After becoming a cell leader, I’ve come to understand just how tough it is. It requires you to be a friend, a mentor, a shepherd, a listener, an advisor… all while balancing administrative duties such as chasing for attendance, planning cell outings and accounting to church staff and leaders.
With such a multi-faceted role that begets varying degrees of expectations from others, it’s no surprise that disagreements will arise. As I walk down this journey of cell leadership, I’ve come across more and more stories of how others have been hurt by leaders in their churches.
This made me reflect on my own leadership style and whether I’ve unknowingly inflicted the same hurts on my cell members. I’ve found that there are three common reasons why members have been hurt.
1. CORRECTING BEFORE LISTENING
A friend once shared how her cell leader would always be quick to correct her and give her advice, which widened the distance between them over time. After examining my own heart as a cell leader, I realised I had been doing the exact same thing.
I enjoy being a confidant for my cell members, but when they share their problems, my first response would be to give advice. As a cell leader, I often feel the need to help. But what if that I deem as helpful may actually be harmful?
As James 1:19 says: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…”
I learnt that while we’re called to be shepherds for our sheep, guidance need not always come in the form of immediate correction. I’m now practising the art of keeping quiet and simply listening first.
When I just listened, I found that conversations in my cell group grew to be more intimate and open.
Cell group should be a place where problems can be safely heard. Being corrected isn’t always the nicest feeling, and to have to deal with it often can eventually discourage one from sharing deeply.
Sometimes members just need a listening ear and a safe space to air their inner thoughts and emotions. Jumping the gun too quickly on giving the “right advice” may make it seem as if we’re not really present with them.
By not creating that safe space for them to be heard, cell members may instead feel they’re in a place where they’re always being rebuked rather than loved and nurtured.
I’m not saying we should avoid correction altogether – because being able to receive hard truths is part and parcel of the Christian faith – but an equally important question for cell leaders to consider is: How can I be more intentional in listening and sensitive in responding to a member’s sharing?
2. MISSING THE HEART BEHIND HARD TRUTHS
Sadly, it’s common to hear of friends who have been hurt because of how their leaders used the church’s stand on a matter to justify their reasons for rebuke and simply ended the discussion on that note.
Cell leaders are appointed to guide members closer to Christ. But are we communicating the heart behind these truths, or are we just stating the dos and don’ts of Christian living?
As 1 Corinthians 13:1 reminds me, truth without love becomes a ringing and painful noise.
Hard truths don’t necessarily need to be delivered in a harsh way. I’ve personally come to terms with hard truths because my leader took the time to have a conversation with me, showing me she was available and willing to listen, while still standing firmly in what she believed in.
And because she demonstrated these same truths in her own life as well, she became an example for me to see these truths lived out. With love, we can do so much more when trying to sow truth in our members’ lives.
3. INSISTING ON THEIR WAY OR THE HIGHWAY
I’ve also had friends who shared about leaders that imposed too much control over their lives.
As a stubborn and prideful control freak, this hit me hard. It was a cold reminder that leaders don’t have all the answers – and not all answers have to come from us.
If I saw my members going down a road I don’t agree with, my instinct would be to stop them and insist that they change course to one that I believe is best for them.
But as I began to reflect on my role as a leader and look at what God has placed in my hands, what I saw, oddly, were reins.
Through this image, I realised that reins are used to help direct, but if you pull them too forcibly, it hurts more than it helps. Effective manoeuvring is a balanced act of both tightening and loosening your grip over the reins. And similarly, impactful leadership requires wisdom in knowing when to step in and when to let go.
Leaders can’t expect full control; we need to remember that our members’ journey with God is ultimately their own.
This image of the reins in my hands reminded me to remain rooted in the sovereignty of God rather than my own authority and ability. I also realised that guidance comes in the form of prayerfully surrendering my members’ lives to God.
With that said, it does take two hands to clap. I hope that cell members can love their leaders in spite of their imperfections and even when it hurts.
More importantly, I hope this article will be a reminder for both cell leaders and members to glorify God in all the things they do (1 Corinthians 10:31), which could mean releasing forgiveness or humbling yourself.
THINK + TALK
- Have you been hurt by your cell leader or cell member before? Why?
- What are some steps you can take to glorify God in the way you respond to the hurt?
- How can we cultivate a better cell group culture in our churches?