TOP TEN MISTAKES CELL LEADERS MAKE AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
BY RANDALL NEIGHBOUR
Let me begin with a confession. I am the most qualified person to write this article. I am guilty of every mistake covered here. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. She doesn’t like to say bad things about me but will be brutally honest if necessary. The mistakes I have made through the years help me see gaps in my spiritual walk and skills as a leader. Instead of trampling my self-esteem with guilt, I use mistakes as learning experiences. If I don’t repeat them, I have learned something more valuable than any training class can offer. I see my primary task as a leader to help my cell reach the lost and raise up leaders, expanding the works of God’s people. When this doesn’t happen consistently, I know I’m making mistakes that will kill my group. This may sound overly dramatic to you, but it’s painfully true. Cells die all the time and it’s usually due to one or more of the reasons discussed in this article.
A few weeks ago, I asked five hundred cell leaders three questions. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a cell leader? How
did you correct the problem or avoid making it a second time? What have you learned from the experience, or how has it changed your leadership style? Those who answered were very honest, and it took guts. Everyone likes to toot their own horn, but few will reveal their failures. Up front I’d like to thank those cell leaders who made this article possible. You are a blessing to the body of Christ! As you read these common mistakes submitted by real cell leaders, you will probably see areas in which your ministry needs improvement. This list is by no means complete, but it touches on key issues that will make or break your ministry as a cell leader.
“I OPERATED PASSIVELY WITHOUT GOALS.”
Cell leaders who “follow their nose” never gain any ground in reaching the lost or developing leaders. They wander aimlessly without a plan of action to storm the gates of Hell and set captives free. As I visit with successful cell leaders around the world, they all have common goals of reaching X number of people for Christ by a certain date and raising up enough leaders to pastor the new believers. This drives the leader to invest time with his members, unsaved friends and relatives attached to the group. The responsibility of meeting the goal is not completely shouldered by the cell leader, but he owns the goal and sets the example for the rest of the group.
These leaders are also accountable to their church leadership. Each week, they eagerly meet with their pastor or coach to find ways to meet or exceed the stated goal. If you want to succeed as a cell leader, set realistic growth goals. Submit your goals to your leadership so you can be held accountable. Then get to work meeting those goals, removing all obstacles that get in your way. Remember, run as to win the prize.
“I RELEASED AN UNTRAINED INTERN.”
Years ago, I watched a cell leader multiply his group and give half his members to his intern. As the weeks passed, I watched the new leader struggle as she lost member after member. They didn’t feel loved by her, and she didn’t know how to love them with servanthood. The leader’s mistake stemmed from not giving the responsibility of the original cell to her months before the multiplication date. Although she facilitated the meeting a dozen times, she had very little servant hood experience. What she lacked was the daily interaction between a leader and cell members that refines the leader and builds a new team. If you’re not transferring an increasing amount of leadership responsibility to your intern, you’re setting them up for defeat. You’ll also wound cell members you dearly love when they multiply off with this new leader. Give your intern the reigns of cell leadership a little at a time over the course of six months, and then back off and let them be the “senior leader.” Your role then will be one of a consultant, and if you’ve trained them well, you will experience some rest as they lead the cell members.
The best way to view your intern is to see and treat them like a real cell leader. Challenge them to serve the cell members between
meetings. Help them set up ministry visits to pray for members in their homes and join them. Spend an hour a week or more on your knees in prayer with them for the needs of the group, and you will release strong leaders.
“I WAS LEADING AS IF I WAS THE SENIOR PASTOR.”
The role of the cell leader is often mistaken to be more than should be. If you’re making this mistake, the indicators are clear. You
are worn out because you have mistakenly taken on the whole load of pastoral care for each member. Your pastoral staff doesn’t I know what’s going on with your members because they only hear about problems when it’s too late to be supportive. I You’re riddled with guilt because you work a full time job or raise a house full of kids and you just can’t be a full-time minister. Did that about cover how you feel right now? The best way to correct this mistake is to clearly understand your role. You are a faithful under-shepherd, caring for someone else’s sheep. If they get sick or attacked by wolves in the field, you help them to the best of your ability and get help. The sheep entrusted to you do not belong to you, so you are obligated to find the senior shepherd (your pastor) or the ranch hand (your coach) who is there to help.
This news should set you free! Your role is to encourage, minister to and love your members unconditionally. You’re a vital part
of the care-giving system of your church, but not the whole system!
If you’ve been acting like the senior pastor, the best way to correct the problem is to ask your cell and your pastoral staff to
forgive you. Ask them to hold you accountable for a balanced ministry and take some of the load you’re leaving behind. Cell leadership should be a joy, not a burden.
“I PASTORED THE WRONG PEOPLE.”
There are four kinds of Christians in this world with whom you will come into contact in your ministry. Your cell members, somebody else’s cell members, church friends who refuse to join your cell and other church’s members who show up at your meetings. The last three will not build your cell and make it strong if you shepherd them. When a cell member from another group approaches me with a complaint about their home cell or leader, I do not take ownership of the problem. Assisting a runaway is an offense punishable by law! I promptly see them home and I don’t let them wander off. If the issue can’t be worked it out in the home cell, he or she should visit with the coach or pastor above the cell, not with other cell leaders in the church.
When my church friends want the benefits of a cell life–counseling, ministry and support, to name a few–but are unwilling to join a cell, I don’t give them much of my time either. If they want a deep relationship with me, they should join my cell group! This way, I can minister to them and they can catch the vision for living in community. I don’t come off as “high and mighty,” but I do tell them what they’re missing by resisting the call to cell life. It’s the best place to be in my Book (Acts 2).
The same thing applies for believers who want to join my cell group and maintain a church membership elsewhere. If they want the benefits of cell life my group offers, they should be giving my church 110% of their energy. This includes attending celebration services, daily involvement in my cell member’s lives, reaching people for Jesus and discipling others. The bottom line is that a person cannot have two spiritual authorities simultaneously. He or she will run back to the first church to evade conflict and will not easily accept a challenge.
“I MADE COMMUNITY THE HIGHEST GOAL OF MY GROUP.”
This mistake is tough. It seems so right when you’re doing it! When the group fizzles, no one understands why. Cell groups that focus on community, fellowship and intimacy as the ultimate goal rarely see new believers in the group. God gave us community for a reason that transcends the “little corner of heaven” created in cell life. If your cell does not harness the power of basic Christian community to build the kingdom with new believers and new leaders, it will slowly die. The best way to avoid this mistake is to pray for the lost in every cell meeting.
Also, schedule a time to meet and hang out with your member’s lost friends and family. Make a personal goal to help your members get these loved ones saved and into your loving community. If you’re stuck in the community phase of cell life, you must show your members this is what the victorious Christian life is all about! When your cell members catch a fire for reaching the lost, they will finally understand why community is so important and why it was created for us.
“I TOOK SHORTCUTS WITH EQUIPPING, DISCIPLESHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY”
Pairing up members for accountability or sponsorship is a pain. The members don’t really understand it and resist the self-discipline it demands. You may have even said to yourself, “Our church’s equipping track is comprehensive, but the cell members seem to be doing O.K. without it.”
Has this kind of thinking entered your mind? This mistake will come back to bite you, and it has huge gnarly teeth. One day you’ll
think “why is my ministry so strained and going nowhere all at the same time?” Please, learn from the failure of others here! If you don’t pair up your people for accountability, guess who has to hold every member accountable for growth at Denny’s every morning at 6 a.m.? YOU. If you don’t disciple your members through the use of your equipping track, guess who will baby-sit a bunch of immature believers through the never-ending cell cycle? You guessed it! YOU. But the results are really more impactual than your personal state of exhaustion.
Jesus modeled discipleship for us as He developed and released his twelve. They left and did all kinds of cool miracles because of His work with them. No equipping books way back then, you say? Yes, you’re right. It was much harder without printed materials. You have it easy in the age of information in which we live!
Get busy pairing people up to work through your equipping track or set your alarm for 4:00 a.m. There are no short cuts in discipleship and if you take them, your alarm clock and a death-warmed-over look in the mirror will remind you every morning.
“MY SOLE FOCUS WAS THE WEEKLY CELL MEETINGS.”
If you fail to create a seven-day-a-week relationship with your cell members, your group will not grow because people don’t want
another meeting. They want deep friendships where there’s impromptu meals, baseball games, prayer, ministry time and relaxing. Watching TV, surfing the net, or sitting at the kitchen table and watching a pot of coffee disappear will dynamically change cell life. Your members will tell their friends how much fun cell life is–as opposed to a good cell meeting–and your group will flourish.
If your group only sees each other at the weekly meeting and at the Sunday services, you’re not doing it right and it’s not a genuine “cell group.” Take it from me, the guy whose dad wrote the book on it!
If you’re making this mistake, don’t worry; it’s easy to fix. For example, invite someone over for dinner from your cell and tell them to bring over a load of laundry. When you fold laundry together, they’ll know you are interested in true Christian intimacy, not an attendance roster.
What you must do is to reserve time to be with your cell members between meetings. If you don’t have the time to do this, make the time. Let go of things that are non-essential. Your golf game can suffer, your kids may not be in as many after school activities, and your new “open-door policy” at home will make for less private time. Remember: cell life must be a very high priority in your life for it to work. God has called you to it and He wants to use your group to win souls and raise up leaders. It takes a sizeable time investment, but it’s worth it.
“I APPOINTED MYSELF AS THE HOLY MAN.”
Answering all the Bible questions and maintaining dominant spiritual authority will make you a very lonely person! No one will
join you in leadership because they don’t measure up. People won’t get close to you because you can’t just be a friend in a time of need, you have to fix the problem. It’s also stepping on God’s toes. If you’re making this mistake, ask your cell for forgiveness in your next meeting. Tell them you love them and you need help with a pride issue. That’s the root of this problem.
The way to avoid this mistake is to prayerfully ask yourself “How can God be glorified through someone else right now?” He will be faithful to show you how the whole body builds itself up by every supporting ligament. Even baby Christians can minister to others very effectively. The Holy Spirit operates at full strength in all who believe and give it away freely.
“I OPERATED OUT OF A VOCATIONAL PARADIGM.”
If you see cell leadership as a job at the church, you’ll hate the position. Your role is one of a calling. A hired hand quits when
the going gets tough. A called man or woman just sees the obstacles as new ways God will reveal His power. See the difference?
The way to avoid or recover from this mistake is to simply read the last mistake below. Drink at the well often, and you will never be thirsty. Prayer is the key here, and this will birth a calling in you, empowering you to do great things for God.
“I HAD NO PRAYER LIFE.”
The biggest mistake cell leaders make is to cut off the lifeline to God’s power and wisdom. It comes from above and it solves all the problems a leader faces. Jesus modeled a life of prayer for us. As I reflect on His integral part of the Trinity, I see why Jesus prayed so much while on earth. He was recently separated from His Father and the Holy Spirit and missed His family!
God created us in His image, and our spiritual nature thirsts for community with Him through prayer. If you don’t pray much, don’t expect much power in your ministry! Pray alone, with cell members, family, friends, children, neighbors, co-workers, your boss and total strangers when you feel led by the Spirit to do so. Prayer is powerful and the more you pray, the better your ministry will be!
There are only two kinds of mistakes. Good mistakes are the ones you learn from; bad mistakes are the ones that you repeat or ignore. God has given you a unique opportunity to shake up Satan’s kingdom with the power of community. Your group was designed by God to storm the gates of Hell and set captives free. Don’t be afraid to make changes today in your ministry to see revival in your cell group!
Randall Neighbour is the senior editor of CellGroup Journal. He and his wife, Etna live in Houston and together they serve as cell leaders at Garden Oaks Baptist Church.
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THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM THE CELLGROUP JOURNAL VOLUME 9, #1, 2000 AND PUBLISHED BY TOUCH PUBLICATIONS.
THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.