Gentlemen, to Your Cars


Bill Beckham is the President of TOUCH Global, which ministers to churches internationally by establishing indigenous cell church movements within countries. He is the author of The Second Reformation.

Those who come into contact with the cell church often feel that it is complex, confusing and painfully difficult to actually implement. The general consensus about the cell church is promising and exciting, but much too complicated!

Books, conferences and case studies on the cell church often add to the impression that we are looking at an extremely complex system. By the time all the different parts of the cell church are defined and described, the whole idea seems even more disjointed and involved.

Although our first impression of the cell church may entail ideas of great complexity, when properly viewed the cell church is a very simple and practical way of seeing the church. It is a correct theory, and “there is nothing so practical as a correct theory.”

There are three factors that may contribute to the perceived complexity of the cell church:
• Approaching it from a mechanical rather than a functional perspective.
• Trying to use old operational procedures to make it work.
• Failing to distinguish between essential and nonessentials.

In order to experience cell church simplicity, you must see it in its functional rather than mechanical context. The functional context concerns itself with actually doing it – operating it. The mechanical context considers all the details about how all the parts of the cell church works. When we do this, we get bogged down in understanding the intricate details and often miss actually doing it. Consider the automobile. It is a “correct theory.” If it were not a correct theory, we would not have cars all over the world causing traffic jams and pollution as the price of quickly getting from point A to point B. Like the cell church, the car is a practical and simple machine in its operational context but extremely complex in the mechanical context.

Suppose you are going to teach a man to drive who has never seen a car before. You sit him down in a small library of mechanic’s manuals to explain how a car works. What will happen? As you begin to detail all the, car’s working parts, as laid out in the mechanic’s manuals – the electrical system, transmission, engine and etc. – a spirit of complexity will take charge. The poor fellow will quickly reach the conclusion that he can’t drive that car. “This machine is far too complicated to operate.”

However, take that same person, seat him behind the wheel of the same car that looked so complicated in the mechanic’s manuals, teach him about the steering wheel, the gas pedal, the brakes and the gear shift. Show him how to turn on the car, and he will learn how to drive. Remember, the car is “a practical theory” that functions simply at the point of operation. This is the primary point of understanding for one that wants to go from point A to point B. No matter how complicated the operation of a car may appear when one sits at a table with the mechanic’s manuals, it is simple to operate from behind the steering wheel. In fact, most any person will be able to tell the key points about driving after an hour or two of practice.

Books, conferences and case studies on the cell church are often more like a study of the mechanic’s manuals than instructions on how to operate the thing. Some select persons may need to know about the mechanical parts of the cell church and the automobile. However, aren’t you glad that every driver isn’t required to understand the mechanical intricacies of a car before being able to use it?

Fortunately, God has not assigned most of us to do the repair work on His Church, but to use it. If I am going to use a cell church, I need the simple instructions on how to operate the thing first, not the complicated procedures about how all the parts fit together or work. In fact, learning the simple operating procedures will then substantially increase my understanding of the mechanical details. I must see the cell church in its operational rather than functional aspect.

Using old operational procedures can also cause the cell church to appear complex. When new machinery comes on the market, often we need to unlearn old operating patterns in order to correctly operate the new machinery. Mixing new methods of operation with old ones can complicate the process and make a new, simple piece of machinery appear extremely complex.

My paternal Grandfather, whose life’s stories have turned into great family folklore, had an experience that illustrates this principle.

One piece of folklore records the first time my Grandfather tried to drive a car. Since Pa, my Grandfather, was born in 1877, he came into contact with the automobile as a man who had already developed skills with other machinery. His primary experience was with farm machinery, pulled staring at the backsides of his two faithful mules, George and T Bo.

T Bo and George were operated with bits and reins and with voice commands: gee for right and haw for left; get up for start; and whoa for stop. Some operators of mules might have used more graphic commands, but as a serious Christian, Pa’s working vocabulary was limited to these more acceptable, less colorful terms.

The first time Pa got behind the wheel of a Model A Ford, it ran away with him. The Ford was making right and left turns as if it had a mind of its own. He frantically tried to control the mechanical beast and bring it to a stop. In the midst of all the confusion, Pa reverted to his old way of operating machinery, which meant George and T Bo. He was heard desperately yelling, “Gee! Haw!” to give right and left commands. As the Model A headed toward an immovable object, he shouted, “Whoa! T Bo!”

Of course, the Model A tuned a deaf ear to such commands and would not respond to the same kind of operating procedures as George and T Bo. (From what I hear, George and T Bo didn’t respond correctly every time either.)

I know my Grandfather survived that experience because he lived to be almost 96. But you know, I never did see my Grandfather drive a car all the time I knew him. Maybe he had already stopped driving by that time. Or maybe that one experience with the Model A Ford affected his attitude about driving cars and convinced him that the automobile was too complicated a machine to drive. Pa’s bad experience was the result of mixing old operating procedures with a new kind of machine.

Even simple operations become complex if we try to use old operating procedures. Pa did not just need to learn how to drive the new contraption. Pa needed to unlearn how he had always operated machinery that was pulled by George and T Bo. His voice commands may have been designed for George and T Bo but not for Model A.

What does this have to do with the cell church? Old traditional operating procedures will not carry over in operating the cell church. Combining cell church operating procedures and those of the traditional church will cause confusion and complications. If you see the cell church as complex, it may be because you are mixing the old operating procedures you have used in the traditional church with those necessary for the cell church. This will surely bring confusion and doubt.

Failure to distinguish between essential and nonessentials will also cause the cell church to appear complex. The KISS principle comes into play here. “Keep it simple, stupid.” Don’t let the nonessentials that cause complexity confuse the simple and practical essentials that cause the cell church to work.

I inherited a 1984 Buick LeSabre from my Mother. It was a wonderful car in its day, offering every possible option known to man. Ron, my mechanic, loves that car. Every time I take it in for repairs, he assures me that my 1984 Buick LeSabre is special among cars built during that year. I often wonder something as I’m paying my monthly repair bill to him. Does his high opinion of my Buick have anything to do with the fact that he gets to repair all the fancy extras on the thing?

Now, my Buick would work with far fewer moving parts, the essentials – which are still doing surprisingly well. It’s the nonessentials that are self-destructing. Don’t get me wrong! All the fancy nonessentials are nice and do serve the important function of making at least one person on earth very happy – my mechanic. If a power window (which could be a simple handle) sticks in the down position, my mechanic gets to repair this non-essential luxury for a charge of $200. In the long-run, I would be better off if that 1984 Buick had fewer bells and whistles.

A cell church with minimum but essential working parts provides easy instructions for operation and low maintenance. These are the moving parts of the cell church. Get it right at these points and it will work. If we focus on these areas we need not be a rocket scientists to lead a cell church.

I want to put you in the driver’s seat of a cell church and give you eight simple operating instructions. You don’t need to be a trained professional to drive it – only one who desire to move forward. It is a correct theory (God’s theory) and practical at the operating level. Give attention to these eight aspects of the cell church and it will work.

“Gentlemen, To your cars.” Get your head out of the mechanic’s manuals and get behind the steering wheel! Here are your instructions:
• Get into the CELL body of the car. The cell is the framework around which all of the parts of the cell church are fitted.
• Turn on the VISION key. Vision activates the cell church. Vision is the electrical system of the cell church.
• Put your hands on the LEADERSHIP steering wheel. Leadership guides the cell church.
• Fasten your SCRIPTURE seat belts. The Bible protects and provides safety for the journey.
• Activate the EQUIPPING gear shift. Equipping transfers the power from the driver to the engine.
• Make sure the EVANGELISM wheels are aired up. Evangelism takes the car forward into new territory.
• Check the WORSHIP gauge for fuel and water. Worship fuels and waters the life of the cell church.
• Let the PRAYER engine provide power. Prayer is the engine that furnishes the power of the cell church.

A car consists of hundreds of working parts. However, a relatively small number of its components cause the car to perform the primary function of moving from one place to another. For instance, if the transmission goes out, the car will just sit there even if all the other hundreds of parts are working. Likewise, a cell church has essential working parts that must operate before the cell church will work. Therefore, we must give our attention to installing the essential moving parts of the cell church.

The cell unit is the frame that integrates every other part of the cell church. As each car has a basic form that gives it identity, so the cell gives the cell church its identity. If it does not work here, at its most basic level, then the cell church will not work at all. The basic life of the church exists in the cell. The cell itself acts as the primary unit around which the entire church centers. Without this priority, the cell will become just another attached program, not the integrating element of cell church life.

Priority must be given to the dynamics of cell life and not just the mechanics. Make Christ the DNA of cell life: the life source, force and power. Focus the cell meeting upon Christ, not on techniques, leaders, materials or gimmicks.
• Acknowledge His incarnate presence
• Experience His omnipotent power
• Fulfill His Kingdom purpose

Group dynamics, effective leaders, celebration events, evangelistic campaigns, meeting mechanics, warm community or spiritual experiences will not sustain and drive the growth of God’s work in the world today. Only a cell that allows Christ to actually move in the midst of the group can be His instrument in the 21st Century for “turning the world upside down.”

Vision turns on the cell Church like an ignition switch starts a car. Vision creates the electricity that ignites the rest of the body. From my own experience, I describe vision as a call, a passion, a commitment, or even an obsession. If a church’s vision does not work properly, everything will shut down, and the cell church will end up beside the road waiting for a tow truck. Leaders are responsible for clearly communicating God’s cell church vision. A leader in a church outside of Washington D.C. shared this word: “When the vision is unclear, the cost is always too high.” An unclear vision will result in a cost that proves too high, and the church will inevitably waver from the original call. Only a clearly communicated cell church vision will keep a cell church moving. Maintenance of an unclear vision will always become too costly. When this happens the leadership or the people will abandon the effort.

On the flip side, “When the vision is CLEAR, the cost is never too high.” A clear cell church vision furnishes the necessary power and commitment to work till the end against all obstacles.

The leadership structure steers the work of the cell church. Just as we have a steering mechanism that directs the car, so does the cell church. Most cell churches follow Jethro’s advice to Moses and develop workable leadership units through which God can direct the movement of the church. Generally cell church leadership is arranged into the following four categories:
• Coordinating Leaders of congregations
• Area Pastors of 6-25 Cells
• Coaches of 3-5 Cells
• Cell Leaders of 5-15 Christians

This kind of leadership structure, integrated around the cell, allows Ephesians 4:11-12 to operate. “And He gave some as apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” When leadership works properly, Ephesians 4:16 begins to work. “The whole body being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Servant leadership provides a way that primary care can take place closest to the primary need. At long last, Ephesians 4:12 can operate the way God designed it in the New Testament. God gives leaders to His church in order that He can steer the church in the proper direction. The cell church will simply not operate unless these
leadership units are in place.

The Bible anchors and protects every aspect of the cell church like seat belts do passengers. Because the graded Sunday School is not the primary program in the cell church, some claim the cell church is a dangerous model without adequate biblical safety features. In actuality, the cell church releases the Bible to become part of every aspect of Christian life. The traditional way of doing Bible Study is not enough for the cell church. Many who have sat in our Sunday School lasses, “hearing” the word for thirty years, can not even pray in public. They have not been taught to be “doers” of the Word. The traditional church’s teaching of the Written Word has limited its application to cognitive understanding and little life transformation. However, in the cell church, members study the Bible in a way that teaches not only “hearing” the word, but “doing” the word. In the cell church setting, Bible Study is a lifestyle seven days of the week, not a study on just one day. In the cell church we find:
• Christ, the Living Word applies the Written Word through cell life.
• Every member is equipped in a systematic self-study of Scripture.
• The I Corinthians 14:26 pattern (everyone has a hymn, word psalm, etc.) operates.
• The Word is read, sung and shared during worship times.
• Gifted teachers & preachers share the Word.
• The Word is consulted for planning and problem solving in all leadership meetings.
• Members are prepared to apply the Bible daily to their lives.
• Pastors, church planters and missionaries receive special equipping in the Bible.
• Youth & children learn to be “hearers” and “doers” of the Word in this pattern.

The Bible acts as the safety system that protects those traveling in the cell church from both doctrinal error and program deadness.

Every member enters a specific gear to receive equipping and then shifts on to the next gear of training. The cell church will not
operate properly unless an effective Equipping Track exists so that each member is discipled and becomes “part of the solution rather than part of the problem.” ” The equipping track systematically raises up healthy Christians who can move into the role of cell interns. Without cell interns, the cells cannot produce leaders, will not grow and cannot multiply. A cell church must set up a system of equipping gears that prepares each person for ministry at full speed. General areas of training that seem to be common in such systematic equipping tracks are:
• Scripture foundation
• Christian values
• Kingdom living
• Witness
• Prayer
• Worship
• Cell Life
• Spiritual Warfare

Cell church equipping has three unique features: self-study, with a sponsor, and in a cell context. Equipping done through self-study proves most effective in teaching a new Christian “how to fish” rather than “giving him a fish.” Through self-study with a sponsor, each cell member will enter into an accountable relationship with another person in the cell. Also, on the job training within the context of cell life accelerates the personal growth through each gear of training. The cell church will not operate without an effective equipping system.

Evangelism moves the church forward into the lost world. There must be something inherent within the nature of the cell itself that will overflow out into the world in witness. The higher a cell enters into worship in Christ’s transcendent presence and the deeper a cell enters into community in Christ’s immanent presence, the broader the cell will go out in witness and ministry in Christ’s kingdom presence.

This car will not move without the wheels of evangelism. The cell provides the delivery system of the gospel out in the world, and is the church out beyond the parking lot. The cell offers a way that the church can become an exponentially multiplying force out in the world.

The lost are contacted out from the cell at three points:
• We know them. We know our oikos where relationship evangelism takes place.
• They come to us. Seekers and “men of peace” come to us.
• We go to them. We directly contact them at the point of their felt needs.

Evangelism in a cell church is incarnation evangelism. We drive forward to meet the lost instead of just inviting them to come to us. God established this model for evangelism when He left the comfort and glory of heaven to go into a lost world to seek and save that which was lost. The cell must not become just another “come structure,” “where we invite the lost to come to us. God has designed the cell as the ultimate “go structure,” in which Christ continues to penetrate the kingdoms of this world by using each person in the cell.

Worship fuels the body with energy that flows from the presence of the Lord. In worship, the cell church experiences God both as the Most High God (Celebration) and as the Most Nigh God (Cell). God expresses Himself as the transcendent God and as the immanent God, the great God and the close God. Within the large and small group dimensions of the cell church, true celebration worship fuels and waters the life of the Church.

Worship takes place in several contexts in the full blown cell church:
• Family worship … Parent and children worship
• Cell worship … Small group worship
• Congregational worship … Extended family reunion type worship
• Celebration worship … Public event worship

As the life of Christ in the midst flows out of the cells, dynamic and meaningful celebration worship will naturally overflow into the life of the larger corporate body. Celebration worship will then flow back into the cells, fueling their life and ministry at the basic cell level. The old kind of Sunday worship operates out of balance and will hinder the movement of a cell church. Dynamic worship in every cell church context must exist if it will work properly.

Prayer is the engine that empowers the church to move forward in His work. Jesus said: “I will build my church. ..” Our part in Christ building His church takes place through prayer and communication with the Builder. Because the cell church will not work without Christ building it, the cell church depends totally upon prayer. The cell church must continually come back to the presence of God in order for the church to work.

Prayer in a cell church focuses on both the personal and corporate encounters with God in His greatness and closeness, in His
and immanence. Between these two ways that God expresses Himself to His church there develops a flow of prayer. The more we
experience Christ in our midst, the more we appreciate the glory and greatness of God in His transcendence.

Prayer takes on a new meaning in a cell church. Prayer during cell meetings. Prayer in leadership meetings. Prayer in the body life of the cells. Prayer in the “whole” church. Prayer in the family. Prayer as individuals. The cell church prays because it experiences the incarnation expression of the Most High and Most Nigh God. The cell church prays because it experiences what it means to be the Body of Christ on earth. Without prayer this car cannot move. The pistons that empower the cell church are only turned over through prayer.

Is the cell church simple or complex? It depends on how each one of us assembles it. Certainly God did not make it to be complex! If God has called us to be part of a cell church, He will provide a simple form of operation. Our success with the cell church does not depend upon our knowledge or expertise. (Even those early church leaders were considered novices.) If we try to understand every part of it mechanically, then it will look complex. If we let God put us in the drivers seat and operate the cell church, it becomes simple.

There is nothing so practical as a correct theory. The cell church is a “correct theory” because it is God’s theory. Let’s allow it to work in its simplicity and power by getting out of the library and into the driver’s seat.