Para-church ministries

From "The Community of the King," by Howard Snyder:

"When we look at the contemporary church, we see not only the community of God's people; we find also a proliferation of local church organizations, denominations, institutions, agencies, associations and so forth. Such structures obviously have no biblical basis. How should we view them?

The two most common tendencies have been either to say these structures are actually a part of the essence of the church, and thus sacralize them, or to take an anti-institutional stance and say all such structures are invalid and must be abandoned.......

A more helpful option, however, is to view all institutional structures as para-church structures which exist alongside of  and parallel to the community of God's people but are not themselves the church.....they exist along side or parallel to the church community; and they exist ostensibly to serve the church."

For some time I took the second stance, that all institutions must be abandoned. In fact I thought they would have been mostly abandoned by now when people found they had a choice. (I was obviously wrong about my expectation.)

Has anyone thought of Snyder's option, of seeing these things as "serving" the church?

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Replies (4)
    • Dan, good to see you. Salutations!

      Congratulations on your exciting new book, available free in audio and text. livingtruth.com

      My, my in the 1800's several denominations had long debates about the legitimacy of even mission boards. Definitely bureaucracy has taken its toll in the church and in the corporate as well as political realms.

      Charles Spurgeon used to pray: Lord, lead me not into a committee.  :)

      In contrast to para-church ministries, the scriptures emphasize indvidual responsibility. For the good of the body, of course. If you can do it - you may do it, so to speak.

      We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Rom. 12:6-8 

      A para-church ministry, in my opinion, still could have its place just as Professor Snyder suggests. It might even be temporary. Just for a specific project. Considering our freedom in Christ, I would not be overly judgmental about a specific ministry undertaken by others.

      Wonder what happened to Howard Snyder? He's definitely retirement age by now. A real pioneer and a good example of a righteous life.

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      • David, thanks for the comment: "A para-church ministry, in my opinion, still could have its place just as Professor Snyder suggests. It might even be temporary. Just for a specific project. Considering our freedom in Christ, I would not be overly judgmental about a specific ministry undertaken by others. "

        I totally agree that personal service is preferred, but there are instances in the NT like Paul collecting support for the Jerusalem saints.

        I also would underscore the temporary aspect. This is exactly why Snyder proposed that the organizations should be relegated to the category of para church instead of being viewed AS the church. They could be set in place as needed to serve a purpose and be flexible, where the church itself in essence as the community of God's people is a permanent reality that does not change in character.

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      • I was raised in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). If anyone has this whole para-church thing down to a science, it's the CRC. They literally offer cradle-to-grave services to the church body, whether that's Christian education (primary, secondary, and college), retirement facilities and hospice, and mental health - just to name a few. They also have para-church evangelism (U.S./Canada and globally) and poverty relief. There is even a recreational facility that my family used to "attend" for golfing, softball, and other forms of relaxation. You could hardly go through the day without having some involvement with a CRC para-church ministry. To fund all of this infrastructure, churches commit to a "quota" based on the number of members in each church. The quota system was renamed to "ministry shares" (https://www.crcna.org/MinistryShares/ministry-shares-pledge-system) a number of years ago because the perception was that the word "quota" meant a church had to give a fix amount, which was pretty much the case. There is no less of an expectation that a church must contribute its "fair share" with ministry shares, though the stigma of not giving is probably less than what it was before.

        I'm not going to tell you that this is a horrible system because of two reasons: (1)  I have experienced first-hand the benefits, and (2) because it can work if the right people are running it. The New Testament seems pretty clear that we should care for one another whether that's spiritually or physically (e.g. 1 Cor 12:25-26). Many, many other Christians have cared for me and helped nurture me over the last 59 years. I have much to be grateful for.

        What concerns me generally about para-church organizations is what happens when the people with the vision to build the enterprise are no longer in charge. Those who follow them become more distant from the organization's founding principles and lose sight of the mission. For example, the CRC runs a ministry called "World Renew" (https://network.crcna.org/global-mission/world-renew-website) whose mission was to fight poverty on a global scale. It was formerly known as the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). As CRWRC they did great work. Anyone could pick up a catalog and pick out items from a long list ranging from chickens to water wells and get those items in the hands of a person in need anywhere in the world. My wife and I did this, as did her parents before her. It was easy and effective. Then one day I received an email saying that the CRWRC was changing its name, the logo, and the fonts. They also came up with a tagline - "Living Justice, Loving Mercy". I was asked to vote on the proposal. I pointed out to the ministry that people in need could really care less what typeface the organization used. I also mentioned that nowhere was there any mention of Christ in the proposal. To resolve the second problem they added "Serving Christ" to the end of the new tagline and blamed the design agency for the oversight. The fact that they farmed out this work told me that the people in charge no longer really understood what their mission was. They were just there to figure out how to maximize their dollar intake. So we stopped giving to that particular organization.

        In summary, my point here is that para-church organizations can and do do good things for both the church and those outside of it. I would urge caution in supporting any para-church organization. If they can't explain the true purpose of their mission then look for another if you feel led to be a part of a particular activity. Don't assume that because the organization is "Christian" or has good intent that you should support them. We are called to be good stewards of our gifts (1 Peter 4:10). This means time, money, and talent. So please do some legwork before volunteering your time or cash. I would say that any organization, church or para-church, that allows us to focus our thoughts on our unworthiness in salvation is one worth looking into.

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        • Todd, thanks for the insights into the CRC and the para church ministries involved. You wrote: "In summary, my point here is that para-church organizations can and do do good things for both the church and those outside of it. I would urge caution in supporting any para-church organization. If they can't explain the true purpose of their mission then look for another if you feel led to be a part of a particular activity"

          Sounds like good advise to me.  If we went by all the negative press over abuses we would never support any charity our outreach to the community. In the end we ask for discernment and trust God to use our efforts for His glory.

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