The modern church is blessed to have vast resources which exist in and outside of the local church. At times, it can be difficult to discern any visible difference between the two. As believers, it is important to understand the relationship between the ministry of the church and that of parachurch organizations from a biblical perspective. As a blog post on a church website, you can probably guess which way this one is gonna go. While I could write on this all day, I’ll limit myself to three main thoughts on the topic:
1. The local church is set apart from any other ministry
I fear that one reason many American Christians are not as involved in the local church as they could be results in a failure to understand this first point. We live in a society in which churches usually look and function much like any other business or organization. On the surface, for example, it might be difficult to see much difference between the weekly meeting of a campus ministry and the Sunday service of a college church plant. Parachurch ministries, that is, Christian ministries that are not churches, often do many of the same things as churches and it is easy for the lines between the two to be blurred. But, scripture makes clear that our status as members of the church unifies and bonds us more than any other allegiances in this world (see esp. 1 Thess. and Romans), and that the local church is set apart from all else as God’s ordained mechanism of community and ministry.
2. The church takes precedence
If we believe that the church is set apart as God’s intended mechanism for ministry, than we must also conclude that the local church takes precedence. This is at the very heart of our understanding of how we invest our lives as Christians. If we truly believe that God’s word is authoritative and that we as Christians are compelled to obedience to it, we’d also have to say that we should invest the majority of our time, energy, effort and other resources into the local church before other organizations. If we know that God, being fully powerful and all-knowing, has intended the church be the home base for all we do as Christ-followers; community, evangelism, worship; we can also trust this is the intended and best way for us to glorify Jesus.
3. Parachurch ministries can still be of great value
But if you think this means parachurch ministries have no value, consider two points:
As an extension of the ministry of the local church, parachurch ministries can effectively and contextually reach many people.
It would be wonderful if every church could have their own college campus outreaches, or their own seminaries in which men and women were trained for the ministry; however, many local churches do not have the resources or the ability to do this in an effective manner. In these cases, I think it is good and right for the local church to partner with parachurch ministries like seminaries or campus ministries.
Some doors are not directly open to the local church but may be to parachurch ministries.
Similarly, parachurch ministries often provide platforms for ministry that are not directly open or available to the local church. Examples of this include missions sending organizations that use legitimate businesses or schools as platforms for sending missionaries to closed countries or campus ministries that are allowed to meet on campus when churches are not. These are doors to sharing the gospel that might be closed if these individuals were going as representatives of churches instead of with parachurch organizations.
We must remember that the local church is set apart as the God-ordained mechanism for glorifying Himself. At the same time, we should be thankful that in his sovereignty and providence there exist many wonderful ministries that, as an extension of the ministry of the greater church can be used to glorify God. My hope is that we see more and more parachurch ministry leaders who point people to the necessity of the local church and pastors who understand the valuable role parachurch ministries can serve in helping churches reach local and global communities.