Touching the Heart of the True Shepherd


Karen Hurston speaks and consults with churches internationally on prayer, cell groups and visitation ministry. She is the author of the excellent book, Growing the World’s Largest Church, which documents the key growth elements of the Yoido Full Gospel Church.

George and Sally Forrester often invited Ben and Nancy to their Columbia, South Carolina cell group. Ben and Nancy always refused. Rather than letting this discourage them, George and Sally committed to pray even more fervently for their agnostic neighbors. The Forrester’s did not know that Ben and Nancy’s marriage was extremely unstable. After a sharp disagreement, they felt there was no hope. They decided to see a lawyer the next morning to begin divorce proceedings. At that moment, George knocked on their door, trying one more time to invite them to their cell meeting. Ben shrugged his shoulders, glanced at Nancy and said, ‘Why not? It sure can’t hurt.”

To their surprise, Ben and Nancy found they enjoyed the warmth of their new Christian friends. But more importantly, they made the most vital decision of their lives. They repented of their sins, let go of unforgiveness and received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Today, Ben and Nancy not only have a strong marriage, but also lead a cell group.

Bruce Klepp, pastor of Upper Room Assembly in Miami, Florida, smiled as he gave a testimony from one of their cell groups: ‘With the recent hurricanes we experienced, it has been almost impossible to sell homes. We’ve had a couple from one of the cell groups that has been desperate to sell theirs. It had been on the market for months with no results. Then they began hosting a cell in their home, and their group began praying for them. Within a few weeks, their home sold.”‘

Ruth attended a cell group in rural Pennsylvania. During one cell meeting, she shared an unusual prayer request. Her daughter’s car had struck an expensive bull on a gene farm. The bull had lain injured and paralyzed for hours before someone could come and help. The attending veterinarian said that the bull would not be able to walk for at least a year, and then only with expensive and time-consuming physical therapy. The group prayed that God would work His will in this situation with the wounded bull. After three weeks, the bull started walking, much to the veterinarian’s amazement.

As a child, stories like these became normal for me. From age seven until 16, I grew up in Dr. Cho’s church in Seoul, Korea. Later, I served on staff from 1976 to 1981, watching that church grow from 40,000 to 200,000 members. During my time there, I repeatedly heard testimonies of answered prayers in cell groups. Since then, as a traveling consultant and speaker – whether in Switzerland, America, Germany, South Africa or the Philippines– I continue to hear cell groups joyously tell of answered prayers. Jobless members find employment, broken marriages and relationships are restored, clear direction and wisdom are given and the sick are healed.

Being an effective cell group – a group that truly ministers in the name of Jesus Christ – is directly related to seeing God work through prayer. He does what no cell leader can do. Leading a cell group then is first and foremost a call to prayer, a call to communion with the good shepherd of your cell.

Jesus’ Example in Prayer

Jesus spent his life making prayer warriors out of twelve men. Prior to the calling of the twelve, Jesus spent all night in prayer (Luke 6:12). This, however, was not the only time that Jesus went off for extended times of prayer. Mark 1:35 says, “And in the morning, long before daylight, He got up and went out to a deserted place, and there He prayed.” After feeding the 5,000, just prior to his walking on water, Jesus was alone in prayer. Before He did any of the above, He spent 40 days with God in the wilderness.

Jesus spent time alone with God in prayer, modeled prayer to his interns (remember the garden of Gethsemane?) and taught his group how to pray (“Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1). Prayerlessness angered Jesus. In the temple, Jesus overturned the tables of moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves as he declared, “My house is a house of prayer” (Luke 19:46). Perhaps we could paraphrase Jesus today and say, “My Father’s cell will be a gathering for prayer.”

Strengthen Your Prayer Life

Eight years ago, I had lunch with a lady who had been a section leader (equivalent to a zone supervisor) in Dr. Cho’s church for more than ten years. As we sat before a plate of fruit, I asked this woman of God, “From what you have observed over the years, what makes the difference between an effective cell leader and an ineffective cell leader?”She reflected for a moment and then explained, “It’s really quite simple. The effective cell leader reads and studies the Bible more, prays more, makes more prayer visits and reaches out more to the lost. More time in the Word and in prayer is essential.”

In his challenging book, Home Cell Group Explosion, Joel Comiskey points out four factors that relate to the leader’s prayer life:

• “Those (cell leaders) who spend 90 minutes or more in devotions per day multiply their groups twice as much as those who spend less than 30 minutes.”
• “Those who pray daily for cell members are most likely to multiply groups.”

• “Spending time with God preparing the heart for a cell meeting is more important than preparing the lesson. . .”
• “Regular visitation by the leader to the cell members helps consolidate the group.” (I would qualify this as prayer visits.)

In October of 1987, I surveyed more than 400 of the cell leaders at Dr. Cho’s church. The typical cell leader prayed for an hour a day. More than half of those leaders also attended one all-night prayer meeting a week. In addition, many also fasted not just for struggling members, but also for targeted unbelievers. Many went to the church’s prayer retreat, Prayer Mountain, for extended times of prayer and fasting.

Pray With and For Your Intern

If the pathway to a praying cell starts at the door of the leader’s personal prayer life, the next step of the journey involves modeling and leading your intern to pray. Jesus was constantly modeling prayer for his disciples. Even in the garden, where drops of blood poured forth in sweat, he was modeling prayer to his inner circle.

Pablo Fuentes is one of the best cell leaders I have ever met. In the past 29 years, Pablo has personally led over 19 cell groups in the northern California area. During that time, Pablo has raised up 27 new leaders and multiplied 22 groups.

How has Pablo been so effective? First, he begins every meeting with a clear vision statement that concludes with the importance of multiplication. He also prays weekly with his intern, usually after the cell meeting at a location away from the host home.

During this hour-long meeting, Pablo and his intern assess the last meeting, discuss what can be done for those in need of additional ministry, and plan prayer visits and evangelistic strategies in the group. Most importantly, they pray together. Pablo prays for the intern’s personal needs, and together they pray for group members and for upcoming meetings and activities.

“More important than any task,” ” declares Pablo, “is that the leader minister and pray for the personal needs of the intern. Many times we have spent our entire hour in ministry. Once personal ministry takes place, doing the task of leadership is much easier.”

Make Prayer Visits to Cell Members

How do you help your cell members appreciate the importance of prayer? The journey to becoming a praying cell greatly increases when the cell leader and intern make prayer visits to members. According to my survey of cell leaders in Dr. Cho’s church, the typical cell leader makes an average of three to five prayer visits a week. This praying not only benefits the members, but also models prayer to them.

Steve Allen pastors Christian Outreach Center in Columbia, South Carolina. Recently, group leaders and other leadership at COC made prayer visits to more than 140 homes. ‘Even in our private American society,” Pastor Allen states, “prayer visits in homes brings about a strong sense of koinonia. Prayer visits have given us a reference point to minister to those families that we did not have before. We were able to address specific needs through conversation and in prayer.”

What do you do on a prayer visit? First, schedule the visit, clearly explaining that you will not be able to stay long. 30-40 minutes is sufficient. Tell them you just want to pray with them and bless their home.

On the actual visit, I use the acrostic “P-A-M.” Begin with a brief word of prayer; this sets a spiritual tone to the visit. Continue by
asking them how they are doing. Then ask, “Do you or your family have a need or concern for which we could pray?” After identifying an area of need or concern, then minister the Word. Find one verse or passage that matches the need or concern that has been shared. Have the person read that verse or passage, then spend two to five minutes encouraging them from that Scripture. Then minister in prayer. While the first prayer was brief and general, this prayer is lengthy and specific to the need or concern.

Up to this point in the prayer visit, ministry is directed to that person or family. Now ask, “Is there a specific unbeliever you want to see come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ?” After identifying someone, join in a prayer of agreement for his or her salvation. Pray that God would use the person/family as an instrument in the process of bringing the unbeliever to the Lord. Conclude the visit with a prayer of blessing. Bless that person, that family, their finances, and their relationships.

These visits serve several purposes. As a leader, it keeps you in touch with the intimate needs of your members. It also gives you opportunity to model to the members how they are to pray and minister. Often the intern will accompany you, the cell leader, on the visit; this is a wonderful opportunity to grow in unity as you work together in ministry.

Don’t Give Up! Persist!

Will you see all your prayers answered in your cell group? Probably not. Following these steps does not guarantee automatic answers. Perhaps this is the reason why Jesus told the parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18. Rather than giving up, the widow kept coming to the judge with her plea. Even though the unjust judge did not fear God or care about men, he saw that she received justice because the widow kept bothering him. Jesus then stated, “And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly”

(Luke 18:7-8a).

I remember meeting the cell leader of a group outside West Palm Beach, Florida. His group made a written record of each prayer request, complete with date given, name of person making the request and an empty column to record the date of the answer to that prayer. Once a prayer request was given, the group continued to persist in prayer for that request until they heard an answer. After a year, they discovered that 90 percent of their prayers had been answered.

Fall in Love

Have you ever been in love? Just the sound of the beloved’s voice brings joy to your heart. You want to be close to him, even in a
crowded room. When the love is reciprocal, you want to tell that person how wonderful he is and how much you love him. At other times with your beloved, you share your concerns and struggles, asking his opinion and viewpoints. On other occasions, you share your concerns about others.That is the best picture of the cell leader’s prayer life: the leader’s prayer life is to be in the context of his love relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Spend time loving and worshipping the Lord. Share with God your needs, concerns and struggles. Share with Jesus your concern for others. That is the essence of intercession.

Jesus’ first call to His disciples and to each cell leader is the same: “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27; John 1:43; 21:19). Being a cell leader is more than just running a meeting, caring for members, reaching out to unbelievers and raising up new leaders. Being a cell leader involves praying to the Lover of our souls and the true Leader, the Good Shepherd, of our cells, Jesus Christ. He will do the impossible, like call your neighbors to repentance, sell the unsellable home, or heal a prize bull. You and your cell group can believe God in prayer like this. Start by asking!