As someone who pastors a local church as well as gives leadership in a parachurch ministry, I thought about it and did some research. I want to share my thoughts on this topic.
Let us start with some simple definitions.
Local Church – The local church is the consistent gathering of Christians within a particular community or area.
Parachurch ministry - Parachurch organizations, are Christian faith-based organizations that work outside and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism. They are focused on particular areas.
Why should I write about this?
I am the pastor of a local church, and I have members who volunteer or help with other parachurch ministries. I also give leadership in an organization that has people who are members of local churches but also volunteer and support the ministry with their finances. I have encountered scenarios where people start ignoring their local church as they get busier with parachurch commitments. It has at times created tensions and issues. Many pastors feel betrayed by parachurch ministries because they use their talented members to work outside the church. That sometimes leads to intentional or unintentional opposition to a volunteer in a parachurch organization. This all leads to some unhealthy scenarios, ultimately hindering the work we all should be doing with one goal and focus.
Some ridicule and mock sincere people volunteering in parachurch ministry because they are passionate about the mission and vision of that organization. I want to give some guidelines based on my understanding of this matter. I will accept that many people may disagree with me based on where they are today with their commitments. I can still see people who may think of what they do as superior to what their pastor and church do. Then some people will say that parachurch ministry is not the actual ministry and people are wasting their time. I deal with people who volunteer sincerely but struggle to balance and get discouraged.
What is the Issue?
The concern raised by people who do not support a parachurch ministry is that we cannot find any parachurch ministry in the Bible. The concept of parachurch church ministry did not exist in the first century; hence, we do not see it mentioned in the Bible. In most cases, a parachurch ministry carries out a mission independent of any local church and fulfills a need that a local church may not be able to accomplish. A good parachurch ministry will have the goal of partnering with local churches and complementing the mission. They will not be doing anything that will hinder or harm the local church's mission. They will not start their churches by pulling people away from local churches. The parachurch organization I serve works among students and is focused primarily on campus ministry. We do not plant churches but work with local churches and connect people who come to Jesus Christ. I cannot think of my local church doing an effective campus ministry on its own based on the size, volunteers, and people equipped to work among students. I may be able to pull a few people and encourage them to do a few things, but it will not be as effective as a student-focused ministry.
Today if you pick any influential pastor who serves in a big church, it will be hard to find someone who does not lead a parachurch ministry. When a local church and parachurch organization partner and work together, it can be very effective. The local church can provide financial support and encourage people to volunteer with the parachurch ministry. Many big churches run many parachurch-type ministries under their banner. They have the resources to execute additional projects which is beyond the scope of a ministry within a local church. A parachurch organization is playing a support role to the local church in reality, and they are protecting the local church.
There are many non-profits created for other purposes. Some do fundraising and send money to foreign organizations, and others may have private 501c registrations for tax purposes. All those organizations are out of the scope of this discussion as I do not believe they have a particular vision or area of focus. We are only focusing on parachurch ministries that have a clear mission and focus. They work along with different local churches.
Some guidance for volunteers in a parachurch organization
· Do not view your parachurch organization as your local church.
· Do not ignore your local church and view it as unimportant since you are doing many things.
· Do not intentionally plan events that directly conflict with your local church events. For example, if you are doing a student ministry, do not plan a student meeting for Sunday morning when your local church has service time with the intent to skip your church. Your actions and plans should convey a clear message that the end goal of your mission is to see people committed and growing within a local church as per what the Bible teaches. There will be occasions when some commitments or programs may conflict with your church program. Make sure your local church leadership is aware of it and understands the reason. This can avoid a lot of unnecessary speculations.
· Make sure pride does not come into your life as you experience high moments in the parachurch ministry. For example, do not become arrogant after a successful mission trip or event where you saw great results.
· Do not criticize or belittle your pastor and other church members, thinking they are inward-focused, not doing any mission, etc. They do many things to ensure that the local church functions correctly and that all members grow spiritually.
· Have good communication with your local church pastor and leaders. Even if they may not appreciate what you are doing, continue to show them respect by being accountable.
· Take part in essential activities of the church. Do not ignore events in church thinking what you do is better than what the church can do. The goal of a local church is more than having a place for hatching-matching-dispatching (Baby Dedication- Baptism-Funeral).
Some guidelines for church pastors, leaders, and members
· Accept our limits and acknowledge that we cannot run all types of ministries under the church. We need parachurch organizations to do what we cannot do to accomplish the greater purpose.
· Always acknowledge and remember that most volunteers are very sincere and have a call and passion for the mission they are involved. They are not there for name or fame.
· Treat and see them as co-laborers in ministry.
· Provide them with whatever support and encouragement you can provide.
· Never treat them as opponents. They are also doing their part in the big mission which God has started to restore lost humanity.
· Understand their calling and do not try to destroy them if they do not align with everything you want them to do.
In conclusion, always have a kingdom-first mindset and work towards the goal of winning souls. For that, we need unity and not competition. When someone very talented and active in my church relocates for work or other reasons, I get excited sometimes. Humanly speaking, it is a loss within the context of our church. I am happy as I always think God is moving them to accomplish a purpose, and He needs them there. If they are faithful, we will see a more significant impact on expanding the kingdom of God. Having a few more people sitting in my church may help me to boast about numbers, but I have a view that resources for the kingdom work need to be strategically distributed. If I have four people who can play guitar, I do not need them all. I will be happy if one of them ends up where no one can play the guitar. They will also be able to use their talents to grow and strengthen that church.
If a member of my congregation, rather than roaming around in a mall, gets involved with a homeless shelter mission and uses their time and energy for the kingdom's work, I will rejoice. Rather than spending money on expensive vacations, if someone goes on a medical mission and touches the poor and needy, I will do whatever I can to support them since they have chosen the better from a biblical and eternity perspective.
Suppose a volunteer working with me at a parachurch ministry neglects the local church. I will not be happy as it will eventually drain them out spiritually, and they could lose all enthusiasm. I am not looking at short-term gains but have a long-term goal- to be with all those people in eternity with Jesus Christ, having fulfilled our purpose in our generation.
Sharing some links if you want to read more about this topic from other ministries.
Thank you, Pastor Thompson, for this thoughtful article. As missionaries in a para-church organization, my husband and I have experienced some of the resistance you talk about from some pastors. Fortunately, they have been few over the years, but they were painful. I believe your views are biblical in that they keep a bigger perspective and encourage a non-competitive attitude promoting unity in the Body of Christ.
Thank You Cathy for the comment.
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