Discipleship through the Priesthood of All Believers

Cell Basics

Taken from Chapter 4 of Making Disciples in the Twenty-First Century Church

by Joel Comiskey

Spring 2014

I recently spoke to a group of leaders in an older denomination about cell ministry. Several expressed disbelief when I talked about developing lay people in home groups. The potential division it might cause dismayed them. Their view of the church was closely tied with their buildings.

During one of the breaks, a pastor approached me to ask about cell ministry and for me to recommend a book that might help in starting new groups. I asked him what he was planning on doing, and he told me he planned on starting four groups in the homes of four different lay people. I was impressed with his idea, but as he explained more, my attitude quickly changed.

He said that each of these four groups would only meet once every three months and that he, the pastor, would lead each group! In the conversation it became clear that he didn’t trust the lay people to facilitate groups. He was convinced that he, the minister, was the only one who could lead these groups, even if they only met four times per year!

Some pastors, like the one mentioned above, believe that they are responsible to do the work of the ministry, rather than preparing lay people to do it. They are not willing to give away their authority to others, even though Ephesians 4:11-12 is crystal clear that the main role of the pastor/teacher is to prepare lay people to do the work of the ministry.

On many occasions I’ve heard pastors talk about the dangers of allowing lay leaders to do the work of the ministry through cell groups. Sadly, the focus is always on the disastrous consequences, rather than the potential for discipleship growth. We can learn a lot from Jesus and the apostles who trusted the Holy Spirit to guide and direct new leadership.[i] Bill Hull, pastor and prolific author on discipleship, writes, “The priesthood of the believer implies that Christians have the authority and responsibility to minister for Christ as the priesthood traditionally did. If you join the priesthood of the believer with the common believer’s call to ministry, you have the reasons for teaching that every Christian is called to Christian service.”[ii] God said through Moses, “Let my people go.” Just as it was true back then, it’s equally true today. God wants his people set free. He wants them to learn to be disciples as they minister to others.

Everyone a Minister

The priesthood of all believers dates back to biblical times. John the apostle wrote, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever!” (Revelation 1:5-6)

Early Christianity viewed each house church member as a minister. Ministry through the gifts of the Spirit flowed naturally in the home environment, and leadership development was simple and dynamic. Leadership was based on God-given gifts, rather than a stiff, liturgical hierarchy. The priesthood of all believers was the norm in the early Church, and for this reason the early Church spread rapidly. Gilbert Bilezikian writes,

In a few decades, the early church movement spread like wildfire through the ancient world. One of the secrets for this rapid expansion was total lay involvement in the ministries of the local churches . . . The book of Acts and most of the New Testament letters are permeated with the euphoria and the vitality of churches where everyone was involved in body life and ministry. Under normal circumstances, therefore, the apostle Paul was more interested in encouraging Christian folks to minister to each other and together than in setting up orders of hierarchy for their governance.[iii]

As the Church moved beyond the first century, the growing authority of the bishop concentrated more and more power in the hands of centralized authority figures responsible for larger and larger groups of believers.[iv] The plurality and equality of leadership gave way to a hierarchical arrangement with bishops becoming the central figure followed by the presbyters (who later became priests) and deacons.

As the years passed, the Church became more and more hierarchical. People couldn’t go directly to God but needed to access God through the priests. Only certain people had access to the Bible. Luther caused a rift within the structured Catholic church by establishing the preaching of the word as the central place in church life.

Luther exposed the abuses of the Church by teaching the Bible and then translating it into the German language, so that each believer could judge for himself what was right and wrong. One of the key doctrines that Luther brought back was the priesthood of the believer, which affirmed that each believer could read the Bible, understand scripture’s plain meaning, had equal access to God, and was expected to serve and minister to the greater body of Christ. The priesthood of the believer taught that all Christians were priests, which stood in complete opposition to the concept of a spiritual aristocracy or hierarchy within Christianity.

Luther helped liberate the church doctrinally, but did little in the area of ecclesiology (study of church practices). He, along with Zwingli and the other reformers, could not fully encourage others to practice the priesthood of all believers. They needed the protection of the government and the stability of the entire state to embrace their reforms, and their success required that everyone in the state automatically become Protestants. In other words, there was very little choice about church involvement since the entire nation had to join the church. The priesthood of all believers had little practical application in the state-run church.

Some wanted to take the priesthood of all believers to its logical conclusion. They were called the “radical brethren” and believed that only those truly born again believers should come together to worship and receive adult baptism. These radical believers felt that each believing adult was a true minister, should have the right to form small groups, and exercise spiritual gifts within the small group. Summing up the situation, Nigel Wright says,

It is important to stress that the real issue between Zwingli and the radical brethren was not baptism but the nature of the church. Zwingli was out to reform the church but (as Luther had already conceded and as Calvin was to do) he accepted without question the concept of the sacral state which he had inherited and which had prevailed since the Edict of Milan in A.D. 311, when Christianity was officially tolerated, eventually to become the official religion of the Empire.[v]

Reformers like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin made a huge break with church tradition and doctrine but the radical brethren took the reforms further. They wanted to make true disciples through a believer’s church, rather than acting like everyone born in a particular geographical area were part of Christ’s church, which would later be sorted out via predestination.

The radical reformation is closer to New Testament Christianity because it prioritizes the priesthood of each believer. Whatever a person’s denominational tradition, we all need to be radical reformers! The radical reformation teaches the need to practice biblical doctrines in a way that emphasizes every person a minister and every believer a practicing disciple of Jesus Christ, just like the practice of the early Church.

The house churches of the first century expected each believer to minister in the house church setting. The cell church today, like the early church, is a call for radical reformation. It’s a return to New Testament Christianity and to embrace the apostle’s exhortation in the last book of the Bible, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).

Active Participation

One important principle of the priesthood of all believers is involvement. In other words, all members of Christ’s Church should be involved in using their gifts and talents.

Cell ministry stands against the idea that the official pastor or minister does most of the work, while the laity sits and listen—and perhaps engage in a few programs. The spectator emphasis in many churches undermines discipleship because only a few participate while many simply attend.

The situation is a lot like inactive fans at a football game who are cheering for the sweating players on the field. The players are doing all the work, while the fans just observe and clap. Elton Trueblood once said:

All of us suffer from a terrible sickness in our churches. It is called Spectatoritis. We speak of the congregation as the audience. We are not the audience; we are the actors. . . . If we sincerely believe the Gospel, we have to believe that God has a vocation for each of us. The secret is participation, participation, participation.[vi]

Participation is at the core of the cell. No one sits in the back seat. Chairs are not arranged in rows. As people share their stories, ask for prayer, and minister to one another, they are transformed in the process. They become the ministers and grow as Christ’s disciples. The best cell leaders, in fact, are facilitators. The word facilitate means to make easy, and the best facilitators make it easy for others to participate. They unwrap the gifts and talents of those in the group. The best facilitators, in fact, only talk thirty percent of the time and encourage those in the group to speak the remaining seventy percent. Talking, of course, is only one aspect of cell life. Participation is far broader and involves active engagement in each part of the cell group.

I often tell those in my seminars that the best-kept secret of pastoral ministry is that the pastor grows more than those in the congregation. Why? Because the pastor matures as he depends on God to preach, counsel, visit the sick, prepare for a funeral, or marry a new couple. Discipleship, in other words, takes place as the pastor depends on God for every aspect of pastoral ministry. If pastors could better grasp that growth comes through participation, they would do a lot more to get people actively involved in ministry, and I believe that the New Testament pattern of house to house ministry is the best option.

This is one main reason why Jesus chose the small group atmosphere to impart knowledge to his own disciples. Christ wanted the information to be disseminated into the lives of his disciples, so as he journeyed with them each day for three years, he not only taught them, but asked them to interact with and apply his teachings. Sometimes Jesus would allow them to make mistakes in order to teach them important lessons and offer practical application of his teachings. Jesus, for example, allowed Peter to walk to him on the water. Jesus knew he would sink in the process but that valuable lessons would also be learned (Matthew 14:29). The disciples tried to cast out a demon and could not, but later Jesus gave them important instructions about what to do next time (Mark 9:18). The disciples were convinced that Christ would establish his kingdom right there and then, but Jesus taught them about their invisible guide, the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:7-8). Christ’s method of discipleship was a constant interaction between hearing, doing, failing, learning, and then teaching new lessons. Christ not only practiced this methodology with his disciples, but those same disciples formed house churches that continued the process of group participation.

Effective cells and cell leaders make disciples in the same way Jesus made them. They encourage everyone to participate, knowing that discipleship happens when everyone is practicing the priesthood of all believers. The cell is small enough to mobilize each person. Participation in a group larger than fifteen can cause fear and resistance. But when the group is small and intimate, people still feel the face-to-face involvement of each person.

Walking on Water

Roland Allen (1868-1947), an Anglican minister and missionary to China, noticed God’s work was often hindered through not trusting the Holy Spirit to work through ordinary people. He began to study the life of the apostle Paul and realized that Paul developed lay people quickly and effectively because he trusted the Holy Spirit’s work in his converts. Allen writes, “Paul had such faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit indwelling in the church that he did not shrink from risks. Even when the Galatians fell prey to the Judaizer’s legalism, we don’t sense that Paul tried to change his method of church planting.”[vii] Paul, in other words, understood the potential for error, but he also knew that inactivity wasn’t the answer. Paul knew that starting house churches where people would experience face-to-face ministry and then trusting the Holy Spirit through each person was essential in making disciples who made disciples.

If we fail to allow the Holy Spirit to energize people, we do them a grave disservice. We are actually hindering the person from being all God wants him or her to be. Allowing people to participate actively in God’s work is risky, and yes, we will not always be able to control what happens. But this is the very essence of trusting the Holy Spirit to work deeply within people, even if it’s messy. Roland Allen writes, “By spontaneous expansion I mean something which we cannot control. And if we cannot control it, we ought, as I think, to rejoice that we cannot control it. For if we cannot control it, it is because it is too great; not because it is too small for us. The great things of God are beyond our control.”[viii]

The apostle John reminded each house church member of the Holy Spirit’s anointing. He said, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27). Many churches hesitate to start cells because they’re afraid that members might undermine the church or draw away disciples from the ministry. But the danger of stagnation carries far graver risks. The risk of not releasing the lay people is inactivity, lack of growth, and an atrophied church. It’s the opposite of making disciples who make disciples. Risk taking is normal and it’s the way people mature and grow. Listen to Henry Cloud and John Townsend write about risk-taking in their best-selling book, Boundaries:

The sin God rebukes is not trying and failing, but failing to try. Trying, failing, and trying again is called learning. Failing to try will have no good result; evil will triumph. God expresses his opinion toward passivity in Hebrews 10:38-39: “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” . . . Passive shrinking back is intolerable to God, and when we understand how destructive it is to the soul, we can see why God does not tolerate it.[ix]

Cell members and leaders grow to become like Jesus as they step out and exercise their faith. Without doing so, the person will not grow to his or her full potential. Trying and failing is how we learn and grow and become mature. The fear of error has caused many churches to smother the work of the laity through endless requirements and layers of organization. Churches and mission agencies have done this for years.

What does this mean practically? It means mobilizing each cell member to participate—without forcing people against their will. One member might lead the prayer time, another lead worship, another guide the ice-breaker, while someone else leads the outreach time. The best cells have leadership teams who don’t depend on one leader to always facilitate the lesson. I was in one cell church which viewed cell leaders as coaches of those who led the lesson time. In other words, the cell leader was always present in the cell but different members rotated in actually leading the cell lesson. The cell leader would offer feedback and encouragement. The cell groups in this particular church also rotated hosts, so that everyone had the opportunity of opening their home to the group. I could feel the health because I sensed that disciples were being formed as each person participated.

Some cell churches also encourage their leaders to perform pastoral duties in the larger gatherings. The cell leaders might baptize the new converts, for example.[x] Other churches ask lay leaders to serve communion or rotate in the Sunday preaching. Cell members might help with ushering, outreaches, or mission events. Participation grows disciples. Sitting in a pew and hearing doctrine is important, but it doesn’t mold active disciples like Jesus commanded.

Playing Your Part

Paul writes about the body of Christ to house churches that were meeting in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12-14), Rome (Romans 12) and Ephesus (Ephesians 4). Those reading his letters were in relationship with each other and ministering together. Paul makes it clear that each person in the body of Christ had an important role to play. Notice what he said to the house churches in Corinth:

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. . . . If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).

In the cell group, each person plays an essential role. In fact, those who seemingly have a more visible role are not more important. The parts that are unseen are given special honor. The body needs each other to be healthy and whole. The goal is for everyone to participate, discover their gifts, and minister to others. The teaching that the church is the body of Christ is to remind the Church that every believer is valuable and essential and needs to exercise his or her gifts.[xi]

God sets each of us in his supernatural, organic body according to the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14). In all three of the major passages in which Paul talks about the body of Christ, he defines each member’s part in the body by their corresponding gifts (Ephesians 4; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12-14). In fact, when Paul talks about the Church as the body of Christ, the implication is that the believers were actively participating. They had the opportunity to interact among themselves as they met in house churches. They grew together as disciples as they exercised their spiritual gifts and ministered to one another.

Gift Use in the Early Church

The ministry in the early house churches was fluid and dynamic. Members were encouraged to experience their spiritual gifts for the common good of the body, and leaders operated as gifted men and women (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 27-28). Dependence on the Spirit of God through the gifts of the Spirit shaped the direction of the early Church. The spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:7-12, and 1 Peter 4:8-11 were written to those participating in house churches. Everyone participated in the building up of Christ’s body.[xii]

Paul expected church leadership to develop according to spiritual giftedness and that ultimately the Holy Spirit would set each member in the body according to his will and purpose (1 Corinthians 12:11). The early church believed that the Spirit was given to all believers and was actively working through each member (Romans 12:11; 1 Corinthians 2:4, 12:7; 12-13; Galatians 3:5; 5:18, 22; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).[xiii]

God did gift certain individuals to lead his Church as we can see in Ephesians 4:7-12. Many have called this the five-fold ministry, although it’s probably more accurate to call it the four-fold ministry, since pastor-teacher is often considered one role. Gifted leaders included:

  1. Apostles: The twelve (Luke 6:13-16), plus Matthias (Acts 1:24-26), Paul (Galatians 1:1), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7)
  2. Prophets: The company from Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-28), Agabus (Acts 21:10-11), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32) and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9)
  3. Evangelists: Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9)
  4. Pastor-teachers (1 Timothy 3:1-3, 5:17; Titus 1:5, 7, 9)

The gifted leaders mentioned in Ephesians were specifically equipped to prepare the body of Christ to minister more effectively. In other words, God equipped these men and women to mobilize the church for service.[xiv]

Paul’s main point in Ephesians is equipping the saints for ministry. The specific purpose of gifted men and women is to equip the Church for growth and expansion. The focus is not on the gifted person, but on his or her ministry to equip the body of Christ so that the body of Christ would be built up and mobilized for service. Whatever gift God distributes to a particular person, his or her main role is to equip God’s people to become better disciples of Jesus Christ through participatory ministry.

Paul also mentions some twenty gifts (not just four or five) and wants his readers to know that each house church member needed to minister according to his or her giftedness (1 Corinthians 12-14; Romans 12; Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Peter 4:8-11). And whether recognized formally or not, each member had an important part to play in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). The spiritual gifts were to build up the body of Christ in unity and maturity.

Gift Use in the Cell Group

Today, more than ever, we need to get back to the small group as the primary place to exercise spiritual gifts. It is the most natural atmosphere for everyone to participate and grow as disciples. It is also the most spontaneous and biblical place for the discovery of our spiritual gifts, which enhances ministry and the priesthood of all believers. In the loving atmosphere of a home group, especially where the gifts are working and where the Holy Spirit is operating, people grow in ministry and learn how to serve others.

Effective cell leaders encourage everyone in the cell to use their particular gifts, so the body might be edified and non-Christians might be won to Christ. The place to start is to remind the members that each one has at least one gift. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us that “. . . one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administrating God’s grace in its various forms.” As group members discover and exercise their spiritual gifts, they will grow in their faith and become more like Jesus.

If someone has the gift of prophesy, for example, there’s an open door to use it. The person doesn’t need to prophesy in a high-pitched shrill “prophesy” voice. Rather the person can speak to those present very naturally. Kirk regularly prophesies in the cell group, and he also encourages other people to step out and give their prophetic impressions. Kirk always starts his prophecies by saying, “I think the Holy Spirit is saying to me. . .” He then asks each member to discover for themselves whether his words conform to scripture. Kirk realizes that human beings can make mistakes—and that he’s no exception. Kirk also realizes that all prophecy must have the goal of edifying the body (1 Corinthians 14:3).

The person with the gift of teaching might help clarify a difficult passage. The one who has the gift of teaching doesn’t need to do all the teaching. Rather, he or she might give insight into a particular passage, helping to make the Bible clear and concise. She will also help others apply the teaching of scripture to their own lives.

Leo had the gift of teaching but never had the chance to use it, until he got involved in a cell group. Then the gift came alive. He was able to clarify a passage of scripture and make it understandable and applicable. He had been a member of a denominational church for most of his adult life but had mainly attended church and occasionally received visits from the pastor. But as Leo interacted face-to-face in a cell group, his teaching gift became crystal clear. Over time, Leo became the co-leader of the group.

Matt has the gift of pastor, but it lay dormant for years. The act of going to church and getting involved in programs just didn’t interest him, and he avoided it. But in the cell group, he had a chance to share, minister, and use his gifts. He grew spiritually as he ministered to others, and it soon became apparent that he was the pastor of the group and felt responsible to gather the people, stay in touch with them, mobilize the outreach, and develop others in the group. Matt followed his giftedness and the body of Christ was built up. Matt also grew in his own walk with Jesus.

The person with the gift of mercy might visit a hurting cell member in the hospital and then mobilize others to visit that person. The believer with the gift of evangelism might feel compelled to invite friends and relatives or organize a cell outreach.

The person with the gift of exhortation will find someone who needs counseling. She might counsel hurting people after or before the cell meeting or during the week. This person will humbly offer counsel, not as a professional, but as a gifted member of the body of Christ. The gift will grow, as will the person, over time.

The person with the gift of apostleship will have a natural propensity to start new groups, but this person will not project himself above others, nor wear an apostle Jim name tag or pass out apostle business cards. Rather, he or she will serve the rest of Christ’s body.

The cell group is also the natural place to use and develop talents. Debby, for example, loves to play the guitar. She also leads worship in the cell group on Thursday night. She diligently practices guitar, prints out song sheets, and leads the group in worship. Her talent for playing the guitar is empowered by her gift of leadership and prophecy. The pastor noticed her faithfulness to play guitar in the cell group and eventually asked her to play guitar in the worship band on Sunday morning.

Spiritual gifts are given for the good of the Church. Small groups are wonderful places to experiment with our unknown spiritual gifts, even risking failure, because we know that the small group will be forgiving of mistakes. If the person doesn’t feel the freedom to fail, he or she won’t grow as Christ’s disciple.

Some people have tried to mobilize the gift ministry apart from a small-group setting (e.g., programs), but I believe it’s far more fruitful to promote spiritual gifts through small-group ministry. In small groups, encouragement and accountability are more likely to occur spontaneously. This environment seems to be the natural place to grow disciples who are exercising their God-given gifts.

Gift Discovery through Relationships

The best way to discover spiritual gifts is in the context of relationship. Spiritual gift tests, while helping believers to think through the possibilities, are insufficient in themselves. Gift surveys do give a glimpse of how to perceive giftedness, but people can project into those questionnaires the gifts they want to have, rather than affirming the gifts they actually have.[xv] The more people develop relationships in the context of a group, the better idea they will have concerning their own spiritual giftedness—always remembering that gifts function in the context of relationships. I encourage believers to read material, take one or two gift tests, step out in the exercise of potential spiritual gifts and then seek confirmation from others. Were people edified? Was Christ glorified? When trust is high, members feel like they can experiment with a variety of gifts, and they don’t feel thwarted.

In the larger worship service, naturally experimenting with the gifts rarely happens because a larger audience demands a certain level of performance. Risk-taking is not encouraged in such an environment, nor should it be. The larger wing of the church is often the least effective place to exercise spiritual gifts because only a few believers can actually exercise their gifts in the large-group atmosphere. How many can lead worship? How many can preach? How many can usher? In reality, ministries involved with the celebration wing of the church are limited. Yet, in the safety of the small group and with the encouragement of the group leader, experimentation can happen, and the Holy Spirit will bless.

Look for Confirmation

Once the group becomes comfortable with each other and more knowledgeable about spiritual gifts, the leader can encourage them to confirm in each other their spiritual gifts in the small-group time. What do people confirm in you? If they notice your capacity to clarify the meaning of scripture, you may have the gift of teaching. My wife’s gift of counseling (exhortation) has been confirmed over and over in the small-group environment. The gifts were given for the edification of the body of Christ, and when you edify someone with your gift, others will let you know.

It’s important to remember that often a particular gift springs up in the presence of a particular need: a person with emotional difficulties, a demon-possessed person, a non-Christian with serious questions. In the presence of such needs, the Holy Spirit might endow you with a gifting that you didn’t know you had (and perhaps, you didn’t have it until that moment!). Although I believe that each believer has at least one more or less permanent gift, the Holy Spirit can bestow special gifts in the presence of particular needs.

Gift discovery takes place in the process of serving one another, caring for one another and living the life of the body. When you find that God consistently blesses your efforts in a certain area, you can confidently conclude that you have that particular gift.

Some churches magnify just one or two gifts, to the exclusion of others. Some have called this process gift colonization. If the pastor is a gifted evangelist with regular campaigns, there may be a strong tendency to organize the entire church around evangelism. The other gifts of the Holy Spirit may be less likely to be manifested in the church because like-minded people will either stay or leave, depending on whether or not they like the pastor.

Great group facilitators, on the other hand, allow for more diversity. The leader needs to be open to allow people to experiment with gifts that are different from his or her own gift mix—as long as the use of that gift edifies the rest of the group. As the group leader gives members more liberty to exercise their gifts, the members will experience a new responsibility and will consequently feel more committed to the church.

Check Your Desire Level

One of the main secrets behind discovering spiritual giftedness is trying to determine your “desire level” to operate in a particular gift. Exercising a gift should not be a chore—it should be enjoyed. You should experience a high degree of passion and desire when exercising your spiritual gifts. I like to ask those trying to identify spiritual giftedness:

Do you like explaining biblical truth? Perhaps you have the gift of teaching. Do you enjoy praying for people in the group, and when you do, do you see them healed? Perhaps you have the gift of healing. Do you love to bring refreshments and organize group events? Perhaps you have the gift of helps or administration. Are you drawn to visit cell members who are having problems? Perhaps you have the gift of mercy.

Joy, excitement and fulfillment should accompany the exercise of spiritual gifts. Greg Ogden writes in The New Reformation: “The central clue to discovering our spiritual gifts is to get in touch with the spheres of service that produce a flow of inner joy, excitement and energy.”[xvi] When it feels heavy and burdensome to exercise a spiritual gift, it might be because no such gift exists—the person was simply trying to fulfill in the flesh what only the Holy Spirit can do through his charismata.

You Are Needed

Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, skillfully pieces together the true story of Roosevelt’s trek down the River of Doubt, an unexplored one thousand-mile river in the deep Amazonian rainforest. Roosevelt and his team joined forces with Brazil’s most famous explorer, Candido Rondon. Before it was over, the explorers faced deadly rapids, Indian attacks, disease, starvation and a murderer within their own ranks. Writing to a friend later on, Roosevelt confessed, “The Brazilian wilderness stole away 10 years of my life.” In fact, he never fully recovered his prior vigor and was troubled by recurring malaria until his death in 1919. Yet, the fact that the team mapped out an unknown Amazon tributary and lived to tell about it was so incredible that many naturalists of that day didn’t believe it actually happened.

As I read the book, I was struck by the unity the team developed in order to survive. Every team member had to fulfill his role as they fought against the odds. Because of the dwindling food and poor initial planning, the team had to get rid of unnecessary luxuries and even separate from team members who were not fulfilling their duties. At one point when Roosevelt was seriously injured, he pleaded with the team to leave him behind to die in the jungle because he didn’t want to be a burden to the rest of the group. The only way they survived, in fact, was each member pulling his weight and working together. As they did, they lived to tell about their incredible journey on the River of Doubt.

The Church is on a journey in a hostile environment, one that is diametrically opposed to its Christ-like organic nature. Every member of the body of Christ needs to be actively involved for the Church to overcome the world, flesh, and the devil. Each person must actively use his gift and minister in his God-given capacity. For far too long, the church has depended on one or two body parts to do the work of the ministry. Now Christ is calling his Church to actively make disciples who are making new disciples through cell ministry. This is the path to effectiveness and spiritual growth.

[i]Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), pp. 84-94.

[ii]Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Pastor (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1988), p. 126.

[iii] Gilbert Bilezikian, Community 101 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), p. 99.

[iv]Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch, Families in the New Testament World (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), p. 35.

[v] Nigel Wright, The Radical Kingdom (Lottbridge Drove, Eastbourne, UK: Kingsway Publications, 1986), pp. 34-35.

[vi] Elton Trueblood, in Edward F. Murphy, The Gifts of the Spirit and the Mission of the Church (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1972), p. 152.

[vii] Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), p. 91.

[viii]Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: and the Causes Which Hinder It (London: World Dominion Press, 1956), p. 17.

[ix] Boundaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), pp. 99–100.

[x] Robert E. Logan, Beyond Church Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1989), p. 128.

[xi] George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 545.

[xii]Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publications, 1994), p. 148.

[xiii] Arthur Patzia, The Emergence of the Church: Context, Growth, Leadership & Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), pp. 153-154.

[xiv]Sadly, some present day teachers have over emphasized the five-fold ministry by teaching that every church (large or small) must identify all four or five offices and that without all of these leadership gifts functioning, the local church is doomed to failure. Some of these teachers also infer that only the ones who have an evangelist gift should be evangelizing; only the ones with a pastoral gift should shepherd the local church; and only those who have the gift of apostle should oversee church plants.

[xv] Various gift surveys include: Dr. Mel Carbonell’s gift survey that features a gift inventory and the DiSC personality evaluation. Contact: 1-800-501-0490 or www.uniquelyyou.com (published by Uniquely You, Inc.); Alvin J. VanderGriend’s gift survey (developed and published by the Christian Reformed Church, CRC Publications). Contact: 1-800-4-JUDSON; Paul Ford’s gift survey (published by ChurchSmart Resources). Contact: 1-800-253-4276; Christian Schwarz’s gift survey (published by ChurchSmart Resources). Contact: 1-800-253-4276.

[xvi]As quoted in Paul Ford, Unleash Your Church (Pasadena, CA: Charles E. Fuller Institute, 1993), p. 49.