Church vs Parachurch 1

I work for a parachurch organisation whose work I love and believe in, but yet I love the local church and am convinced that God is calling me to be involved in a missional church planting movement.

Here are some of Steve Timmis’ comments about church and parachurch over at the Resurgence blog:

“I know saying this isn’t going to win me any friends, but someone has to tell the king he’s naked. Is it not a quiet madness for churches to largely outsource their discipleship (to parachurch agencies) and training (to theological colleges)? The best context for both discipleship and training is the people of God on mission (a.k.a. church).

Take discipleship as a case in point. It’s in the context of church that we are going to learn best what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus. Parachurch agencies do a lot of good, but they tend to draw people who share a special interest and who want similar things. By contrast, a local church is usually comprised of people from a range of backgrounds, at very different stages of development and with competing interests.

It’s a fact of life that it’s far harder to get on with people like that than it is with people who have more in common. But those are precisely the people I need to make me more like Jesus. It is precisely when the church is a ragbag collection of people who aren’t like each other that “great grace” is essential, and that grace is what turns converts into disciples.”

Read the whole article here

I agree with Dave Bish that Steve’s comments on parachurch are a little one-sided and one-dimensional.  There are many churches who do not fit the diversity description that Steve describes and many parachurches who work really hard at working with and serving local churches.

And just as many churches are not the diverse group of people that Steve seems to suggest they are, so many parachurches are not a group of people with the same goals and similar visions.  It is more complex than that.  Cloning is not the exclusive problem of the parachurch.  In fact most parachurches I have been involved in the opposite is the problem, too many drivers, too many visions, too many pioneers.

I like Dave’s distinction between a healthy church/parachurch relationship (partnership and ownership, a resourcing of the local church) and an unhealthy one – outsourcing or abdication of a local churches responsibility.  And I agree Dave the use of the versus language is not helpful (except where you are trying to be provocative in blog titles 🙂 )

Although, I think Dave is overly optimistic with this statement:

“everyone in a theology college or in a Christian Union (for example) is going to be a member of a local church (or should be) – so a great deal of their training and discipleship is going to happen in the local church.”

Ever been in a dead, maintenance mode style church, Dave?  Very little discipling, missional living stuff happens there.  And by default the parachurch will take the local church responsibility over.

Read the rest of Dave’s post here

Where I work many of our students come from churches with dodgy teaching, little engagement with the communities, no equipping of the saints or even no gospel.  My parachurch organisation very often not only serves the local church (often not even because our work is so far removed or even contrary to theirs) but does the work of the local church.  Although to be fair we have good partnerships with some local churches which some of our students attend.

I think parachurches exist historically because local churches were not fulfilling their calling, and largely, in my experience this is still true today.  Although some parachurch organisations that I am familiar with have now outlived their need, if they are truely existing to serve and equip local churches.  These organisations must either change their vision or shut up shop.

More on this tomorrow.

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~ by John on February 27, 2009.

7 Responses to “Church vs Parachurch 1”

  1. I grew up in a fairly dead church setup – then became a Christian later, i guess i decided to confine my comments to looking for the best of things, when comparing i find that helps debate be constructive. Anyone can find a bad church and a bad parachurch to compare, but if we look at best-cases then we get to see if the principle itself is valid. Having experienced a number of best-case senarios I think the principle of ‘parachurch’ holds – though i grant it takes a lot of work to have that… but then heck, trying to get local church to be the beautiful bride she’s meant to be is possibly even harder, but i don’t want to ever advocate giving up on the bride.

    I figure anyone really interested ought to have the faith that God can bring about the good senarios… if we haven’t got that sort of gospel optimism then we give up any gospel work.

    Steve Timmis has done us all a favour by getting us talking, and like you say – we all agree on a lot of the stuff.

  2. It’s interesting stuff. I agree that there are benefits given by parachurch organisations, but I also agree with John that historically para-church organisations have arisen when the church is not doing the job it was made for.

    Now for some splurging…

    Given that there will always be naff churches, and that no church is ever what it is meant to be, does that mean we will always need parachurch organisations helping the churches?

    As I’m writing, a thought has just struck me… In the New Testament we obviously don’t find para-church organisations… and we know that the early church wasn’t always what it was meant to be.
    So if this is the case, why didn’t Paul institute para-church organisations to help deal with the deficits?

    My sugggestion (for further discussion) is how about dropping the para-bit and get churches resourcing churches?
    Since no church gets everything right, but we tend to get different things wrong, why don’t churches assist, challenge, encourage and resource each other to do gospel ministry? If para-church organisations can do this, but aren’t found in the NT, then why can’t churches?

    (One example of where this does happen is the Radstock network…)

    Any thoughts?

  3. Hey Dave and Micheal

    Thanks for your thoughts I am planning to post part 3 tomorrow where I will try to give some of my thoughts rather than just interact with others. I will give my take on some of the thoughts above, let me know what you think

  4. Michael – I’d venture that that’s exactly what ‘the best of’ parachurch is really, churches partnering together in mission.

    Naturally to do this the churches involved set aside members of those churches to work within the partnerships and take responsibility for them, and the partnerships take on some sense of identity in themselves, not as a church, or just a part of a church, but as a part of all the partnering local churches in a particular location – or even across regions and nations. Seems entirely possible. Always existing for the good of the partner churches.

    There are decent arguments (such as those by Mike Reeves in his paper on CU & Church at UCCF.org.uk) for ‘parachurch’ ministries biblically.

  5. running out of time today so here is a little thought – if Dave (and I think he is) is right then the best of churches partnering together in mission is a helpful, healthy definition of a parachurch, then is a denomination not a parachurch structure?

    (Broughton Knox seemed to indicate as much in his writings – but arguing a different point)

  6. […] Steve Timmis, Jonathan Dodson and Neil Cole) were posting on this subject.  For those thoughts see part 1 and part […]

  7. […] 6. Church vs Parachurch 1 […]

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