strange fires

The G12 Controversy: An Overview And Helpful Articles

authored/compiled by Rev. Rafael D. Martinez, Co-Director, Spiritwatch Ministries

The G12 Vision is a sweeping philosophy of ministry created by Columbian charismatic minister Cesar Castellanos that is the foundation of a global movement called by the same name that has become enormously popular in the Charismatic and Pentecostal worlds. It has found multitudes of enthusiastic pastoral practitioners in many varied church circles who have have adopted the G12 program to their own, seeking the same kind of local church growth enjoyed by Castellanos' ministry in Columbia as well as others in his G12 Network. Setting forth to be a radical form of discipling and equipping ministry, the G12 vision is described on its website as a vision that is

based on the Great Commission given by Jesus Christ. Its main goal is to transfer every church member into a leader that will also be able to impart the character of Christ to his team of twelve people. An increasing number of ministries are witnessing the growth and multiplication of their members that is happening through the Government of Twelve.

In essence, Castellanos' vision is to challenge the local church on to spiritual maturity and a renewed vision for Christian evangelism and discipleship through cell church growth principles. The cell group church concept, in which small groups meet locally for fellowship, ministry and instruction throughout the week and come together corporately for worship on a more or less weekly basis is not a new one and has been used in Christian ministry for generations. Castellanos' vision is to set forth a Christian cell group leader under the authority of an experienced leader who will disciple 12 people through a regimented program of intense interpersonal sharing and accountability who are all then set forth to seek to disciple 12 others. In this way, both evangelism of the locality around the church and edification of those within it are both addressed. 

Beginning in 1991, Castellanos' program - a revamping of David Cho's South Korean church growth strategy - became a great success and within a few years, it grew into another church growth enterprise that churches around the world came to study in their own attempts to foster growth - including mainline Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland). Other Evangelical movements began to take notice of the amazing growth of churches such as Larry Stockstill's Bethany World Prayer Center and the full fledged marketing of the G12 vision began in earnest. Mass meetings around the world, conferences, books and visits to denominational gatherings by Castellanos and his ministry team have been a feature of his work since moving to Miami a few years ago. And the G12 vision has caught on worldwide and shows no sign of slowing down as it spreads around the world.

But what to many has seemed like a divinely ordained new mobilization of God's people to newer advances for the Kingdom of God has not come about without controversy. Increasingly over the past several years, it has become increasingly evident that the application of the G12 model as zealously advanced by Castellanos' organization has become a source of division, contention and even spiritual abuse. We realize that any new innovation that enjoys success usually is targeted for criticism by those challenged by it out of their own jealousy or unwillingness to change. Some of this has been the motivation for many of the attacks we have seen mounted against Castellanos' Mision Carismatica Internacional and is evident in some of the writing and preaching against it. 

But underlying these criticisms are a far greater amount of concerns being voiced in regards to an underlying spiritual elitism and authoritarian leadership that seems to characterize G12 government. As the G12 philosophy has filtered down from the Columbian model into other Evangelical church settings worldwide, Christians worldwide have found themselves being forcibly confronted by G12 advocates who advance a hierarchy of leadership whose control of the local cells has bordered on being legalistic and intrusive, demanding submission and obedience that is almost unquestioned. These expressions of trouble have become far more widespread then the usual gossip that would dog any new movement's successes. While many churches have adopted G12 principles successfully in their ministries, many others experienced a depth of "Encounter" they never quite bargained for. Below is a good example of this concern, gleaned from a now defunct online bulletin board frequented by Church of God (Cleveland) clergy and laity, as voiced by one Church of God minister: 

I remember now that the *principles* and the basis were good and right. There is a tremendous need for our churches to get their focus outward. I remember now why I was all for the "cell church" at that time.

Where I got off the bus was with the "franchise." Everything was rubberstamped, on size fits all. The pastor picked out "his" elite and started them into cells and continued to devote every pulpit opportunity into praising the cell. Those of us who were not in on the beta test were painfully in the dark as the "spiritual elite" were meeting in these wonderful groups. We must be patient because one day, we too will join the rest in these cells.

When we got to the cells we were read the rule book at every meeting. We had a format along with discussion questions that came straight from the pastor. We were even given a tape of canned music to play for "worship"...pre-approved songs.

If a discussion ever went somewhere it wasn't supposed to go...the Cell Leaders (man and wife) would cleanse it in a New York minute, and they would have the offender stay after for a counseling session on how to do cell.

The whole thing REEKED of collectivist thought, a herd mentality. They were strictly and centrally controlled from a command center and that was obvious.

The "Encounter Weekend" absolutely reeks of CLASSIC cult indoctrination. Look at Hare Krishnas, Scientology, Amway, others...and you will see the exact concept.

Perhaps we had a terribly botched implementation of G-12. But I saw enough to understand that beyond the good and right principles that they use to give it credence, psychology, manipulation and control lie at the core. It is a way to strictly control the masses...and ultimately build an empire with a man at the center, be it Stockstill, Castellano or other Spiritual Guru.

The phrase "cell is hell" became prevalent among those who would not bow, yet were trying their best to support their dying church.

Another minister gives his thoughts on G12's global success. 

I want to further explain my theory on G12 as a model for Church Growth.

One of the main reasons that G12 is exploding in foreign nations is because literally people are walking and travelling numerous miles to find one full gospel church. In this country there is already a church in just about every single neighborhood.

One of the things that the ladder of success book by Cesar Castellanos says is this: "There is no such thing as a church of cells, the only thing that will work is a CELL CHURCH". He outlines that a church must lay down any other plan and any other vision and embrace the Lords vision for the G12 model of ministry.

The Lords church is a beautiful church all comprised of many giftings and many talents. What will happen in this type of environment is giftings and talents that people have to offer a ministry is stifled. In many examples of a previous position I was in, we had to tell many people who had various giftings, that unfortunately it does not line up with G12 to be incorporated so were going to have to ask you to focus strictly on CELLS. After all, Cells are the only way to effectively ministry as far as the G12 concept is concerned. This isnt an opinion, this mentality is outlined in the entire philosophy.

My Father personally has been involved in many different businesses which are similar. The McDonalds book itself will cost 250,000 dollars to franchise. And if you use this "book" the tools will work. G12 is compared to a clock if one piece is missing....the entire system will not work. Unfortunately after a staff meeting at this previous church, I had to severely disagree with this philosophy.

The Pastor said this: "We no longer want to look at individuals, we want to look at cells". Basically every new member was all going toward the cell base. The Pastor no longer made contact with anyone. He said strictly I only talk to leaders (His group of 12). This would be one thing if the church ran about 1000. But in this situation there was only about 200 people. And he had a set up whereby you had to pass through about 8 people just to get to him to talk to him.

Yes Jesus used 12 people, however, this philosophy says that this is the ONLY WAY way to reach the harvest. In my opinion it is very cultic.

They encourage you to follow "the ladder" into the Kingdom. As far as I'm concerned you're either in the kingdom or not. There is no ladder or levels to spirituality outlined by scripture. I came in as a Bible College graduate, a licensed minister in our denomination, and no matter who you are, they put you through a 4 stage "testing" process basically to weed out the "mess" that other churches have put inside of you (is what they call it).

Doesnt a cult do the same thing? They sell DOWN the other influences in your life and SELL UP their philosophy. AMWAY does the same thing. I'm telling you this stuff because this G12 thing is very dangerous.....Read it for yourself and you'll find some definite weirdness to it.

A Church of God evangelist followed up with this comment:

the de-personalizing model of structure that Castellanos and Stockstill push as they advance a long term goal of organization .. becomes drawn completely from secular and quite pragmatic, goal-oriented philosophy.

It is both highly improbable and absurd to demand that you can mass-produce quality Christian community in cells that are completely controlled by this kind of thinking. When a pastor deliberately seeks de-emphasis of contact with his flock at any level with this kind of thinking in mind, an opening a mile wide has been made for false brethren, or more likely, unstable brethren WITHIN the cells to arise to assert authority that can skew a cell and make it as authoritarian and cultic as any other. He will be, at best, unaware of what is going to be going on in the cells.

This is dangerously similar to the Shepherding movement's errors of the 1970's and early 1980's, for much of their damage that rent the Charismatic movement took place unnoticed in cell-like home gatherings where there was no oversight. .. It's totally insane to think we're different and more mature and wiser now than those of our brothers and sisters 30 years ago who became ensnarled in the error of relationally-based Christianity without mature oversight before they knew it.

The only way I can see G-12 working and avoiding this is to ensure that the pastor and pastor's council have a VERY sure connection with what's going on in the cell ministries and with their "12" .. and I can tell you that such a venture is a MAJOR commitment of time, energy and prayerful watchfulness.

I have been AFFIRMING the worth of G-12's Biblical bases. I don't have a problem with the ideals of cells or Encounters.

I have been QUESTIONING those executors of the G-12 cell structure who exalt it into an untouchable sacred cow with a "my way or the high way" attitude.

I have been REMEMBERING what has happened in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches in the past when cell groups with no pastoral oversight occurs - shipwreck of faith.

And I have been CALLING for that kind of closer oversight by COG ministries who use G-12 by developing strong leadership with a connected pastoral leadership.

And along with the territory comes troubling reports that the G12 system, being one of the latest church growth fads to sweep the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds, is easily being coopted and adapted to creatively amplify and glitz up the public image of unscrupulous, immature and heretical Word of Faith movement churches. Click here to see an expose of how one such Californian church's "example" of what true Christian discipleship is, where a young and arrogant G12 pastor gloats to a critic that because he could pre-order a 2007 BMW that "my God is bigger then your God." 

You can't make this stuff up. Truth is always far more disturbing then the fantasy being pushed by renegade hirelings whose exploitation of the blind trust of Christian people is truly the most frightening thing in the world to see.

What have many Christians found in the G12 system that seems to alienate and disturb so many of them? We would encourage you to consider the outstanding web link resources below for further information, especially the first two articles.  

The Other Side Of Discipleship

as first published in the Wellspring "Journal"

The Other Side Of Discipleship provide an overview of the excesses of the "Shepherding" controversy of the 1970's and early 1980's, a side of Evangelical history too quickly forgotten that provide a forgotten context for understanding G12's contemporary problems.

Encountering G12 - Analyzing The Cellular Vision of Cesar Castellanos (1 of 2)

as published in the Midwest Christian Outreach "Journal", a ministry of Midwest Christian Outreach

(our thanks to Don and Joy Veinot of MCO for their permission to reproduce the article - thanks guys!)

Go To The SpiritWatch Home Page       Go Back To The Strange Fires