by Michael C. Mack
The best cell leader ever formed a small team that would eventually change the world. But first, Jesus called two sets of brothers: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Three of these, Peter, James, and John, became Jesus’ inner circle, his Core Team. Jesus poured his life into these three men, investing into them and modeling a life surrendered to the Father for them. He took these three away with him to pray and heal, as well as when he was transfigured. While Jesus did not ignore the other nine apostles or his other followers, he focused on these three, especially. He intentionally discipled these three and developed them into leaders.
Jesus knew something vital about leadership, discipleship, and shepherding. No one—not even Jesus—can effectively lead, disciple, or shepherd more than about two or three people. Leading, discipling, and shepherding are based on close relationships in which the leader invests into the life of those he or she is leading.
One of the reasons cell leaders burn out and cells fail is because so many leaders are trying to do way too much! Even the most extraordinary leaders—the best of the best—cannot effectively disciple a cell of eight or more! I’m not saying there is anything particularly “magical” about a core group of three and I want to be clear that I’m not advocating a new program or system for cells consisting of no more than three or four people. I’m simply pointing out that there are limits as to how many people you can really lead, shepherd, and disciple. And I believe that number is two or three.
Disciples are not produced by programs, events, or even “discipleship studies.” Disciples are made in the context of authentic community by individuals through the power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus told his disciples to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19), he wasn’t teaching them a new program or process for growing the church. He was simply commissioning his followers to continue to do what they had seen him do and what he had taught them to do—to invest their lives into the people God gave them (to be “with” them), to invite them to follow Jesus, and to teach (disciple) them in the new way of life. (Luke 6:40). I believe real discipleship happens as one person invests into the life of another person. I think most people can make this kind of investment with at most two or three people at once. In the best circumstances, these two to three should be people within your cell.
Group members often balk when faced with the proposition of deeper prayer, accountability, and especially confession in the group. And for good reason: Most cells are too big for these Biblical practices. But a core group of two or three is just right!