URBAN CHURCH, ITS PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES —
RE-THINKING “CHURCH” AND FORMS OF MINISTRY IN LIGHT OF URBANIZATION – CELL CHURCH MODELS
Urbanization is ‘centripetal’ in terms of both pulling people and resources to the center. The political and economic powers are centralize in the city. Everyone feel the nearer you can get to the ‘center’ where the ‘wealth’ is the better. The thought of most people coming to the city is what can I squeeze out of the city, or ‘what can the city offer me syndrome.’ People coming to the city seem to come to meet the demand of the city expecting the ‘promise’ wealth and riches in return. However, they have to sacrifice the basic real needs of spiritual, social and emotional welfare. City pull is enticing, deceitful and enslaving. The few rich exploiters bring in capitals and wealth to enslave others.
Urbanization implies capitalization and overwhelming population increase. It is multicultural and diverse in outlook. There is high demand and stress on limited infrastructures and facilitates. There is wealth creation as well as poverty enactment. Urbanization implies dynamics of all facets of living – social, political, economic, and religious changes.
Urbanization tends to squeeze all institutions into its modes. Thus, Church planting seems to follow the ‘urbanization modes which are capitalization and centralization. Urban Churches are capital intensive and oriented. Even some urban church planters begin with huge investments on capital rather than on manpower and people. As congregation increases the tendency is to think, plan and invest on building a bigger structure: a cathedral center. The so-called mega church results into centralized structure, offices, resources ministries and Spirit’s gifting. Pastoral ministry then struggles with losses of passionate human contacts and sense of control.
In this context, it is good to ask again: What is Church? Is it a building? Is it an institution? Is it a market place? On the other hand, is it a community of believers? Is there such a thing as an “ideal” or “model” Church? What can we re-think “church” in the light of New Testament pattern? What implications are there for the church today? The following write up which in part is a reflection on cell Church models, light House Church, Nairobi, Kenya a typical example will help us started and continued to wisely fulfill our role in any urban Church at all levels.
One of the greatest challenges of urban church is the whole concept of building relational community and fellowship within God’s people.
PROBABLE TYPICAL URBAN CHURCHES
- A Babel type Church: As it is depictured in Genesis 11:1-9, there is tendency to make name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth (verse 4). The possible outcome is confusion and fragmentations in form of proliferations, breakaways of ‘churches.”
- A Laodiceans type Church: As it is shown in Revelation 3: 14-18, there is tendency to be ‘self-sufficient, independent of God and man because of acquired riches and wealth. Such a church is isolated in the community and members and selfish in their ‘salvations’ of wealth and riches. Even the pastoral ministry will be lopsided taking care of the ‘rich and neglecting the poor.
- A Corinthian type Church: In this type, it is full of carnal co-laborers. There are divisions into parties and classes. People know only those they knew or can know or want to know. Dubious characters can infiltrate the congregation without being easily identified. There will be moral misconduct and perpetration of injustice: Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians addressed this type of Church. See I Corinthians 1 especially verse 10-31.
- The Wilderness type Church: This is a one-man show type of church. The ‘big’ pastor monopolizes the church’s ‘vision’ and ministry. The church is engrossed in ‘success syndrome’ to the praise and honor of a man. In this type of church, only one man hears from God. Moreover, there is tendency to hero-worship and idolized the ‘great pastor’ is not around the congregation backslide into real idolatry of the ‘golden calf’. Jethro’s advise of exodus 18 only relieved Moses not to war himself out. For afterwards in Exodus 32 the people still made the indicant and rebellious golden calf. The structure change in Exodus is that of the judiciary. The rulers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens are to judge the pole at all seasons.’ Unfortunately, this typical church with great man of God Moses did not enter the Promised Land. Thus, we can learn good principles from the experience of this type of Church but it may not be a good model.
- The Acts of Apostles Model Church: – This type of Church is rooted in the wisdom of the founder – the Lord Jesus Christ planting, ‘ like a mustard seed’ In the ‘absence’ of the founder, the Holy Spirit stand in and fills the believers to continue what He has started. Providentially, the Church started in homes and grew in homes of believers. In those days the number of disciples was increasing, they ran into ‘church urbanization’ problem, certain members were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Moreover, such problems arose, but they were quickly resolved because of the inherent grassroots fellowships ‘from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.’ (Acts 6:1, 4:42) This model Church still holds the legacy of the resultant ‘worldwide church of God. The character of the church is rooted in the following character of the founder Jesus:
- To be like Jesus means to commit us to other believers (Matt. 3:1-17).
- To be like Jesus means to serve others (Matt. 8:1-9:38) especially those who are oppressed or without Christ
- To be like Jesus means to affirm other leaders (Matt. 10:1-42)
- To be like Jesus means to engage the world’s pain and struggle (Matt 1:18-2:23)
- To be like Jesus means to admit our vulnerability to temptation (Matt. 4:1-11)
The model church of Acts of apostles could manifest and express these characteristics in small groups or model cells ‘churches’
ADVANTAGES OF SMALL GORUP MINISTRY – CELL CHURCH MODELS
- People can serve better in a small group. It is a place to practice healthy ministry skills and disciplines (e.g. listening, asking good questions, feedback, prayer, leading discussions, etc).
- It is place to overcome loneliness and shyness, and develop integration skills
- It here individual members receive personal attention and care. If one is fretted and discouraged, when the group meets every week or even daily, (see Hebrew 10:25), they look at each other in the face and encourage each other through prayer or ministering to each other.
- It is a way to develop strategic Christian community. The pastoral team can know and feel the pain of the community through the small groups.
- The network of the small group with pastoral team will help the pastoral(s) to identify members’ skills and spirit gifts for higher responsibilities in the larger groupings of the whole church.
- It is a place for developing some sense of mutual responsibility toward fellow Christians. There is a sense of being a brother’s keeper in all facets of live – morally, financially, marital, professionally etc.
- There is a cooperative approach to ministry. They become a team and by synergy of efforts become more productive. The scripture, one shall chase a thousand, but tow of you shall chase ten thousand is fulfilled. (See Duet. 32:30).
- The church will enjoy the uniqueness of small group empowerment for ministry. There is opportunity to contribute and shares in the team energy needed for ministry.
PRINCIPLES TO SUSTAIN CELL GROUPS
- It should be avenues and effective base for transmitting and realizing the overall vision. In Acts 20:20, Paul says, “I have kept nothing that was profitable unto you…”
- There should be decentralizing of authority and empowerment of the members. The church should decentralize the following activities to the level of home fellowships: membership enrollment, children dedication, Holy Communion, Birthdays celebrations, welfare schemes.
- The pastoral team would train and trust and graciously handover the running of the ministry to ‘trusted men’ who can train others. 2 Timothy 2:2
- Decentralize both the liabilities and assets. For examples, the cell groups would also be responsible for church missions outreach.
- Pastor(s) give spiritual direction. However, cell groups have some degree of autonomy, encouraged to run its own affairs creatively to enhance rich fellowship among members. There should be rigid central control. There should be room for mistakes and growth into perfection.
- There should be challenging goals of creative evangelistic outreach t the community.
- The growing groups would continue to split into smaller groupings. A small group should consider a maximum of ten to twelve members.
- There should be a creative means of motivations and evaluations of performances of cells groups and their leaders.
- Assessment and review of the cell group system would be in the light of the church’s ministry being holistic and a reflection of the expression of God’s kingdom in the world in need.
Jesus described the kingdom and faith as starting out small, but ultimately having a big effect (Luke 13: 18-21; 17: 6 compare Matt. 13: 31; 17:20; Mark 4: 31). In our own culture, where people tend to equate significance with magnitude and define the Church by how big is the congregation, these parables give us the re-think and remind us of the power of small but potent faith and of simple but solid kingdom values that we can cultivate in CELL CHURCH MODELS.
God’s challenge to us as reflected in this paper is to learn to grow smaller as we grow bigger in the Urban Church by adopting the Cell Church Models.