Why the Local Church Is Important Than Para-Church Organizations

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Chip Van Emmerik's picture

One of the errors leading to the frequent elevation of para-church ministries above that local church is the misunderstanding of the true definition of para-church. Originally, a para-church ministry was a ministry that came along side the church to help the church in some accomplish its biblical tasks. Instead, para-church ministries have today been elevated to a place of equality with the local church so that believers sometimes feel they can choose between the two. One is essential; the other is not. I believe we have so erased the distinction between the two to our detriment. Sadly, this type of erosion is happening all over the spectrum. We hear church leaders complain about parents who abdicate their parental responsibilities expecting the church and/or Christian school to fulfill the job of properly raising their children. However, the same neglect is ocurring among churches, and particularly among church leaders, who are willing to sign off on their responsibilities. Christian camps are a prime example. Most churches today ship their youth off on busses for a week or two where prepackaged Christian camps are responsible for the discipleship of the young people (hire a speaker and recruit counselors from across the country). This is not a para-church ministry, it is a church replacement. A para-church camp that is coming alongside the church to help the church accomplish its own biblical tasks would look more like this: a furnished campground complete with kitchen and maintenance staff would be provided for the church to rent. The church would send its own leaders and members to preach, teach and counsel their youth. These same adults, who arrive at camp with pre-existing relationships with the youth, then return home after camp to continue the discipleship process that was happening during the week of camp. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

A para-church camp that is coming alongside the church to help the church accomplish its own biblical tasks would look more like this: a furnished campground complete with kitchen and maintenance staff would be provided for the church to rent. The church would send its own leaders and members to preach, teach and counsel their youth. These same adults, who arrive at camp with pre-existing relationships with the youth, then return home after camp to continue the discipleship process that was happening during the week of camp.

This is an apt description of my church's annual youth-group retreat.

TylerR's picture

Editor

What you're saying sounds great. However, real life has intervened:

  • I'm about to start a second job because the church can't support me full-time
  • I preach four times per week
  • I'm going through a discipleship with two pre-teens who recently were saved
  • I'm running a youth group once per month
  • I'm running AWANA once per week
  • I also have numerous counseling situations I'm trying to juggle, any one of which may explode and damage the church at any moment
  • My church is filled with older saints who are gamely trying to help, but I'm still running things. We have two younger couples who are now coming, and I hope tp plug them in to help me out soon. In the meantime, I have to get to know them, gauge their spiritual maturity, etc. 
  • I between all that, I try to be a good husband and father, and don't do a very good job

In short, I don't have the time to do what you're suggesting. I wish I did. I'm already wondering how we'll put on a VBS this Summer. I don't think we can manage it. We're sending our kids to the Regular Baptist camp near Peoria this Summer, which is run by the IL/MO GARBC. I'm glad they're there, and I'm more than willing to let them put this on. I don't have the time. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jim's picture

In defense of the parachurch - things get done!:

  • Students are trained (the Bible college)
  • Ministers are prepared (the seminary)
  • Campuses are evangelized (campus ministries)
  • Missionaries are mobilized (the mission boards)
  • Babies are saved (from abortion) (crisis pregnancy centers)
  • Special needs are cared for (eg the Shepherds Ministries)

The Biblically-based parachurches are the ones with close church ties and support (just one example would be Faith Baptist Bible college with strong Iowa GARBC support) 

Update: I know this is an utilitarian argument

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Tyler,

You are asking the wrong question. The question is, "Does this need to be happening?" Now, of course, discipleship and evangelism need to be happening. But does that have to take the form of VBS or summer camp? I don't think so. The solution isn't to abdicate our responsibilities to someone else, but to figure out a way to do what was commanded in scripture within our own context. If God has not provided adequate resources for your church to handle VBS, then you will not be held accountable for not hosting VBS. That doesn't mean you cannot still fulfill your responsibilities to disciple and evangelize the youth in your neighborhood in some other, non-traditional way.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

 

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

 

A para-church camp that is coming alongside the church to help the church accomplish its own biblical tasks would look more like this: a furnished campground complete with kitchen and maintenance staff would be provided for the church to rent. The church would send its own leaders and members to preach, teach and counsel their youth. These same adults, who arrive at camp with pre-existing relationships with the youth, then return home after camp to continue the discipleship process that was happening during the week of camp.

 

 

This is an apt description of my church's annual youth-group retreat.

Larry,

I have a friend currently pastoring in Prescott Valley, AZ who has also led his church down this road. It's a very small church running 50-75, but they run a summer camp in-house every summer. It takes a while to get up and fully running, and it is a major undertaking for them every year, but somehow they make it work because they ahve determined that it is an important part of their work to reach youth. Coincidentally, for Tyler's info, they have never done a VBS.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Nord Zootman's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

 A para-church camp that is coming alongside the church to help the church accomplish its own biblical tasks would look more like this: a furnished campground complete with kitchen and maintenance staff would be provided for the church to rent. The church would send its own leaders and members to preach, teach and counsel their youth. These same adults, who arrive at camp with pre-existing relationships with the youth, then return home after camp to continue the discipleship process that was happening during the week of camp. 

We accomplish this by having a camp association of seven or eight churches. We rent a facility, but we furnish all personnel from within our churches. We have pastors, youth leaders, and others teaching and counseling. Even our meals are prepared and served by volunteers from within our churches. It has worked well for many years.

Larry Nelson's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

Larry,

I have a friend currently pastoring in Prescott Valley, AZ who has also led his church down this road. It's a very small church running 50-75, but they run a summer camp in-house every summer. It takes a while to get up and fully running, and it is a major undertaking for them every year, but somehow they make it work because they ahve determined that it is an important part of their work to reach youth. Coincidentally, for Tyler's info, they have never done a VBS.

 

What our annual youth-group retreat looks like is that we'll send four or five schoolbuses packed with 7th - 12th graders (say perhaps 200) & their youth pastors, S.S. teachers, and some of their parents (as chaperones) to a rustic MN Christian camp that is entirely ours for a long weekend.  (Yes, we're a fairly large church.)  The camp staff is there to provide meals & some activities, but the chapels, devotions, Bible studies, and the like are all ours.  An added benefit of the internet age is that the chapels & messages then are posted to Youtube, for anyone else in the church not present to later see. 

 

Jim's picture

None of what I have said should be taken as a plea to abolish TGC, 9Marks, White Horse Inn, or even ETS. Were we to do so, we would also have to abolish Westminster Theological Seminary, SIM, Christian schools, Tyndale House, Feed the Children, Crossway, and a host of other parachurch organizations. Arguably, some of these organizations God has raised up to strengthen the church. Many of those who work in such organizations put in more hours each week in these organizations than they do in their local church-as I do in connection with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and The Gospel Coalition, though I am a member of a local church in the town where I live. But I believe with every fiber of my being that such organizations must serve the church, not the reverse, or they lose their raison d'être. What is especially to be deplored are those specialist, focused parachurch ministries that operate with the arrogance that condescendingly tells the church to follow the lead of the parachurch organization. What is to be pursued is the interest and glory of Christ and his gospel, which is irrefragably tied up with his blood-bought church, the church he is resolved to build until the consummation, when current tensions between the universal church and the local church will be no more.

When parachurch organizations do what rightly only the church should do, there are problems. Eg:

  • Camps baptizing converts 
  • Organizations that fail to rightfully pass discipline issues back to the local church (In my view the Don Ketchum coverup by ABWE would fall into this category) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rvawter's picture

There are camps who's philosophy takes into account both Chip and Tyler's comments, by partnering with pastors who would like to rent and those who would like a program run for them.

From Camp Eden in Golden, CO:

Camp Eden is driven to provide quality Christian camping resources to local churches and our community.

You can find out more about them at www.campeden.org