So much to do, so few Memorial Day parties at which to do it! That’s what I’ve come to think after hearing what happened at some of the recent BBQs. Maybe we should skip however else we do things and move exclusively to a couple of BBQs a week as soon as June hits.
At one gathering an unconnected neighbor was questioning how Circle of Hope operates. The host was introducing her neighbor to a couple of ex-cell mates from Circle of Hope. She explained how her cell had recently multiplied and how these people were formerly part of her cell. The neighbor looked at the former cell mates and said, “Isn’t it painful to break up your small group?” The pair immediately said, in unison, “Yes!” It was like they had some unexpressed emotion that needed to get out and the neighbor had untied their balloon.
The host was still a bit flabbergasted when she was telling me about this. I think she would have told her neighbor, “Get thee behind me Satan!” if she hadn’t thought it would spoil the party. In her multiplication, she had successfully engineered a radical, missional action. She had catalyzed a small expansion of the kingdom, elevated a new leader and increased the amount of entries a person might stumble upon to get into the church. She had resisted the natural inertia of social groups and moved with what the Spirit was doing next. It wasn’t that easy! Now her neighbor was encouraging everything she was trying to overcome!
Her neighbor was unintentionally reinforcing attitudes that work against what Jesus is trying to do. Marketers have been helping to keep people static by customizing their offerings to customers’ individual tastes. For instance, we don’t buy as much yogurt in large containers anymore, as if we were going to be sitting down with someone and sharing. We get an individual serving in the flavor we like best. Appealing to individual preference is not always the best strategy, since people make choices on group preference, as well. But especially in the United States, the marketers push personalization more and more, since it fits the prevailing philosophies. So you can even get your seaweed soup in a packet. I think this mentality gets extended to our cell groups after they have reached some kind of homeostasis. They begin to have a group identity that tends to want its personalized container of yogurt. And they don’t really think of sharing a big container of yogurt with others.
Meanwhile, Jesus is moving on a steady course toward reaching everyone who will listen to his voice and including them in the “fold.” He says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16 TNIV).
My friend the BBQ host was having the regular frustration we have when we follow Jesus. Among other things that are life-changing about knowing Him, we are called to imagine more people in the fold. The marketers will talk us out of being in a fold, at all. The Lord is talking us into being in a fold of all. If we go with Jesus, we end up convincing people to not be singular and to be in a cell. Then we persuade them to multiply the cell and form a congregation. Then we talk them into multiplying the congregation and becoming a network. Then we talk them out of just being an isolated network and being part of a denomination. Then we talk them out of just being their denomination and being part of the church in Philly and around the world. It is all with the goal that “there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
The crucial place of reorientation happens when a person who has been drawn out of their isolation and into a cell can imagine the Lord building another one. Post 9-11 it is even harder for people to imagine being in community — and they certainly don’t want to be talked into anything! The frightening expansion of the corporations and the police state in the last decade have people running for their individualized servings in a vain attempt to not be dominated by big things. The church can get tagged as another one of those big things. Circle of Hope was once merely small. Now that we have flowered into a network, we can get tagged as dominating. The multiplying cell is the constant place where we get a chance to be small and to expand, to go with Jesus
- for oneness, not singularity,
- for mutual dependence, not independence,
- for a vision larger than our own personal needs, not mere consumerism,
- for a growing organism, not a disposable personal experience.
It is hard to make a new cell when you love the one you have. I hope we never love so weakly that it doesn’t hurt to get bigger and let further people in to disrupt our lovely relationships. To expand the fold with people we love and to be loved by them is a pleasant way we fill up what is lacking in regard to the Good Shepherd’s afflictions (Col. 1:24).