Being only three short days away from the beginning of a very new season of maternity leave, I have been reflecting a lot lately; the natural reflections and thinking that comes with transition. As I prepare to not only be transitioning into parenthood, but also out of a community I have been a missionary in for the past three years, there is a lot to ponder.
The past three years have been my first in full time ministry. There has been much learning, discovering, joys, pains, heartache and difficult lessons that are both specific to stepping into ministry for the first time, and other growths specific to the type of ministry and particular relationships I was engaged in.
The thing that stands as forefront of the thoughts pounding in my head and heart over the past few weeks is the undeniable need for the church.
Being a full time missionary for a *para-church organization (*Parachurch organizations that work outside and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism, usually independent of church oversight. The prefix para, is Greek for beside, or alongside) is certainly a very exceptional work. From my experience it provides opportunity to be present where the church struggles to be. All of it’s functionings are carried out where the people of focus are located, rather than, the very common flaw the church today often finds itself in, expecting the people they desire to reach to stumble through their church doors.
Yet, as a para-church organization, we are not separate or independent of the church in any way. We are, or rather should be, an extension of the church body locally and globally; working, serving beside and alongside with the church both locally and globally rather than independent of it.
The role a para-church organization plays, in relation to the church, in reality has many different facets to it. For a start, as a missionary, I am dependent upon being sent, both by my local church family as well as Christians across the province, nation and globe. This is a very real tangible way I experience dependency upon the church in finances, spiritually, emotional support, discipleship, and Christian accountability.
As an organization we depend upon the church locally and globally for support in finances as well as resource of people, material, and prayer. In this area, church dependency is critical! Yet when we look at the day-to-day work of para-church organizations, it is more difficult to see the connection between the para-church and church. It is less clear for the public observer and can sometimes be a blurry mess for those inside the organization to practically understand.
From my experience,* beside or alongside the church, is a great struggle. There are many barriers and differences amongst Christians, which have existed for centuries causing division, hurt, and obstacles when it comes to the whole “beside and alongside” issue. Despite being Christians, due to our human nature, we have the tendency to grow independently from one another; this is no different when it comes to churches and/or para-church organizations. Yet if we consider just how often Jesus gives us each other and one another commands, I do not think it is something we can overlook.
Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you
James 4:11 Do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
John 13:14, 35 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Romans 12:10, 16 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Romans 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Romans 15:7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
Ephesians 4:2, 32 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
In light of these very difficult commands we are called to be in unity; being alongside the church. The working out of this can be, and is at times, a very difficult, painful course to walk in. Yet I believe that it also contains something that is so unrecognizable to those outside of the Church, that is displays the magnificence of Christ to the world.
I also believe that any para church organization that desires to make a spiritual difference and whose focus is on discipleship cannot be separate or independent of the work and support of the local church. Discipleship is the church’s calling; the great commission. Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All power in heaven and on earth is given to me. So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have told you. You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will continue with you until the end of the world. Individual Christians are called to be actively involved in this command, but no Christian nor Christian organization can be a part of discipleship independent of the church.
Naturally what follows this is the how. How do the two work alongside and beside each other? What I have come to understand in just glimpses through my role is that given my specific focus in ministry in a para-church organization, I am called to be a bridge into the local church as I am a bridge to the local school or community center or social resources. Only, the stakes of not being a bridge to the church has very high consequences, while the breakdown of bridging these other structures matter a lot less. By definition, a para-church should come alongside local churches to provide services and ministry that they alone cannot provide on their own, thus being a support and benefit to the church. A para-church is to benefit the local and global church by supporting and building into it through its specific vision and mission. The para church that is not benefiting the local church, but functioning as an independent group, is in danger of being isolated and detached from the tools and gifts that a local church community has. I think there is a great disservice between para-churches and the people they seek to minister to if these organizations do not value and work beside and alongside with the local church.
I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback on the topic as I continue to learn in this area.
Other helpful reads on the topic of church and para-churches.