Cell Testimony

by Cliff Ravenscraft on June 16, 2005

in Blog

I recall as a child, going to many different churches depending on who I went with. Sometimes a neighbor would invite me to his or her Vacation Bible School. I never really liked those much as a kid. Sure, I liked the cookies and Kool-Aid, but about the time I was at an age where I was old enough to start looking up verses in the Bible, I always felt awkward when all the other kids knew exactly where to look for the book of John and they waited patiently as I thumbed through pages searching for it.
I also went to several different churches on Sunday as a child. Which church I attended mostly depended on which local church was running a bus service through my neighborhood at the time. I recall going to Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Wesleyan Churches, and there were probably more that I don't remember.
The one church I remember the most was the Nazarene Church in Florence, Ky. Looking back this is the church I felt the most at home in. During Sunday school classes, I actually listened to the stories that were told about the old testament. During the Church services, I enjoyed seeing grown men and women pouring their hearts out to God at the alter in front during the prayer time. There's still something about hearing a room full of people all praying out loud at the same time that brings me to a place where I feel like God is near.
Finally, there was another church that stands out prior to 1991. That church was Community Pentecostal Church in Taylor Mill, Ky. I went there every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night without every missing a single service for a year and a half. I was about fourteen or fifteen at the time and I remember how beautiful the girls were there! I will admit that I never really understood the shaking spasmodically, the running up and down the isles like a wild banshee, or the scene in the front of the church that looked like there had been a mass shooting where bodies appeared to be laying on the flood waiting for a chalk outline. Yes, I understood their reasoning they gave behind all of this, but I never really bought into it.
These experiences never did bother me though, except when I would bring a friend to that church with me and then weird for bringing them and exposing them to such a thing. Why did I continue to go there for so long? First, there were great looking girls there! The most beautiful that I've ever seen. To this day, I still love the look of a woman in a skirt that comes down to her ankles. There were other reasons. First, my cousin Glenn went with me. We were pretty tight back then. Second, I enjoyed the worship music there. It was a Bluegrass Gospel approach to Worship that you can still experience there today. I still love their worship and how passionate it is. And most of all, I loved the preaching.
Pastor Tommy Bates has got to be the most passionate preacher I've ever listed to. I loved to listen intently as I watched him shout and run across the stage, jumping up and down when he was really excited about talking about when we walk into Heaven, and I really loved it when he would start singing as he preached. Just writing these things brings back many good memories in my past church experiences.
I can't neglect to inform you that I went to a Catholic School from the First through the Seventh Grade. No, I was no Catholic, but was sent to catholic school for their higher academic standards. I had to go to mass every Monday through Friday for seven years. I was taught what the Catholics believed in religion class for seven years.
I don't know if you know this or not, but because I wasn't Catholic, I didn't get a “first communion” like all my friends did. I was not allowed to take communion with all my friends during mass, not even once in the seven years of going to mass five days a week. I wasn't allowed to even go to “confession” with the priest as all my friends did. I was an outcast. They wouldn't let me be a part of those things but they sure did force my to do the sitting, kneeling, standing thing at every single mass I attended for those seven years.
Well getting back to my cell testimony, as you can see, I was a very “churched” individual growing up. I'd been to SEVERAL styles of churches and been a part of several denominations. Please understand that I have a deep respect for each of these churches. Their faith as it was taught to me helped me to understand the “Church” in broader terms. When I hear someone say “The Church” I think of all believers everywhere, including all those different churches I mentioned above and around the world.
Here's the thing. There is one thing that EIGHTEEN YEARS of going to church didn't do for me…. It did not teach me ANYTHING about what it truly means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, I recall asking on several occasions how I can be saved and go to Heaven. When I was about 8 years old, my aunt asked me if I wanted to be saved and of course if you ask an 8 year old if they want to go to Heaven or Hell what do you think the response would be?
Well that next Sunday, I was taken to the front of the church during the middle of the service and the pastor announced that I wanted to be saved. Boom… I was done… I was saved, just like that. At least that was what I was led to believe. Nobody told me that I had to change anything, there was no additional training. All I had to do was say that I wanted to be saved by Jesus and that was it. I never questioned my salvation until I started going to Community Pentecostal Church. The preaching there really got me to thinking. So I asked a respected Sunday School teacher from CPC, “How does one get saved?” Her response was that you believe Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he died for your sins. Again, no real mention of sin or anything. The fact is that I thought I was a Christian, she thought I was a Christian and so we simply left it at that.
The fact is that everyone I interacted within the all the churches I attended just assumed that I was a Christian because I walked some of the walk, staying away from certain things, listening to the right kind of Christian music, dressing a certain way, and of course being in church my whole life, I was even able to speak the Christian language very well.
BUT THEY WERE ALL WRONG!!!! INCLUDING ME!!! I was NOT saved and I didn't know it! They didn't Know It!!!! WHY??? Because nobody ever had a close relationship with me at any of the above mentioned churches. I never spent any time with any of those people outside of the church building walls.
It was not until the Winter of 1991 that I realized that all those years, I was still in danger of spending Eternity In Hell. Yes, me a person who had grown up IN THE CHURCH was in danger of spending eternity in Hell because everyone simply assumed that I was right in believing that I was already a Christian.
It was the Winter of 1991, I was dating a girl who attended a multi-gendered, multi-generational cell group that was mainly made up of college aged folks, mostly single but with a few married couples mixed in. This cell group had about four folks in their 30 and 40 something's as well.
As I mentioned, I thought I was a Christian at the time, but later found out that I really had no clear understanding about what it meant to be born again and to accept Christ as Lord. It was not until about the third cell meeting that I began to realize that I needed to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior.
Yes, it was the result of me being invited by my girlfriend to visit her cell group that I came to faith in Christ and gained eternal life on December 9th 1991. I had attended churches all my life. I went to Sunday school, I went to VBS, I attended years and years of church services from as early as I can even remember. I even went on youth retreats during the summer, and yet never really had it explained to me exactly what it meant to be a follower of Christ. Can you imagine that? A life lived INSIDE the church walls but never getting the message? Yet it was not until I attended that cell group that I realized that a relationship with Jesus was what it is. A real, personal relationship with a living God. WOW!
Had this girl attended a single-gendered, female cell group at the time, she would not have invited me to come to her cell meetings with her. I'm so thankful to God that she attended a cell group where both men and women, both married and single folks, both young and old could come together like a family and really be honest with one another and talk openly about God. This will forever be the picture of the perfect cell group to me.
I was not the only person saved as a result of that first cell group that I attended. I found my relationship with Christ so fulfilling. It changed my focus in life from “finding a girl to be with” to “finding the real purpose” for my life. And so started my journey into the ministry life, and ultimately into the cell church ministry. Even though this girl and I had broken up, we both remained a part of that same cell group. That first year after I got saved, I brought about 18 people to “visit” that cell group from my high school, both guys and girls, as well as about five family members, all cousins of mine. I'll never forget how two of my cousin's accepted faith in Christ as well as three of my fellow students from school. I became known as the Billy Graham of my high school.
It was a cell group held at a small Nazarene Church that finally helped me realize, through living life together OUTSIDE THE CHURCH BUILDING WALLS, that I didn't have what they had. They had more than just “Knowledge of Christ.” They seemed really seemed to have an authentic relationship with Him.
Things went well for about a year or so and then I met a new girl (Not Stephanie). We started to date and our relationship went places it should not have gone and I started to feel guilty for failing in my relationship with God in this area and I left the Church and started College. That was when I joined a fraternity and I discovered the life of partying! It was never fulfilling and I always felt something missing in my life and I became pretty depressed. That was until something amazing happened to me.
I met Stephanie. You have to realize that I'd been out of the church for about two or three years. I had tried going back to church on several occasions before I met Stephanie but felt convicted each time and so I would always sneak out early and stay away for months at a time. When I met Stephanie, she was attending an assemblies of God church.
It was not long before she invited me to come with her and so I did. It was a bit more on the charismatic side that I like, but that wasn't new to me. However, I'll never forget the first time I ever attended that Church.
During that first service there, I felt a strong conviction in my heart regarding the way that I had been living my life these past few years. I had neglected God's call up to that point in my life and I was only at church because of Stephanie. Then the strangest thing happened.
A man came up to me after the service. This man walks up to me after the service and started off by saying… “I don't know who you are, but I saw you come in.” He continued to tell me that God told him to give me a message. I thought to myself “Oh Great, not one of these guys.” But I listed to him. He said… “God told me to tell you that He has great plans for your future. He has called you into ministry and although in your current state, you may not believe it, God is going to use you to minister to 10's of thousands of people.” He then proceeded to lay hands on me and pray for me and my future in ministry.
This was a bit awkward to say the very least. At this point, I had given up all drinking and partying but I never really reconciled my relationship with God. I met Stephanie on April 11th, 1995. She was going to church at the time and I WASN'T. In fact, in some ways, I was responsible for her drifting further from where God wanted her to be in her walk. I wasn't buliding her up in her relationship with Christ, in some ways, I was pulling her away from it because it made me feel uncomfortable.
So with that context.. How was I to respond such a “prophetic” word from the Lord? I thought… Who me? A guy who hasn't been serious about his relationship with God for a few years? A guy who ignores the Spirit of God to live a selfish life only to please himself? You're telling me that “I'm being called to ministry?” Yeah right!
Well, God used that little charismatic church to convict my heart. The worship was a little more than I could handle and although I tried, I just couldn't get the “Speaking In Tongues” thing down and so eventually I talked Stephanie into attending another church with me. It was at this time that I felt like I wanted to commit the rest of my life to being with Stephanie as her husband.
At the time I proposed to her, I told Stephanie I wanted to marry her but I couldn't see us getting married without getting both of our lives in line with God. I told her that I knew that I needed a cell group for accountability if I where to keep my walk with Christ going forward. She was agreeable. We committed ourselves to purity and we then began to seek out a church where we could launch our first cell group. (That's a story in and of itself)
It was in June 1996 that I started my very first cell of my own. Not long after, I answered the call to ministry and I proceeded to go through the proper steps in the Nazarene church to become a local minister and then a District licensed Pastor. Thus began my ministry in the leadership of cells. Since 1996, I've ministered to over 1000 individuals in cell groups. Since being at First Church, I've seen God take a single cell group from October of 2001 with only ten adults in it to what is now about 10 cells with nearly 200 adults in them.
I'm still not so sure about “prophetic” messages from people who say “God told me to come and tell you….” But if he was right, I suppose God has some big plans for the next ten years of my life. And with the encouragement I've had from a much respected person in my life, it looks as if I will be soon be writing a book regarding the Cell Church Movement that could impact 10's of thousands of people. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that man's words could come true.
I can't imagine the Christian life without my cell family. Yes, each year the people in my cell meeting changes, however, I still benefit today from nearly every single relationship I've made from within a cell. Let's just say that I have more friends in Christ than I could have every imagined having. My desire is to always invite other non-belivers into this great family of Christian believers who are sharing in the journey of life together.
In Christ,
Cliff J. Ravenscraft

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