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The second reformation: Cell group revival! Some considerations about the Cell Group Church in the M12 (Model of the Twelve)


Pr. Sóstenes Borges de Sousa – In 11/03/2000

Being invited by the International Mission Board (IMB) a department of the US Southern Baptist Convention we gathered in Santiago, Chile. From 14th to 17th February 2000 in order to take part of the First Meeting about Speeding up World Evangelism.


The following gentlemen attended it: the IMB chairman, Pr Jerry Rank accompanied by his high missionary staff, mainly those working in South America along with national leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Ecuador.


Representing Brazilian Baptists were invited besides this servant, who is writing, Pr Salovi Bernardo (General Secretary of Brazilian Baptist Convention – CBB), Pr Waldemiro Tymchak (General Secretary of World Mission Board – JMM), Ivo Seits (General Sacretary of National Mission Board), Pr Aloísio Penido Berto (General Secretary of Mineira Baptist Convention).


I thank God for the honour of being chosen, even though I am not part of the denomination national structure.


We also want to thank our beloved American brothers for the initiative of having this Meeting as well as for the invitation and for the IMB sponsorship.


This historical meeting in the beginning of the XXI century confronts us vividly on how much we are changing. It was pleasing to hear the IMB deputy-chairman (Pr Don Kammerdiener) recognising the context of racial conflict that marked the beginning of the pioneer’s work. Then, I had the opportunity of asking a question that Afro-Brazilian and Bras-indians wanted to ask for more than 120 years:


“Beloved brothers, who are involved in mission strategy worldwide, encourage clearly the cross-cultural bridge and do not continue to make the mistakes that have us, up to today, confound European liturgy with doctrine and anthropological prejudice with Biblicism. We cannot continue hindered from our Latin American-Brazilian-brunet (latinidade-moreno-brasiliana) because we have inherited the German-British protestant style. After all, the 19th century pioneer’s liturgical and ecclesiological model have already been revised and temporised by great American leaders such as Rick Warren (Purpose driven Church). We are about to turn a page in history and although we all still have to preserve the way (Acts 24.14), this is a very relevant moment, ounce in times past we would be discussing here whether the Blacks and Indians have soul or not.”


Those who study and think know that the separatism that came impregnated in the theological system of the majority of the pioneers of then racist south of the United States, those same ones who rebelled against Lincoln’s abolitionism, that even today have us thinking that if “something is from Blacks”, or from “savages”  they are consequently “from the devil”. But these are expressions of race, Indigenous-Afro-European, mixed in such a way, that finds itself bio-anthropologically inclined to clapping, different rhythms, dancing, exclamations of rejoicing, etc. It is clear that both the theological language and the expressions of faith, are also conditioned to social-cultural context and historical legacy, but it is extremely important not to forget the fact that western culture (European and North American, as a genesis) is not synonym for Christian ethics. It is sufficient to note the homes of the most Fascists, Racists, Existentialists, Nazis and Satanists contemporary systems.


Even before certain statements, which were not intended to cause constraint, but with maturity we intended to think about the historical and cultural aspects thoroughly. The dialog continued absolutely harmonious, courteous and in brotherly spirit.


Being in Santiago, Chile, the official language was obviously Spanish. The Meeting also focused in presenting the new model of IMB operation in its emphasis of planting Churches. In the event, we were given a digital book in Spanish, which unfortunately was not known by those in the debate before hand. It caused us to be less able to argue with the IMB vision. The STBNe (Northern Baptist Theological Seminary) already have this document available in its site: www.seminariobatista.org.br (David Garrison. Movimientos de siembra de Iglesias – Church Planting Movement). Pr David Garrison is the Deputy-Chairman Associated of IMB Mobilization Strategy Coordinator, and works in Wiesbaden, Germany.


The following news had us extremely happy. It is concerned with church planting in Latin America: “in spite of the great persecution by the government, two Baptist Conventions grew from 235 churches in 1990 to more than 3200 in 1998”.


It was clear that the so called “lay person” (which I prefer to describe as non-theologian Ministers) will have a fundamental role in the new vision of Richmond.


To what all of us agreed whole heartily, but disagreed to the “abandonment” of the seminaries as a missionary strategy. After all, who is going to teach the non-theologian Ministers? We need to be careful not to make “copies of the copies of the copies...” so much so that we will not be able to read the original ones later on. The training of the self-supported ministers (or lay persons who are not paid by the church) needs to maintain a responsible level of Bible study which is our greater source of revelation. Without adequate teaching it is difficult to satisfactorily look up the originals in Hebrew and Greek, or understand systems and even do apologetics and dialog with other areas of knowledge. Objecting this position, I could comprehend the historical frustration of the IMB strategists: “we have created philosophical schools that did not take upon themselves the main mission the Lord entrusted us: win souls and make them imitators of Christ”.


In this matter, we had, as CBBa, the advantage of presenting the STBNe as the pioneer seminary in Brazil to incorporate a system of mentoring which is going to reunite the student to what is biblical, ministerial and its ecclesiological praxis.


Also a very interesting issue was raised by the worldwide missionary Baptist leadership; the acknowledgment that “on our own, we are not going to reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ: we will need to be alongside brothers from other doctrinal and theological beliefs”, said the IMB chairman, Pr Jerry Rank. By the way, the IMB deputy-chairman, Pr Don Kammerdiener, said that the greater hindrances to reach the world are our “lack of vision, theological resistances, biblical ignorance and our ecclesiology”. I thought it was incredibly bold (boldness here in the sense of knowing that it is necessary to run certain risks for a greater good, in this case, the salvation of the world).


But what all of this information above has to do with “the second reformation: Cell Group revival!” Theme I proposed to approach in this paper?


The answer comes from another trip I did two weeks before I went to Chile.


By my own initiative, and mainly sponsored by the churches I pastor (that are Periperi PIB and Beach Community IB); I went to Santa Fé de Bogotá, Colombia, to visit the revival center of Americas.


There, a prophetic word that has us looking at what is small and pitiable and in all of it seeing that the great works of God are fulfilled.


Colombia is a country marked by violence, drug dealing and corruption. So much so that it would take more than 2000 evangelical leaders from different denominations and nations worldwide (including USA, Germany, Canada, Sweden, Scotland, Holland, Australia, France and Spain.) “risking their own lives” (believing the Lord would keep them safe) to go there and listen to a Latin American pastor, whose level of schooling is questioned by the most demanding academic circles?


There is only one answer: the move of God’s Spirit pointing to a great revival! For it is really to revolutionise Colombia and impact the world that God granted Pr César Castellanos a vision that so far provided him with a church of more than 80,000 members, in which almost everybody is committed to seeking holiness, faithfulness and salvation of others.


It was such a remarkable experience, to participate in two special meetings; One with more than 12,000 women and another with more than 20,000 young people from a single church that were just coming from their cell groups. Besides I could witness a generalised concern with sanctification, discipleship and salvation of souls.


Even though, it was somewhat disconcerting, I had to confront the IMB leaders with the reality that as we were speaking about coming closer to other Evangelical denominations and dealing with speeding up worldwide evangelism, we were not bringing to the debate the Bogotá phenomenon. It is nowadays a true Americas’ benchmark. Castellanos is working with principles that helped him to build a mega cell group church and is causing such an impact in the city and on the nation’s life, as well as inspiring others to do the same.


We can discharge ourselves from the mission the Lord Jesus entrusted us (Mat.28.18-20) going on foot, with only one leg, riding a donkey, a bicycle, or even a car, but if God grants us the privilege of building a supersonic jet squadron it will be negligence not to put it to use (Eph.5.14-21).


What do all pastors desire for their churches? The fulfilment of the goal expressed in Ephesians 5.27 to the flock entrusted to them: “a glorious church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”.


However, the question that keeps hanging is “how is it going to be done?” The Holy Spirit, all Christians have (at least it is thought so), the Word, faith, love, vocation, theology, etc. All these are also at reach of all those above and if we ask the pastors if they have them, we offend them with the simple possibility of thinking so bad about them.


Nevertheless, the question continues. Why there are so many ministries suffering, bitter and so heavy to carry? Why do we still have so many programs and business meetings which look more like those the Lord speaks to in Isaiah (1.13): “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies”.


The denominational ecclesiological structure does not satisfy the demands of our present time nor the challenges that our mission imposes on us. Even before I was involved with the ministry, as a pastor, I was already concerned with the Baptist cause. In 17th June, 1988 I wrote in my meditation diary: “There is something wrong with our ecclesiological model...” In the 27th of that same month I wrote: “If we had grown 15% in the last 107 years we would be more than 15 million Baptists instead of 600 thousand as estimated”.


The biggest Baptist church in Brazil, known traditionally, is Niterói First Baptist church; it is estimated to have 7,000 members according to a data from 1999.


There are many who want to accept the Word of salvation. I witnessed this truth again when my wife and I took part of the “Impacto do Carnaval” (Impact Carnival). We left the church camp retreat, with 420 people, under our leadership care. They are such a blessing to us.


I confess I had many restrictions to this event called “Impacto”. And at this time I went in a diplomatic mission (receive the Chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention, the biggest convention in the world, Pr Paige Paterson). However, the “Impacto” impacted us: it was short of labourers for the harvest. The word was shared repeatedly in 30 minutes and after each time, about 40 people stopped, listened, prayed and an average of 10 “raised their hands to confess Jesus as their only Saviour.” Many also wanted counselling and prayer. Then, I remembered the mango trees full of wasted mangoes because nobody picked them (Jo.4.35).

According to the greatest research on church growth done by Christian Schwarz in his book “The natural development of the church”, the common church model is exceedingly technocratic. The church decisions depend on a “position” that depends on an “election” that depends on a “Personnel Committee”, etc, etc, etc.


In the cell group model the decisions are not centralized, because everybody is called to bear fruit, ounce fruit bearing is associated to a holy and faithful living of each person in the body of Christ.


In the cell group model the church back door is watched closely, because everybody is responsible and highly motivated by the Holy Spirit to work and keep the fruit.


There are many different cell group church models such as, Joel Comiskey, “Explosive growth of cell group churches”. Some of the major references are: Full Gospel Yoido Church, Korea, Pr David Cho; Missão Carismática Internacional (International Charismatic Mission), Bogota, Pr César Castellanos; Igreja Pentecostal Elim (Elim Pentecostal Church), San Salvador, Pr Jorge Galindo; Ministério Internacional da Restauração (Restoration International Ministry), Manaus, Ap. Renê Terra Nova.


Nowadays, no doubt, the most analyzed and studied model is the one from Bogota. It is called Govern of the 12 Cell Group Church, or simply G12.

There have been many and various debates, involving passion and controversy. The G12 suffers some rejection of even certain “Pentecostal and charismatic” circles. They regard some proposals as “new age”.


The majority of those who debate it though lack information. By God’s mercy, I had the privilege of researching plenty literature in Spanish, English and Portuguese; listened to hours of tapes and debates, besides participating of the “polemic” Encounter, in which, I was greatly blessed. And I can say that the Encounter is really tremendous to any ministry and person who want to make a deeper transformation where they are based.


The Encounter is not all the cell vision is nor its reason for existing. It is part of each person’s restoration process; People who are going to be involved in training and leading a cell group. Without the encounter, the process becomes unviable. I have noticed no problem in the encounter itself, ounce all the time it points to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith (Jo.15.5).


The major discussions about the Encounter are related to the process. Some say it is “secretive”, but that is not true, anybody can come along. The commitment made not to talk about what happens there is simply to maintain the program expectation as a surprise; and it is positive, biblical and therefore Baptist (Mat.17.9; Jo.16.12).


Many “doctrinal” polemics are related more to semantics and historical prejudice. Surely there are matters of biblical interpretation options (which is a Baptist characteristic) and even of theological understanding.


It is worth to remember, for instance, the tensions between historical criticism and historical grammatical schools, or the fact that some does not accept the existence of spiritual gifts or even the existence of Satan and his demons.


The concern with “generational curse”, for example, is disproportional, considering the vision as a whole, cause besides not being a new subject, it is not also something emphasised by Castellanos in his expositions on the Cell Group Vision in the Govern of the 12; On the other hand, though, Renê Terra Nova, then a pastor, worked this principle a lot in Brazil. This is comprehensible in Biblical terms, if we consider both our cultural roots and that not only what is genetic is inherited. Even a house or a debt, can be inherited and therefore it has a hereditary character, how much more a psycho-socio-cultural and religious influence the Brazilian miscegenation brings along for centuries.


Another subject of plenty criticism is “inner healing”, what shows a huge lack of information because the process is relevant and the results are astonishing; so to remember what affects our present, in order to treat them, is human, Biblical and necessary.

It is contradictory that some though they recognize themselves as the Body of Christ; they do not want it for their churches but send their church members to professionals, Christians or not, who also use regression, without which there is no therapy. Surely we are not speaking about “regression to past lives”, like what the “new age” does; we mean psychoanalytic or psychological regression.

Without despising the opinion of those who does not agree with the Cell Group proposal, I would like to say that unless some critical matters of G12 are well known, we are not going to be able to evaluate it correctly. And as a result, we are going to miss such a great opportunity of broadening our ecclesiological references.


To those who are interested in the growth of their churches, according to their possibilities, I would recommend the following:


1 – To take part of your leadership to an Encounter weekend, organized by a church whose pastor is a reference to you. Remember, there are several fruit stands offering orange in a market; some are good, others are sour, still others are rotten, etc. It does not mean however that all the oranges are bad or that all the venders are tricksters.


2 – To read Castellanos, César. “Sueñes y ganaras el mundo”. MCI. E-mail: edivilit@impsat.net.co.


3 – To read Castellanos, César. “Liderazgo de éxito através de los 12”. MCI. E-mail: edivilit@impsat.net.co.


4 – To read Comiskey, Joel. “Explosive growth of Cell Group Churches”.


5 – To read Comiskey, Joel. “Groups of 12, a new way to mobilize leaders and multiply groups in your church.” Touch Publications. Site: www.touchusa.org. (In the site in English you will be able to find Comiskey’s doctorate dissertation, it is worth reading too.)


6 – To read the Encounter Manual. I suggest you read pr. César and Claudia Castellanos and also ap. Renê Terra Nova, from Ministério Internacional da Restauração (Restoration International Ministry), from Manaus. Tel: (92) 233-3075. Site: www.mir12.com.br. (The MIR manual brings a mistake exploited by IURD, that seems to be more concerned with the revival of so called traditional churches than with the doctrinal purity blemished by the following unfortunate phrase in the manual: “to forgive God”. The meaning here is concerned to understanding the sovereignty of God, even before adversity).


7 – To visit the biggest Cell Group Church in Brazil in the Model of the 12. It is Ministério Internacional da Restauração (Restoration International Ministry), in Manaus; its apostle is Renê Terra Nova and its former name was Restoration Baptist Church).


8 – To visit the biggest Cell Group Church of the Americas in the Govern of the 12. It is Missão Carismática Internacional (International Charismatic Mission) in Bogotá, Colombia; its pastors are César and Claudia Castellanos.


9 – To visit Cell Group Church Ministry in Brazil, Curitiba; its pastor is Robert Lay. (He is associated with Pr Ralph W. Neighbour, who is one of the great theoretical about cell group church, but unfortunately he cannot present an ecclesiological reference of international repercussion greater than Cho or Castellanos.)


10 – To pray and take some of your leaders to an Encounter and talk about the possibility of transitioning from the traditional structure to the Cell Group structure. Be followed up by someone who has more experience in the process.


We do not advise a precipitate “imitation” of the G12, but a responsible analysis and delight the enriching contact with pr Castellanos’ vision.


For it is sure those who do not to examine deeper the theme proposed will be blessed in their ministries, according to the grace of God; they however would be even more blessed if they also were praying for those who are exposing themselves to win the nations, for loving the lost souls and the Lord of the harvest.


We should not forget the illustration of blind people touching an elephant. Each touched the elephant on different parts. The first blind person touched the belly and said that the animal looked like a wall; the second held the leg and compared it to cocoanut tree; another caught its tail and related it to a broom, and others described other parts of the elephant. The moral is: Each one had a ‘reason’ for describing the animal in the way they did. Still, the greatest reason was their impossibility of seeing the entire animal, the elephant. It was far too big to be hugged at once.


The essence of the vision of multiplication through the Cell Group Churches in the M12 is salvation of souls and the conquest of nations (Ps.2.8). And it is much higher than eventual mistakes that need to be repaired along the way.


“However, as it is written: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” 1Cor.2.9.


Recent comment: March 2007:

Today, more than ever, we are sure of what we said and for the choice we made in the year 2000.

We are, by the grace of God, a growing and blessed ministry. I am a happy pastor and passionate for Jesus. I love His church, my family, my discipler, Ap. Renê terra Nova and each disciple, who along with me, are challenged to follow the Supreme Master, Jesus Christ, the God.


After its maturity, the G12 stopped being the one and only defining instrument of the cell group vision according to Jesus’ model in Brazil. The M12 arouse along with other less important variations.


If I were going to baptize the system, I would say that we are in Jesus’ Model, or the disciple’s model. We have the cell groups (non biblical name) as our strategy, as an action to integrate and an element of structural and ecclesiological mobility.

As a matter of fact, the first biblical reference to the model we embraced happens when God talks to Abraham (Gn.17.20). Whoever has spiritual and hermeneutical discernment will be able to comprehend this key passage. Here Yahweh revels that in order to be Father of a great nation it is necessary to beget twelve princes. God was the first to set a goal of raising a team of twelve.


Ap. Sóstenes Borges