Is the Parachurch a Parasite?

Prof. John Stackhouse has written an interesting post on the so called “parachurch.” It is a good read and here is a quote to give you a taste of where the good professor is coming from.

These groups are usually, but mistakenly, called ‘parachurch’ as if they are not the Church (that is, the worldwide Body of Christ), but instead occupy a shadowy zone ‘beside’ the Church. I use the term “shadowy” to allude to the suspicion and even outright hostility with which they are viewed by some Christians—not least by many clergy and denominational leaders. For such groups often are seen as distractions and diffusions of the Church’s resources, not least its money.

You can read my thoughts at Parachurch vs Church: A False Dichotomy.

(HT: Tim Abbott)

21 Responses to “Is the Parachurch a Parasite?”

  1. Jerry says:

    I still contend if the church was “being the church” instead being its own kingdom maker, there would be no “para” church.

  2. Rick Meigs says:

    Jerry: I would not disagree, but I do think Prof. Stackhouse make a good point that there are some things that such “paracongregations” can do better than the local faith communities.

  3. Jerry says:

    I dont disagree with that.

    Maybe more agree that each person or family should be their own parachurch ministry.

  4. Adam G. says:

    In direct-support missions there are two options: A mission receives and sends along the funds, or a congregation does it. Among my fellowship of churches, independent Christian churches/churches of Christ, it is difficult to get a congregation to do the work.

    So I, for example, organized a dba account when I went to Brazil and had a forwarding secretary in the States receive the money from supporting churches and put it into an account for me to withdraw. I counted this as income for IRS purposes, but since I was overseas it didn’t matter. Was that a sinister parachurch project? I guess so. When I returned to the states and didn’t want the money going against me at tax time, but I was (and am) still sending money down to Brazil, I organized Ancient Faith Ministries with a separate tax ID. Was that parachurch? I guess so.

    Now one of the primary supporting churches is SLOWLY moving towards assuming the role of sending money to the missionary in Uberlandia, Brazil. Thank God! Do I prefer this over the parachurch scheme? Absolutely. Will I dissolve Ancient Faith Ministries? No way! It is still needed.

  5. Rick,
    Thanks for you comment on my Blasphemy Challenge Post at The Missional Position.

    Glad to find another missional blogger.

    By His Grace and For His Glory,

  6. Webb Kline says:

    Rick, I wouldn’t have been driven to the idea of for-profit businesses for missions if it wasn’t for the fact that the local church typically does such an insignificant (generalizing here) job of supporting mission work. Like Adam, I see many missionaries and “parachurch” ministries devising funding alternatives for what they do.

    The last church I attended virtually disqualified itself from fairly being called a church because its entire 300G budget allocated $2700 for missions, and most of that was in the form of materials for its own ministries for the congregation. Most parachurches better define what it means to be a church than most churches do. Is it any wonder they are looked upon disdainfully by many church leaders? Of course not. They are an indictment against their indifference for the true missional calling of ALL believers, not just a few.

  7. Rick Meigs says:

    Michael: Thanks for coming over and commenting. You have a good blog also and I’ve added it to my bloglines. You will find lots of missional bloggers here, so check out their blogs also.

  8. Rick Meigs says:

    I’m afraid that when you have to spend all the funds you receive on programs and events just to keep your consumer driven members happen and entertained, most churches have little left for supporting missions. Sad.

    This is not always the case I know. When I was a member and highly involved locally and nationally in the Southern Baptist Convention, our faith communtiy gave 14% of its budget to missions and this was not uncommon among SBC churches.

    My current faith community has a $1.2 million yearly budget. Using Faith Promise, we also raise an additional $250,000+ annually which is used for direct support of international missionaries, many who are “home grown” from within our own church.

  9. ron says:

    Hi Rick, I appreciated John Stackhouse’s thoughts. Having been involved in a ” para-church ” for a season, I experienced alot of what he talked about. We were ignored by most larger congregations. It’s not that we were looking for money, more of an opportunity to make ties share our stories. For the most part, they avoided us like the plague…afraid we might use up all there resources, steal their sheep…or infect them with some kind of heresy. But I have to be honest, there were those in the ” para-church ” that wanted nothing to do with larger congregations, and traditional denominations…sort of like we had it all together and they didn’t…ego and arrogance.

    I really believe we have so much to ” give ” each other. I think this is also an opportunity for larger churches to become more missional. Allowing para-churches to be birthed from within, released, blessed, encouraged and supported. I think it can be a win win situation. We need to let go of our misconceptions, and develop a spirit of cooperation and understanding.

  10. Rick Meigs says:

    Hey Ron, good comments. I really don’t understand those who don’t get this. Why should a local faith community be so afraid of their people getting excited and involved about and with what God is doing? And God forbid that one of them might get so excited about what God is doing that they would go out and start a ministry to meet some need on Gods heart! Pastors and leadership, wake up and smell the roses — this is what following Jesus is all about, being on mission with him. Stop fighting God.

    Oops, sorry, got into rant mode.

  11. Paul Walker says:

    I think that the problem comes when parachurch organisations that have outlived their useful life cling on to their existence, often draining resources from other more missional ministries.

    Certainly, there are many such organisations here in the UK, often a pale shadow of their former self, all competing with each other for a decreasing pot of money. It’s actually quite sad to see it. A good number of them need to recognise that their ‘season’ has come and gone, celebrate how God has used them, and bow out gracefully.

  12. Rick Meigs says:

    Interesting point Paul and one that I had not even any thought about. Thanks for bringing it up. Can you give me an example?

  13. Ariah Fine says:

    the suspicion and even outright hostility with which they are viewed by some Christians distractions and diffusions

    These statements are just sad to me. The church, as I understand it in Scripture seems to mean the body of Christ as a whole. Now there is nothing wrong with organizing that body, but when we start to build tension between parts of that organization we miss the whole point. Denominations split, people leave, etc.
    Remember the hand can not say to the eye, “I don’t need you.”

  14. robbymac says:

    Hey Rick,

    The Stackhouse article came my way via a commenter at my blog referencing it to denounce the idea that a parachurch could even pretend to be a “church”. The commentor’s main beef seemed to be that places like YWAM can’t administer the sacraments, so therefore they can’t possibly be considered ekklesia.

    Trouble is, of course, that YWAM does practice baptism for those who request it, and regular observances of Holy Communion are a “normal” part of our worship.

    As far as the whole “parasite” thing — I’m really tired of it. Most YWAM people that I know have a heart to partner with local churches, not suck them dry of resources and future leaders.

    While the old argument “if the church was doing what is should be doing, the parachurch wouldn’t be necessary…” bothers me, at the same time, there is some truth to the reality that precious little is being done by the majority of local churches to provide any kind of training, vision or passion for the emerging generations. So it should come as no surprise when being a cog in a mega-ministry machine doesn’t appeal to many young adults, and they look for significant ministry opportunities elsewhere.

    (end of rant)

    (insert personal note here)

    I have pastored in the “normal” sense at several church plants and established mega-churches, and from the inside I can tell you that (A) equipping people to do ministry isn’t even on the radar — just getting worker-drones to service the machinery, and (B) I loved pastoring in theory, but the more I saw of what is expected — nay, demanded — of pastors today, the more attractive the parachurch became.

  15. Rick Meigs says:

    Ariah: Thanks for dropping in and commenting. I agree, it is sad.

  16. Rick Meigs says:

    Robby: Great “rant” :-). I’ve had a couple of “discussions” with those who think what makes a church a church (over against a parachurch group) is the administering of the sacraments. Now, I agree that only “the church” can administer the sacraments, but who is the church? Is it an institutional body with officers, members, organizational lines of authority, committees, etc., or is it the people of God coming together to be on mission with him? It is the latter from my reading of the biblical narrative.

    Super personal note.

  17. As the one who suggested to Robbie that the ordinances make a difference, I want to clarify.

    1) I don’t think the parachurch is necessarily a parasite. I think that church and parachurch can partner really well together, and often do.

    2) My arguing is not that parachurches are not churches because they do not administer the ordinances; rather parachurches should not administer the ordinances because they are not churches.

    The Lord’s Supper: in 1st Corinthians 5, it is the church who is reprimanded by the apostle for not putting him out of fellowship. this is because, in Matthew 18, the congregation is the group given the ‘keys’ of church discipline. Well, perhaps at the very heart of ‘accociating’ with others (as is shown in 1 cor 11) is taking the Lord’s supper together. thus, regular admission to the Lord’s supper is the responsibility of the local church, not a parachurch. Thus the Lord’s supper expresses the unity of the body (i.e. church) 1 cor 10:17

    Baptism: Baptism is not only into the Lord, his death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-7), but into his body, the church (1 Cor 12:12-13 , Acts 2:41)

  18. Rick Meigs says:

    Mike, thanks for your willingness to comment on this. Your viewpoint is always welcome.

    I understand your arguments (which I once held myself as a good Baptist), but I’ll have to disagree. There is no biblical basis for making the “church” a corporate body like a business or non-profit social agency with officers and corporate structures. The NT concept of “church” is quit simple, it is the assemblage of the “the called out ones” in any form either locally or universally.

  19. Bonnie says:

    My church would point to the reference of elders in the Bible and say that “church” is a people in a building with God-given offices. How does a “parachurch” deal with that?

    I was given a little booklet by Gil Rugh about the “dangers” of parachurches. Parachurches compromise doctrinally, they don’t uphold the high standards of leadership called on from the Bible, and they suck money (and resources) away from the “local church.” They point to Revelation 2 & 3 as the example of the difference between the “universal church” and the “local church.”

    It drives me mad all of the divisiveness. It seems to me that when believers meet together they are part of the church, so why all the unnecessary distinctions?

    (I’m commenting for the first time, and am a little embarrassed that the last three of five posts from my greatly-neglected blog reference subjects from your very insightful blog…*blush*, but I couldn’t *not* attach my URL to my name…)

  20. Rick Meigs says:

    Bonnie, thanks for your first comment! Looking forward to reading your blog.

    There is no place in the biblical narrative where Elder is called an office, nor is there any thought of the church being a people in a building. If that were the case, then the only time the church would exist is when it gathered in a building. What about Monday – Saturday, does a local church not exist then?

    There should be no divisiveness. It come when some church leaders are afraid of losing their power, IMHO.

  21. Bryan Riley says:

    great post and many good comments. Robbymac, good stuff.

    I really have enjoyed many of Alan Knox’s posts at his site exploring what a church is.