Ask any medical student “What is a cell?” and they will explain that it is the basic building block of the body.
Our bodies consist of millions and millions of cells working in unison. We cannot live without them. Within each cell is carried the DNA, the genetic coding, or “blueprint” of life itself. Through our bodies we can reach out and touch the world around us. Otherwise we would be disembodied spirits, unable to influence and impact our world. By nature cells will seek to multiply themselves, reproducing after their own kind, or transitioning to fulfil different functions according to hormonal influences. What is true of the physical body is true of the body of Christ, the Church. After all, truth is parallel.
We see the origins of the church began with Jesus calling ‘the twelve’ to Him. His ‘master plan’ was to create a small intimate fellowship of disciples around Him, pouring His life – His ‘DNA’ – into them. It was in this small “cell” gathering that Jesus built relationship with them, taught and trained them, imparted authority and power, and sent them out to minister and witness.
“He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have power to heal sicknesses and cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15).
Later, the Holy Spirit would reproduce the same kind of ministry in the lives of subsequent believers.
After Pentecost, we see the life and vigour of the Early Church are maintained by their large, corporate gatherings in the Temple, complemented with their much smaller fellowship meetings in believers’ homes (Acts 2:41 – 47).
The apostles had a cell vision
A vital church grows in Jerusalem. It is a church endued with supernatural power (Acts 2:43). The DNA of Jesus has been successfully reproduced from Christ’s ‘twelve’ to this burgeoning new church in Acts (Acts 4:13). They know how to construct their lives upon the Word of God. They know how to create close fellowship with each other so that no one is in need. They know how to reach out in revival power to the lost, restoring damaged lives. They know how to draw the attention of both God and man (Acts 2:47). Integral to the Holy Spirit finding a welcome place in the life of the early church was the place of the ‘cell’ gatherings.
After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the Church grew rapidly and spread throughout the entire known world of that time. They erected no church buildings of their own. How, then, did they achieve such explosive growth? They continued to meet in each other’s homes as ‘cells’.
Throughout the history of the Church, whenever the Holy Spirit needed to move in revival power, the phenomena of cells was used as the structure to convey His restorative works. A prime example is the ministry of John Wesley and his ‘classes’ for believers. In more recent history, over the last thirty years, we see those churches throughout the world who are experiencing explosive growth are Cell Churches.
The hallmarks of a cell
What are the hallmarks of a genuine cell? There are five: worship, nurture, fellowship, training and outreach. In worship believers will seek to be Christ-centred, coming under His authority. They will nurture each other from the Word of God, seeing to apply its teaching to their everyday lives. They will seek to fulfil Christ’s command to love one another and build up each other in fellowship. However, they will go beyond considering their own needs and also make sure each member is equipped to fulfil Christ’s call to win the lost and “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). It is this last component that singles out a true cell from a mere Bible study or prayer group.
Without worship, the group would be dry. Without the Word, they would become sub-Christian. Without fellowship, they would become cold. Without outreach, a cell would become introspective and self-absorbed. And without training and the people would be ill-prepared to do the work of Christ. William Temple, an Archbishop of Canterbury, once said: “A church that lives for itself dies by itself!” The Church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of its non-members. The Model of 12 with its four step Ladder of Success – win, consolidate, train, and send, ensures that the cell stays true to its purpose. The cell is the primary place for winning new believers, discipling, training and releasing them to become disciple makers of others.
We finish where we started. Like the biological cell, a cell of believers will be the basic building block of the body of Christ. They will transmit the DNA of Christ. They will seek to multiply themselves, reproducing after their own kind, via the Ladder of Success. And where necessary existing groups will need to transition to different functions in order to fulfil the four fold agenda of cell ministry. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30).