14 May 2013

Church vs. parachurch

by Dan Phillips

Each of the terms in the title is problematically broad, yet both are unavoidable. So let's proceed. I'm sure others have done this better than I, but I feel compelled to put in what I've got.

I feel about parachurch organizations the way I do about denominations. The concept makes sense, but the execution usually ends up being problematic. Parachurch organizations, at their best, address specifically targeted needs in ways that span churches and denominations. They might be clearing-houses for defense against cults, or response to scientistic attacks on our faith. They're Bible colleges, seminaries. A kid's at a secular college for some time, and a parachurch organization provides some on-campus fellowship, encouragement, instruction, camaraderie. I completely get that.

But here's the problem. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Not the parachurch. Christ is the Head of the church (Eph. 5:23), not of the parachurch. He gave pastors and teachers for the equipping of saints for the work of service (Eph. 4:11). The church is created for, founded upon, and united in, its allegiance to the person of Christ who exercises His headship through the specific truths of God's Word (Jn. 8:31-32; 17:17, 21, 23; Eph. 4:4-5). The task of enlisting and cultivating students of Christ has been entrusted to it (Matt. 28:18-20). The task of preaching God's Word come what may has been thunderously pressed upon its leadership (2 Tim. 4:1-6). Assuring doctrinal purity, and guarding against (and repelling, and shutting the mouths of) unbelievers is Divinely mandated for that local church leadership (1 Tim. 1:3-11, 18-19; Titus 1:5-16; 2:1, 15; 3:9-11).

Let me rephrase that last thought as a question, and come at it from a different angle. Do you feel the need for instruction, for equipping for service? Do you see how much more there is to learn of Christ, of His person and work, of His will for  your life? Are you boggled by the maze of differing and competing views, and longing for guidance and guarding amidst them? Christ already thought of all that, and more. He already made provision for those needs (Eph. 4:7ff.). The provision He made is men who are pastors and teachers, His personal ascension-gifts to His church. You find these men leading local churches, where they watch over and are held accountable by God for the souls of the people in their care (Heb. 13:7, 17). It is their responsibility, as well, to make sure that the teaching within those local church is sound, is in accord with apostolic doctrine (cf. Titus 1:9-11, 13-16; 2:1, 15; 3:9-11).

What's more, these guys aren't just anyone — or they're not supposed to be! They are held to certain publicly-detailed standards, and profess and demonstrate rock-solid allegiance to certain doctrines by which they are to be measured and assessed (1 Tim. 3:1ff.; Titus 1:5ff.).

So where do parachurch personnel come in? Well, that's the problem. Their leaders may or may not be (or be qualified to be) pastors. So that means that they may or may not be held to the specific standards spelled out in the Bible. They may or may not even be accountable to such men as specified by God, in the Bible. I've known more than one person working for Christian organizations who did not even attend a local church.

So what happens in these relations, when Christians get involved in parachurch organizations? That can be the problem. Do the folks in these parachurch organizations, whatever they are, point the folks they serve to local churches? Do they make sure that they make God's stated priority their priority, that participants not (for instance) be heavily involved in the parachurch organization, while remaining only occasional and uninvolved visitors at their church? Do they, for instance, follow the example of the radio Bible teacher I heard years back who regularly cautioned supporters not to regard their financial support of his ministry as equivalent to local-church support?

I imagine pastors will weigh in here, and welcome it. I recall an earlier ministry, years ago, where someone was all about a parachurch organization, but "iffy" on her church. She had — and I have seen this often — a sort of presbyopia that made distant things clear and vivid, but things at hand fuzzy and hard to make out. She was all about this parachurch organization, but took her church, and her role in it, for granted. You see this when folks enthuse about this or that ministry, but never speak of their own church.

It's easy to see how this happens: The organization focuses on something Christian A thinks is important. So Christian A focuses on that organization. So now — at worst — there's one more person not diligently pouring his/her time and gifts and resources and energies into the building up of a particular local church (Eph. 4:15-16).

Let's suppose all this parachurchical energy is going into a genuinely important function. Could the church (God's express institution) do it? Usually, the problem is lack of qualified and willing personnel. I daresay most pastors would eagerly welcome stable, maturing folks in their membership, already clearly committed to the church's ministry, who'd say "Here's an area of ministry where I'd like to serve and help us extend the breadth and depth of our outreach." Then they could do thus under elder oversight, guidance, instruction and protection (Heb. 13:7, 17). Instead, folks may find a parachurch organization, latch on... and the church sees that much less of them. Though perhaps it hears much of their ministry.

Back to where I started: there are parachurch organizations that serve the local church. They embrace and support its role in God's plan. Their personnel are committed church-members, and they point those who come to them to local church involvement. They treasure Christ's church. They don't try to arrogate the role of Christ's church to themselves or supplant it.

Can anyone see a parachurch organization in the NT? If not, I still wouldn't conclude that there's no place for them, any more than I would for organs or guitars or pews. However, these would seem to be the least we need to insist:
  1. The local church, led by qualified men, is God's specifically designated organization.
  2. As such, the lion's share of our time, talents and treasures should be invested in our local church.
  3. "Leftovers" should go to parachurch ministries, not to local church ministries.
  4. Any other organization should tread lightly and humbly, explicitly giving pride of place and emphasis to the local church.
Dan Phillips's signature


72 comments:

x said...

Great, even-handed, bible-sourced thoughts, Dan. As a former employee of a large para-church organization, I appreciate your fairness combined with a desire to evaluate and move forward biblically.

It seems that most parachurch organizations (including the one I worked for) seek to serve college students. How do you suggest these organizations change their methods so that they don't inadvertently usurp the role of the local church? It seems there needs to be change at the organizational/leadership level, doesn't it? Most of the staff are young and theologically fairly untrained -

Kerry James Allen said...

Bill Gothard's organization is within 25 miles of me and we have met numbers of families that were affiliated with him. I wish I could say that he produced loyal, faithful church members but the opposite is true in the majority of cases I have seen. But isn't that the very nature of a parachurch ministry? How could it even exist at all without the money, energy, and time of the people that should be investing those things in a local church?

Great post, Dan.

"Christian labours, disconnected from the church, are like sowing and reaping without having any barn in which to store the fruits of the harvest; they are useful but incomplete." CHS

Peter said...

Dan,

Thanks for this, our small church has been at a cross-roads on this issue, deciding whether or not to invite speakers from para-church organisations to minister to us.

The two organisations we have been considering are one specialising in Creation Science and the other in Eschatology (both ends of the Bible!). They have far more knowledge and ability in teaching on these subjects than I do as a humble pastor charged with bringing God's people the whole counsel of God.

The issue for us has been how open these organisations are to meeting our particular needs and how willing are they to steer away from certain topics.

I think you hit the nail on the head with this line - "there are parachurch organizations that serve the local church." When they are more committed to their own agenda and stop serving the local church, they are no longer useful and they become a problem.

Thanks again. Timely. Relevant. Fair.

God Bless.

DJP said...

(I did a major edit of the article at about 6:48am today. This is pretty much standard for me.)

X, thanks, I appreciate it.

Three specifics leap to mind for your situation, on which I'm sure others will improve:

1. Make sure that each Christian student attending is actively involved in the ministry of a local church.

2. Meet the kids' pastors, introduce yourself, establish a relationship.

3. Invite the pastors of the kids in attendance, or other sound local church ministries, to be guest speakers.

Helpful?

nateoliver said...

Great post Dan.

I’ve recently talked a bit with the local leader of Intervarsity at the University near us. I’ve been really impressed by their emphasis on the local church, and seeking to get college students actively involved in them. He even told me they don’t have a “big meeting” with music, and other things, because he didn’t ever want the students to substitute that for gathering with a local congregation.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised, and impressed.

Richard F said...

Well said.

I work for Creation Ministries International (creation.com), a parachurch organization. We are keenly aware that we are not the church. Our focus is on building up the church, removing mental stumbling blocks to faith, encouraging Christians that Christianity is a reasonable, logical, supported faith.

We have seen people become 'switched on' and more involved in their local church after our speakers visit. Nevertheless, your comments are a reminder for us to keep the focus where it must be: the church.

Robert said...

Good post...definitely something that people need to think about. My wife volunteers at a crisis pregnancy center and makes a point to ask the women she counsels about their religious background and where they go to church. On occasion she has been able to recommend solid, Biblical churches for them to visit. She has the same conversations with the staff there and has even had to defend her belief in the doctrines of grace a couple of times.

I'd say that her time spent there is only possible because we have actually been involved in different areas of ministry within the churches we have been members of. We never really feel as equipped for service in any area if we are not serving in the church or being fed at church. In fact, I'd say that this is actually the driving force for us to be involved in ministry outside of the church (while not taking away from involvement with our church). I'm not sure if that is the same experience that others have or not, but it definitely has been for us.

Jason Dohm said...

It seems to me that organizations that steer clear of the things that a local church ought to be doing are particularly useful. Ken Ham at "Answers in Genesis" comes to mind, in that no local church is going to make a creation science museum (which is fantastic, by the way) part of its mission. However, to have a place like that as a way to strengthen the larger body of Christ on holding to the authority of Scripture is a blessing.

Stephen said...

On campus ministries, it seems that the denominational organizations, like the Baptist Campus Ministry or Reformed University Fellowship (PCA) have a leg up on interdenom groups like Crusade, Intervarsity, or FCA. When I was in BCM, we always took the freshmen one night in the fall on a progressive dinner around to some of the SBC churches in town and said, "Here are some of the good churches in town, get plugged in here."

DJP said...

Nononono — not "Crusade"! "CRU." Don't want to offend the Muslims and stuff.

Kerry James Allen said...

Steven, that is good stuff. I'll believe that the parachurch ministries believe in church primacy when they arrange meet and greets with local pastors early on, demonstrating their loyalties to the churches. Otherwise they are just parabolics curving around and avoiding the church.

DJP said...

I'll strengthen what Kerry just said and cap the post by saying: any ministry whose discipleship doesn't insistently stress local-church involvement isn't doing discipleship. Not Christian discipleship, anyway.

CCinTn said...

It's a trap!
It is so easy to spend our time and energy on very good and worthwhile things but not on the excellent things.
I can already hear the argument put up by some who will say that "my church is too small to do x, y or z, so this organization that specializes in x, y or z will get my time, energy and resources." You've addressed that masterfully in your post.

DJP said...

LOL, excellent.

I should have known that The Admiral would have a word for us.

Or two.

Kent McDonald said...

Great and timely topic Dan,
I spent most of my career working for two major "christian" radio stations in Houston. Because I worked so many hours at the office and plugged in to local "events" we sponsored, it was easy for me to rationalize less and less involvement in my local church. Finally, the last few years, I seldom darkened the door of the church, of which I called myself a member. Much to my shame, I didn't fully "wake up" to what I had lost till after I retired. Now that I AM plugged into a local church, it has made all the difference in my life. I fear there may be thousands of individuals working diligently in parachurch ministries who have fallen into the same trap I did. I pray that any who read this will WAKE UP, before they spend their entire life without being properly fed, and serving their local church. Thank you for remaining faithful to the TRUTH.

DJP said...

Thanks very much, Kent. Very poignant, value-added comment.

Sheldon Clowdus said...

At the risk of being slightly off topic....

Another symptom of this problem is people who split their time between churches.

You have the family who comes to worship on Sunday morning but goes to another church on Wednesday evening because they offer something there that the kids like.

And maybe they even attend a small group with a family from another church because their church does not offer small home groups yet.

Same problem of dividing time and energy instead of devoting it to the one local church body that should be receiving that time and energy.

So the local church body suffers because people don't want to invest time and energy there when they can go somewhere else and reap the benefits of someone else's time and energy.

DJP said...

...or, Sheldon, you're the church whose ministry they take advantage of, though they do not themselves join in as committed participants. Takers only, not builders.

Michael Coughlin said...

Good post, DJP. As Frank says, the people who probably need to read it won't. :(

Hopefully, I'm wrong.

Tom Chantry said...

I'm reading this as I get ready to teach my class at the rescue mission - a parachurch ministry. My topic? The necessity of the church in the Christian life. Coincidence?

Kerry James Allen said...

Might we not also observe that many of the parabolics are very "big name" centered? When Mr. Big dies, so goes the parabolic spinning off into space.

A few texts on divided loyalties also come to mind: Hosea 10:2, Matthew 6:24, James 1:8. I realize these are not speaking specifically to the issue at hand but the underlying principle is there, i.e. what Bunyan referred to as "Mr. Facing Both Ways."

And if the church is Christ's bride, is He not always loyal and faithful to her?

semijohn said...

Tom, in my experience there's no such thing as a coincidence.

Sheldon Clowdus said...

Good point, Dan.

So really it is a lose, lose, lose situation.

The local home church loses by having one of their members not using their gifts to build up the rest of the body.

The "other" church loses because time, effort, and money is spent on ministry that is now being taken by a non-member who never plans on building up and investing in the church.

And the Christian loses because he/she is never discipled the way that Christ intended when he instituted the church for that very purpose.

pray4marriage said...

Great post brother, all too often we see para-church groups that do not understand Ephesian 4. They do not see the need to be in submission to their own local church and their own pastor (who is under authority as well).
I will also point out that one of the reason's for this separation is church pastors who are stuck behind their friendly pulpits and are too scared to lead their congregations in the Great Commissions command to Go MAKE DISCIPLES. That coupled with their responsibility to lead by example as Paul said, Follow me as I follow Christ.
I have seen that when many pastors see the boldness of street evangelist, or Para-Church leaders who are pushing their cause. Most pastor become fearful and will shun those brothers, they may even become angry.
I am the Pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Blountville TN. And I am called to lead and equip the saints, to teach them Biblical truth, show them how to apply the implications of the truth, and to guide sheep, not drive cattle.
I encourage my congregation to come out with me, and to blossom in their ministries. That is why we support Missionary evangelist, and encourage them to come under the authority of a local church. We have one Missionary Evangelist who is a new member here, yet travels throughout the nation evangelizing the lost.
Church's, with their elders and pastors should encourage street and para-church ministries by holding them under authority and having Biblical oversight encouraging them as part the body of Christ, and the ministry of their local Church Body.
We don't need rogue pastors or rogue evangelist missionaries, both are un-Biblical, and only spread false doctrine in opposition to Christ.
As I tell my congregation " My Ministry is to Guide and equip your ministry." That can only be done in the context of The Body of Christ learning, and growing and loving and correcting and praying for one another. All to the glory of God.
Thank you sir for this great article, with permission I would like to use a portion in this Sunday's sermon.

MTHudson said...

I've volunteered with parachurch ministries before, particularly when they have inroads my local church does not (like into prisons).

Some parachurch ministries require a signed statement from a local church pastor/elder that the prospective volunteer is an active member of a local church. Some do not. No matter how otherwise doctrinally sound or successful the ministry is, if they do not have that requirement of all employees and volunteers, I will not work with them.

It's not enough that I would be obedient either way. That's not the point. The point is that a parachurch ministry that does not require that particular obedience is doing Christ's bride more harm than good - no matter what other 'outcomes' they can demonstrate.

Ted Bigelow said...

Dan,

Thanks for your guts, bro.

#GodNeverSaid "parachurch," right? So would the concept make sense to an apostle?

Kathy said...

Thanks for posting this. It's a topic I've been thinking on for a while. We've been living overseas for quite some time now and are seeing a marked deterioration in our coworkers' understanding of church. The previous generation of workers--the ones who were retiring about the time we arrived--knew exactly what they were about as they planted churches. Now, not so much.

Tom Chantry said...

Alright, now that I have time (class is over) I really appreciate the care with which this is written. As a younger man I fulminated against parachurch - all the while going to seminary. Yeah. Smart.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that “parachurch” is too big of a word. There are several categories, if you think about it.

1. There are organizations which are doing the work of Christians in some area in which no church is likely to be individually competent, and doing it with both accountability to the churches and a conscious desire to support the churches. The mission from which I write this is one such organization. Few churches are competent to provide outreach and discipleship to people on the streets, but it is something Christians are called to do. This can be done with respect for the church.

2. There are also organizations which look like parachurch, but are actually ministry extensions of church. RUF has already been mentioned: it is not really parachurch. It is a ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America, and its campus leaders are ordained pastors under the direction of a local church.

3. Other organizations are doing similar work, but with no connection to the local church. CRU can argue that it does what RUF does, but it is a church-less campus outreach. (Actually, my father’s first and best-known book was a response to exactly this - the anti-ecclesiology of the then Campus Crusade.)

4. A fourth type of organization is one which is trying to do the work which actually is the core calling of the local church, but without the structure, authority, and accountability of the church. I could never figure out why Promise Keepers existed. Aren’t elders supposed to challenge Christian men within the local church to be faithful to their families? Saying, “The church doesn’t do that well,” is a foolish answer. “God’s ordained means is failing; rather than reform it let’s start something brand new.” Hmmm.

5. And technically there is a fifth type of group that is doing something sort of parachurchy, but which isn’t even biblical to do. Biologos. ‘Nuff said.

As the principles Dan speaks of here are applied to various ministries, it may help to think in these (or other) categories. Not all parachurch organizations are alike.

DJP said...

...and that's just Chantry's exposition of the first sentence in the post!

Wait 'till he gets to the rest!

(c:

Frank Turk said...

HEY!

This is what I'm talking about that the Tulsa conference this year!

Now I can just edit this post and the meta and read it as if I wrote it!

Michael Coughlin said...

And, in a way, this is what I spoke on at the Super Bowl Outreach 2013 this year.

I'm thankful for a good pastor who prevented me from making the mistakes outlined herein.

I'm thankful for TJC's comment. I'm interested in more people explaining where to draw the line. For example, is this blog a parachurch ministry? If I run a football league as my source of income, but I do "biblical stuff" is that a parachurch ministry? What if I start having a home bible study on Tuesday and invite my neighbors and no one from my church wants to come?

J. E. Smith said...

We struggle with that with some of our our employees (an inpatient Christian substance-abuse facility in the vein of Tom Chantry's #1 above). We are a ministry of a local church yet many view their 9-5 as a substitute for commitment to the church we are an extension of.

HST - When it works right (Like you 'splained in the post, DJP) it really works well. But it does take work to keep them in the right order

Frank Turk said...

You know: People think that somehow Dan and I are too Earthly-minded for being so vocal in our political activism.

I wonder why people don;t think those who are fully-engaged in a parachurch ministry but not engaged in a local church as Dan has outlined here are not too Earthly-minded? For example: what about fellows who are all about their network rather than about their local church?

Rebecca said...

So with all these variables I read, looks like we can't get away from discernment? Thanks for the food for thought. Personally, the comments have helped me a lot.

Tom Chantry said...

Here's another interesting category that comes to mind:

6. The Christian business doing ministry related-things. Tyndale House's struggle with the HHS contraception mandate brings this to mind. They are not a 501c3, but a for-profit business. The business model is necessary to the work that they do. Yet they clearly see themselves as something like a parachurch; they want to be considered a religious organization, while we want them to be accountable at some level. Or to put it another way, we would rather all Christian publishers not become Zondervan.

J. E. Smith said...

"Any other organization should tread lightly and humbly, explicitly giving pride of place and emphasis to the local church."

Fave part. BTW - waiting for TWTG from Amazon. Woo Hoo!

DJP said...

Thanks, J. E. Let me know if it's any good.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I wonder what a United Methodist Church, led by a female pastor, is? Church, parachurch, or (my choice) none of the above?

rfb said...

Why even link the word church to an organization that is not the church?

I think that doing so evinces a low view of the church. The fact that some Christians with a desire to perform good works (as a raison d'etre of our creation) join hands in a common endeavor does not the church make, para or otherwise.

Also, why limit (not an objection to Pastor Phillips, but to expand upon) the dearth of examples (of so-called para-church) to the New Testament. Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and is now in the triumphant section, while we remain militant. He comes in the volume of the book.

I do not see them anywhere in the history of the church, guitars notwithstanding.

rfb said...

"I wonder what a United Methodist Church, led by a female pastor, is? Church, parachurch, or (my choice) none of the above?"

Hold them accountable to their baptism. You cannot be an unfaithful husband unless you are a "husband". You cannot be a traitor unless you are a member of that which you betray. Judas was a real apostle; that is what made his crime so reprehensible. He was a treasonous unfaithful apostle. Just so, a "United Methodist Church, led by a female pastor" is an unfaithful, disobedient and rebellious church.

JR said...

Where does the missions agency fit in here?

The specialized training, support, and expertise church planting groups like Pioneers or SIM accomplish could not be done by the local church.

They are not a local church, but they are seeking to plant local churches where there are no local churches.

Not the church, but certainly for the church.

JR said...

Let me correct myself.

It could be done by the local church, but these misions agencies already have the infrastructure and are doing the needed training and cultural anthropology required to send out capable church planters.

The local church could do this, but in our current environment don't have to recreate that wheel.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

I wonder if the leaning toward parachurch orgs by Christians is related to the thought that the American church just isn't doing it right? And so instead of promoting bodies that are obedient and and rebuking those that are straying, these parachurch orgs are springing up to take its place, kindof a means to an end.

I think of the opening chapters of Revelation where Jesus commended those obedient, rebuking their error, and rebuked strongly the disobedient to the end that the organization He loves and died for, the church, might do as He said it would - that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. To that end, if the parachurch and the "elites" can see that the American church is failing so miserably, why aren't they mimicking their Master and rebuking/exhorting the church so that it flourishes?

Ted Bigelow said...

@Tom Chantry

You are so right when you say parachurch is too big of a word. If our need is for taxonomy you have wisely dissected the matter. Now, I could be thick in thinking Dan’s post was questioning the value and people of parachurch organizations that aren’t explicitly local-church focused. But I question even that. If Dan’s goal was to think about parachurch groups as those living in the modern world, you have taken us far in that direction. But if, as I think about it, we should rather initially think about parachurch groups as an apostle of Christ would, then subdividing it into categories might actually make it worse.

For instance in #1 your basic point is that one type of parachurch succeeds where most churches fail. Yet the NT is full of “failing” churches that received apostolic guidance but never were advised to receive help from an “alongside” organization.

In #2 you have mistaken a non-church entity for the NT institution of the church. The PCA is not a church but an alliance of churches. Thus the RUF is not the extension of a church but of something unknown in the NT.

In #3 you present a parachurch (CRU) as being anti-church but they have never been that way unless you can show that they do not want their members meeting together on Sundays in local bodies with other Christians. Moslems and JWs are anti-church but members of the parachurch organizations mentioned in the article don’t impose that burden on their members (although some tendencies can seem that way). Your #4 suffers the same fate as Promise Keepers never tried to meet every Sunday (1 Cor. 11:18). The same is true of #5.

1 Cor. 11:18 helps us think about church the way an apostle did. When Paul wrote “when you come together as a church...” he took it as assumed that a church met together the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2) for worship of the Risen Head. This is so obvious that while it's mentioned in passing it is the one theme that ties together 1 Corinthians 11-14(11:17-8, 11:20, 11:33-34, 14:23, and 14:26). (BTW, this is why, in part, PCA isn’t a “church” – they don’t ever “meet together”). The same analysis helps us regard a Christian business not as a church, nor a parachurch, but a business. As an institution, a business has different goals than those given to the church by Christ’s apostles.

My thinking is if we want to understand parachurch and where they rightly “fit in” we first need to understand “church” from an apostolic p.o.v. Then our assessments, if we’re concerned about fixing what is wrong in our given spheres of influence, can proceed apace.

Blessings.

Ted Bigelow said...

@Dan Phillips

“I still wouldn't conclude that there's no place for them [parachurch organizations] any more than I would for organs or guitars or pews.”

Organs and pews are what the older theologians called “accidental” to worship and don’t in themselves have the potential to lead away from the ministry and Christ-given ministry of the local church (Mat. 18:15-17, for example).

But a parachurch group can replace a church or at least make the church seem less than God’s “best.” I spent years working with a very well-known college-based parachurch. We not only left the the church ourselves (it was so inept and we were oh so contextual); we led other baebes in Christ to do the same. Many dear people were deeply hurt.

The Lord led them back to churches but the damage we did took years to heal.

Tom Chantry said...

@ Ted Bigelow,

Did you just call me postmodern? Ted, how long have you been around here? Is this your very first thread? I imagine most of the readers here chuckled when they read that. But I’ll play along.

For instance in #1 your basic point is that one type of parachurch succeeds where most churches fail. Yet the NT is full of “failing” churches that received apostolic guidance but never were advised to receive help from an “alongside” organization.

So your suggestion would be that, lacking an apostle to give guidance, one local church should have relieved the famine in the Jerusalem church? Or perhaps, each local church should have attempted to do so, irrespective of what any of the others were doing? I’m just asking because your comment seems to assume that the Regulative Principle actually forbids the church utilizing extra-church structures to meet specific needs of that sort. That’s a pretty extreme view of the RP.

In #2 you have mistaken a non-church entity for the NT institution of the church. The PCA is not a church but an alliance of churches. Thus the RUF is not the extension of a church but of something unknown in the NT.

The PCA is a church as Presbyterians understand “church,” and I wasn’t trying to fix Presbyterianism in this thread. What satisfies even me - a Baptist - is that an RUF minister is an ordained pastor in a local congregation with the specific work-load of discipling and teaching students on a local college campus, along with drawing them into the work of that local church.

In #3 you present a parachurch (CRU) as being anti-church but they have never been that way unless you can show that they do not want their members meeting together on Sundays in local bodies with other Christians. Moslems and JWs are anti-church but members of the parachurch organizations mentioned in the article don’t impose that burden on their members (although some tendencies can seem that way).

In fact, Campus Crusade billed itself as doing what the church should have done but failed to do. Its modus operendi was to demand that the local churches support its work on campuses with funding, facilities, and other resources, while doing little if anything to plug its students into church life. That is de facto anti-ecclesiological, in the sense that it seeks to replace church with something “better.”

Tom Chantry said...

Your #4 suffers the same fate as Promise Keepers never tried to meet every Sunday (1 Cor. 11:18).

Not sure you understood my point at all. PK attempted to reach into the church (confessing Christian men) and to accomplish one of the functions of the church (discipling men to be faithful to their families) in a non-church setting (not Sunday mornings, if you will). That was my entire point. Though never anti-ecclesiastical in their rhetoric, they nevertheless were attempting to replace church elders in one of their functions.

The same is true of #5.

OK, Biologos doesn’t meet on Sundays. And your point? Do you know what Biologos is? What it does? Do you have any idea why I might have included it as a “group that is doing something sort of parachurchy, but which isn’t even biblical to do”?

1 Cor. 11:18 helps us think about church the way an apostle did. When Paul wrote “when you come together as a church...” he took it as assumed that a church met together the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2) for worship of the Risen Head. This is so obvious that while it's mentioned in passing it is the one theme that ties together 1 Corinthians 11-14(11:17-8, 11:20, 11:33-34, 14:23, and 14:26). (BTW, this is why, in part, PCA isn’t a “church” – they don’t ever “meet together”). The same analysis helps us regard a Christian business not as a church, nor a parachurch, but a business. As an institution, a business has different goals than those given to the church by Christ’s apostles.

I love that you read my taxonomy of things called “parachurch” and took it upon yourself to instruct me on the nature of the New Testament Church. Good job!

My thinking is if we want to understand parachurch and where they rightly “fit in” we first need to understand “church” from an apostolic p.o.v. Then our assessments, if we’re concerned about fixing what is wrong in our given spheres of influence, can proceed apace.

There was “thinking” in this comment?

Blessings.

Excellent! Whenever you rip a total stranger up in a blog meta, you should always close with a benediction! That’s a great way to show that you’re not post-modern.

Doug Hibbard said...

Well, this is going to sound whiny, but I'll cope with the blowback.

One issue I have seen within some parachurch ministries, including some of my own denominational ones, is that since they do not prioritize the local church, they breed a group of Christians that dislike the existing local churches. Rather than solve that by strengthening/reforming local churches and discipling people to understand that church isn't really about them anyway, we follow that up with a new church plant. After all, we have to reach these folks, right?

And what we actually have is a church that spawns near a college campus that has college students and those who have graduated from that college in that past few years, with no other demographic significantly present. But, hey, now it's a church.

Not that there is not a need, at times, for new local churches, even when there are local churches in an area.

Anyway, slightly off-topic and ranting, but that's one thing that hits me when "parachurch" organizations come up: only rarely have I seen them do the local church good.

Although, admittedly, I wouldn't count groups like CMI or Answers in Genesis as the same breed of cat--these are groups that provide resources to churches, not unlike good authors who provide both books and blogposts that help the local church disciple.

J. E. Smith said...

@ Tom Chantry

Since your #1 example is unbiblical, maybe I can bring the 60+ men in our mission to Ted's church so they can get the 24 hour a day accountability, encouragement, and admonition they need as part of their discipleship. :D

@Ted....just joshin' ya!

AJM said...

Combine 1 & 4 = 6: dealing with a topic the local church will not deal with because it is unpopular, controversial or does not fit a narrow "sticky note" pastoral vision etc etc ad infinitum
(build long list here)
With Dan's bible-driven parachurch post as fences we should admit SOME parachurch organizations have benefitted the Church

AJM said...

BTW - In my experience you would never hear from the pulpit "The Pastoral 'Call' and howe there isn't one" but I have read it on a para post somewhere.

Ted Bigelow said...

@ Tom Chantry

I certainly could have taken more time to write out what my thoughts were on Dan’s article and made things clearer for you. Instead I fear I rather startled you and that was not my intention. My comment was not meant to insult but only to suggest how we could go further in viewing the relationship of parachurch groups and the writings of the apostles - something I am convinced is your very desire as well. So please let me try to be clearer now, knowing that even in my best efforts there will be failure.

So your suggestion would be that, lacking an apostle to give guidance, one local church should have relieved the famine in the Jerusalem church? Or perhaps, each local church should have attempted to do so, irrespective of what any of the others were doing? I’m just asking because your comment seems to assume that the Regulative Principle actually forbids the church utilizing extra-church structures to meet specific needs of that sort. That’s a pretty extreme view of the RP.

I don’t see it that way, Tom. It seems clear that with the apostles gone after the 1st C that the ministry Christ gave to make disciples and care for the saints in distress fell upon the local church, not the parachurch. If support is needed for this claim I offer two initially. Acts 11:28-30 has a prophet placing the responsibility to provide for a future famine need upon the church in Antioch. And according to Phil. 4:15 Paul’s hoped for assistance in his imprisonment from only churches (no mention of anything parachurchy) and was a bit saddened that none shared with him in the matter of giving and receiving but the church in Philippi alone.

Thus one church could today, as an apostle did in the 1st C, take the lead in providing for a need among Christians in another area of the world, calling upon other churches to help with resources (people, money, etc.). As Dan’s post shows the church has higher standards for leadership than a parachurch and therefore the integrity behind the call should be heightened and the giving more substantive. It is not unimportant that Paul (and Barnabus) delivered such collected resources directly to elders (Acts 11:30, Acts 21:18), not a parachurch. Church to church appears to be the right way to minister to the saints, not only because it is the biblical testimony but it is also true that nothing parachurchy gets mentioned in the NT. To RP or not RP is not the question. To ask of the NT, “where does it teach the parachurch” is.

That is de facto anti-ecclesiological, in the sense that it seeks to replace church with something “better.”

My problem here is the word “replace.” To my knowledge they (CRU) have never tried to replace the functions that make the church the church: preaching the word to build up the body, the ordinances, and the faithful meeting on the Lord’s Day of all of God’s people. Have they recruited young people and money from churches? Sure. But it still seems better not to say they are “de-facto anti-ecclesiological” but rather make a distinction. They seek to do some aspects of ministry apart from the leadership of the local church, but do not want to be a surrogate local church.

(con't below)

Ted Bigelow said...

@ Tom Chantry (con't)

PK attempted to reach into the church (confessing Christian men) and to accomplish one of the functions of the church (discipling men to be faithful to their families) in a non-church setting (not Sunday mornings, if you will).

Sure they did but then they told them to go back there too. I’m not defending them, but doing one of the functions of a church is not a sign of wanting to replace the church. There are some functions of the church that we happily participate in outside the church. We parents instruct our children in the Lord, recommend books written to instruct, and listen to John MacArthur sermons on Christian radio, all without trying to replace the church.

Biologos doesn’t meet on Sundays. And your point? Do you know what Biologos is? What it does? Do you have any idea why I might have included it as a “group that is doing something sort of parachurchy, but which isn’t even biblical to do”?

Yes I am familiar with them, their works, their supporters (who ought to know better), and their arguments for supporting the Biologos’ teachings. But they merely represent a specific view on a specific point that is better understood as false teaching, not an attempt to be a parachurch.

Summing up – its good to examine in Scripture what the local church is founded upon: the teachings of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). Their teachings encompass the ecclesiastical activities that are taught in Scripture in both precept and example (i.e., Lord’s Table). If we fail to define the church by this measure we can instead fall prey to measuring it by specific activities that aren’t necessary to it functioning as the institution Christ founded in the 1st C. For example, while it is true that evangelism is a task of the church, it’s existence isn’t threatened when someone does it outside of the church gathering. That person isn’t a parachurch. Doing that sort of ministry outside the church isn’t the heart of the problem. Claiming and doing parachurch ministry as something affirmed in the NT is.

Excellent! Whenever you rip a total stranger up in a blog meta, you should always close with a benediction! That’s a great way to show that you’re not post-modern.

Again, I’m sorry to offend. It was not my intent. Blessing was. I promise to pay much closer attention to my sad blogging skills if I should ever respond to you again.

Michael Coughlin said...

Well done, brother Ted.

x said...

Dan,

That is helpful! Thanks very much.

I do wonder if change is needed - or even possible - at the systemic/organizational level. I really do appreciate the ways that Campus Outreach and the RUF seek to do ministry.

If you had a chance to get an audience with the heads of campus ministry organizations, what would you say?

By the way, I don't know why my name is coming up 'x' when I sign in with my google account. (It may be because I live in a country that blocks google... who knows!)

-Derek

Tom Chantry said...

@ Ted Bigelow,

See, now that we're not accusing each other of being post-modern or not having biblical thoughts about the church, you're beginning to actually function within what I was trying to lay out.

I have heard all sorts of things, from publishing houses to seminaries to charities, called "parachurch." Anything which claims to do a Christian work but is not a church is sometimes thrown under this one label. My point was just that practically, these things are not all alike. Some are supportive of churches, while others are dismissive (even if you don't agree as to which are which). Still others are commissioned to do their work by churches. Some are doing work which they do not perceive as the church's calling, while others are doing what they think the church has failed to do. Some are doing things which they consider biblical ministry, but their work is something to which a truly biblical Christian would have to object. And my entire point was that it is unhelpful to think of all of these organizations under one heading without perceiving the distinctions.

Thinking in those distinctions allows us to have a sensible discussion of the question, even if we have honest disagreements as to where the biblical lines are drawn. Really, at the end of the day, that's all I was saying.

Kathy said...

JR,
I would venture to say that mission agencies could fall under categories similar to the ones Tom Chantry laid out for parachurch organizations. Denominational agencies generally are concerned with church planting and theological training. Others, like CRU, do pretty much the same thing overseas that they do in the US. Some are involved only in "mercy ministry" which may or may not include a clear gospel witness. It's true that it would be difficult for one local church to accomplish overseas what a mission agency can, but it could be done in a way that cooperates with the local church and allows workers to be committed to and accountable primarily to their sending church

DJP said...

I've deleted three comments (one of them a response to a previous) of the "Wait... who says wheels have to be round?" variety.

To basic questions such as "What is a church?" and "Why must a Christian be involved in a local church?, see particularly sermons 12, 13 and 15 in this series.

Also, see these two posts:

One.

Two.

DJP said...

Derek / x — didn't I answer your questions here?

Cathy M. said...

As the saying goes: When you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit. After waiting a day to let the sting subside, I decided to go ahead and yelp:

I lead an after-school bible club in a public school as a ministry of CEF whose stated purpose is to "evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, disciple them in the Word of God and establish them in a Bible believing church for Christian living." Our club is sponsored by my church, so I see it as an off-campus Sunday School class... sort of.

My church is made up of primarily Seniors. I stayed in the nursery on Mother's Day and only had two children. They were visitors. How we came to be a childless church is a sad story, but it's just the way it is right now. One thing we DO have is money. (Old folks are givers.) So, we equip several parachurch ministries in our area with supplies, volunteers, and money. Yes, we are "instructed and equipped for service" in the church, but can't a parachurch be a means to serve?

DJP said...

Cathy M., that sounds like a sad story, truly.

Yes, it can be. I thought I phrased myself pretty carefully; plus, you're saying the express purpose includes getting kids established in local churches; and it's sponsored by your church.

Glad you asked.

Chip Van Emmerik said...

Great Post. As a pastor, my take was always to let the church do what it was instructed to do and let parachurch organizations provide services that help the church do its job. I drew the line at supporting parachurch ministries that tried to usurp the church's role and do what God intended the church to do.

x said...

Dan,

You definitely partially answered my questions. And we're in definite theological agreement.

I was also wondering, though, if you had some specific and overly practical suggestions that you would give about specific changes in practice/training for staff if you had the opportunity to talk to the upper echelons of leadership of groups like Cru, InterVarsity, etc.

Tim said...

Dan,
I have known the Lord for about 40 years and came to know him at the age of 20 but not through a "local church", as you call it. Then, as I began to grow in Christ in college I was became involved the church I grew up in, but I learned more of Christ and serving Him through the para-church group I also became a part of in college. When I graduated from college I decided to join the staff of the para-church group. I felt that they were doing more to reach people for Christ and to help them grow than any "local church" I was a part of. I served the with particular para-church org. for 35+ years and was also always involved in a local church. But I felt like I was ministered more to by the para-church group than the "local church". The local church was usually the place to minister, not to be ministered to. I am still a missionary on staff with a para-church org., though a different one, but also involved in a "local church".
I would love to be a part of a church locally where I felt like I was growing in my knowledge of Jesus, but it seems such "local churches" are few and far between. Even today I find more to feed my soul outside of the "local church".
I guess my definition of the Church is more broad than what it seems you are communicating, Dan. I do not see such a distinction between "local church" and para-church. The Church is the Body of Christ.

threegirldad said...

Paul didn't write letters to "the Body of Christ." He didn't write letters to parachurches, either.

And there's the rub. Because, in the end, it really boils down to one simple question: Are you smarter than Paul?

Tim said...

@threegirldad

By and large Paul wrote to "called out ones", a.k.a Body of Christ, who gathered together in various cities. I am not sure we have anything today in America which looks like the groups he wrote to. "Local churches" in our cities are much more diverse.

DJP said...

3GD's right, Tim. You're coming at this with selfish pragmatism, not as a Christian. "I get more out of this, and besides {rationalization}."

I'm sorry many churches don't live up to their calling. They should. But our disobedience and rejection of God's priorities is in no way a "fix."

The article largely anticipated your rationalizations about church, and your attitude is a sad illustration of just the thing I'm writing to oppose and correct. "My parachurch does what I like better than the church, so...and besides..."

threegirldad said...

By and large Paul wrote to "called out ones", a.k.a Body of Christ...

No, Tim, you know very well that Paul did not write letters to "the Body of Christ." He wrote letters to "bodies of Christ/assemblies of believers/congregations." In other words, local churches.

I am not sure we have anything today in America which looks like the groups he wrote to.

The groups he wrote to didn't look anything like modern parachurch organizations, either. What's your point?

"Local churches" in our cities are much more diverse.

And?

Tim said...

@threegirldad

By the way, I too have three girls and a son.

"No, Tim, you know very well that Paul did not write letters to "the Body of Christ." He wrote letters to "bodies of Christ/assemblies of believers/congregations." In other words, local churches."

Yes, the Christians in certain cities were his target, but the letters have extended to all Christians. So, I believe the intent was for any member of the Body of Christ.

"The groups he wrote to didn't look anything like modern parachurch organizations, either. What's your point?"

My point is that I believe that there is too great a dichotomy made between "local churches", which today means, for example, the First Baptist Church of Whereverville, and para-church organizations.

I have found that in some cases a para-church group is fulfilling more of what Paul exhorted those in "local churches" to believe and do more than "local churches" in America.

So, I would question, what is a "local church"?

DJP said...

The post anticipates and answers all that, Tim. Read it, and revise. I will not allow you to keep asking questions or issuing challenges already dealt with in the post to which you're supposedly responding.

Alvin Lin said...

I currently work for a para-church organization and am also actively involved in my local church as well.

I was wondering what it looks like to get the college students I minister to more and more involved with the local church.

Dan, I did read your suggestions in the 4th comment of this post, but I was wondering if you would have anything else that you could suggest or recommend.

The two campuses I have worked on with the para-church both had excellent relationships with local churches and we definitely made it a priority to get students rides to church and consistently emphasized the fact that the para-church is not the church. In recent years I also saw more and more students become members at the churches they attended and sought to serve there with the gifts they had been given.

Long-term I seek to be in pastoral ministry and this upcoming year will most likely be my last year with the para-church campus ministry before I head off to seminary full-time. Just wanted to see if there was anything else I could do to be faithful to proclaim the importance of the church to the students who are involved in our ministry.

Thanks!

-Alvin

DJP said...

Alvin, everything you say in paragraph 3 sounds terrific.

I guess all I'd add offhand is try to make sure that your kids don't see their parachurch as a husband might see his secretary. That is: the secretary is paid to perform certain services, and perhaps her whole goal is, for 40 hours a week, to please this one fellow.

The bad that can come of that is if the husband thinks (and speaks) better of his secretary than of his wife. She's always eager to please, she laughs at his jokes, she gets him coffee (or whatever she does).

But she's not his wife. And if he invests in that relationship what he ought to be investing in his marriage, disaster looms.

Likewise parachurch. If all your kids ever do is Tweet or Facebook how great their parachurch is, how much they adore their parachurch friends, how much they're learning from their parachurch meetings, what wonderful things their parachurch org is doing... well, that could be problematic.

Are they really learning nothing at church? Is their church really doing nothing of note? Are their elders really contributing nothing to their lives? Do they really get nothing from the church meetings? Are they really investing nothing into that relationship?

It is potentially very closely analogous, you see. Their relationship with their local church is a must-do. That with parachurch is a may-do. In their immaturity, they may be taken with the fact that the parachurch is tailored just for them, and thus fail to learn the vital Titus-2-like lessons they need-to be learning in the context of their church.

Helpful?