Cells, Biology, Healthy Churches & Small Groups

What can our bodies tell us about developing healthy church networks and cell group ministries? Science has long sought to find ways to slow or stop aging. Slowing aging is part of the medical Holy Grail that’s been part of the Western Culture. One of the surprising insights that science has found is a process called apoptosis a type of process that each cell goes through if it has been damaged or aged beyond the ability to reproduce another healthy cell. Apoptosis occurs more often in older organs because those cells have suffered more over time. One of the surprising conclusions stated by Scientific American magazine is that nature seems to care more about the survival of the young than managing decline in old age. This is why so much of our bodies and of the natural order is focused on our reproductive potential – smile – that’s a lesson for another day.

The point is that in apoptosis instead of dying, hurt cells that are normally able to reproduce may take a less extreme course and simply stop dividing, a fate known as replicative senescence. What is literally happening is that the damaged cell goes into a locked model – where it does its job but doesn’t divided until its healed and whole again. Now there is also a limit to the amount of times a cell can divide. This is called the “Hayflick limit.” The reason the cells limit their division is that want to protect the ends of the chromosomes so that they don’t erode too much.

Churches with aggressive evangelistic movements tend to experience something similar when it comes to expanding their influence. What can occur is that as the leaders attempt to continue to expand their influence the “cultural DNA” that they have been attempting to deposit in that next set of leaders is losing its potency. That cultural DNA may be the churches unique mission, vision, ministry, and values but as the ever-expansion continues the fringe doesn’t seem to look very similar to the core structure. By the 4th and 5th generation of influencers you have missing pieces in the cultural DNA sequence. If there aren’t control systems in place for your church you can have uncontrolled division of cells. That’s just sounds bad – both biologically and in ministry. Abnormal cells multiply uncontrollably and can become cancerous. This is one of the reasons science is constantly cautioning us about our intake of sugar. Sugar tends speed the growth of free radicals. The parallel in ministry is that people who are fast tracked without truly being developed correctly do more damage to the body than edification. Its truly important to be systematic, disciplined and intentionally focused with each new group of leaders as they rise in your church body. When we fast track individuals we get more of the same. So does this mean we need to wait for the right people to come along and align with our mission and vision. Its not going to happen. We constantly must be driven to deposit the mission, vision, values, and culture within each leader that calls said church “home.” Don’t rush the process because you love the person. If you rush the process you have a rushed product – and that usually means defects and recalls. You must be proactive not retroactive. Oh ya, one final thought on cells that are damaged. If a cell realizes it’s too damaged to continue doing its role. It destroys itself so that it does not metastasize and spread to other organs in the body. Its really important that if you have a leader who doesn’t line up with your churches mission, vision, values and culture and is insistent on being in leadership – whether official or unofficial – that they move on. Take it as a lesson from biology that – said leader needs to move to where they would function in the best capacity. We want the best for them as well as for us. They may in fact help another church grow – perhaps that’s one of their purposes. The biggest take away is simply this: employ a process to instill your churches values into its leadership.