I’m not fond of many parachurch groups. I know it’s not a popular position but I think it’s warranted in many cases. The rub for me is when, instead of coming along side and assisting the local church (which, I believe, is what “para-church” means) to be all she can be, some groups frankly siphon away needed resources from her, all in the name of accomplishing the one task they believe God has given them – like evangelism, discipleship or missions. So, instead of making the local church a stronger, healthier and more effective outpost for God’s kingdom, they weaken and handicap her impact in the community. In those cases, parachurch ministries devolve into parasite ministries.
Honestly, it’s easier to pick out one thing you like about the church’s mission, focus on it at the exclusion of others and recruit like-minded individuals to the cause. That’s the luxury…and weakness of the parachurch ministry…and why it is never the substitute for the local church.
Unfortunately, the church can forget this as well. It happens when a pastor believes his church is called by God to pick one aspect of the mission (usually what the pastor is most passionate about) over and above other aspects, and revolve his church around it. For example, I heard a pastor tell me one time, “We are a missions church. We aren’t big on discipleship. If you want that you need to go to another church.” The only problem with that is the pastor doesn’t get to choose what the church should and shouldn’t do. The reason is that it’s not his church. It’s Jesus’ church. And being so, Christ gets to dictate what the church should be about. And he did. Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What is the church to do? Make disciples. What does that mean? It means implicitly that the church should be a missions church, a evangelism church, a worship church, a small groups church and everything else which flows from the mission of making disciples. I know that every church will be better in some of these areas than others, but having strengths and weaknesses is different than neglect. That’s what parachurch ministries do. They unapologetically focus on one area to the neglect of others, and consequently, it’s why they don’t consider themselves a church. The local church doesn’t have that option.
So if you find yourself proud of the things you’ve accomplished in your church, ask yourself, Are we doing everything Christ’s mission demands of us? Are we doing whatever it takes to make disciples? Do we stress the need for corporate worship, the call to share the gospel, the role of loving our community, the grace of getting involved in a small group of believers and a whole host of other practices which revolve around leading people to becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ? If you feel no need to do so and are happy letting the church exclusively ride your own personal hobby horse passions, that’s okay, you’re a ministry, just not a church.
Don’t let your church become a parachurch. Let it be what Jesus called it to be.