The G12 Controversy: An
Overview And Helpful Articles
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.
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
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
The whole thing REEKED of collectivist thought, a herd mentality. They
were strictly and centrally controlled from a command center and that was
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
Other Side Of Discipleship
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.
G12 - Analyzing The Cellular Vision of Cesar Castellanos (1 of 2)
as published in the Midwest
Christian Outreach "Journal", a ministry of Midwest
(our thanks to Don and
Joy Veinot of MCO for their permission to reproduce the article - thanks
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