Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Para-Church and Local-Church?

What's the relationship between para-church groups and the local church? I've got a thumbnail 'working' definition of church before an outline of the categories para-church groups fall into and then the types of relationships. Thoughts, questions and comments?

"Local gathered confessional church"
  • Local (regional, city by city, connections grow looser with distance)
  • Gathered (in one place together as opposed scattered across the city)
  • Confessional - confessing Christ (the public theological function and nature of the church) 

  1. Bibles
  2. Social Justice
  3. Culture
  4. Evangelism

Types of relationships: the para-church ministry ...
  1. ... has nothing to do with the local church
  2. ... has only few personal connections to the local church
  3. ... serves the local church
  4. ... works in partnership with the local church
  5. ... works in parallel with the local church
  6. ... duplicates the work of the local church 
  7. ... becomes the local church (eg Salvation Army)


Steve Isham said...

In the local church the Church gathers, . . . when the local church disperses does its activity, or most of it, in a sense, continue as individuals, encourage, teach, admonish etc.? Is the para-church, at least in some examples, simply amping or doing more efficiently what the dispersed Church would seek to do individually?

Alex Smith said...

It's interesting that it seems almost inevitable for communities of Christians to become something akin to churches (perhaps it could be called a para-church). For example, even though countless times we've said we're not a church, members of my forum often treat it like one.

Alex Smith said...

Looking at Wikipedia's defintion "Parachurch organizations are:
(1) Christian faith-based
(2) organizations that work outside of and across denominations
(3) to engage in social welfare
(4) and evangelism,
(5) usually independent of church oversight"

, we definitely meet 1, 2 & 5, but only partly 3 & 4.

Are organisations like IFES & AFES are meant to meet 1, 2, 4 & 5, and partly 3? i.e. Social welfare in that I assume they run some outreach things (educational & practical) designed to help those outside of their membership?

Along the lines of what Steve said, I think there's a place/role for para-churches – doing things & reaching areas churches sometime can’t. However I always try to encourage those who are only part of them to join a local church, as I think it's spiritually more healthy and praising God together is part of the reason God created us! (Which, by the way, is one reason why I get frustrated if the majority of songs are "I", "Me","My", not "We", "Us", "Our"!)

Luke Isham said...

I think a better definition of para-church is a group of Christians operating in a church-like manner. IFES is a very much a loose association, not much beyond a common cause. AFES is an organisation focused on university based evangelism in Australia.

The work of Philip (deacon and then evangelist extraordinaire in Acts) I think is a scriptural clue for what shape a Parachurch organization *should* take.

So I guess at the end of the day the local gathered congregation *is* the church and the activities of Christians not covered by the church is part of the wider mandate of worshiping God in all of life.

Arthur said...

Hi Luke, I haven't been by in a while, but it's good to be back!

I can't remember -- have you and I talked about parachurch before?

I've got a couple of must-read articles for you: Ralph Winter's important "Two Redemptive Structures" and Peter Adam's brief and clear "The Church and ECU". I'll send them to you on Facebook.

Tamie and I wrote a few things about it in 2009. Check out this one.