As cell leaders, it’s likely we’ve encountered one or more of the following scenarios (it’s not an exhaustive list!):

  • A cell member goes on an overseas trip with just her boyfriend, posts it on Instagram 
  • A cell member keeps on swearing during cell group 
  • A cell member starts dating someone who’s not Christian
  • A cell member keeps skipping church and cell group, only choosing to attend fellowship events
  • A cell member keeps complaining to the group about the church/sermon/pastor

Depending on what kind of leader we are, our response might vary. 

Some leaders might react, coming down hard without having all the facts, perspectives or taking the time to think things through. Others might sweep it under the carpet, tabling the issue as something to “monitor” or saying “who are we to judge?”

For that first leader, he would do well to not be quick-tempered.

For the second leader, she should consider Luke’s counsel in Acts 20:28: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Leaders lead lives. So leaders must find the balance when it comes to tricky conversations and sticky issues — and have them.

Leaders must respond. But where do we start?

Talk to God

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

You know who has all the facts all the time? God does. 

That’s why prayer and time spent with God should be our first recourse instead of anxious mulling, assumptions or outright catastrophising.

Ask God for wisdom. He’s got infinite wisdom and He can’t wait to give you some (along with some grace!) for that conversation with your member that you’re thinking of having. 

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you discernment so that you can look at the situation rightly.

And ask God for humility and gentleness; becoming proud, harsh and thinking poorly of others can be all too easy when considering how to rebuke or correct those under your care.

In your time spent with God, He might provide a solution or perspective you hadn’t considered.

God may divinely move things along through prayer as well  — so pray before you say!  

Talk to others

“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” (Proverbs 11:14)

It also helps to speak with other pastors or leaders you can trust.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten brilliant advice, a new angle, or, really, just the encouragement I needed to be bold as a leader from speaking to pastors and close brothers in my life.

For anyone who leads: it’s really very liberating to simply admit that you don’t have all the solutions or ideas. Leading is tough and it’s okay to ask for help!

That said, there is a line and a difference between genuinely asking fellow leaders for advice and gossiping about others

As much as possible, I limit the details I mention so that the scenario I bring into discussion is one that protects the cell member(s) I am thinking of.

For instance, when it comes to names, consider just referring to the cell member as “Person A”. If there’s specific contextual knowledge about Person A that my pastor has to know, include it without badmouthing Person A or casting aspersions over his character.

Just stick to sharing the facts, let your advisers give their takes — and then bring it all back to God once again.

Talk to the person

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matthew 18:15)

Here comes the hardest part: actually having the conversation with the cell member.

I’m probably the most non-confrontational person in all of Singapore, so tough conversations are very scary to me.

But what helps me is knowing that as a leader, I’m not called to win an argument or pick a fight.

My call is simply not to shrink from declaring something profitable to my cell members. My call is to exhort them, and to admonish them where and when necessary.

So, the spirit and perspective with which you have this conversation makes all the difference.

It’s a lot deeper than behavioural modification; the stakes are infinitely higher since the mission is about making growing people into little Christs — and then making more!

The whole reason we have cell groups and do life together, is for tough, course-correcting conversations like these.

So, rely on the strength of your relationship with your cell member as you speak. If you have been sowing into their lives, the ground, so to speak, will be much softer and receptive.

If you haven’t been building such relationships in your cell group… well, it’s time to start. 

Bringing the issue to your cell member in private, first allow him or her the chance to speak. It is important that they get a proper opportunity to share their side of things or clarify issues.

It may be that their explanation will resolve the “issue” entirely. Indeed, I have encountered “situations” that turned out to be a misunderstanding altogether; you can’t know until you listen to the other party and find out.

Then if you still need to admonish or rebuke them, reaffirm the intentions behind your words and speak the truth in love.

Speak humbly and gently, to restore the person and not to put them down, knowing they are made in the image of God, just as you are.

Before such conversations it is also always best to pray that God’s peace and grace would surround the conversation, that the brother or sister will listen and that they would ultimately be won over to following Jesus.

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)

Back in the late 2000s, I was skipping church a lot and pretty much only came for cell group because of the football we’d play afterwards.

My cell leader at the time — bless him — didn’t have the benefit of gentle articles like this to read, so he called me up when I was nowhere to be found one Saturday Service and gave my ears a walloping the likes of which they had not experienced since I stood in front of the speakers at Watchnight Service the year before. 

The words were not pleasant (in truth, they could have been far kinder) but they turned me around from the wrong path I was on.

I still joke about that phone call with him to this day, but I am always seriously thankful he did it for me all those years ago.

Tough conversations are sticky, tricky, and not always pleasant to have.

But we lead cell group and invest in our members’ lives precisely for tough moments like these.

Cell leader, is there someone in your life who’s presenting a difficult issue you need to speak to them about?

Talk to God, talk to others, then talk to them!