Unit 3: The First Wave Interpreted Worldwide
Lecture: Ralph W. Neighbour, Where Do We Go From Here?
It’s hard to imagine the developing understanding of the cell church without the work of Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr., and the publishing ministry he founded in Houston known first as TOUCH Outreach Ministries. Yongii Cho formed Church Growth International in 1976 to share the cell church model with foreign pastors; in 1989, Ralph Neighbor wrote the 463 page book that would set the standard for the American understanding of what was happening at Yoido church: Where Do We Go From Here? A Guidebook for the Cell Group Church.
Ralph Neighbour had been working on a modern expression of New Testament Christianity since 1969; his brilliant adaptation of the cell discipleship system for evangelism is a blend of both Neighbour and Cho, of his perceptions of Yoido with his experiences as an evangelist and church planter (WD: 13, 97-109, 353-358; SG: 7). This lecture can only superficially describe a few of the facets of this thinking; in each unit and lecture, however, we are developing a terminology which I hope will be helpful in seeing how each author=s approach fits into the big picture. All of the authors contribute their own terminology; Neighbour, for example, prefers to call cell groups Ashepherd groups.@
Neighbour is a classic example of
an Innovator as defined by the diffusion of innovations, the
scientific sociological study of the cultural adoption of change which I first
encountered in Where Do We Go From Here (WD: 360-367). Neighbour quotes
C. S. Lewis and unintentionally provides a good illustration of the idealism
that fuels the innovator=s
experience: Those like myself whose imagination far exceed their obedience
are subject to a just penalty: we easily imagine conditions far higher than any
we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make
others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there (WD:
193). An inspiring vision of the good that can be accomplished through the best
possible cell group experience is birthed in Athe
listening room,@ Neighbor=s metaphor for time spent in prayer
with God. Neighbour’s painful experiences with systemic resistance to the
innovation of the cell groups is largely due to the inability of others to
believe, let alone grasp, the visionary benefit he sees as possible. Innovators
are tired of business as usual (WD: 14), challenge the status quo, believe that
all change is enabled by discontent (WD: 359), and are rebuffed by church
systems that would rather be more comfortable and please themselves than more
holy and pleasing to God. Innovators are idealists who only reluctantly come to
agree with Jesus: new wine cannot be put in old wineskins (WD: 353-358; SG:
The diffusion of innovations, however, does suggest methods which make cultural transformation possible; what leads to success, however, is counter intuitive to an innovator=s natural preferences.
NOTE (my response)
Abbreviations for page numbers in parentheses:
WD: Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr. Where Do We Go From Here? A Guidebook For The Cell Group Church. Tenth Anniversary Edition. Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 2000.
SG: Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr. The Shepherd=s Guidebook: Spiritual and Practical Foundations for Cell Group Leaders. Revised Edition. Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 1995.
The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.