The Church and the Parachurch

July 12, 2011

I’ve only been a pastor for three years, but I’ve noticed one of the acute pressures of this role (a role that I thoroughly enjoy and cherish, by the way). It’s the pressure to place emphasis on certain aspects of needed ministry in the church. And much of it comes from parachurch ministries.

I’m generally a fan of parachurch ministries. I think they help the larger body of Christ by specializing in needed emphases such as child training, origins, special ethnic outreaches, and activism/politics. I’m deeply grateful for many of these ministries as they serve pastors by informing, training, and helping the church. And their resources are invaluable as we tackle these issues as they come up.

But – and you knew one was coming – ministries that specialize in one area tend to look at the entire church through the eyes of their emphases. For instance, a creation ministry might feel that if pastors simply preached on creation/evolution more, than the larger body of Christ would be more spiritual. Or a financial stewardship ministry wonders why pastors don’t speak on giving/debt more. Or a Jewish outreach wishes churches would emphasize more outreach to the Jewish community.

Each of these emphases are important. And yet, the pastor is sitting in the leadership position and sees the entire church as a whole. And so while he thinks the origins debate is vital, he’s also dealing with a marriage in crisis and a teenager who just attempted suicide. Therefore, he sees the unique and diverse spiritual needs of his people more than the parachurch ministry does.

And if he’s an expository preacher–that is one who preaches consistently through a book of the Bible–he’s not open to suggestions for Sunday morning topics because he’s concentrating on what the current text says to his people. And he wants to be faithful to preach the whole Bible. Now, when one of those texts happens to come upon a subject like tithing or Jewish outreach or family issues or missions, then of course, he’ll address it and that parachurch ministry with its resources is a huge help. Also, as a pastor, I’ve seen times when I need to do a series on a particular subject–and yet I’m still concerned with preaching in context and doing it in a biblically balanced way.

I’m not bashing parachurch ministries. But I think they serve a vital purpose in the body of Christ. But when I hear Christian leaders who lead them say things like, “If more pastors preached . . . ” or “You’ll never hear this in a sermon . . .” I cringe and want to say, “What about pastors being faithful to the text in front of them?”

I confess to having this attitude myself when I worked in politics. I was trying to advance a conservative cause (a good one) and wondered why good pastors I knew were constantly hesitant to jump on board immediately and host the organization I represented. Now I’m a pastor and I know why.

Here is where I think parachurches can help. When they respect the balance of the church and the pastor’s role in shepherding his people. Most do this. In fact, when I talk to these leaders they are always sensitive to the needs of our church. Perhaps greater flexibility in scheduling events, understanding why their cause isn’t the #1 emphasis in that church, and a recognition that their role is just a small slice of the overall fabric of the larger body of Christ.

I’d love to hear from other pastors and parachurch leaders on what they think about their partnership.