Parachurch Organisations

The latest edition of the newfrontiers magazine came out recently, and it touches on what could prove a very controversial subject. Basically it sets out to criticise the existance of parachurch organisations, arguing that they fulfill ministries better provided by local churches. I’ve collected together a few of my disorganised thoughts on this subject below. I’ll start with what I thought was good, and then offer a few criticisms…

Points of agreement

Training in the context of the local church

Why is it that when someone wants the practical and theological training for (usually full-time) ministry do they find that their local church has almost nothing to offer? So they are sent off to Bible college, which may be a good environment for academic learning, but is likely to lack the “on-the-job” training aspect that a local church can offer. For example, spending time working with and caring for the elderly would be better than writing a 10,000 word essay on “The Issues and Challenges that the Over-Sixties Present To Churches in a Post-Modern Context”.

Overseas minded people handed over to other organisations

Why is it that when someone declares that they have a heart to preach the gospel and demonstrate practical Christian love overseas, do we give them the phone number of a missionary society? It makes for an all to convinient detachment for the local church. We send some money, they send prayer letters which make us have a warm feeling that we are “doing our bit” for world evangelisation.

There are exceptions acknowledged…

The magazine does seem to be awareness of at least one criticism. What about specialist organisations? Mission Aviation Fellowship and Wycliffe Bible Translators are listed as examples. It is unlikely that an individual local church would have the expertise and specialised resources to provide the services that these organisations do.

Problems

…but not enough exceptions?

But could that not be said to a lesser extent for almost all parachurch organisations? For example, a local church may well be able to provide many of the services that an organization like UCCF do. Getting involved in a church cell may indeed be preferable to simply fellowshipping with students. But though a Christian Union can and should never replace a church, does that mean it is not necessary? CU’s do a work of discipling and evangelising students on a scale that even the most well resourced local churches are not likely to be able to match.

Is the divide that great?

And how true is it that parachurch organisations are doing the work that local churches should? Many missionary societies, bible colleges, student movements etc are making great efforts to ensure that they work in partnership with local churches, offering themselves to provide specialised training, and ensuring that those in their organisation are fully active in local church life.

The church universal

Are we guilty of creating too great a distinction between the church local and the church universal? If people from a load of different churches get together and work together, does that make it any less “the church”? After all, newfrontiers very own “New Day” event will gather thousands of young people from different churches, and pool the resources for an evangelistic effort. It is hard to see how this is substantially different to UCCF mobilising students from many churches for a combined mission.

How are parachurch organisations formed?

Doubtless there are different ways that these organisations come about, but I suspect that many are borne out of a local church ministry that grew big. Whether this be a local evangelist who goes itinerant, or a small ministry to the poor that acquired property and a charitable status, or even a training program that started attracting attendees from further afield. If newfrontiers continues to grow, who is to say that in 20 years time there won’t be more parachurch organisations springing up from those within the local church who have a passion for a unique ministry and joining people in other local churches who have the same burden.

Are we ready to take over?

Finally, what would happen if the directors of Bible colleges and missionary societies read this magazine and decided to close down their organisations? Would missionaries be served and supported as well solely by the members of their sending church? Would those wanting training find anything that really equips them for ministry? At the moment, I doubt it.

Church plants

Newfrontiers is big on church planting, something I wholeheartedly am behind. But this means many churches with small memberships. There is no way that they can sustain a fully comprehensive set of ministries. This means that inevitably, they will need to look to other churches or parachurch organisations for help in some areas. Newfrontiers already do much Bible, worship, and children’s work training at certain large well-resourced churches.

Conclusion

I agree that the existence of so many parachurch organisations is indicative of at least some failure on the part of the local church to support the diversity of ministries needed by its membership. We need to step up to the challenge of meeting these needs ourselves, and being humble enough to learn from the expertise of these parachurch organisations. Personally, I think that we will never be without the need for groups of Christians working together with common goals across local church boundaries, and because of this, there will always be organisations that in some sense will be “parachurch”.

Anyway, I’ve rambled enough now. I would be interested to know what others think on this issue. Would we be better off without parachurch organisations?

32 thoughts on “Parachurch Organisations

  1. I think this article is in some way linked to a debate I heard at the Westminster Conference in 2001 when Dr Stanley Jebb and Philip Eveson (Principle of the LTS) interacted in some disagreement about where theological training is best done. Stanley Jebb is a strong advocate of it being done in the context of the local church and has written an excellent article defending this in “Evangelicals Now”.

    Can be found here:

    http://www.e-n.org.uk/2005-08/3102-Can-we-make-the-local-church-a-training-college.htm

    It is the same principle there as here. What both Stanley Jebb and Newfrontiers were presenting (I think) is an ideal. The clue to that is found in Terry Virgo’s Firstline. He noted that “while the church was asleep, along came ‘parachurch'” and then said:

    “The local church should be a strategic centre for the advance of Christ’s kingdom on earth. The early apostles set out on their task of world evangelisation by planting vigorous local churches. They don’t seem to have considered forming missionary societies, evangelistic organisations or theological colleges. Church planting was strategy number one”.

    To me, that suggests that Newfrontiers don’t see church planting as the only item on the agenda. Highest priority – to be sure. But hopefully as those “many small churches with small memberships” begin to grow – out from them will spring gifted individuals and groups that can fulfill what ‘Parachurch’ has been doing (such as Bible translation) and continue to do it, within the context of the local church.

  2. Hi Mark and Dan,

    Good topic – very ‘provocative’ πŸ˜‰

    I was very encouraged by your critique Mark, and completely agree with you! I think between your ‘moderate support’ of Newfrontiers and my ‘moderate critique’ of it, we will – perhaps – find the truth!!

    Perhaps what we mean when we use the phrase ‘church based mission’ is actually ‘local expression of the life of the Kingdom by a certain local *and relational* network of the ‘saints’ i.e. the local Christian ‘community’?

    Of course, since the ‘mission’ of the ‘church’ is actually worked out as the ‘ministry of the saints’ in a relational human-2-human context, then local human needs are always going to be best met by local *relational* resources.

    Therefore I see the ‘dichotomy’ being less between ‘church’ and ‘parachurch’ (which I think grows out of a failure to understand the eschatological and historical nature of ‘church’), but between local and translocal ‘needs’.

    Having said that, even ‘local need’ which is met by local Christian provision may need expert (and thus sometimes ‘outside’ or ‘translocal’) support.

    When Newfrontiers-ites use this church/parachurch dichotomy I wonder whether they send out as many ‘wrong’ signals as ‘right’ signals?

    I’m all for geo-local Christian communities (which will always ultimately be linked to some sort of ‘church’, since this is the concrete geo-local expression of the ‘saints’) being the ones to express the local mission of the kingdom (wherever they are in the world) and to be the ones to meet the local needs – but I would hesitate to seek to replace many valuable translocal networks/partnerships because they are seen as being ‘outside the church’ (with all the negative connotations that restorationists might apply to that term…), when it would be simply naive (and doomed to failure) to expect a given geo-local network to possess the abilities (and manpower and resources) to fulfill this aspect of the Kingdom Mission.

    Even ‘Newfrontiers’ itself is not a ‘church’ but a registered charity which has a translocal ‘ministry’ networking geo-local communities of ‘saints’ in order to meet needs which lay outside their own local context….(ducks for cover).

    Richard

  3. I work for a parachurch organisation, Wycliffe actually.

    I agree with your point under “Is the divide that great?
    “. I’m encouraged by the sentence in the original article: “A vision of the future would be church planters sent out from our family, overseen by apostolic ministry, while partnering with existing mission organisations for aspects of training in cultural awareness and language.”

    We want to partner with the local church, yet it’s very hard to get their attention. What can we do?

    By the way, we do training: http://www.eurotp.org. (Shameless plug.)

  4. That’s a useful perspective Richard!

    “but between local and translocal ‘needs'”.

    I think that certainly my experience when I was growing up was that you were only a proper “missionary” (of course that term is banned in Newfrontiers now!!) if you went overseas. And while I know why that was the understanding, I don’t think it was a helpful perspective because sometimes local and translocal needs are just as desperate as each other.

    For example, surely a “local” church is abandoning some of it’s responsibilities if it pours all it’s resources and skills and finances into sending missionaries abroad to the Third World, and yet none of the church family are paying any attention to the deprived estate just down their road? An exaggerated example I know, but I hope that makes the point!

    The issue surely is having (to use a Newfrontiers phrase) “a heart for mobility” and being open to God’s guiding wherever and to whoever that means. And if we truly have that heart, then our arms will be open wide enough to encompass anyone who shares that vision – para or not!

  5. hmm. i think lots of parachurch doesn’t come from dead-church but from alive-church combined with unique opportunities to work across-churches for even more fruitful mission.

    “parachurch” mission is never separate from the life of the church… in fact its all about growing the church… its one of the things i love about working with UCCF… we’re gathered together to grow the local churches in uni towns and across the nation(s)…. and its so much better to club together to do that… particularly in a freaky environment like the student world, one that is so rapidly changing and peculiar in the way that people live, work and play together…. never would i want to build “campus-church” or ministry divorced from the church… rather i want to build the local churches…

    loving the church, and loving the opportunities for newfrontiers and uccf to be in close partnership over the last couple of years… hopefully something that can be sustained and grow further.

  6. some great discussion here, and good to hear from some real live “parachurchers”. I agree with Richard, that much “parachurch” amounts to little more than “trans-local” ministry, something that newfrontiers are already comfortable with in the ministry of “apostles”.

    Paul’s question is a good one, and I’m not sure I know the answer. Certainly in newfrontiers circles they would be concerned that people didn’t effectively leave the local church context to join the parachurch organisation.

    Dave’s point is important. If parachurch groups like UCCF are clear that they are serving not competing with local churches, then perhaps it will break down the suspicious attitude some in newfrontiers churches have towards such organisations.

    But Dan has a point too. Many of these parachurch organisations exist because of the lack of vision of the local church, which so often fails to support its member’s ministries outside the four walls of the church building.

  7. One point I don’t think has been mentioned here at least (I haven’t read the article… yet…) is the issue of Church Government.

    How does a para-church submit to what Newfrontiers would define as ‘normal’ church government?

    I’m not trying to undermine the need, or the benefit of para-church organisations. But if biblically we believe in an Ephesians 4 structure – how would this relate to a para-church?

  8. Not sure we ever get a water-tight utterly consistent church government setup in the NT – even if there are evidently principles and certainly things like Ephesians 4….??

    I would guess most para-church ministry has several kinds of oversight. So, in the case of UCCF….

    Christian Unions are led on the ground by student leaders – which isn’t pastoral leadership but missions leadership.
    They’re normally then overseen by local church leaders. So in Reading, Berkshire the CU is overseen by an “advisory group” comprised of myself (as CU staffworker), an evangelical university chaplain, an FIEC pastor, Newfrontiers Elder, Baptist minister, Anglican Vicar, Vineyard pastor and a Pentecostal minister…. something that works through termly meetings and also regular relational contact in the church.

    Wider UCCF ministry has two oversight forms – one a Trust board (required as a charity) and secondly a group of church and missions leaders, including Terry Virgo.

    We’re also more generally accountable to all our financial supporters and prayer supporters who are at liberty to withdraw support or, more helpfully, hold us accountable to the vision they’re praying & paying for.

    Each and every UCCF worker and CU member is also of course individually under the church government of the local church to which they belong.

    I would imagine other “parachurch” ministries are similarly accountable both locally and more broadly.

  9. Jon,

    If we work with the concept of local/translocal rather than church/parachurch then it’s not to hard to see that the concept of ‘church governance’ (however one defines it – and although I completely agree with church governance I’m not a advocate of the NFI thinking on ephesians 4…) relates to the local assembly of the ‘faithful’ who are attending to the local needs (something that many NFI churches are excellent at – certainly here in Bedford all 4 NFI churches have social ministries).

    However the ‘translocal’ ministries of the ‘faithful’ represent an ‘extra-church’ impulse (which will be guided by local church governance to be sure) but which can never itself come under the structures of ‘local church governance’.

    This ‘translocal’ aspect of the ministry of the saints is linked to the slippery and tricky reality of Christian Unity (or ecumenism). In many ways the ‘parachurch’ organisations and ministries are able (but not always) to be a force for Christian unity which is much needed.

    Newfrontiers maintains a translocal unity ‘of sorts’, but it is a unity which is centred around a common theological/cultural expression of Christianity/Church which – as good as this can be – can’t incarnate the fullness of the ‘manifold wisdom of God’ (to go back to ephesians).

    My concern with NFI thinking on the church/parachurch issue is that they are failing to see the wider, more ecclesiologically diverse, unity which needs to be achieved across the body of Christ.

    ‘Ideally’ one would take the very essential understanding of local church ‘life’ and mission which NFI articulates (although it is by no means the first or only ‘church’ to do so) and allow this local church life to unite in meeting ‘translocal’ needs with organisations/ministries which encourage unity across the ecclesiological spectrum (i.e. so not just doing the NFI ‘translocal’ thing…).

    In many ways ‘Soul in the city’ encapsulated this perspective and if Newday develops more partnerships with non NFI churches (and not just non-NFI ‘charismatic-evangelical’ churches!) then it will achieve the same perspective.

    Sorry if this post is over long, but these issues are really a source of passion for me since, having been – until recently – quite heavily involved with an NFI church, I can see the ‘good’ within the system as well as the ‘weaknesses’ – weaknesses which appear to be unacknowledged within the NFI system itself.

    I don’t want to come cross ‘anti’ anything, but hopefully constructively commenting on pro’s and con’s (as, let’s face it, there is no ‘church’ or ecclesial system which has the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’!)

    Go well,

    Richard

  10. Ok, that’s really helpful. They didn’t used to call us No-Friends-International for nothing… πŸ˜‰

    The reason this question is raised for me is a situation I saw arise a few years back.

    A young adult in our church applied to be part of a para-church organisation. This person was subsequently found to be caught in some fairly seriously sinful patterns of behaviour.

    Unfortunately, they were unrepentent, in fact the opposite! So the elders of the church contacted the para-church, stressing that they could not recommend this person for ministry training.

    The organisation basically ignored the recommendations and allowed the person to come anyway. Sure enough, it all fell to pieces and the person left training (sooner, rather than later) and sadly, chose to leave church all together unwilling to deal with this sin.

    I’m not saying this is a typical case at all, but it made me wary of the difficulties that can arise when local-governance and trans-local governance are not necessarily “of one heart”

    jb

  11. Hi Jon,

    Thanks for that (and for not flaming me for my comments re: NFI!).

    Your ‘case study’ is very interesting.

    I worked (for about 6 months) for an organisation called ‘CMF’ (Christian Medical Fellowship) which is a sort of UCCF-type body but concentrating purely on medical students/medical schools (as well as providing Christian perspectives for Doctors and on Medical ethical issues).

    At the same time I had started going to Woodside Church in Bedford (an NFI church) and so encountered the whole ‘church/parachurch’ thing from a personal perspective.

    Interestingly the CMF required a reference from my ‘local church’, so it is clear that had I been the sort of fellow that you described above then I wouldn’t have got the job.

    Perhaps it depends on the specific organisation, but I agree that there needs to be partnership between organisations and local churches on issues like the one you mentioned, but this is NOT to try to squeeze ‘translocal’ action under specifically ‘local’ governance.

    During my time at CMF it was true that some of the medical students were spending more time investing in the CMF work rather than getting stuck in to a solid local church and this could only have been harmful (it needn’t be ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’). However CMF does some fantastic work which no local church could ever provide (due to the expertise and ‘contacts’ which medical ethical issues require). CMF was a leading partner in the ‘Care not Killing’ grouping which opposed the ‘Dignity in Dying’ group during the recent Lord’s debate over the Lord Joffe ‘assisted suicide’ bill (which was succesfully overturned). These political issues require quick and informed responses (since some decisions hang on a thread) and the ability to mobilise large numbers of influential voices. During the run up to Lord Joffe’s bill (which has been presented before) the CMF is able to ‘mobilise’ a large number of UK Christian Doctors who can write letters of opposition to the various influential bodies. The ‘doctor’ voice on this issue is a key one and will continue to be so when the bill gets re-presented (which it will….), no ‘local church’ could ever contain the expertise or contacts required to mobilise such an influential lobby.

    Hopefully this shows how the church/parachurch dichotomy is actually a naive antithesis and that we need to move towards a more nuanced understanding of local activity linked with translocal ‘partnerships’.

    By all means we should continue to push the ‘keep it local’ card as much as we can (and as much as it is applicable…) but to do so within the NFI church/parachurch ‘polemic’ is unhelpful and generates more ‘heat’ than ‘light’!

    Go well,

    Richard

  12. Although I spent a year training with Newfrontiers I also spent all it (thanks to our elder Steve Chick) questioning absolutely everything we were taught!

    As it happens, I’ve come to a place where actually I think Newfrontiers on the whole has a lot of stuff right, but I’ve also seen plenty I think could be improved on too. (…move over Terry, it’s my turn!… ;)) so I think I am probably more open-minded than your usual Newfrontiers graduate!

    It would be interesting to hear some response to some of the critisisms from them! I don’t suppose they read this blog though…

  13. Jon, your example highlights a weakness with training outside the context of the local church. A typical Bible college needs students for it to remain financially viable, and thus there is a greater temptation to accept those not suitable for ministry. But other parachurch organisations (e.g. missionary societies or groups like CMF Richard describes below) have more incentive to seek people they can trust to represent them well.

  14. Richard, I liked your comment: “the church/parachurch dichotomy is actually a naive antithesis and that we need to move towards a more nuanced understanding of local activity linked with translocal ‘partnerships’.” – it pretty well sums up what I was trying to say in this post.”

    While I am all for the local church fully stepping up to all God has called it to do and to be, I don’t see that in any way conflicts with the existence of organisations like CMF. In fact, I view many organisations like this simply as good examples of Christians working together – being kingdom minded people.

  15. Jon, I hope you haven’t let that ‘Steve Chick’ (not his real name of course, any Newfrontiers big cheeses who might be listening πŸ˜‰ ) influence your opinions too much with his Arminian Premillenialism.

    If there are disadvantages with sending people off to Bible colleges completely unrelated to the local church, there are some potential pitfalls in having “in house” training that we need to avoid. We should instill the vision and values of our churches into potential new leaders, but we should not attempt to stifle their ability to reason for themselves. People take time to come to their own convictions about what the Bible says. We certainly don’t need a nepotistic system where only blood relatives and sycophants are allowed into ministry while those who dare to voice even the slightest dissent are eternally consigned to the carparking duty rota.

  16. Not at all Mark!

    I actually disagree with Steve on a lot of things (such as predestination…). But what he taught me was that you need to know these things for yourself (that is to search the scriptures and come to a full understanding), rather than to simply take ideas without challenging them.

    And what are you saying about the car-parking rota- My Dad does that!! (Mind you he did interpret a tongue as a prophesy on David Stroud’s visit… *parents!*)

  17. Actually… it was a very well-known missonary organisation that was concerned….

    But I would probably agree on principle you are right!

  18. Jon,

    ‘As it happens, I’ve come to a place where actually I think Newfrontiers on the whole has a lot of stuff right’.

    I completely agree with this statement, and this is why I don’t want to collapse into cynical ‘criticism’ of the movement. Several of my good friends are involved with NFI churches and many lead excellent local social ministries and are passionate for Jesus and his church, but…. πŸ˜‰

    For me (as an amateur theologian for whom ‘small things’ can really matter and lead to ‘bigger problems’) it’s perhaps the 20% that they *haven’t* ‘got right’ that is of concern. Or to be more precise it’s the fact that they ‘push’ the 20% which is at ‘error’ as ‘the truth’.

    Having been at leaders meetings/prayer and fasting etc…one thing I’ll say about NFI is the pure ‘confidence’ which undergirds all that they think and do. This is obviously much to be admired when one considers the nature of what we believe as Christians, however when this ‘confidence’ starts to communicate weaknesses as ‘truth’ then you can start to get problems (and I’ve encountered a fair few of them which make Mark’s comment about ‘car parking duty’ all too close for comfort…).

    The basic ‘distortion’ is that the movement articluates a ‘complete ideology’ which, while encompassing much that is good (as I have said above), also drags along much that is unhelpful.

    This ‘complete ideology’ is then propogated and ‘spun’ using a very efficient and organised ‘power structure’ (which consists of many who are faithful to the ‘ideology’). It’s painful to have to say this but the propogation of this ‘ideology’ often takes the form of ‘propoganda’ (where the ‘good things’ are talked up and the ‘bad things’ are passed over), which further helps communicate that ‘we have the whole truth and are where God is ‘at”.

    However, God is sooooooooooooo gracious and works with us all whatever place we’re in, so just because one has a distorted ideology doesn’t mean that God doesn’t bless and build. This, along with the honest intentions of the vast majority of those within NFI churches, means that it is definately a ‘force for good’ and is being much used by God. But the presence of God’s grace shouldn’t confirm us in our distorted ideologies, and there is enough ‘harm’ being done (and which I’ve witnessed) for me to want to see a ‘change’ in the core ‘ideology’.

    ‘Strong’ (perhaps in the worst sense) leadership, within an organised power structure, making use of propoganda to communicate a distorted (although not wholly ‘wrong’) ideology, which leads to ‘grass level’ abuses and break down of love and relationships would start to fit the picture of a ‘cult’, and this is why I’m so keen to raise warning flags where I see them (I’ve known people leave NFI churches quite peacably due to concerns as above and who have subsequently been ‘blanked’ by formerly very close ‘friends’).

    I’m not saying that this is happening within every church and every relationship (since, as I’ve said, God is gracious and the Spirit of love and peace overcomes human weaknesses), but I’m convinced that there is enough ‘distorted thinking’ flowing around to trip people up and lead them down completely un-Christlike paths of behaviour.

    My ‘desire’ would be to see a little more ‘humility’ and ‘self-awareness’ over the 20% which is weak and also further networking with other Christian churches (and not just those that support a restorationist/charismatic or evangelical perspective) – incidentally the former results in the latter and vice versa, since often it is only when we speak with those who are ‘outside’ ourselves that we start to understand the problems ‘within’ ourselves.

    I hope this is helpful and helps you to find that delicate ‘balance’ point where one can engage without being ‘compromised’ but also critique without becoming cynical.

    All my love in Christ,

    Richard

  19. p.s.

    Having just read my post I realise that it is perhaps more ‘intense’ and ‘negative’ than I intended!

    My apologies if I implied that:

    a) Newfrontiers is a cult!
    b) There is a malicious minority (who are leaders) within it
    c) That it is an abusive grouping of churches

    I don’t actually think any of the above, but was keen to show how wrong thinking could lead to wrong actions on a personal 1-2-1 level and that, perhaps, some of NFI ‘thinking’ is at error and that is why there are *some* problems at a local level.

    Again, sorry for any wrong impressions created!

    All my love in Christ,

    Richard

  20. Richard,

    Some of the points you raise are interesting ones.

    (Mark you may wish to close your ears… or eyes…)

    I’ll be honest – I have been on the butt end of some rather unfortunate and painful pastoral mis-handling myself (actually this was in a Newfrontiers church that is about as far removed from Newfrontiers as you can get! (not KCC!))

    Sadly, some serious manipulation and power abuse was at work. Unfortunately Newfrontiers appeared to do nothing about it – I think in fact they were pretty power-less! In the end I left due to some further theologically dodgy practises and went back home – learning to forgive on the way…

    I think that even within a family of churches… you get good ones, you get bad ones. You sometimes have to ‘pay your money and take your choice’ so-to-speak.

    My other experiences from Newfrontiers have been I would say, far more positive. I appreciate there is a sense of which they ‘talk up’ certain aspects. At the same time, I think it’s also important to bear in mind that allowing yourself to be too all-ecompassing can end up in some rather ‘wooly’ doctrine.

    (Actually I’ve been to some churches where some seriously sketchy doctrine has been taught as truth – and that concerns me far more!)

    I would agree with your concluding points entirely! Walking in a humble search for the truth as part of Christ’s global church is undoubtedly the way forward πŸ™‚

    On a sub-point. Its things like this that make me wish our congregations were far more analytical with teaching they receive. As Sam Storms said “Everyone’s a theologian, they’re either a good one or a bad one”

  21. Hi Jon,

    Thanks for taking me seriously and for your gracious comments.

    I myself was pretty badly ‘burnt’ and almost daily need to learn to ‘put on’ forgiveness. I feel that part of the reconciliation process is also working through the issues and since I tried to do this with those concerned, but it didn’t really go anywhere (partly because of the self-blinding that I talked about), I’m having to work through the problems with NFI on a wider level. Blogs like Marks and posts like yours really help heal wounds as well as allowing me to air some concerns!

    I agree with the basic fact of ‘church’ that there will always be a variety of experiences (some better, some worse) since we are all ‘human’ and haven’t reached ‘perfection’ yet! Those who lead a church community have a heavier burden to portray the ‘ideal’ of life in Christ and certainly where local churches have the maturity, wisdom and Christ-likeness in their leaders then the community will certainly grow in similar likeness.

    I don’t want to be too controversial (which I’m all to able to be ;-)) but I wonder whether ‘Christ-like leadership’ takes:

    a) Some life experience (inc. experiences such as marriage/child raising)
    b) Some suffering along the way
    c) Some awareness of the complexities, necessities and difficulties of engaging in Christian unity
    d) Time within a certain community in which to build reputation and relationships

    Putting these together perhaps it could be ‘proverbial wisdom’ (i.e. like proverbs, not ‘law’ but wise advice…) that those who are ‘elders’ should be ‘older’….

    I’m 31 and am still learning to temper the ‘certainties’ of youth, even as I continue to learn more about commitment within marriage and fatherhood of a 14 month old. To be honest I’m the last person that I would choose to lead a church until, perhaps, 20 years time, but so many of NFI churches are being ‘handed over’ to (or planted by) those like myself (+/- any ‘anointing’ they may have, I’ve spent 3+ years with such people and can see all too well the same youth-bound thinking that I’m growing out of). We then wonder why pastoral ‘muck-ups’ happen and why older members of the congregation get ‘exhausted’ by all the dynamism and energy involved in ‘envisioning’ and ‘imparting a leaders heart….’. I know that Paul wrote about ‘not despising your age’ to Timothy/Ephesus, but I don’t think he meant it to be the ‘norm’!

    I know that we’re on to a different ‘thread’ to the church/parachurch one, but these concepts are all somewhat related, and I just wonder what ‘short cuts’ are being taken in Spiritual formation (both of leaders and community) and in wider Ecumenism in the rush to become a ‘1000 churches and churches of 1000’s’?

    Thanks for your ongoing honest input.

    Richard

  22. Timothy was certainly no lightweight – Paul expected him to set an example to the other believers!

    Richard, I can understand your criticism of having younger leaders – but I also think we can play too safe as well, and in fact many people in churches respond to dynamic leadership (I include myself in that category!)

    If nothing else, I think this reminds me why plurality of elders/leaders is so crucial. The balance can only be properly struck in a team.

    I’m really sorry to hear about your bad experiences though.
    God be with you

  23. Thanks for the blessings Jon,

    I guess I’m just not ‘there’ with the idea of ‘dynamic’ leadership at this time (having experienced a little too much dunamis!).

    I’m looking for someone I can ‘relate’ to, not just someone who ‘talks the talk’ on a platform.

    But then this is where I’m at on my journey at the moment.

    Go well,

    Richard

  24. Hi Mark, thanks for your comment on my blog re: Church and para-Church.

    I think this is such an important topic for us as Christians to discuss and get to grips with – it’s good to see people discussing this in this way.

    A few thoughts on some of your problems set out…

    1) …but not enough exceptions?
    I agree entirely with your point that a CU can and never should replace a Church. However, you mentioned about CU’s doing a job of discipling and evangelising students in a way even the most well resourced Churches can’t match. I believe there is a role for CU’s/Fusion Cells etc in a university, college for fellowship, prayer, support, looking at the Bible together – which can all help new or mature Christians. However, discipling requires elements of teaching and pastoral care which I believe should come from the Church. Issues such as repentance, baptism in water, baptism in the Holy Spirit are so important as Biblical foundations (Hebrews 6:1-3). These and other things (biblical roles of men and women, tithing, sexuality etc) are so often “avoided” in CU’s etc as they are deemed controversial but they are important in the discipling of a new Christian. I struggle to see the Biblical support for CU’s to bring the level of teaching many of them do bring, whereas it is clear that the Church is commisioned to bring this teaching. The CU also doesn’t have the authority to address certain issues/lifestyles that may need to change, whereas the Church does carry that Biblical authority to bring correction. With regards to evangelism, I’m sure many CU’s do fantastic jobs in seeing people get saved – Praise God! It’s imporant to make sure people are not saved and added to the CU, but saved and added to the Church though. CU’s can be a great platform for evangelism to one group of people – but are we only ever called to just reach out to one group of people??? I agree that God may call us to work with one group of people (students, kids etc) but our hearts should still be for “all people” as God’s heart is for “all people.” Our evangelism within campus doesn’t need to rely on CU organised events, though the CU is of course a great place to support each other.

    2) Is the divide that great?
    I agree that when a para-church organisation works alongside the Church, and recognises its responsibility to build Church that is definitely a positive thing. There is still a defined split between what is Church and what is not Church however (I did a post a while back on recognising the Church). If a para-church organisation works alongside churches it has to be careful not to take that as justification to carry out specific roles (especially those like teaching) that are the responsibility of the Church

    3)The church universal
    I’ve not been part of New-Frontiers for very long and don’t know an awful lot about the way New-Day is run, however i do believe there is a distinct difference between New-Frontiers bringing together many Christians for a New-Day event, and something like UCCF. The difference I see is that with New-Day there it comes under the apostolic leadership and authority, people recognise that it is the New-Frontiers Church doing something to equip people and help people evangelise. With para-Church, there isn’t the clear leadership, clear teaching and accountability that there is within the Church.

    4)How are parachurch organisations formed? and Church Plants
    I think if something is under the apostolic leadership then it is still part of the Church family. So even though the result of Church Planting may be lots of small Churches (although this is by no means a necessity, 1000’s of Churches – Churches of 1000’s!!!) there may be wider ministries that work alongside many of these smaller Churches (with training and evangelism etc) and support will come from a whole group of families to help in local ministries. This is one of the great blessings of being involved with a family and an apostolic people that recognise the importance of Ephesians 4 ministries!

    5) Are we ready to take over?
    This depends on the nature of the Church that people are in. If people are in a Church that is under a wider apostolic covering they are part of the wider family of Churches, who together can support ministries, and provide training and equipping. A Para-Church organisation does not have to simply close down either – it could bring itself under apostolic leadership, “devoting itself to the apostles teaching,” building Church and be part of the Church. There are Bible Schools and missionary organisations that atake this form (School of the Word, part of Ministries Without Borders).

    In your conclusion you said…”we will never be without the need for groups of Christians working together with common goals across local church boundaries” AMEN!!! – I agree completely with that, we do need Christians to work across Churches, building unity and supporting each other. I think this should be Churches working together though, individuals working together across Churches is also good but we’re not about building individual ministries we’re about building Churches, and seeing excellent relationships between Churches.

    I passionately believe in the Church, I believe when the Church is Biblical it works. My heart is for a restored Church, a Church that is all God intended it to be, a radical Church. I believe this is what God is doing today, building and restoring His Church, ready to usher in His kingdom. As Bryn Jones (a late apostle) once put it… “We’re not part of a restorationist movement, or restorationist Church, we’re part of a Church that is being restored.” The restoration of God’s Church means catching hold of what God called His Church to be and making sure that’s what we’re building. After all it’s “through the Church” and not “through the CU” or “through the para-church organisation” that the manifold wisdom of God will be made known…

    Hope that came across ok and made sense! It’s great that Christians can come together and discuss things like this with grace to seek truth and get a greater understanding of God’s heart.

    Big Blessings,
    Joel Gill πŸ™‚

    PS – I do know your brother, great guy and servant heart, we’re lucky to have him here.

  25. Some good points well made there Joel. I would love churches to step up the level of quality teaching and training they provide, and if this takes away some work from parachurch organisations, so be it. Your point about “apostolic leadership” is also interesting. I think many parachurch organisations would claim that they have this in the form of steering comittees and advisory boards made up of leaders of local churches.

    A genuinely “charismatic” church will realise that their members will each be gifted in differing ways and have ministries in different areas, in some cases working together with believers from other churches. If as local churches we can embrace this diversity of gifting and ministry as the work of the Holy Spirit in building the church (local and universal), then we will see the church starting to become what it is meant to be. As it is, there are too many people moving from church to church (or even to parachurch organisation) looking for a place where their ministry/gifting/passion is included in the vision.

  26. Thank you Joel, Jon, Rich and Mark for ineresting discussions over NFI’s para/church. I find it very interesting knowing what I have been through, had some experiences with NFI! I work for Christian Deaf Link Uk (CDL UK) as parachurch organisation, this work come up after many deaf christians could not integrate or fully participate in local churches due to communication, culture and language barriers. We, deaf christians, do really want be part of local churches but mostly not offer ‘room’ for us. One reason I believe the CDL UK as parachurch was raised for this purpose, perhaps to educate local churches better deaf aware, to provide support deaf christians by meaning of provision of conference, training (though I agree it should come from church but it does not happen to suit for deaf) and to give network information such as events, training courses, etc.

    Perhaps my deaf/disability issue may not relevant to you, there is one thing I would like to say: I am still waiting for… the Church’s apostlic leadership to act like those apostles who did respond immediately to the needs of hellenistic Christians when they complained at lack of distributions (Act 6). In my experience, church leaders hardly follows the example of Act 6. There are many potential deaf christians who can become leaders or pastors, even teachers today but they can’t participate in local mainstream churches, except deaf churches, mission in UK and abroad. Second thing there is cultural and language diverses, which apostlic leadership should recognise them and delegate them to do their ministries under church leaderships. Like those 7 hellenistic christians (ie Stephen, Philip, etc) were appointed to do their own cultural ministries to hellenistic christians under the jerusalem church.

    However, I still think it is important to have parachurch organisations existing today, perhaps for “temporary period” to support local church till they become mature in actions? Thank you for listen…to my heartfelt sharing.

    Every blessing to you all

    Laurence Banks

  27. Laurence – hi!

    Thanks for posting! Your comment over the intergration of deaf Christians is absolutely right! If we are to be ‘one body’ then we must aim for as much integration as possible – I’m sure Paul would have said, ‘no Jew or Gentile, no abled or disabled’, disability involves so much ignorance and stigma that it’s easy for the church to ‘forget’ the needs of their less-abled brothers and sisters.

    As for ‘deaf leaders’ – absolutely!! We’re missing out on good people by ignoring this reality!

    Thank you for raising this issue and you’ve really added to my thinking on the topic of ‘unity-in-diversity’ in the church!

    Peace to you,

    Richard

  28. Hi everyone,

    What I would like to know, is that if the parachurch is doing a specific task, ie. evangelism, how should they parrallel with the church?

    Obviously the parachurch is going to do some things the church is supposed to be doing, otherwise there would be no need for it.

    Therefore where are the legal overlaps for a parachurch to work into and outside of a church?

    What are the areas the parachurch should not overlap with the church?

    I guess I am looking for boundaries.

    Cheers,

    josh mitchell

  29. In my mind it’s less a matter of boundaries as purpose. Parachurch should exist for the sake of the church – not just because of deficiency… because there are times when we’re better off together than working separately and because we need specialism in certain things.

    That said, parachurch must always be routed in the local church – so, those involved in it should be firmly established in a local church and ministering from that context, for a wider benefit to the local churches.

    History says that the best of parachurch has helped established the strength of the local church over the past couple of centuries, long may that continue – never as an end in itself but out of love for the local church and for the good of the local church.

    IMHO.

  30. I think it would be helpful to make a distinction between different para church organization instead of lumping them all together. As a person who has lead a church for many years some can be very helpful and some exceptionally unhelpful. Many use the local church as a means of resource for their endevours while having little accountability or concern for local church.

    All arguments on this issue would disappear if we simply believed that the way the early church did it was the way that God wanted it to be done. Surely if a way of doing ministry is written in the bible is it not every bit as authoritive as anything else we believe biblicallly?

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