In March, my son Dru and I traveled to Brazil where I had the privilege of training cell-church pastors, coaches, and leaders at two conferences. The first three days I led five sessions in Manaus, which is in the north of Brazil. Then we traveled to the south to the beautiful resort town of Aguas de Lindoia, where I led the same (relatively) five sessions. In between, Dru and I had the opportunity to see some of Brazil, especially the Negro River, which is a huge river that feeds the Amazon, and visit several Indian villages along the river banks.
I was asked to go there to teach on the subjects of leadership burnout from my book The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership and the vital signs of a healthy group from Small Group Vital Signs. The fact is, I learned as much or more than what I taught.
I want to share just five of the many observations I made while there. I want to be careful not to overgeneralize or make blanket statements about all Brazilians, all Brazilian Christians, or even all Brazilian cell-group members. But I do want to share my own perceptions, for what they are worth. My intent for sharing these is that I learned quite a bit about North American Christianity and group life in the process.
Today I’ll begin with my #1 discovery. I’ll share the other four over the next week or so.
1. Community Is a Way of Life in Brazil.
One of the reasons cells work so well in Brazil is that sharing life with one another is natural for most Brazilians. I saw this everywhere, from the way they drive (see my post and video abouit this here) to the way they share meals together to the way they worship. The latter of these really struck me. It seemed to me that when Brazilian Christians worship corporately, they do so as a community, looking at one another, pointing at each other, putting their arms around their friends … rather than as individuals who all happen to be gathered in the same room.
There is an important nuance here that I noticed. My whole life, I’ve experienced church as an individual who then steps into a community; in Brazil, people seem to see themselves as part of the community, the body of Christ, who have individual gifts and resources to share in that community. This difference makes community, evangelism, celebration–everything as the church–more vibrant, more like the New Testament church, than I’ve seen elsewhere.
My takeaway: I believe in the power of authentic, Christ-centered groups even more than ever before. Whereas in Brazil, and, from what I understand, many other countries around the world, cell life fits in perfectly with their community-driven culture, here in North America small groups and cells (I use these terms interchangeably, by the way) must be the driver of helping us develop a more community-driven culture in our churches and beyond.
We talk a lot about “sharing life together.” But we must humble ourselves and ask God to break our independent natures in order to truly live that way. I believe in the vision of my friend +Rick Howerton to see “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples,” but I believe first we must learn to live in the kind of community the early church experienced, not claiming that anything was their own, but sharing everything they had (Acts 2:45; 4:32). As always, health must proceed growth.
It’s in this kind of environment that once again the Lord will add to our number daily those being saved.
Read the rest of the posts in this series HERE.