusalem, out of a population of 200,000. Who could have taken care of all those people, since there were only twelve apostles? How could they take care of the house-to-house ministry? There had to be leaders of smaller groups—of house fellowships. Together with the seven deacons (Acts 6), the lay leaders would have had to share the responsibility of carrying out house-to-house ministry.
Until then my idea of the church was always a public building; I had never even considered the possibility of turning a house into a church. Yet the Bible clearly and specifically mentioned the church meeting in houses.
And I thought to myself, here I have been stressing only a temple ministry. We have no house-to-house ministry. I’ve just been telling our people to come to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. There is something we have been lacking.
My study carried me on to the sixth chapter of Acts, where the apostles chose seven deacons to minister to the physical needs of the growing congregation, while the apostles limited themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word. But after the stoning of one of the deacons, Stephen, the church was scattered. Then even the deacons became preachers, as is evident from Philip’s evangelism campaign to Samaria in Acts 8. The apostles had delegated not only the authority to minister to physical needs but also the authority to preach.
As I surveyed Acts, I saw that in addition to the 3,000 people added to the church on Pentecost, 5,000 more were added the following day. Yet there were only twelve apostles and seven deacons. Therefore, the only way for the believers to be taken care of in the house meetings was for each of those fellowships—or cell groups—to have a leader. The church, then, was well-organized to minister to the needs of a growing congregation.
“That’s it!” I said to myself. It made sense. How else could the early church have absorbed 3,000 converts on the first day, when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers in the Upper Room on Pentecost? The needs of those people were taken care of in the homes, not in the Temple.
As I continued to read, I saw that other churches were mentioned as meeting in houses—the church in the house of Lydia (Acts 16:40), the church in the house of Priscilla and Aquilla (Rom. 16:3-5) and the church in the house of Philemon (Philemon 2). Clearly there was much scriptural support for home meetings.
Next, I was drawn to Exodus 18 and Moses’ struggles in trying to judge the Israelites in the wilderness. He would sit before them from mourning until night, listening to their disputes and judging their cases. His father-in-law, Jethro, saw that it was too much for him, and he showed Moses how to delegate authority so that he would not wear himself out trying to meet the needs of all those in his charge.
“But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God,” Jethro told him, “trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you” (Exod. 18:21-22, NIV).
I began to see that delegation of authority is definitely part of the will of God.
Gradually the idea began to form in my mind: Suppose I released my deacons to open their homes as house churches. Suppose they taught the people, prayed for them to be healed and helped them, and suppose the people helped one another in the same way in those home cell groups. The church could flourish in the homes, and the members could even evangelize by inviting their friends and neighbors to the meetings. Then on Sunday they could bring them to the church building for the worship service. That would exempt me from laboring in visiting and counseling, and other such time-consuming work. I would be free to be the pastor—to teach and preach and equip the lay leaders for ministry.
In the space of three weeks I had a whole new plan for our church. But I knew I would still have to get it accepted by the board of deacons, and I would have to make a good presentation—the deacons were already worried about my leadership.
Soon thereafter I was able to get up from my bed, but I was still very weak and had to struggle to stay on my feet. I went to the doctor, who told me, “You have a very weak heart, and your whole system is very weak. You’re suffering from nervous exhaustion, and the only advice I can give you is to give up the ministry. It’s too much for you.”
“Isn’t there some medicine I can take?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “There is actually nothing physically wrong with you. You have simply been working too hard. Your heart palpitations and your weakness are a reaction to overwork. The illness is strictly psychosomatic. I can’t give you any medicine. It wouldn’t do any good. You will have to find another profession that is less taxing on you emotionally.”
It sounded like a death sentence to my ministry, but I was not willing to give up. God had promised to build a church through me, and He had promised to heal me, although the healing would take ten years. I would believe Him instead of the doctor.
God gave Yonggi Cho revelation. He had to delegate authority. And there is more to church than coming together on a Sunday morning. In the Bible (Acts 2:46-47), there were two types of church meetings – the large one where everyone came together (temple) and many smaller ones where people met together daily in their homes to break bread and to have fellowship. This was exciting. This was a way out for Yonggi Cho and it came straight from the Bible.
Acts 2:41-47: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
When the disciples began discipling nations in Jerusalem, two kinds of meetings were part of the church growing strategy: 1) One large assembly where everyone comes together to listen to the apostles’ teaching at the temple (there would have been tens of thousands), and 2) smaller (and more intimate) meetings in people’s houses. In this way, it was possible for God’s people to go and grow. The apostles did not have to do everything by themselves but everyone was active in discipling and loving people in their homes.
God made Yonggi Cho rediscover this old strategy in the Bible. When he saw and understood the principles, he was immediately certain that it was going to work but nothing is ever easy.
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p4-47: I was only twenty-eight years old, but my body was a wreck. The doctor had told me to give up preaching and choose some other profession. But despite the condition of my body, I felt tremendous excitement. God had spoken to me out of His Word during those days I lay on my bed. He had unveiled a whole plan to me for restructuring our church so that I would not have to carry the ministerial load alone. I was eager to put it into practice, because I was convinced it would work.
However, I could not simply go back to the church and order the members to implement the plan. Our church had 2,400 members, and it had a board of deacons that would have to approve any changes in the structure or in the ministry of the church.
“Lord, this is your plan,” I prayed. “How can they fail to accept it, since it’s your will?”
I was confident there would be no opposition.
A month after I was back on my feet, I called the deacon board together and said, “As you know, I am very sick, and I can’t carry out all the work of the church, especially counseling and home visitation. And I cannot pray for the sick or even pray with people to be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
I told them the things God had revealed to me in Scripture, and I said I was releasing them to carry out the ministry. I told them they needed to stand on their own feet. Then I presented the plan as God had given it to me. I showed the deacons how home cell meetings would work, and I laid out all of the scriptural support I had for this new system.
“Yes, you do have a good biblical argument,” one of the deacons said. “This kind of arrangement would seem to be of the Lord. But we have not been trained to do the kinds of things you do. That’s why we pay you to be our pastor.”
“I am a busy man,” said another deacon. “When I return home from work, I’m tired, and I need the privacy of my home. I would not be able to lead a home meeting.”
There was not much other comment. Everyone basically agreed that the idea was scripturally sound, but they didn’t see how it could work at Full Gospel Central Church. There seemed to be no way I could motivate them. No one got angry; they were simply convinced it couldn’t be done.
After the meeting I began to have all sorts of doubts about my ministry again. I was certain I knew what the deacons were thinking, even though they didn’t express themselves during the meeting. They were thinking that they were paying me to do a job that I now was asking them to do for nothing. I began to fear that they would resent me for trying to maneuver them into doing my work, using my illness as an excuse.
The deacons seemed to have no compassion, I thought. No one had said anything about wanting a new pastor, but I began to hear some secondhand reports from members of the congregation that the deacons would not refuse my resignation if I should choose to submit it.
Yonggi Cho had something from God and how can something from God be resisted? The deacons even acknowledged that this plan seemed to be of the Lord and was based on the Bible. But they concluded that it could not be done, because they had neither time nor training or energy to step into doing the ministry (share the Word, counsel, pray for the sick and fill people with the Holy Spirit) themselves. The deacons were unanimous and Yonggi Cho feared that they were now beginning to look for his replacement – a pastor that would do his job and not expect others to do it for him.
What can you do when you are sick and all the deacons are against your plan? It’s just perfect for God. He can finally do what no one would even have considered.
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p4-47: [Strategy of using women:] I was still extremely weak and subject to fainting spells, and the reaction of the deacons was a real setback. What was I to do? I sought out the one person in whom I had always felt I could confide, Mrs. Choi. I told her the whole story.
“We must seek the Lord on this,” she said simply. “Let’s pray together.”
After a period of prayer and searching the Scriptures, Mrs. Choi and I were discussing the various alternatives to implementing the home cell group plan, and together we hit upon the idea of using the women of the church.
As we continued to pray about it, while I poured my heart out to the Lord, Mrs. Choi said, “I believe God has revealed this way to us because it is His way. I believe we should call the deaconesses together and present the plan to them.”
I shook my head. How was this possible? Who would accept it? This was Seoul, Korea, not the United States. There is no feminist movement in Korea, for we have an Oriental culture that decisively puts women in a subordinate role throughout society. For thousands of years, Korean women have been subject to their husbands. Women have never done any big job, either in society or in the church. It was difficult for me even to think of delegating authority to women. How could they possibly lead home fellowship meetings? The men would rebel! Besides, didn’t the Scriptures themselves say that women should keep silent in the church? That is what Paul had written in his letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:11).
As an Oriental, I had a special understanding of Paul’s instruction to Timothy. Paul had been writing from an Oriental understanding. When I read his admonition that the women should keep silent, I related it to our own Korean society. In many churches in Korea it had been the custom to separate the men from the women in the worship services. The men would sit on the right as they entered the church, and the women would sit on the left. A large curtain was strung down the center aisle so that they could not even see one another.
But when a service was about to draw to a close, some of the overeager women would begin to whisper through the curtain to their husbands: “Are you there? Are you ready to go? Meet me outside right after the service!” Sometimes the women would cause such a disturbance that the preacher would have to say, “Ladies, please keep silent until you are outside the church!”
And when Paul talked about Sarah calling Abraham “lord,” I knew what that meant too. Even today in Oriental society, a wife will refer to her husband as her “lord.” If she does not do that, she will have insulted him. If you ask a Korean woman how her husband’s health is, she will reply, “My lord is well, thank you.”
So, as I thought about using women in the church, all of these things were appearing in my mind, and I prayed, “God, you are really going to destroy our church with this kind of idea. If I ever tried to mobilize women and encouraged them to carry out the church business, the whole church would turn against me. All of Korean society would turn against me. I would be shut out completely.”
Then the Lord distinctly answered me: “Yes, that is your idea. My idea is to use the women.”
“Lord, if you really want me to use women, you’ll have to prove it to me from Scripture,” I said.
Then I went home. Because of my weakness, I had to get some rest.
During the next few days I constantly searched the Scriptures and asked God to reveal to me the verses that would support the use of women in the ministry. Gradually a new picture began to take shape. I began to see that Paul was not a male chauvinist after all. He frequently used women in his ministry, but only if they were under his authority. The literal translation of Rom. 16:1 calls Phoebe a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea; that means she had a responsible position in the church—but under Paul’s authority. By his commending her to the church at Rome, it was clear he was commending her not just as a servant but as a preacher. Paul had delegated to her the authority to preach, and to me that meant she was free to minister.
Then in Rom. 16:3 Paul mentions Priscilla and Aquila and talks about the “church that is in their house” (verse 5). Who would the preacher have been in that house? Again I could draw on my Oriental background, because in the Oriental custom the leader is always mentioned first. The order in which Priscilla and Aquila were mentioned had nothing to do with “ladies before gentlemen.” When a Westerner goes into the home of an Oriental, if he greets the wife before the husband, he is really bringing disgrace to that family. In fact, it is customary upon entering a Korean house, even when the husband is not at home, for the visitor to say to the wife first, “How is your husband?” Then the visitor is free to ask the wife, “How are you?” The husband always comes first; he is the head of the house.
Also in Korea we do not say, “Ladies and gentlemen.” That would immediately cause trouble. Instead we say, “Gentlemen and ladies.” In Korea the man does not stand back and hold open a door for a woman, but the woman waits and follows the man through the door. This is Oriental custom.
So when Paul talks about “Priscilla and Aquila,” the order in which he mentions them must be judged against the Oriental culture in which he lived. Priscilla was the wife of Aquila, but when the Holy Spirit led Paul to mention Priscilla first, it means that Priscilla was the leader in the house church. Priscilla was the “pastor,” as it were, and Aquila was the assistant, and she could pastor the home church because Paul had delegated his authority to her, not to Aquila.
Verse 6 says, “Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you” (NIV). Mary here is mentioned among the laborers for God, and that does not mean she was working in the kitchen, or changing children’s diapers. The women Paul mentions were laboring together with him to preach the gospel! That includes Tryphena and Tryphosa, two women mentioned in verse 12, who are called “workers in the Lord” (NASB), not workers in the kitchen. In the same verse Paul mentions Persis, who “worked hard in the Lord.”
How do people labor in the Lord? They do it by witnessing, praying with people, preaching and helping spiritually.
This showed me very clearly that God was using women in the New Testament, but it was always under a man’s authority. For instance, Paul writes that when a woman prophesies (1 Cor. 11:5) she should have her head covered; otherwise she disgraces her head. That means women were free to prophesy, and prophecy is a form of preaching. But in their prophesying they had to demonstrate that they were under men’s authority.
Then the Lord began to speak to me: “Yonggi Cho, from whom was I born?”
“From woman, Lord,” I responded.
“And on whose lap was I nurtured?”
“And who followed me throughout my ministry and helped to meet my needs?”
“Women,” I said.
“Who stayed until the last minutes of my crucifixion?”
“And who came to anoint my body in the tomb?”
“Who were the first witnesses to my resurrection?”
“And to whom did I give the first message after my resurrection?”
“Mary Magdalene, a woman.”
“To all of my questions you have answered, ‘Woman.’ Then why are you afraid of women? During my earthly ministry I was surrounded by dear, wonderful women. So why shouldn’t my body, the Church, be surrounded and supported by women as well?”
What else could I do? The Lord had made it clear to me that it was His will to use women in the Church. The following week I called a meeting of the Women’s Missionary Association, and about twenty women, all deaconesses, waited to hear what I had to say. I explained the situation to them, telling them honestly about my health problems and explaining the revelation and the scriptural confirmation that Jashil Choi and I had received.
At the previous meeting of the deacons, the men had been so logical and rational in their responses, but here the women were compassionate. All of them were concerned about my health, and they unanimously agreed to follow my direction. Mrs. Choi accepted the responsibility for organizing the work, because I was too sick to do it. Under her direction, the city of Seoul was divided into twenty districts, corresponding to the number of women who had agreed to lead home cell meetings.
I did make one requirement of the women. I asked Mrs. Choi and all of the leaders to wear caps to signify they were under my authority, just as Paul had ordered that a woman must have her head covered when she prophesies. To everyone in the church it would indicate that the women were speaking not on their own authority but on mine.
Women as cell group leaders! This was outrageous in a male-dominated country as Korea, and Yonggi Cho told God that it would not work and destroy the church. However, what choice did he have? [Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p85: Another thing I learned about the cell-group churches in China is that 99 percent of the leaders are women. They took the leadership when the men were afraid to expose themselves as Christians.] This is what happened.
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p4-47: I went back to my apartment that night, still as sick as ever, but with a wonderful feeling inside that God was doing something in our church. I was beginning to think that at last my worries were over.
Well, God was doing something in our church, but my troubles certainly had not come to an end. I had not been prepared for Satan’s counterattack.
On the Sunday after my meeting with the women, I unveiled the plan to the congregation. Again I went through the whole story of how the Lord had led me through the Scriptures to show us the need to establish home cell groups. I explained all of the verses that showed it was scriptural to delegate authority to women to lead these meetings.
“This is not my plan for the church, but it is God’s plan,” I emphasized. “Therefore, it is necessary for all of you to participate. The church is being divided into twenty districts, and each of you is to go to a district home cell meeting this week.”
We handed out papers to everyone, showing them when and where their cell meetings were to be held.
Perhaps I was naive, but I actually thought most of the people would cooperate by attending the first meeting. I was wrong. There turned out to be a lot of opposition. Many argued that they didn’t have time for an “extra meeting.” The men protested about having to sit under the teaching of a woman, but I had expected that. What I had not expected was the reluctance of many of the women as well. After all, they said, hadn’t they always been taught that it was the men who were in authority? They expected to be taught by men.
That first week it really seemed as though all hell were breaking out in my church, so strong did the rebellion appear. Of our 2,400 members, only about 400 to 600 attended the twenty neighborhood cell meetings. There were from twenty to thirty members in each meeting. No one seemed to know exactly what to expect or how to act, and the women leaders had to devise their own lessons to teach the groups. (I had given them no guidelines, simply because I did not have any guidelines to give them. I had made only two suggestions: Watch the Christians to see that they don’t backslide, and go out and win your neighbors for Jesus Christ.)
The strongest objections came from the men, of course. They refused to allow a woman to lay hands on them for healing or to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. One woman was nearly beaten up by her husband for that. They also complained that the meetings were disorganized.
The following Sunday I emphasized even more strongly that the women were under my authority, and that they were speaking for me in the cell group meetings. That seemed to soothe many of the members, and after that those who were genuinely committed in their Christian faith submitted to the program. Of course, there were still quite a few cantankerous members who refused to have anything to do with the home cell groups. They tried to undermine the plan by urging others to stay away from the meetings. Many, I’m sure, felt I was trying to exert too much authority on the church.
The second week, attendance increased. Even though I had given no guidelines and was providing virtually no direct leadership, people were finding meaning in the meetings. But without direction, the women leaders were having great difficulty trying to find their own way. I was not prepared for some of the things they were doing.
For one thing, I had given the women no training to teach; I had not grounded them in sound doctrine. One leader did not even understand the doctrine of the Trinity, and she was teaching in her group that Christians worship three Gods: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. She thought Jesus and the Holy Spirit were lesser Gods under the Father. Another taught that a person is not saved until he speaks in tongues. And a third leader said the form of baptism does not matter. (Our denomination prescribes water baptism by immersion.)
So the women were doing whatever they liked, and the whole church was in turmoil.
“Yes, just as I expected,” I said. I was convinced that our church was about to be destroyed, just as I had told the Lord it would be.
Yet I heard the Holy Spirit gently speaking to me, saying, “Yes, there is chaos, but remember that the whole earth was created out of chaos, and all good things come out of chaos. Stick with it.”
I found that some of the women actually were doing a very good job. They were going out into their neighborhoods and finding people who had some kind of need, and they were succeeding in bringing them into the cell groups and winning them to Christ. They organized good cell meetings and had a good service. I called these successful leaders into my office and asked them their secret. I found that those who were successful had had some kind of training.
“Pastor, you can’t just release all of these women to lead and not give them any training,” one of the women said to me. “You have to train them. You have delegated your authority to us. You should delegate your sermons too. You should not let any of us preach our own sermons.”
I could see that she was right, and so that very day I began to write out my sermon notes and distribute them to the cell leaders. I called a meeting of all the leaders for every Wednesday, and at the meeting I would distribute the notes and explain them, and tell the women what I wanted them to teach. I even organized an order of worship for the cell meetings: There would be opening prayers and singing, followed by a representative (or corporate) prayer, preaching from the Word of God for encouragement (using my sermon outline), and then an offering. The meeting would end with testimonies, prayers for healing and the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and a closing prayer.
In less than a month after the start of home cell groups at Full Gospel Central Church, order was beginning to come to the meetings. I thought all the problems were solved. But they were not. One by one, six other major problems surfaced …
Yonggi Cho had heard from God about implementing cell groups with most of them being led by women, but the beginnings were hard. There were cultural objections about women in leadership. It was disorganized. Leaders had no training and people lacked motivation to make time for an extra meeting. And the troubles seemed to be ongoing.
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p4-47: The second phase of problems occurred because of a lack of discipline. The cell meetings were growing, and the leaders were carrying out my program, teaching the Word, praying for needs and providing real fellowship, but they did not know when to stop. Soon the meetings took on the character of a party. Members would alternate as hosts, so that the meetings moved from house to house in each succeeding week. In one house the people would be treated to rice and kimchi (hot, spicy pickled vegetables), but the next week the new host would add fish to the menu, and the third week they would have steak. They began to compete with one another to show what good hosts they were. But soon some of the people became discouraged and depressed, afraid to have a cell meeting in their homes because they could not afford to put out a fancier spread of food than the previous hosts. In addition, these "party meetings" were lasting so long that wives were neglecting their household duties, and husbands were arriving late for work. The ministry and the message were being lost in all the partying. Finally, I established another rule: The leaders were to follow the order of service I had prescribed, and they were to conclude the meeting in one hour. The meetings were to begin and end on time. Food should be limited to tea and cookies.
Things improved, but still the meetings lasted too long. The tea and cookies were served at the beginning of the meeting, and the leaders could never seem to begin and end on time. Finally, after about six months, I asked them to postpone the refreshments until the end of the meeting. That seemed to restore order.
But other problems continued to surface. Most of them were not big things, such as the initial problems of teaching and lack of discipline, and they did not affect all of the cell groups. But they were serious enough for me to take corrective action.
The third phase of problems involved outside speakers. From time to time the cell group leaders wanted to take advantage of visiting evangelists and others, and they would invite them to come to speak at the cell meetings. Most of those speakers had their own self-propagating ministries, and they would expect to receive an offering wherever they went. So the cell groups would take up an offering for each for them without consulting me or the board of deacons. In addition, I did not really know who was being invited, since no one ever consulted me, and I found that I did not agree with some of the teachings I heard were coming from those speakers.
The only thing I could do was tell the cell group leaders that they were not to invite outside speakers without first consulting me, and they were not to take up an offering for anything except the work of our church.
Only the leaders were to do the teaching, basing their lessons on the outlines I distributed to them each week.
Although the problem of outside speakers was brought under control at that time, it still crops up every once in a while. Now, however, I have a system of checks and balances in the church, and such things do not go on without my knowledge.
Then came the fourth phase of troubles, and again it involved money. At some of the cell meetings members began to borrow money from one another, and some of them even charged interest! Not only that, but some members began to promote investment opportunities. So we had members investing money in businesses belonging to other members, and often they lost their whole investment because of poor business practices. That was another thing I had to stop, and so I did.
The fifth crisis in the development of home cell groups involved burgeoning attendance. As the cells began to grow, we had some groups with thirty to fifty families. During the meetings those members packed not only the living room and the bedrooms but they also spilled over into the yard. A single leader could not take care of all those people.
It was apparent something would have to be done to split the cells into smaller groups. So I worked out a plan to train assistant leaders for each fellowship, and then we divided the groups so that there would be no more than fifteen families in any one cell.
At first the families were reluctant to divide. Many of them had formed an attachment to the leader. But I told them that they had to understand the greater purpose of the cell groups, which was to evangelize the neighborhoods by providing a place to bring friends and neighbors so that they could be introduced to Jesus Christ.
Finally, I had to make it an established rule: They must divide when the group exceeded fifteen families. It was not easy, but slowly the members showed more cooperation, although some of them would attend both the new subdivided cell and their old one, because they felt a loyalty to the leader. It really took quite some time until there was full cooperation.
The sixth phase of problems was a very embarrassing one. An offering was taken in each of the cell meetings, and sometimes the leaders were tempted to borrow from the collection, since they did not have to turn it in to the church until Sunday. However, not all of the money that had been "borrowed" found its way to the church treasurer.
When I found out about this, I knew it was time to bring a little more formal organization to the home cell groups. I appointed a registrar and a treasurer in each of the cells. When the offering was taken each week, the registrar had the responsibility of counting it and keeping a record, and the treasurer held on to the money until it was to be turned over to the treasurer on Sunday. That way I always had somebody checking to see that there was complete honesty.
By now I saw the need for strict organization and for a system of checks and balances, so I could keep track of what was happening in the cells. I made up an information sheet that had to be filled out by each cell leader following the weekly meeting. On it the leaders would record the name of the speaker, attendance, the number who were saved, the number who backslid and the amount of the offering. With that I began to be able to see more clearly the direction in which the home fellowships were moving.
In fact, organization became a necessity. The cells were growing so fast that Mrs. Choi could not keep up with all the work of administration. She was doing most of it because I was still too sick. The cells quickly increased to 150, and we decided it was time to hire some assistant ministers. We hired three of them, and we put fifty home cell groups under each licensed minister.
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p4-47: But at least I felt that most of the major problems with our home cell groups had been solved. The groups were really beginning to show the marks of success. Members were inviting their neighbors to the meetings, and these people were meeting the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. The cells were growing and dividing, and more people were being added to the church every week. As the number of cells increased, we hired more licensed ministers and appointed more deacons and deaconesses to watch over them …
Yet with the healing I still have one major problem facing me—the seventh and final major assault from Satan to try to break up our thriving church. But that problem did not develop for another couple of years.
The first year we were at the new church on Yoido Island we gained 3,000 members. I began to encourage the cell groups to seek more members by going throughout their neighborhoods and sharing the good news of what God had done for them. I began to set goals for each of the cells, and for each district that was made up of a group of cells. As I continued to dream of the members I expected to fill the new building, God gave me the confirmation (rhema), and I would claim the growth—year by year, and even month by month. After several years we were winning 3,000 souls a month for Christ.
When the seventh major assault from Satan came, it was one of the worst I could have imagined. It is one that the women of the church never would have considered. The women were with me 100 percent. But some of the men in leadership began to let their responsibilities and their authority go to their heads. Three of the licensed ministers (each of whom had fifty home cell groups under his authority) began to feel that the members were loyal to them rather than to me or the church.
Those three licensed ministers decided to call their flocks of fifty cells each to split off from Full Gospel Central Church, to form their own churches. These churches had the potential for being quite sizable because each of those ministers actually was overseeing 2,000 members.
I plainly told the men that I did not approve of what they were doing. They were stealing my sheep! But they refused to listen to me, and they sent word to everyone in the cell groups under them not to worship at Full Gospel Central Church any longer on Sunday mornings. Instead they would have their own worship services in their own districts of the city. Of course, I sent word to the cell groups that I did not approve of this division.
The “split” lasted for about six months. When the separate Sunday meetings began, each of the three licensed ministers discovered he had only 300 to 500 members, rather than the 2,000 or so each had expected. But they went ahead and continued to meet separately, considering themselves to be newly established churches.
In the meantime, to take care of the remaining members of our congregation in those districts, I appointed new licensed ministers over the cell groups that remained loyal to Full Gospel Central Church.
Then gradually the members who had left the church began to drift back. By the end of six months those three ministers had so few followers that they were forced to give up and leave the city. Each of them now has a small church elsewhere in Korea, but the Lord has not blessed them as they had envisioned in the beginning.
The mistake made by those men was in thinking that, because I had delegated my authority to them, the people actually were following them. They were wrong. The people were following me.
Since then I have taken some steps to provide for those who have ambition among the men of our church. If a home cell leader wants to become a licensed minister, I will pay for his tuition to go to Bible school, with the stipulation that, upon graduation, he spend at least three years as one of the licensed ministers of our church. After that, if he still wants to have a church of his own, I will help him. I will provide him with a salary and enough expense money to start his own church elsewhere. But it must be a church to bring in new members, not to take members away from the mother church.
So far, seventy-five churches and missionary works have been started by members of Full Gospel Central Church in just this manner. They are all over the world, including Japan, Australia, the United States, Latin America and Europe.
Transforming the church into a church of cell groups was hard, and one problem after another was coming up: hosts competing with another and intimidating others, partying too long instead of having a church meeting, random guest-speakers with their claim on the cell group offering, bad business partnerships, resistance to dividing cells when they grew too big, “borrowing” money from the offering, and leaders trying to seduce people into following them instead of Yonggi Cho.
Which of these problems (do you think) may come up at Living Grace? I think that our biggest challenge will be sharing the same attitude as Yonggi Cho’s deacons. We are so busy. Where do we take the time or energy for an extra church meeting? Am I right? This is the chief reason why not all of us are in small groups, and this is why many small groups do not meet weekly. However, if small groups are God’s plan (as they were in Jerusalem and the early church), he will make them work, as he did in Yonggi Cho’s church.
Maybe the key is to understand the radical nature of becoming a church operating with cell groups. Most churches gage their size and effectiveness by the Sunday morning church attendance, and we want to know from others how many worship on a Sunday morning. However, a church of cell groups is asking a different question: “How many people attend your (weekly) cell group meetings?” The cell group meeting is more important than the Sunday morning attendance. Why? Because the heart-to-heart relationships – practical caring and sharing – happens in the cell groups, not in the big Sunday gathering of thousands where you can be inspired by some bigger vision and ministry but not really participate yourself. You can receive but not share in the work.
Yonggi Cho: Make Your Faith Work: The church membership had become so big and so vast that people could only have face-to-face fellowship. In the cell system, they can have heart-to-heart fellowship. In the cell groups they are called by their first names and they are treated like human beings.
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p49-54: One of the major problems of society today is the depersonalization of human beings. With the increases in population, everyone becomes just a face in the crowd. Many books have been written about the difficulties people are having trying to cope with this depersonalization, in which they see themselves only as numbers. They feel alienated, lonely, aimless.
This problem has also found its way into many of our churches, particularly the larger ones. Many of the dynamic larger churches have been built on the strong personal preaching ministry of an anointed man of God, whose teaching and encouragement are so needed by his parishioners. People are hungry for the Word of God and for the assurance that God considers them more than mere numbers. Yet while they are hearing words of encouragement from the pulpit, they are experiencing in church much the same thing as in secular life. They are merely spectators.
It is true that in many of these churches some of the members of the congregation are involved in a limited way in meaningful group activities and relationships. There are Bible studies and prayer groups, but usually only a small percentage of any congregation is involved in such groups. And sometimes in these groups there is little opportunity for personal involvement, particularly if the group is a formal Bible study class. The initial enthusiasm of new members gradually wears off, and eventually they become only Sunday Christians—even in some very "alive" churches.
Home cell groups, on the other hand, provide a real opportunity for people such as these to find meaningful involvement in the life of their church. Not everyone can be an elder or a deacon in a large church; not everyone can teach Sunday school or provide counseling. But with home cell groups there is an opportunity for everybody to become involved.
I like to describe Full Gospel Central Church as the smallest church in the world as well as the biggest church in the world. It is the biggest because, as of the writing of this book, our congregation numbers more than 150,000 people. But it is also the smallest church in the world—because every member is part of a home cell group consisting of fifteen families or fewer.
Each week these members gather in their neighborhood cell meetings, where they have an opportunity to worship the Lord, to pray together, to learn from the Word, to experience the working of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to see miracles and healings and to enjoy loving relationships with their fellow Christians. In the cell groups they are no longer numbers; they are people—individuals. A person who comes into the cell group discovers he is an "I" and not an it. The cell leader becomes a kind of pastor to him, although one who is responsible to the church. The cell leader knows each of the members of his group and can relate personally to their joys and problems with a kind of familiarity that a senior pastor cannot develop.
The Sunday services in our church are very structured, very traditional. The number of people in each service is usually about 15,000, and that limits the participation of each individual to the singing of hymns and to regulated times of congregational praise. Other than that, they are there to receive—to receive instruction from the message, to receive healing or assurance from the Lord. And they are there to enjoy the celebration and to give their offerings to God.
But in the home cell groups each one has an opportunity to be used by God to minister to the others in the group. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit distributes His gifts as He chooses (1 Cor. 12:11). In our cell groups, although the leader teaches from the Word of God, based on the church-approved outline, the other members have the opportunity to bring a word of prophecy, tongues and interpretation, a word of knowledge or a word of wisdom. Each member can pray for the sick and in faith believe God will hear his prayer and heal that person.
Above all, each person can become involved in the revival of his own neighborhood. I will discuss this in more detail in the next chapter, but let me say here that my members have found it extremely rewarding to share their love with unbelievers in their neighborhoods or in their apartment buildings, especially when the neighbors gladly accept an invitation to a home cell meeting. Every one of my members thus becomes a missionary to his own neighborhood and an agent for revival in that neighborhood.
The members of Full Gospel Central Church are enthusiastic. They are experiencing revival 365 days a year. Every church needs that kind of revival, and our members are experiencing it because they are actively involved in it.
No revival should be the product of a single personality. I do not claim to be responsible for the revival that is occurring in our church. In fact, the revival continues whether I am there or not, and at the present time I spend six months of the year traveling outside of Korea. The church experiences revival when I am not there because the Holy Spirit is able to use all of the members through the home cell groups. That means the revival will not die out after the span of my lifetime, not as long as the church adheres to the principles of home cell groups under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
There is much security for the members in the cell groups. Each one becomes a family member with the others of the group in a kind of community relationship that is more than a community. In the group each person is free to discuss his problems and seek counsel and prayer for them. In fact, the relationship goes beyond counsel and prayer; the members really take care of one another.
An illustration of just how much our members care for one another is the case of one family in which the husband has been out of work for a long time. The members of their cell group have helped to provide them with extra food from time to time, and even with necessary warm clothing. In fact, the group even took up a collection to help send one of this family's children to college!
Members of cell groups have gone to clean the houses of women in their group who have fallen ill. They have visited other members in the hospital, where they have prayed for healing and have brought tremendous encouragement. And when there is a death in the family of one of the members of the group, it is like a death in the cell group family; all of the members go to the aid of the family that experienced the loss, to mourn with them and to provide for their immediate needs.
It's a wonderful communal life. Each one is helping the other. When a member belongs to a home cell group, he knows he is loved and cared for, and that is the kind of security many people never find in churches that do not have cell groups.
Accordingly, cell groups are not just another program of the church but they are the church. In Yonggi Cho’s church, you cannot even become a church member without joining a cell group. Will our vision here at Living Grace go that far?
Yonggi Cho is rather insistent that the church will not go ahead unless the Senior Pastor makes cell groups his core focus:
Paul Yonggi Cho: Successful Home Cell Groups, New Jersey: Logos International, 1981, p107: There is only one way that the home cell group system will be successful in a church, if that system is to be used as a tool of evangelism. The pastor must be the key person involved. Without the pastor, the system will not hold together. It is a system, and a system must have a control point. The controlling factor in home cell groups is the pastor.
Yonggi Cho: Make Your Faith Work, Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications 1985, p77-78: To have a successful cell system, you must have vast logistics. You must have a training programme. You don’t appoint leaders at random. When you start a new cell, you must quickly appoint an assistant cell leader who needs to learn along with the main cell leaders.
The assistant must choose the proper time to attend our training course. In our church we have Lay Christians’ Bible School, Lay Christians’ Bible College and the Lay Christians’ Graduate Course for terms of six months to one year, but we are operating the schools both day and night. If they have free time in the day, they can come then. If they have free time in the evening, they can come then. On Sunday we operate the school for the entire day and they can choose the Sunday course so all cell leaders are accredited graduates of Bible school, Bible college and Bible graduate school and they are almost all better-educated than standard Bible school graduates.
I constantly trained and recruited them and supplied the material so we now publish the material for a whole year. Once they get that cell leader’s material, then we provide them with a weekly bulletin on which we have written our lessons so that they have the materials. Next, they need to be motivated. Even though you get them organised, if you don’t motivate them, they are not going to move.
The only way to motivate them is to give them clear-cut goals. If they don’t have a goal, they lose their sense of direction, so I ask them (I never force them but I always ask them), ‘Each cell leader, please do your best to lead one family to church every six months so that you lead two families in a year.’ Then, between five and ten families (when they concentrate with that goal to pray and help and love) find it is easy to lead one new family to church. One family usually consists of three to five members. If they gain three members in six months, then each cell is going to introduce six people a year. Multiply that by 20,000 and you get 120,000 new members without any fanfare.
Our evangelistic outreach programme is very solid. Hundreds of new souls are streaming into church every week because we give them quotas and they pray. Some people are against having quotas, but if they had none, the people who object would never work. Given a specific goal, the cell leaders will have a sense of direction, they will be motivated and they will always ascertain for themselves if they are arriving at their goals or not. When they have brainstorming sessions, then give them abundant praise. Build up their self-image. ‘You did it! Beautiful!’
Even in Korea many churches that have organized cell groups as a result of seeing the success of our church have found the system of no use to them because the pastor is not the central figure in it. Some of them think that just because I am traveling six months out of the year I cannot possibly be giving personal direction to the cell groups. But I really do. When I am traveling, I always record my messages for the cell leaders on video cassettes. The fellowship leaders need to feel they are a top priority of the church so they are motivated to work and take responsibility. If I don't give them that personal attention, they are not so motivated.
The pastor who decides to become involved in home cell groups needs to study this system thoroughly, or he will fail. And if he fails once, he will not be inclined to try it again. It is very important for him to attend a church where the cell system is operating successfully. Once he understands it clearly, then it is time for him to begin.
The first steps in establishing home cell groups are very important. Here are my recommendations for the pastor:
First, you should start small. Take a dozen key lay leaders and train them as cell leaders. Then have them form their own home cell meetings, and watch over them carefully for six to eight months. Once this group of cells has begun to bear fruit, it will be time to get the whole church involved.
Selecting the right lay leaders is essential. Success or failure can depend on them. The first thing the pastor should do is look for men and women who are Spirit-filled. If the leaders are not dependent on the Holy Spirit, they can actually begin to move counter to the work of the Holy Spirit. Here are some of the qualities I look for in cell leaders:
1 Enthusiasm. New Christians often make very good cell leaders, because they have just come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Older Christians often need to be reprogrammed before they will accept the cell system.
2 Testimony. Christians who have a clear, powerful testimony of what God has done for them are living proofs that the gospel does work today. Such Christians demonstrate the reality of the life of Christ, and others are drawn to them.
3 Dedication. You can usually tell whether a person is dedicated to the Lord and to your church by (a) his attendance record at church and at other meetings, including cell groups, (b) his tithing record, which is an essential part of his life of faith, and (c) his demonstrated commitment to unity in the life of the church. Those who are overcritical or out of step with the majority will not easily follow the pastor's directions for leading home cell groups.
4 Spirit-filled. Dependence upon the Holy Spirit is essential if a person is to lead the members of his cell group. In our church that means the leader must be baptized in the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Then we are assured of a person who can lead others to Christ and who can pray powerfully for the people's needs. This is particularly essential in praying for physical and spiritual healing.
5 Time and money. Although there is an axiom that, if you want a job done, give it to a busy person, that axiom does not apply to spiritual leadership. The busier a person is, the less time he is going to have to listen to and receive direction from the Holy Spirit. The best cell leaders are those who do not have to go to work outside the home; they usually have much more time for prayer and Bible study. The same holds true for those with enough money that they don't have to be concerned constantly about earning enough to live on; they too will have more time for prayer and Bible study. This does not mean we should not select poor people to lead home cell groups, however. If people meet all of the other qualifications, I am convinced they will make good cell leaders. And besides, they probably will not remain poor for long. I teach our people that when you go to work for the Lord you are not going to stay poor, because God is going to supply all your needs.
Once the leaders are selected, they need to be trained in leading meetings. First they must learn from the pastor so that they can pass on the pastor's teaching to those in the cell groups. It is essential that the teaching at cell meetings fit in with the overall program of teaching in the church. It is a good idea for cell group lessons to follow the pastor's Sunday sermon, perhaps to enlarge upon some of the most important points of that sermon.
I provide all of my cell leaders with a standard lesson each week. In an earlier chapter I mentioned the chaos that resulted from a lack of direction in the early days of cell groups in our church. That settled down when I began to write out the lesson plan for all of the cell meetings each week. I no longer have time to prepare individual lesson plans each week, but our church has adopted a standard Bible study course for cell groups similar to the standard Sunday school courses available in many churches.
Although I no longer prepare the individual lessons, I still take an active role in preparing the leaders. At first the leaders all met with me each Wednesday evening in place of the midweek prayer meeting to learn the next week's lesson. Later, when I could not be with them in person, I taught them via cassette tape. Now that our church has enlarged facilities, I teach them each week via video cassette. And each week the lesson outline appears in our church's weekly newspaper, so all of the members can prepare for the lesson in advance.
Yonggi Cho finishes his book “Make Your Faith Work” with another telling observation:
Yonggi Cho: Make Your Faith Work, Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications 1985, p87-88: Through the cell system you can draw a big number of souls. That is Peter’s ministry, but John was called while he was mending the nets and that is why you need a lot of associates. The associates are called to mend the broken cell system. Sometimes a cell leader dies or falls away. Then you need to appoint your associate over the broken group to mend the broken net. If you have that kind of ministry, then you can keep the cells growing constantly as long as you have associates that can go and mend the cells and make them strong again.
You just need to cast the net and gather the fish. Once they go through the cell, there will be no way for them to backslide. They are brought to church. In my experience I found that we had to pull them to church at least four times. Even though the new member was converted publicly, he needed to be taken to the church service a minimum of four times before he came by himself.
There is a reason why we lose so many people after they have made a public decision. When Billy Graham came to Korea, we had a wonderful service. Thirty thousand made decisions and our church received 100 decision cards. We began to visit them through the cell system. Amazingly, less than ten per cent of them volunteered to come to church. Most of them said, ‘We just went out to see Billy Graham because he was so close. We came out that day because we felt like that, but don’t visit us now.’
A public meeting can give a shock or a real awareness of the presence of the church to a whole unbelieving society, but the most effective way to get new people along is by personal touch. Personal soul-winning is still the way forward. Who will bring a sinner to church more than four times? If you don’t belong to a cell, no one is eager enough to do that. Bur when the cell leaders say, ‘You take that lady,’ or ‘You take that man,’ you will take him more than four times. You may pay his taxi fare, buy his lunch, everything! Then he will settle down in your church.
To make it effective you need John's ministry, Peter’s ministry of casting the net and you need Paul’s ministry to gather them together in the mother church and feed them. Then you will have a growing church. There will be no plateau where you have to stop. You will see lots of souls saved.
Sooner or later you will see a church spring up with hundreds of thousands of members if you will learn how to multiply your ministry through lay Christians. Who wouldn’t have revival with 20,000 unpaid associates?
If you can only learn this principle, then you will multiply your ministry a thousandfold. You will have enough workers and finances then to shake your city and your town. Lift up your head like Abraham and look to the north and south and east and west and claim your cities and your nations for the sake of Jesus Christ. The only hope for this generation is in Jesus Christ.
Cell groups have a number of fantastic advantages. I summarize them now:
· With cell groups, the church is not becoming dependent on the Senior Pastor, because the people are doing the work.
· Cell groups overcome the anonymity and isolation in larger gatherings, and provide a place for real heart-to-heart relationships.
· In small groups, people are no longer observers but become participants in ministry. Everyone has an opportunity to be used by God to minister to the others in the group.
· The cell group structure is simple, and can be multiplied indefinitely.
· People in small groups receive better individual care, follow-up and discipling than in most other systems.
· Cell groups are most effective in soul-winning, because they make personal connections.
The Bible assumes that much of the church has a small group dynamic where everyone participates:
1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
Colossians 3:16: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
This is Yonggi Cho’s story of discipling a nation (or making a large contribution to discipling a nation) through giving people a home in the largest church in the world. God made him rediscover the strategy of building a church like the one the apostles built in Jerusalem (immediately after Jesus ascended to heaven and gave them the Holy Spirit). There are two types of meetings: 1) One large assembly where everyone comes together to listen to the apostles’ teaching at the temple (there would have been tens of thousands of people), and 2) smaller (and more intimate) meetings in people’s houses.
This is a simple strategy and also allows for creativity and cultural sensitivity:
James Emery White: Church & Culture Blog, Vol. 12, No. 98, Three Questions Every Small Group Ministry Must Answer: Most churches have some kind of small group ministry, whether a traditional Sunday School format or small groups meeting on various days and times throughout the community.
Regardless of the type of small group ministry you may have, there are three foundational questions that must be settled for maximum effectiveness and clear focus – yet seldom are. And they are foundational questions because they speak to the heart of your philosophy of ministry.
Here they are: 1. Will we be a church of small groups, or a church with small groups?
If you are a church of small groups, then you are intentionally trying to have every single person in a small group unit. If you are a church with small groups, then you have a small group ministry available to any and all interested parties.
There was a season a few years back when some who espoused the “of” philosophy did so with a bit of spiritual arrogance. Groups, and being in one, was seen as a test of orthodoxy. The truth is that however much you might believe in the efficacy of being part of a small group, it is not a biblical directive. There is no “Thou shalt be grouped” in the Bible. Instead, you have reference to the “one anothers” – a series of directives that are meant to be played out in the church’s community. Small groups are one way of doing it, but only one. Small groups are a methodology; a means to an end. The key is the “one anothers,” not whether you have, or are in, a small group.
I think the reason I hear less of the “of” mantra of late is because while it sounded good, it was not realistic. I do not know of a single church outside of, say, South Korea (where the idea was first popularized to the Western church) where it has been achieved. The “meta model,” as it has often been called, just didn’t translate to American culture.
Further, many leaders have discovered a simple but important truth: Small groups are needed by people who need small groups. In other words, they aren’t for everyone. Those who like them and are served by them, swear by them.
Those that aren’t swear at them.
Many leaders are finding that what does reach the vast majority of attenders are serving teams. These are groups built around volunteer ministries that take time to connect with each other, and serve each other, as part of the serving experience. So a group of individuals preparing to serve on a Guest Services team would have a “huddle” on the front end, share prayer requests, introduce new members or celebrate new births.
At Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), we’ve made the decision to be a church with small groups. We find that there are many who find them immensely beneficial. Many more are served by a shortterm, 6week small group experience that equips them with friendships. Others are most comfortable with a serving team. But regardless, all are challenged to practice the “one anothers” in the context of community.
In Jerusalem, the church was free to come together and assemble. They had the apostles – the most gifted leadership people (for instance, the best preachers) – with them, and because they were available, all Christians came together in big gatherings receiving their ministry which was mature and amazing. And we do the same today. In Australia and many western countries, we are free to come together and our most gifted and mature leaders are available to us. We go to conferences and Sunday worship in bigger gatherings because we can and, for good reason, look forward to good leadership input at these gatherings. [I have the feeling that house churches which function apart from larger congregations and gatherings are not that popular in western countries because we have no need of confining ourselves and not gathering around the “apostles” among us.]
However, in the Bible circumstances changed. Persecution came and then we find a curious sentence in the Bible:
Acts 8:1-3: On that day [the killing of the first Christian, Stephen, by mob violence], a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
I don’t understand how the apostles, the senior leaders of the church, managed to stay behind in Jerusalem. Usually, they are targeted first in a persecution but suddenly, the church had to do without them and their leadership week by week. And the church not only managed but thrived in making Christians everywhere. Nations were beginning to be discipled. [The apostles had done their job of training the church and reproducing themselves.]
Acts 11:19-24: Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
It is almost as if the persecution in Jerusalem pushed the first Christians out of their cozy nest in Jerusalem and encouraged them to fly and soar in their own giftings and what they had learned. Right now, across the world – on all five continents – we can draw encouragement and inspiration from rapid church growth – rapid church planting movements that are outstripping population growth. I will give you a few glimpses of what is happening:
David Garrison: Church Planting Movement, Office of Overseas Operations International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, P.O. Box 6767 • Richmond, VA 23230-0767, https://sceuteam.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/garrison_cp_movements.pdf:
From every corner of the globe the reports are coming in. Only a few at first, but now more and more frequently, reinforcing one another with their startling accounts of hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands coming to faith in Christ, forming into churches and spreading their new-found faith.
When a strategy coordinator began his assignment in 1993, there were only three churches and 85 believers among a population of more than 7 million lost souls. Four years later there were more than 550 churches and nearly 55,000 believers.
In his weekly Friday sermon, an Arab Muslim cleric complained that more than 10,000 Muslims living in the surrounding mountains had apostatized from Islam and become Christians.
City in China
Over a four-year period (1993-1997), more than 20,000 people came to faith in Christ, resulting in more than 500 new churches.
Two Baptist unions overcame significant government persecution to grow from 235 churches in 1990 to more than 3,200 in 1998.
A strategy coordinator reports: “Around the end of 1996, we called around to the various churches in the area and got their count on how many had come to faith in that one year. When they were all added up, it came to 15,000 conversions to Christ in one year. The previous year we estimated only 200 believers altogether.”
A missionary in Europe reports: “Last year (1998), my wife and I started 15 new church cell groups. As we left for a six-month stateside assignment last July, we wondered what we’d find when we returned. It’s wild! We can verify at least 30 churches now, but I believe that it could be two or even three times that many.”
A missionary strategist commented, “It took us 30 years to plant four churches in this country. We’ve started 65 cell churches in the last nine months.”
Every region of the world now pulsates with some kind of Church Planting Movement. Sometimes we see only the numbers, but often they are accompanied by lively descriptions such as this recently received e-mail message: “All of our cell churches have lay pastors/leaders because we turn over the work so fast that the missionary seldom leads as many as two or three Bible studies before God raises at least one leader. The new leader seems to be both saved and called to lead at the same time, so we baptize him and give him a Bible. After the new believers/leaders are baptized, they are so on fire that we simply cannot hold them back. They fan out all over the country starting Bible studies, and a few weeks later we begin to get word back how many have started. It's the craziest thing we ever saw! We did not start it, and we couldn't stop it if we tried.”
…International Mission Board missionaries are currently engaged in a number of Church Planting Movements and near-Church Planting Movements around the world. While each of these movements bears the influence of our missionaries, each is different as well.
Despite these differences, there are common traits that characterize almost every CPM. In the examples that follow, you will see how several IMB missionaries came to be involved in CPMs. Some were instrumental in the movement from its inception, while others arrived after the movement was well under way. In each case, there are lessons we can learn that may be transferable to other situations.
From David Garrison: Church Planting Movement, Midlothian: WIGTake Resources 2004, p88-91: The Maasai of East Africa are legendary for their courage and independence. They have resisted Western-style development and Western notions of modernization.
Scattered across the savannas of Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai have long guarded Africa’s interior from Arab slave traders and colonizers. The Maasai live in small clan units in homes constructed of mud and cow dung with thatched roofs. At first glance, their poverty is disturbing, but then you see that it is only a poverty of Western goods and services. Maasai men and women take great pride in their personal appearance and ancient customs. Their ornate necklaces, carefully braided hair, and sinewy muscles reveal an inner wealth that many Westerners have lost.
Missionaries have attempted to evangelize the Maasai over the past century. While some have met with scattered successes, the converts have generally been ostracized and driven out of their homes or have withdrawn themselves from the center of Maasai life and culture.
In the late 1980s, three missionary families gathered a few Maasai believers and began to develop a plan to reach all of the Maasai people. Following Jesus’ pattern in Luke 10, they commissioned about 70 trained lay Maasai evangelists to go out two by two across the Maasai Plains. For training support, five Baptist missionary families moved into the Maasai Plains and related to the Maasai evangelists as they itinerated across the region.
Today, up to 15 percent of the 600,000 Maasai in Kenya will tell you they are followers of Jesus Christ. The majority of these can be traced back to those original Maasai lay evangelists.
To understand this unseen Church Planting Movement, requires a different set of eyes. For several years a photograph has hung on the wall of the waiting lounge near my office. It is a picture of an acacia tree set on a dry plain somewhere in Africa. You know that it’s Africa because of the 30-40 dark figures gathered under its shade leaning against their spears. Only after visiting the Maasai Plains and seeing actual Maasai churches, did I realize that the photo outside my office was a Maasai church.
The worship style of the Maasai is a far cry from the Western forms that marked the colonial era of missions. Most Maasai churches gather under acacia trees, the traditional meeting places for Maasai councils. The Maasai will gather regularly for worship at the same tree again and again. Occasionally someone will pull a cluster of thorn bushes around to form a wall, a protection from wind, dust, and varmints.
The heart of Maasai worship is found in their songs and prayers. The Maasai have an oral culture and have benefited from the telling of Bible stories in their native tongue. Not satisfied to hear the stories told, the Maasai often convert these great teaching stories into their native songs, and sing them with great enthusiasm.
In the cool dusk of the African savannah land, one can hear a seven-man Maasai chorus performing song after song adapted from Bible stories they have learned. Their Maasai rhythms are hypnotic as they accompany themselves with the throaty grunts, thumping on chests and thighs with spears tapping on the floor. Their faces flash vivid expressions as they act out the Bible stories with hand motions and choreographed steps.
It is difficult to know how many Maasai churches or believers there truly are. How do you count each “Acacia Tree Church?” Or why would you want to? The movement continues to spread in areas where Western missionaries have difficulty following. Maasai from Kenya share their faith with the 600,000 Maasai living in Tanzania who are also proving to be very responsive. Over the past year, Maasai evangelists have also begun learning the language of their neighboring tribe, the Samburu people, with a vision of taking the gospel to them.
From David Garrison: Church Planting Movement, Midlothian: WIGTake Resources 2004, p144-152: Some years ago, a Baptist missionary working in Spain made an intriguing comment. “In Spain,” he said, “we can’t call ourselves evangelicals, or people will assume that we are Gypsies.”
Imagine a people group so colored by the gospel that their very name has become synonymous with evangelical. Investigating the Gypsy evangelicals I was amazed to see how closely they matched the patterns of Church Planting Movements that have emerged all over the world.
Due to their marginalized status in European society, it’s not always easy to find published reports in English of what God is doing among the Gypsies of Europe. Occasionally, however, the magnitude of the Gypsy movement catches the eye of the secular media. In a 1983 article in the New York Times, John Damton described a movement of up to a quarter million strong, with a core of 60,000 who have been baptized…
Another British journalist, Justin Webster, traced the movement back to Spain where the Spanish Association of Gypsy Presence claimed about 30 percent of Gypsies in Spain were associated with the movement… At their annual assembly on a deserted NATO airbase in Chambley, France between 25,000 and 30,000 Gypsy Christians gathered in August 2000…
In 1989, Stephanie Crider, a graduate student at Stamford University and daughter of Baptist missionaries to Spain, wrote her senior honors thesis on “The Evangelical Movement among Spanish Gypsies.” Fluent in Spanish, Crider had known many Gypsies personally and worshiped with them in her father’s church in Grenada, Spain. In her thesis, Crider translated many of the sources that reveal the story of the Gypsy Church Planting Movement.
Crider writes, The Gypsy revival can be dated back to 1950, in Normandy, France, in the little town of Liseuz. One day, in the market, a Gypsy lady named Duvil-Reinhart, was given a tract by a Christian from an Assembly of God church. She put it in her purse and forgot about it till several months later, when one of her sons became deathly ill.
She then remembered the tract and the Christian who told her about healing miracles. Madame Duvil went to the Assembly of God Church and asked the pastor to pray for her son, because he was going to die. He went with her to the hospital and laid hands on the young man, who was completely healed. This miracle caused the whole family to surrender to Christ. They shared their conversion experience with the rest of their extended family members, and the great continuing revival that is still going on today, began here.
Le Cossec (the Assembly of God pastor who had prayed for Madame Duvil’s son) picks up the story in his own words, “One day a family of Gypsies came to my church. They were searching. I invited them to a prayer meeting and they came. They received the Holy Spirit. The next Sunday I baptized 30 in the sea. The next year, 3,000.”
Crider continues, The first conversions were among the Manouche tribe. The first Spanish or Gitano Gypsies were converted in 1960 while they were working in Bordeaux, France. In 1962 the movement spread to the Rom tribe that is widespread in Italy. In 1965, seven of the Spanish Gypsy converts returned as missionaries to Spain. The Gypsies always witnessed first to their families because of the great importance they give to family life.
Crider writes, “The gospel spread among the Gypsies with great rapidity. By 1958, there were three thousand baptized and by 1964, there were ten thousand.”
By 1979, there were about 30-40,000 members with 150,000 attending worship groups. That same year, France counted 19,000 Gypsy believers and 230 pastors, and Spain had roughly 10,000 members with 400 pastors…
All sources confirm the role of Clement Le Cossec, the French Assemblies pastor. In 1983, Le Cossec estimated that 50,000 of the 100-150,000 Gypsies in France belonged to this movement. That same year, 12-15,000 Gypsy believers under the leadership of Le Cossec met for an international convention in southern France. Among the various Gypsy tribes were the Manouche of France and Germany, the Rom of Italy, the Gitano of Spain, and the Yediche of Germany. By the late 1980s, Rev. Le Cossec calculated that 250,000 had been drawn to the movement and that 60,000 had taken baptism.
The first seven Gypsy missionaries who went to Spain in 1965 were later revered as the apostles to the Spanish Gypsies. They spread out across the country and endured great hardships in order to plant the church among their people. Persecution was nothing new for Gypsies, but for the new evangelical Gypsies, the persecution came from within the Gypsy population itself.
Opponents of the movement mocked the converts with the name “Alleluias,” a reference to their frequent use of the term in worship and in everyday conversation. Gypsy lay-preachers were ridiculed and called “priests.” Though intended as insults, these titles were appropriate designations for a people who are “a fragrance of praise to God” and “a nation of priests.”
Signs and wonders accompanied the spread of the faith. Transformed lives including physical healing were commonplace among Gypsy believers. Gypsy Christians also brought with them the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues and receiving prophetic messages from God. Crider noted, “A Gypsy service is about 90% praise. It includes a lot of music interspersed with prayer. The music in the church has been adapted to their own Gypsy music. Usually accompanied by the guitar and clapping, the choruses have a distinct ‘flamenco’ sound to them.”
Gypsies in Spain are famous for their flamenco dancing… As for the role of the Bible in Gypsy worship, Crider reported that “biblical messages are interspersed amongst the praises, but these are usually short and simple because of the fact that many of the people in the congregation, sometimes even the speaker, cannot read. Therefore, the messages must be something easy to understand and assimilate. Parables are favorite forms used to teach God’s word.”
Prayer was at the heart of the movement. In addition to prayers for healing and prayers for prophecy, believers often conduct all night prayer vigils on the weekend. Prayer was also the core of leadership training. Gypsy pastors described their preparation for the ministry as “coming from the mount,” a reference perhaps to Moses who went to the mountain top where he talked with God.
Churches meet wherever they can, often beginning in homes before moving to rented facilities when they outgrow the house size. In addition to meetings in homes and random facilities, Gypsy churches “often move their place of worship.” There are several reasons for this mobility, not all of them tied to the Gypsies’ nomadic lifestyle. Renting facilities allowed them to grow without concern for limitations of building size, and to vacate a neighborhood when neighbors complained of their loud singing and shouts of praise.
A few of the Gypsy pastors of large congregations received a salary from their flock, but most of the Gypsy preachers were bivocational. They continued to work their secular jobs often in common Gypsy trades such as market sales or construction work. The reason for this, according to an article in The Ecumenical Review was “mainly because of financial reasons; it is simply necessary to make ends meet, and to support a family.”
The Review went on to point out an interesting by-product of the bivocational pastorate that “the congregations devote their offerings to have conventions and to do missionary work, rather than to maintain a paid pastorate.”
Crider identified a major reason for the growth in the Gypsy church being the emphasis on forming preachers. She writes, “Because many of the preachers were and still are illiterate, the Gypsy pastors do not receive the traditional training expected by other evangelical denominations. They are primarily lay preachers… There is no seminary. They train each other.”
The training followed a pattern of mentorship. Those who wanted to enter the ministry presented themselves to the pastor who met with them two or three days a week. Once the pastor was satisfied that they were ready, he began giving them opportunities to lead music and preach in his church. After proving themselves to be faithful in their leadership for two years, the ministry candidates were presented to the national convention as new preachers or pastors.
Why did this movement happen among Gypsies as opposed to some other people group in Europe? Gypsies have a long history of persecution in almost every country of Europe. Their status on the edge of respectable society may be one of the contributing factors to their openness to an evangelical faith.
In contrast with the more “respectable” sectors of European society, Gypsies were less conformed to the clergy-guided patterns of conventional European Christianity. Gypsy evangelicals allowed much greater congregational participation in worship. Spontaneous words of inspiration from lay members of the church were taken seriously. Though the Gypsies did meet in rented or modestly constructed church buildings, they were equally comfortable taking their faith on the road in caravans of vans and motor homes.
In the 1980s, many missionaries serving in Spain were still pastoring churches themselves rather than working with and through local Spanish pastors. These missionaries were also focused on Spaniards in general rather than identifying individual people groups such as the Gypsies…
P172: In Every Church Planting Movement:
1. Extraordinary Prayer
2. Abundant Evangelism
3. Intentional Planting of Reproducing Churches
4. The Authority of God’s Word
5. Local Leadership
6. Lay Leadership
7. House Churches
8. Churches Planting Churches
9. Rapid Reproduction
10. Healthy Churches
P221-222: In Most Church Planting Movements:
1. A Climate of Uncertainty in Society
2. Insulation from Outsiders
3. A High Cost for Following Christ
4. Bold Fearless
5. Faith Family-Based Conversion Patterns
6. Rapid Incorporation of New Believers
7. Worship in the Heart Language
8. Divine Signs and Wonders
9. On-the-Job Leadership Training
10. Missionaries Suffered
P239-240: Seven Deadly Sins for Church Planting Movements:
1. The First Deadly Sin: Blurred Vision (You can’t hit what you can’t see.)
2. The Second Deadly Sin: Improving the Bible (Think it can’t be done? Just watch.)
3. The Third Deadly Sin: Sequentialism (Inch by inch, step by step.)
4. The Fourth Deadly Sin: Unsavory Salt (When the salt loses its savor.)
5. The Sixth Deadly Sin: Alien Abduction (Who’s in charge here?)
6. The Seventh Deadly Sin: Blaming God (Divine dismissal is still dismissal!)
P252-255: The Sixth Deadly Sin: Alien Abduction:
The origins of the gospel may be out of this world, but Church Planting Movements are at home in their environment. They don’t have the smell of foreignness to them. Their leadership is local; they worship in the community’s heart language; they meet in their own homes.
There are at least three ways that Church Planting Movements can succumb to alien abduction: 1) by forcing new believers to exchange their cultural forms for alien ones, 2) by creating a welfare state of foreign dependency, and 3) by injecting foreign elements into the life of the church that cannot be locally reproduced. Any one of these alien invaders can cripple a Church Planting Movement.
1) When the gospel is perceived to be alien to a culture or is viewed as belonging to another people group or culture, Church Planting Movements face an uphill battle.
For centuries, Turkic Muslims in Central Asia have known Christianity as the religion of their enemies. Generations of conflict with neighboring Russians and Armenians both of whom have claimed some form of Orthodox Christianity have left them with little taste for the Christian faith.
In Central Asia, any Turks who wanted to accept the Christian religion had to embrace the culture and language of their historic enemies. Thus, becoming a believer in Christ was tantamount to high treason against their own people.
Today, tens of thousands of these Central Asian Turkic peoples have overcome this barrier and embraced Jesus Christ. How did it happen?
The missionary strategists who are seeing Church Planting Movements emerge across Central Asia have been very deliberate in their efforts to separate the gospel message from the Russian and Armenian cultures. They have consistently presented the gospel in the heart language of the people and helped plant Turkic churches led by Turkic leaders worshiping in their own language and cultural style.
2) When foreign funds tie the movement to outside sources, missionaries describe it as “help that hurts.” When well meaning foreigners provide subsidies to pastors and construct local church buildings they sap local initiative. When disaster strikes, relief aid is quite appropriate, but if it continues for too long it creates dependency and eventually a state of puppets and welfare dependents. Church leaders learn to look to the donors rather than to the Lord and the lost for the direction of their ministry.
In Guatemala, Brazil, Honduras, Costa Rica, Romania, and the Ukraine Church Planting Movements were emerging, but instead stumbled over “help” from outsiders. A missionary in Latin America commented, “It’s so hard to criticize these dear brothers, because their heart is in the right place, but their money and buildings are killing a Church Planting Movement.”
3) When we inject foreign elements into the church that the local believers cannot reproduce for themselves we alienate a Church Planting Movement.
On a tour through Latin American with some Christian mission leaders, we came across a beautiful church building with tinted windows and large wooden doors. The grounds were swept clean, the cinderblock walls were recently whitewashed and the tiled roof was in fine form. We went inside to find a small electric organ, a piano, and wooden pews similar to those used in small town American churches.
The church had been built three decades earlier by American volunteers. The local church members admired the building and took great care in its upkeep. But they had never attempted to start any other churches, because they could not get any of these materials. Cinderblocks, ceramic tiles, tinted glass windows were all beyond their reach. They couldn’t imagine how to reproduce a piano or electric organ. At the same time, they believed that a real church had to have these things, and so the movement died before it started.
Church Planting Movements take on the appearance of their context. If villages build homes out of bamboo, then church buildings are made of bamboo. If the people live in small apartments, the Church Planting Movement will occur in small apartments. Missionaries who are successful in seeing a Church Planting Movement have learned to begin each church plant with the question, “Can this church be reproduced by these believers?” If the answer is, “No,” then the foreign elements are identified and discarded or replaced with reproducible elements.
P257: Ten Commandments for Church Planting Movements:
1. Immerse Your Community in Prayer
2. Saturate Your Community with the Gospel
3. Cling to God’s Word
4. Fight Against Foreign Dependency
5. Eliminate All Non-Reproducible Elements
6. Live the Vision that You Wish to Fulfill
7. Build Reproduction into Every Believer & Church
8. Train All Believers to Evangelize, Disciple & Plant Churches
9. Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave
10. Discover What God is Doing and Join Him
P310-314: John then addresses the four questions facing every Christian who would become a Church Planting Movement implementer.
The Four Questions
Question 1: What do I say?
a. You tell them your story. Your story is unique to you. It is not subject to argument or refutation. It consists of three parts: before Jesus, how you met Jesus, since Jesus came into your life.
b. Your story needs to be reduced to a 3-4 minute presentation with as few religious words as possible. Lost people don’t know religious words.
c. After writing down your story, you will practice saying it out loud 5-10 times before leaving the training session. First, you say it to the ceiling and the floor, then you break into groups of three and practice saying it to each other. Offer one another suggestions as to how to say it more smoothly.
Question 2: Who do I say it to?
a. If you don’t know exactly who you’re going to tell your story to, you probably won’t tell it to anyone.
b. Make a list of all the lost people in your family and immediate community.
c. Ask God to reveal to you the five persons you’re going to share your story with this week.
d. Leave the training session with a prayerful spirit, asking God to create opportunities for you to tell your story to those five persons this week.
Question 3: What makes you think I’ll do this?
a. Accountability is a part of God’s plan. Jesus knows we’re inclined to avoid doing uncomfortable things; that’s why he sent out his disciples in twos and formed groups of believers.
b. At the next training session we will all relate our experiences of sharing our story with our five select persons.
c. The following week, those who have not shared their story will grow uncomfortable. A self-selection process is now underway. Over time those who are doers of the word will be exemplary and inspire the others to follow their example, while those who fail to act will drift away.
Question 4: What do I do if they say “Yes?”
a. If they say “Yes” to your offer of Jesus in their life, you should rejoice! Then you can begin them in a simple six lesson series that will ground them in their new life and set them on a course of partnering with you in the pursuit of this Church Planting Movement.
b. The Six Lessons - there’s nothing magical in these six lessons. There is no special curriculum. As much as possible, John tries to rely on Scripture alone. These lessons can be taught daily, weekly, or anything in between. It is important to note that at the end of lesson six, the new believer/trainee is now prepared to join the multiplication movement.
c. After the six lessons are completed, the new trainee will be participating in an ongoing POUCH church (see Appendix 2 and chapter 4), that will ensure his continued growth in Christ and the community of faith.
The Six Lessons
Lesson One: Assurance of Salvation
a. The new believer’s new relationship to God in Christ is reconfirmed through Scripture.
b. Key verses to review and memorize: Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 2:89; 1 Peter 3:18; John 10:28; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 5:13.
c. The trainer helps the new believer create a “New Birth Certificate” to keep in his or her Bible. It states the date when “I received Jesus into my heart as my savior. He forgave my sin, became my Lord and took control of my life. Now I have become a child of God and a new creation.” Signed: ___________.
Lesson Two: A Life of Prayer
a. The trainer explains why we need to pray, the content of prayer, three types of answers to prayer, and new attitudes that result from prayer.
b. Why we need to pray: Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Peter 5:7; Jeremiah 33:3; Hebrews 14:16; Philippians 4:6-7.
c. The content of prayer: 1 John 1:9; Philippians 4:6-7; Psalms 135:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; 1 Timothy 2:1.
d. Three answers to prayer - Yes, No, Wait.
e. New attitudes resulting from prayer - James 1:6; James 4:2-3; Psalm 66:18; 1 John 5:14; Luke 18:1.
Lesson Three: Having a Daily Quiet Time
a. The trainer explains: “If we really want to know God, we need to have close regular contact with him.” Set a regular time for daily quiet time with God.
b. What can we learn about devotional time with God from these biblical examples? Genesis 19:27; Psalms 5:3; Daniel 6:10; Mark 1:35; Psalm 42:1-2; Psalm 119:147-148.
c. Suggested tools for quiet time: Bible, pen and notebook, quiet place, set time, a reading plan.
d. Preparation for quiet time: Psalm 119:18.
Lesson Four: Understanding and Being Church
a. Church is not a building, but “the household of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15). Church consists of God’s people and can meet in your own home.
b. What do these verses teach us about church? Romans 12:5; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 5:23.
c. The church has five purposes: Worship - Psalm 149:1; Fellowship - Hebrews 10:25; Teaching - Matthew 28:20; Evangelism -Acts 1:8; and Ministry - Matthew 22:38-39; Romans 12:9-13.
d. The church has rights and obligations. Baptism -Matthew 3:15; Romans 6:3-4; The Lord’s Supper -Matthew 26:26-30; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; Tithes and Offerings - Leviticus 27:30-31.
Lesson Five: Knowing God
a. God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, may be radically different from the conceptions of God that the new believer held in his or her previous life. Understanding God is a lifelong pursuit, but a good foundation begins here.
b. What can we learn about the nature of God from these passages? Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 John 3:1; Luke 15:1124; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Kings 6:15-18; Daniel 3; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:31-32; Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 12:6-7; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:4
Lesson Six; God’s Will for You
a. At this point the training has come full circle. While the new believer is incorporated into a POUCH church meeting in a home (see Appendix 2), he/she is also ready to join forces with you in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
b. Return to the beginning of this training and walk through it with the new believer. Be sure to answer the four questions that he or she will have.
c. Remember, new believers make the best evangelizers. All their friends are still lost, and their passion for Christ is fresh.
P315: POUCH Churches
There are a variety of indigenously reproducible church models. One of the easiest to implement is one that we encountered in China (see chapter 4) called the POUCH church. You’ll remember that POUCH stands for: Participative Bible Study and Worship, Obedience as the mark of success for every believer and church [see Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” / Romans 1:5: “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” / Romans 15:18: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done.”], Unpaid and multiple leaders in each church, Cell groups of 10-20 believers meeting in Homes or storefronts. A POUCH church can be implemented anywhere.
POUCH churches typically gather in the intimacy of someone’s home. They may begin with a shared meal during which the members fellowship together and share what God has been doing in their community. The meal may end with communion or prayer time followed by participative worship and Bible study time.
During worship time, a prayer leader may facilitate the sharing of prayer concerns and then leads the group in prayer. If there are other types of leaders they will share their various ministries aimed at the edification of the church body: words of prophecy, offerings of praise and song, reports on evangelism and ministry. Afterwards the group is ready to join in a participative Bible study.
Back to the situation in Jerusalem, I don’t understand how the apostles, the senior leaders of the church, managed to stay behind when persecution disrupted the life of all believers. But they did stay behind while their flock was being scattered. Suddenly, the church had to do without them and their leadership week by week. And the church not only managed but thrived in making Christians everywhere. Nations were beginning to be discipled. It is possible.
When the church was being scattered and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ everywhere, the apostles continued to be important but their role changed. Instead of always leading from the front, they became resource people and backed up the new church plants by visiting and ministering to them. They made sure that every new church plant had the fullness of the Spirit and the full counsel of God’s word among them.
Acts 8:14-17: When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Romans 1:1-12: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God… Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
To all in Rome who are loved by God… I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
2 Corinthians 12:12: I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.
Acts 15:36: Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”
2 Timothy 1:11-14: And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Titus 1:1: Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness…
Acts 20:27: For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
Ephesians 4:7-13: But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
How do you disciple nations? How are we to disciple Toowoomba? There are not going to be fool-proof recipes or manuals. God is creative and will do what he wants among us but we can learn from others and expand our vision, so that we can listen to God with understanding.
I may share how God led the St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Chorleywood (located half an hour’s drive from London) and their leaders Vicar Mark Stibbe and Associate Vicar Andrew Williams into a mission venture and adventure:
Restoring Faith in the Institution: How Mission Shaped Communities Revitalized St Andrews by Drew Williams - Trinity Church, July 10, 2010, http://www.managementexchange.com/story/restoring-faith-institution-how-mission-shaped-communities-revitalized-st-andrews-0:
An Anglican parish launches a bold experiment with a radical model of how to “do church,” by replacing hierarchy with communities of passion, and unleashing the capabilities of its congregation to have a powerful impact beyond church walls.
The Church of England is the official Christian church in England, and “mother church” of the worldwide Anglican Communion. At its core is the local parish, often with one church serving community residents. Belief in Christianity had declined in the UK, but still represented 58% of the population. Agnostics and atheists accounted for 33%.
As an institution, the church was struggling to remain relevant. Less than 3% of people attended a church service in a typical month, and many more were “de-churched,” maintaining a personal relationship with God but unaffiliated with a church. Congregations were shrinking with churches nearing or reaching the point where they were no longer financially viable. Church demographics showed that it was failing to attract three groups in particular: young people, men, and the poor.
St Andrews is a parish in Chorleywood, England, which is a middle-class town (population 6,814 at the 2001 census) and civil parish (population 10, 775) located approximately 25 miles outside of London. St Andrews mission is to help people in the community and beyond to experience God’s love first-hand, and become committed followers of Jesus as a result.
By 2003, the church had grown to 500 members, many attracted from neighboring churches by its top-notch worship services, and array of programs. By Church of England standards, it was large and successful. But Mark Stibbe, the vicar of St Andrews, was worried.
St Andrews’ back door was wider than its front door. Mark was bothered by what he saw as a “come to us” model of church, where the worship service and the physical building were the center point – physically and spiritually – of the church’s mission. There was a lot of excellence in worship but we were pretty weak at making disciples. People would look at those leading from the front and say, “What could I poss