Cells in rural ministry


1. God’s goal: to use the parish church to help bring about transformed lives and a transformed community within the parish. But what will that church look like when the goal is reached? What is our vision for the local church?

2. What the vision is not:

2.1 All the Christians in the parish worshipping together in one building every week (they may choose to go elsewhere),

2.2 All Christians in the parish active in mission within the parish (they may be active elsewhere),

2.3 Appropriate spiritual nurture within the parish for every age (for some age groups it may be better for the provision to cover a wider area and take place elsewhere),

2.4 More than enough talents and finances in the parish to meet every need (it makes more sense to share resources with others), and

2.5 An ordained leader living within the parish to run the services, pastoral care etc. (Ordained leaders should not do everything themselves.)

2.6 Such a self sufficient church is many people’s ideal. But it is not what God is looking for (he wants the church to be interdependent), nor does it relate to current realities (we live in a mobile, multi-choice, multi-denominational society and not every parish can provide everything that is needed).

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3. What the vision is: to see a church where

3.1 Jesus is at the centre of everything.

3.2 All Christians are pressing on in their faith;

3.3 All Christians are united in love, creating loving communities that are generous and outgoing;

3.4 All Christians are using their gifts to help others, seeking peace and justice and fulfilment near and far;

3.5 All Christians are overflowing with the good news of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of the world;

3.6 All resources are shared with the wider church according to need.

3.7 What this vision might look like is suggested in paragraph 5. You may have noticed that this vision is derived from the five values of cell churches, plus the additional value of sharing resources.

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4 How could this be fulfilled?

4.1 This vision can be fulfilled if there is co-operation and interchange and sharing at all levels.

4.2 The local parish church is part of the wider church in the area; its PCC will keep its authority within Anglican structures, but it will need to have a ‘kingdom of God’ perspective rather than a overly parochial one: while it will have to focus on parish concerns, it will do so as part of the whole Body of Christ, recognising that sometimes the needs of the Body of Christ in the wider church may have to over-ride particular needs of the parish, at least for a while. (For example, a churchwarden who is brilliant with young people may need to be released from being churchwarden in order to serve the wider church as a youth leader.)

4.3 The wider church will need to address those areas of church life that are of common concern. Some kind of a leadership team or forum will be necessary for the local churches to relate to, and some kind of a cell system throughout the wider church could provide the kind of support that many Christians need, without geographical restriction. They will all have to work together to fulfil the vision.

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5. What might be the results? What might we see if the vision is fulfilled?

5.1 A growing sense of Jesus Christ at the centre.

The transformation will have come about because Jesus has become the centre of many individuals’ lives and also of all the church’s and most of the community’s organisations. Often there will be an almost palpable sense of his presence, and an expectation of meeting him through the Spirit. The chief desire of many people will be to glorify Jesus; he will be spoken about readily in ordinary conversation, and prayer will be almost as natural as breathing.

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5.2 All Christians making spiritual progress.

5.2.1 A transformed community will have many Christians resident in the parish. Each will be thirsty for more of God, and for greater godliness and fruitfulness. Each will have different circumstances, and be on different stages of their spiritual journey. Many will have pressurized lives, with many demands on their time. However, they will be learning to take Christ’s yoke on them, and to let him take the weight off their shoulders.

5.2.2 Most of the Christians will find the greatest help for their journey in their fellow travellers. Most will be members of cell groups where they will find unpressured support and encouragement. These cell groups might have members from different parishes, even different denominations. Most Christians will also participate in congregational worship and receive regular teaching there. They will be free to choose whatever service is best for them, within or outside the parish; not all services will be on Sundays. There will also be opportunities for retreats and courses for those who would like them, usually arranged by the wider church.

5.2.3 The Parish Church will play an important part in this. It will encourage its members to participate in cell groups, and cells to be active in the parish, wherever appropriate. The parish church will have a regular weekly worship service; it will recognise that it cannot cater for the needs of all the Christians in the parish, so will be happy to focus on one style or time or whatever is most helpful to the wider church

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5.3 All Christians united in love.

5.3.1 In all the business (or otherwise) of their lives, the Christians will be known for their devotion to one another as well as to God, and for their active concern to help one another make the best of their lives, spiritually, economically, socially, in every way. When there are differences in opinion they will be resolved in love, and will not lead to division.

5.3.2 Such love would be fostered by the cell groups, but obviously not confined to them. Congregations will also want some social time to meet one another, even if it is just refreshments after a service. There will also be occasional gatherings of all the Christians in the parish just to meet and encourage one another.

5.3.3 The Parish Church will recognise that it is not the best venue for developing a deep love for one another. However, there will usually be a greater variety of people in a parish congregation than in a cell, and so the parish church will provide opportunities for love to be exercised more widely.

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5.4 All Christians using their gifts to help others.

5.4.1 They will be known for their active concern for the welfare of all their neighbours, and for the whole community. Their horizons will not be limited to the parish; all have connections outside the parish, and want the welfare of every sphere in which they move. They will understand that their service is not in their own strength, but it is God working through them; and they will expect the Holy Spirit to equip them with whatever gifts and talents are needed to do his work, within the church as well as outside it.

5.4.2 Such ministry will need to be co-ordinated across the wider area. Cells will encourage it, but there will need to be training for specific work.

5.4.3 The Parish Church will provide an important setting for people to exercise their gifts on a bigger scale than in cell. As occasions demand, the church will initiate new work or point out areas of need to the wider church.

5.4.4 One particular gift will be that of being a local ordained minister – one who is from the parish and is trained and ordained to serve in the parish. That person will be a focal point for the parish and a representative to the outside world; however, they will not be the one and only minister, but will enable others to use their gifts for ministry.

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5.5 All Christians sharing the Good News.

5.5.1 Because of their care for others, Christians want them to enjoy the same kind of relationship with God that they enjoy, and will encourage them on their life journeys. Each Christian will have a particular sphere of life in which they believe God has called them to serve as a first priority; that may be their family, or neighbourhood, or workplace, or it may be something completely different. Cells will encourage each member; some cells will be composed of people with the same vision, and will work together. The wider church can train and mount initiatives. Residents who focus outside the parish will still feel very much part of the Christian community and village community within the parish; they will feel supported by it, and they in turn will support parish life as much as they can even if that isn’t very much in the circumstances.

5.5.2 The Parish Church will be an important resource for mission, because of its focus and connection with the local area. There will be regular services, so that interested people won’t have to hunt for somewhere to go. There will be regular prayer for the parish. The baptism, wedding and funeral services will be opportunities to help people along the way. There will be services focussing on parts of the community or marking notable events, which will help the uncommitted. The building will be open daily for anybody to walk in for prayer, and casual visitors will find not only a good tourist experience but also a spiritual one, through the guide leaflets provided. However, the church will recognise that the main task is not to attract in but to reach out, and will be actively looking for opportunities for the gospel, either to take by itself or to pass on to cell groups or to the wider church.

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5.6 All Christians sharing resources.

5.6.1 Within the wider church there will be adequate resources to meet all the needs of the church in the area, and to help meet needs of mission elsewhere in the world. In the parish there will be an uneven distribution: the parish will have an abundance of some resources and a scarcity of others. If the parish is small it is unlikely to have enough people to run a youth group, for example, and a tiny parish may decide that its children are better served by going to a next door parish. However, this is not seen as inequality but as God’s way of ensuring co-operation and loving service to others.

5.6.2 The Parish Church has its ancient church building as an important resource, due to the centuries of worship offered within it, and its witness to the importance of worship for the community. However, the parish will see this as a resource that is to be shared, both with the community as a whole and with the wider church. Over the years the building will have been upgraded so that it is as flexible as possible and can be used for a variety of purposes. Sunday worship is one purpose, of course; the parish will balance the needs of the wider church for different styles of worship in different places and times according to the facilities available, and the needs of those within the parish who for one reason or another cannot easily travel. However, the parish will be very careful not to let the needs of the building divert it from the needs of the kingdom of God by, for example, insisting on having an all-singing-and-dancing-charismatic-service that would be more effective in a neighbouring parish or in a different venue.

5.6.3 Financial provision is another area in which there will be a sharing of resources. The wider church will have its own account, which will be used to pay for the professional ministry, courses, administration and other expenses. The parish church will have its own account for the building and other local expenses. However, if the wider church needs a new hall to be built somewhere, all will work together; or if an existing parish building needs to be upgraded for the use of the wider church, all will contribute. The Christians will be known for their individual generosity, and the churches they form will be equally generous. Large amounts will be given to support mission and aid in other parts of the world.

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6. Conclusion

The above is one possible outworking of the vision. God will work his purpose out, and the result may be very different! But I believe the broad headings are in line with Scripture, and worth all of us adopting as goals for our church.

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God’s goal

What the vision is not

What the vision is

How could it be fulfilled

What might be the results


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