February 21, 2006
Searching for the Perfect Parachurch
Many of the most prominent and influential ministries in the world are not churches. But, the spread of parachurch ministries in recent decades has caused some to wonder: do parachurches help or hurt local congregations? Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver, believes he has found the perfect parachurch model.
Most churches offer a wide variety of ministries to various demographics: men, women, children, youth, etc. Some even specialize more than that: singles, divorc?s, re-marrieds, single mothers, etc. Some even go above and beyond with ministries outside of their church: prison ministry, homeless ministry, food closets, etc. But for every ministry inside of a local church, there are dozens of ministries that meet those needs outside of the church. There is Promise Keepers for men, Women of Faith for women, Young Life for the youth, Focus on the Family for the whole family ? I think you get the idea.
But do these ministries supplement the local church, or take from them?
Perhaps you have had this conversation before with someone in your church. I had one recently.
Friend: I'm thinking about starting a parachurch ministry.
Me: Oh yeah, what sort of ministry?
Friend: Well, from my perspective the local church isn't doing its job with [fill in the blank].
Me: Well how do you propose we fix that?
Friend: I'm going to start a paraministry that focuses on [fill in the blank].
Me: How is that going to help the local church with its problem?
Friend: It's going to address [fill in the blank] so the local church doesn't have to.
Me: That doesn't really sound like you are helping the local church at all.
Most parachurch organizations I encounter are noble and have godly missions. They are trying to advance God's Kingdom and fill in the gaps for the local church. But in an effort to fill in the gaps, it seems to me that many parachurch organizations have, for some individuals, inadvertently taken the place of the local church. I would like to quickly add that I am not accusing the ministries I listed above of doing this; they are simply illustrative.
But let's play make-believe for a moment. What if we could snap our fingers and make all parachurch organizations go away? What if we could take all of the energies and leadership of parachurch organizations and put those resources back in the local church? Which would we choose? Would we go back to the world of the parachurch, or would we be excited to see the reengagement of those individuals in the local church?
It is not my intention to pick on any organization, but just to wonder aloud. If all of the Young Life leaders in America served in local churches' youth ministries, would that be better? If the thousands of volunteers who put on Promise Keepers and Women of Faith events invested those energies in their local churches, would the men and women of their church experience a greater impact? I don't know, but I wonder.
I've encountered what I believe to be the perfect parachurch. It's a local ministry here in Denver called Where Grace Abounds (www.wheregraceabounds.org). Their mission statement is:
Where Grace Abounds exists to guide and support men and women who seek to understand sexuality and relationship, and to inspire all people to know and personally appropriate God's plan for their sexuality and relationships
Certainly they are tackling a tough area that many churches have a difficult time handling. However, if you search their website and other materials you will find statements like this: "WGA comes alongside the church to help it minister to people with sexual and relational conflicts." And they mean it, too. They regularly have workshops and seminars for ministry professionals on how to address sexuality in their churches.
It was at one of these seminars that I heard a line that changed my perspective on parachurch ministry. The leader of the workshop said, "Our hope is that we would be able to have enough of an influence on the local churches and their leaders in Denver that we would go out of business sometime in the future. The local church would be addressing the sexuality of their people as well as we could."
WGA is a parachurch that sees itself purely as a support for local churches. Have I found the perfect parachurch?