Parachurch vs Church: A False Dichotomy
The popular definition of a parachurch group is any non-church based Christian entity or ministry. The simple fact that we use such a defined term indicates a misunderstanding of the biblical concept of the church.
The biblical ekklesia always describes a people and never a building, place, denomination or specific group of Christians to the exclusion of other Christians. It doesn’t matter where people are gathered together for ministry or what corporate structure they take on, they are still “the church,” God’s called out people ministering in the name of Jesus.
I ask, how can a group like Campus Crusade or YWAM be a non-church ministry? If they are followers of Jesus, its impossible! They are part of the ekklesia as much as some ministry that is part of a local faith community. As long as we continue to make this false dichotomy, we will continue to hear divisive statements like:
- Parachurch organizations should strengthen churches, not detract/distract from them. (Sorry, but God’s called out people can’t detract/distract from themselves in the way implied by such a statement. It is a contradiction.)
- Parachurch organizations address needs not being met by the church. (Sorry, when a group of Christians come together to address a need or minister to a group, that IS the church meeting the need.)
Ralph Winter talks about how God has expanded his Kingdom through two basic structures, the church as “modality” and “sodality.” (For more on this, see “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” by Ralph D. Winter.)
“Modality” is the continuing long-term nature and structure of the church expressed in the local congregations in which there is no distinction of sex or age. As Alec Hill observes, “Multi-generational and geographically limited, a congregation puts down its roots and makes a long-term commitment to its community.”
The second structure, “sodality,” concentrates on one or more specific aspects of the mission of God such as reaching one specific people group, translating the Bible into other languages, or working with youth. In this structure, “membership involves an adult second decision beyond modality membership” and is often limited by some criteria such as age or sex.
Another way of describing this might be to say that some expressions of the church have a narrow ministry focus (sodality) and others have a broad ministry focus (modality). Each needs the other and each is a part of the whole. We should honor and respect what God is doing through his people regardless of the label we put on it.