From the Temple to a Cell Group: Super-Serve

“From the Temple to a Cell Group” is my attempt to make the case that in order for us to respond to Christ’s mission for our church we need to think small and intimate and to walk away from both “church” as we know it and our internal desires to “go big” (See the Intro Post of this series.)

Let’s start with a question.   Ask this question both as an individual and as a congregation.

“Who do you feel called to serve and provide ministry to?”

Now, we are trained to give fluffy answers.   Ones like, “I am called to serve God’s children” or “I am called to serve the bruised and broken”.   These answers sound nice and warm, but they are broad, too broad.   And because of that, it’s hard to focus.  There is no focus.

Part of walking away from “church” as we know it is coming to terms with the fact that we cannot be everything to everyone.   We do not have the people, time, or money.   Let’s leave those worries to others.

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Relevant small and intimate congregations and their serving ministers MUST focus their attention.   Instead of under serving everyone, SUPER SERVE someone.

I want you to revisit that question and attempt to give it focus.

My congregation is called to serve under-privileged children.

My congregation is called to serve the un-churched and those that struggle with addiction.

My congregation is called to serve divorced people who struggle finding a church home in “family” congregations.

Those are FOCUSED and SHARP mission statements.   People that attend those congregations know EXACTLY what they are about and the ministers that serve know EXACTLY whom they are serving.

I encourage and challenge you to consider this in your personal life and in the life of your congregation.   Challenge yourself.  Challenge your mission.   Challenge the usefulness of that mission.   Challenge how that mission meets real need in the “real” world (the real world is the one that exists outside of our church bubble.)

Rethinking “church” starts with a God who loves, a Christ who calls, and a congregation that serves.   My belief is that our future lies in small / intimate congregations and for that to work, our service needs to be focused.

Choose to super-serve someone in a world that God loves.

More to come…

God Bless
– Brian

10 thoughts on “From the Temple to a Cell Group: Super-Serve

  1. Emma, love your thoughts, thank you… A few things to consider

    1) Folks that are blessed to have a congregation with a solid core, consistent outreach, and a priesthood that are serving to their gifts in a healthy / balanced church will not find much use in my blog posts. My perspective is that this is not the norm for our church or for a number of other denominations, so my focus is directed there. (note in my next posting, I’ll be making a large fork in the road and start narrowing the conversation a bit)

    2) This is a small piece of a larger point that will start more and more being focused on the part of our church that needs to rediscover how to execute church. In doing that, I recognize that we do have healthy churches and in no way do I want them to break something that works.

    3) I am convinced that we can have our cake and eat it too. We can have a focused / mission driven church at the congregational level and at the same time utilize the gifts of the folks we have been blessed to have as part of our church family. And (which is a subject for a later post) we can do all of this with less money, more effective use of our ministry time, and less priesthood burn out. As a church we struggle with how to do this, because in many cases (not in all obviously) we are taking a big church approach to a small church reality…

    Stay with me, I promise in a few months I’ll have this entirely screwed up and everyone confused 🙂

    With love and God Bless – Brian

  2. While I agree that perhaps congregations should narrow themselves more, I would hesitate to impose this so much as to limit the individual and the unique gifts that they possess and should have the opportunity to develop. I would even venture to say that the a congregation CAN do everything. I’m thinking of Romans 12:4-8:

    For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

    Each person realistically cannot do everything, I get that, but even my heart doesn’t keep me 100% alive. However, it is through these individual, unique processes that my body is kept 100% healthy.

    This might be my own hang up, but I am so averse to specialized mission statements in the church setting which seem to say, “Hey God, this is what we’re comfortable with and what we’re willing to offer right now. We’re serving the poor, if you’ve got a rich single dad, go ahead and send him elsewhere. We’re developing these gifts right now.” I see that you mentioned in an earlier comment that we should be able to adapt quickly. Congregations don’t adapt quickly, people do. Can’t our mission be one of adaptation, however broad that might be?

    You encourage us to challenge how that mission meets need in the “real” world. I truly believe the real world needs diverse experiences, diverse gifts, and diverse people who are willing to utilize their own gifts in helping another. After all, the unity is in diversity right?

    Still, great, challenging thoughts. I’m eager to read what more you have to say!

  3. Sydney says:

    Hey Brian!
    I am encouraged by your idea of shifting away from what we all know as “church”. Your idea is not that crazy or unique though. Perhaps to our generation but if we go back to the first church meetings they were small groups scattered in homes. It’s brilliant, really.

    I co-pastor a church in Nashville (Cedar Ridge) and I hear ya when you say we can’t be everything to everyone. We recently have reorganized our Sunday services in order to broaden our reach. The first Sunday is traditional with communion, the second sunday is cell groups with meetings in homes, the third is contemporary/casual worship and the forth is Service Sunday where we go into the community and help other outreach programs in Nashville. It’s exhausting but it has given us more focused and intentional ministry. But, I noticed a group left out. Those that you call “unchurched”. So, on Wednesdays my husband and I open our home to those who have had it with church. We have a gathering of people who used to be active members but are no longer, we have active members and we also have atheists. Our intent is not to convert them though or get them to accept Christ because we found that all of them had too many bad memories of Christian groups and churches spiritually abusing them. So instead, we just talk about our experiences our takes and views about faith (not just Christianity) we ask questions and talk about things that are difficult and wouldn’t be accepted to be talked about in Church. We call this group UNchurch and it has been a great, healing, engaging experience for all involved. I usually feel more alive after an UNchurch gathering than I do from our Sunday services. I don’t think we have it all figured out and it’s a learning process but I think we are onto something and it’s exciting.

    So, I relate to your idea and am excited to hear more because it is encouraging to hear from someone who isn’t afraid to move away from tradition. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks Brian, I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. I work with a lot of smaller congregations in my area that struggle with inferiority complexes because of their size, and even just these first two posts have gotten me thinking on how to encourage them to focus!

  5. @Andy many great points. I am having to structure these out a bit, so there is more to come. A lot of things get mangled here and there are a lot of dependencies. So future writings will cover ministry overhead, agile replanning, cell planting and mentoring, etc…

    I do not want to give too much away here, but at the end of the day, I am convinced that our future lies with the unchurched, let other congregations serve Christians that are church shopping. I’ll make my case for why this is in later posts. But if you assume a larger vision of “we are about the unchurched”, then the smaller focus points can shift as dynamics shift.

    As an example, our current cell we put a stake in the ground that we are an outreach church. Folks that are church shopping or wanting something more “member focused” tend to come and go quickly with us. Within that, our dynamics change. At certain points, addiction became a major issue with us, therefore that becomes a focus with us. At another point, we have a number of young moms. At another point, we have relationship struggles. Dynamics change and finer points within our service need to be agile enough to change. You need an approach to church that can adapt quickly enough with very low overhead.

    I am pretty confident that after I am done with all of these posts that everyone will be confused, including myself 🙂

    God Bless – Brian

  6. Kathy Sharp says:

    I LOVE this article and approach. Super serve a smaller group. Great advice for our Community of Christ congregations. Thanks, Brian!

  7. I think I hear what you are saying, but I have some questions related to a congregation that I’ve been working with in my area. This congregation has been super serving only a few very specific groups of people for a few decades – developmentally/emotionally challenged and financially challenged. Aside from the enormous amount of resources that goes in to this sort of ministry, there are also other factors working against the congregation: its location is very remote, the leadership is advancing in age while simultaneously declining in size and energy, and the financial resources are being drained as they try to keep up the responsibilities of preserving their historic church building.

    Over the last several months they have lost one of their key leaders to cancer, the lead pastor has suffered some serious health issues and the co-pastor has had to take on additional responsibilities at work. This has all happened since their previous pastor resigned and left the congregation last summer.

    Now, surely the age of the leadership and location of the congregation are playing into the rapid decline of the congregation, but I have to ask if their super serving of only one small segment of population hasn’t also led them down this road? It has been extremely difficult for this congregation to engage with new people to take up the work that this congregation has committed to, in part because of the remote location (at least 30 minutes into the country from any sizable city), but also because of the general makeup of the congregation. Surely there is a lot of judgment and bias at play (and I fully confess that I am guilty of a lot of it).

    So, I guess the primary question to your thesis of going small is how do you recommend not pigeon-holing a congregation as a church solely focused on divorcees, those with addictions, under-privileged children or developmentally/emotionally and financially challenged folks that could possibly turn off others, which may eventually end up meaning that there are no new leaders to take up the mantle? I am genuinely intrigued at the idea of having cell groups become the new “church”, but am concerned that openness and/or appeal to outsiders may wane if the group is focused too narrowly on one or even only a few particular demographics.

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