Transitioning Takes Time

Church Leadership

Summer 2011

by Joel Comiskey

I (we) failed miserably in trying to transition the El Batán Church in Quito, Ecuador to the cell church strategy back in 1993. I was beaten and bruised in the process but in hindsight, we went about it all wrong. We thought we could make the change very quickly. “After all,” we thought, “Cell ministry was the hottest ministry in the church and had clearly closed the back door. The church had grown from 500 people to 950 and cell ministry was a key reason for the success.” But we were a church with cells within a program-oriented church. Some board members directed cherished programs in the church, and we had not done our homework about their reaction.

The lead pastor at the time, Porfirio Ludeña, presented the idea to the board on that night in 1993, and the church board pushed back. Hard. They even tried to “teach us a lesson” of what was really important in the church. I went away wounded and hurt. One board member was the founder of a city-wide counseling ministry housed in our church, and when we presented our cell church ideas, he felt threatened.

With hindsight, I now realize we could have done far more to work with this board member one-on-one, showing him how making disciples in cells would have helped his counseling ministry, rather than replacing it. Nor had we as a pastoral team fully transitioned to cell ministry. At least one pastoral team member wasn’t convinced that cell ministry was the way to proceed at El Batán. Yet I wanted it badly and I pushed it. Since then, I’ve come to realize that cell church ministry is not a program to be pushed and decided on. It must be lived. Those leading the church must understand the why of cell ministry, buy into the biblical base, and plan for a long-term transition.

We should have started by transitioning the pastoral team, so that all of us we’re 100% involved in cell ministry and coaching the different homogenous groups in the church. At the time it was still “my ministry,” and although I was trying to get other pastors involved, we had a long way to go. Then we could have slowly convinced hold-out board members one-on-one about the benefits of cell ministry. We should have avoided a one-time board decision about whether to emphasize cell ministry. We could have done a lot more behind the scenes work, remembering that “Everything takes longer than you expect; even when you expect it to take longer than you expect.”

Successful transition to cell-based ministry needs to be lived out by those in leading the church. The leaders need to then reach out to the power-brokers with love and tender care, getting them involved in cell ministry, rather than pushing for a one-time decision. People need time to process ideas and reach their own conclusions. The adoption of new ideas takes time and there is always potential for conflict. Although I was hurt by the mistakes at El Batán, I learned valuable lessons that remain with me today.