January 23, 2008

Who Are You Trying To Help? Yourself Or The Local Church?

UPDATE: Tim Challies (on queue from me)...see that's funny because Challies gets like a gazillion hits a day and I get (well not a gazillion)...wrote a great post today on the church. He too does not see it as a failure but rather as something worth putting our hand to the plow on.


It was a good couple of days as I finished up some work on my prospectus for Eternity and had a great meeting in Jefferson City yesterday. I'm excited to see God opening more and more doors as planting a church gets closer and closer.

I wrote this question in my last post:

How do you define the point at which para-church organizations (Promise Keepers, AWANA, FCA, Young Life, Missions Organizations, Conventions, etc) cross from being a helpful resource provider for the local church into an un-Biblical entity usurping the mission of the local church?

This is a touchy subject. Particularly because employees and supporters of para-church ministries will inevitably point to the vast "good" that they are doing. And while it may be true that they are seeing "good" results from their efforts, the question isn't whether "good" is being done, but rather (I believe): "Are we trying to take the place of the local church?"

It might be helpful for me to state up front what I believe the mission of the local church is. I'll combine three scriptural passages here for brevities sake because I think they kind of get to the heart of the matter:

To make disciples in a local community by teaching them all the Jesus has commanded us, equipping the saints so that we may present every man complete in Christ

That's a hybrid I know. But you get the point. The local church is the means that Jesus has established to present every man complete in Christ. It is the vehicle. It is the bride. It is the mechanism. It is promised that the gates of hell will never prevail against it. The Bible presents no other entity designed to serve as this disciple making body.

So why do we have so many para-church type organizations.

I would argue for two reasons. First, many people who start para-church organizations do so because they have detected a need in their own local church (which they fill) and then move onto attempting to fill that need in all the local churches they can. Second, if a local church is filling a need but doing so in an unsatisfactory manner (or at least perceived by the para-church organization that way), the para then attempts to fill that need in a way that they believe is more effective or "in-tune" in today's environment.

And in the early stages of a para, I think the intention is good. They want to help the local church. They want to help it fill a need it is not currently filling (or at least not filling effectively in their minds). At that point, the para is simply a resource provider to the local church. It exists to adorn the bride of Christ, providing her with much needed tools, methodologies, etc. Essentially, it is a bridal shop helping the bride get ready for her big day.

But then something begins to happen that I think is very un-biblical and ultimately destructive. The para begins to think that its mission is important. It begins to think that the local church exists to grow it, not the other way around. It begins to put its own objectives ahead of that the Bible prescribes for the local church. The para begins to become consumed with its own vision. Its own success. Its own importance. Its own numbers. Its own financial health. Its own fame. Its own mission. It quits looking to the local church and asking "How can we help?" and begins looking at the local church and saying "Here's what we need you to do".

A para-church organization NEVER has the right to tell a local church what it should do. Nor should it even attempt to. And when it does, it shows a fundamental lack of respect for the leadership and shepherds of that local body. It assumes it knows what is best for that church, rather than those that have been charged with shepherding it. Essentially, the para gets tired of adorning the bride and watching her get all the glory. It simply steals the dress and tries to walk down the isle itself.

And ultimately every para weakens, plateaus and either dies or at best becomes marginally effective. Why? Because it failed to recognize that it was there for the local church – not the other way around.

Hear me on this, I am not saying para organizations are wrong to exist, but they must do so within Biblical confines. Selling resources, providing aids, doing what it can to help adorn the church is a good thing. Being a strong Christian business that sells good products to a church presents really nothing wrong. But the minute you put your own vision above that of the local church, you have tried to take the place of the Bride of Christ…and one thing is for sure about that…

Jesus doesn't sleep around.


Michael said...

How does UPWARD apply to your blog. Is UPWARD guilty of the parachurch issues in your blog?

Hope you guys are doing well.

Mike (Chatt. Town)

Marc Backes said...

Mike (From The Nooga),

I don't think I'm in a position (nor do I think it matters) whether I believe Upward is guilty of crossing that line or not. Only they can answer that question.

What I think is important is that every para organization (and that would include Upward) look at what the driving force behind its efforts are examine them to see whether they are wanting to help the church or try and replace it.

Michael said...


Good answer...

Great blog on Walmart. I cracked up.

Mike (Nooga)