Christ said, “On this rock, I will build my church.” (Matt. 16:18)
Paul wrote that, “His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3:10-11 NIV)
God means to disclose himself to the world through the church – the Body of Christ. At times, institutional dysfunction cripples the body keeping it from faithfully representing the nature of God. When this happens, organizations often arise to supplement the church’s work in the world. For instance, in the 90’s, the church’s failure to attract and develop strong Christian men gave rise to Promise Keepers. In time, the church caught up with programs such as Men’s Fraternity. When that happened, the interest in Promise Keepers waned and the organization eventually dissolved. In my view, this was an ideal situation.
If parachurch serves a purpose at all, it must be remedial just like a crutch or a wheelchair. The goal should be to bring healing to the body and eventually to shed that which has been brought in beside. Can you imagine a person breaking her leg and being told by her physician that due to an advance in prosthetics she might as well amputate rather than go through a painful rehab? And yet that outlandish scenario mirrors our tendency to produce and maintain parachurch ministries. Christ’s organic model becomes outmoded in favor of human innovation.
“What’s the big deal,” you might ask, “as long as the work is being done.” Yes, parachurch ministries often do a good and efficient job of teaching the Bible, developing youth, and mobilization world evangelism. I’m not saying they don’t. I’m saying that the church will do a better job if we insist that the church be the church and not abdicate to specialists. The church will do a better job because the church is holistic and being holistic, it can produce wholly holy disciples rather than a la carte consumers. A believer who gets her Bible teaching from BSF, contributes to a mission agency, co-chairs her kids’ home school cooperative, and volunteers with a community outreach will have a lot of acquaintances but few real friends because she simply will have no time to develop relationships.
Conversely, a believer who sees his Life Team as a complete expression of the church will work with his gospel community to go deeper in an understanding of the Scriptures, develop children in an intergenerational setting, meet the needs of other members and instigate a myriad of outreach initiatives. In the latter case, the disciple, because he’s always around the same people, will be able to develop deep relationships that can realize Christ’s ultimate vision, that we would love each other as he has loved us. Or as Paul went on to write, “…to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19 NIV)
Neil Cole had some very helpful things to say on the subject of parachurch and its effect on the church in his book, Organic Leadership. Check it out here:
Here are a few ways that some parachurch ministries are parasitic: they feed off the church’s resources, off the church’s purposes, and off the church’s experience.
Feeding Off the Church’s Resources: So many churches are weak and anemic because they have lost valuable resources-to ministries that were originally started to help the church! Valuable leaders, often the best, are recruited away from churches. Then those same leaders are sent back to the church to raise their financial support so they can serve in the parachurch ministry.
Feeding Off the Church’s Purposes: Often parachurches exist to fulfill the mission that was clearly given to the church. Whether it is evangelism and church planting or equipping and training leaders, the churches of America are forfeiting the role they should have, so other ministries, which are supposedly not the church, can step in the gap. The church has outsourced much of the work that she is called to do.
This is an unfortunate reality today. The church has become irrelevant and out of touch in our world, mostly because she has surrendered her God-given role in society and culture. Often the church is a feeble corporation incapable of contributing anything of substance to a lost world. In many cases, she has farmed out the most important tasks:
- Her leadership development has been assumed by colleges, seminaries, and Bible institutes.
- Her compassion and social justice have been given over to nonprofit charitable organizations.
- Her global mission has been relinquished to mission agencies and evangelistic ministries.
- Church government and decision making have often been forfeited to denominational offices.
- Her prophetic voice has been replaced by publishing houses, self-help gurus, and futurist authors.
- Her emotional and spiritual healing has been taken over by psychologists, psychiatrists, and family counseling services.
The essence of the church is lost when she farms out her responsibilities to other organizations. The world today looks at the church wondering what relevance she has. The only use they see for the church is performing the sacerdotal duties of preaching, marrying, burying, baptizing, and passing around wafers and grape juice. How sad! The church was once a catalyst for artistic expression, social change, and the founding of hospitals, schools, and missionary enterprise, but today she has settled for providing a one-hour-a-week worship concert, an offering plate, and a sermon.
Feeding Off the Church’s Experience: There are a growing number of experts on church health, growth, and multiplication that have not ever done any of the things they teach. Instead, they observe closely what others have done, write it out in a workbook, and offer seminars and consulting on how other churches can see the same success. In these cases, they use the fruit of a successful church or two to gain information that they can sell back to the rest of the churches. I know of some organizations whose leaders are supported as missionaries to do this work. So they double dip into the resources of the churches via financial support and the added cost of the seminar or consultation. This is parasitic. It is feeding off the church’s resources and experience and then selling it back to the church!
Neil Cole. Organic Leadership: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are (pp. 116-117). Kindle Edition.