Role of Non-Church Groups and the Church
Throughout the last century, there was often tension between the local Church and parachurch ministries. Can you explain this a little and clarify what role, if any, the parachurch ministry has in the local Church today?
(Response by Darrell Sanders of the Navigators)
Having come to faith in Christ in 1963, I have had the wonderful (and sometime challenging) experience of being significantly involved in five local churches across the U. S. and on staff with The Navigators for 33 years. In addition, I have had the privilege of visiting and serving dozens of local churches through the Intentional Disciplemaking Church Process of The Navigators Church Discipleship Ministry. Because of this, the Lord has developed a passion in me to see the whole Body love and serve Him together in the advancement of the Gospel.
Some of the terminology we have developed concerning the church (i.e, para-church) over the past decades has been useful. But I believe we need to examine again what we understand biblically about the church and its different forms. Within a country where there is such a diverse population (people from almost every other country in the world), there are significantly different kinds of churches within every community. There are also other forms of the Body that operate differently from most local churches, with a particular mission and calling.
I believe God is really honored when He sees His children, His servants, working together in helping reach and disciple a lost and dying world.
At issue here is what we believe the Lord meant by His use of the term church ("I will build my church"). Many, perhaps most, would agree that Jesus meant His Body, His Bride, His Ecclesia. Every local church, and every person who has come to faith in Christ, would state clearly that they are part of the Body of Christ. And it would be the same for "para-church" organizations and its members. No one, no group, would agree they are "para-Body", that is, along side the Body. All of us are part of the Body of Christ, all of us are part of the Lord´s church. Some operate more locally, some more in a missionary manner. But I believe God makes all of us part of His Body, and very important parts.
Even though the Apostle Paul spent much of his ministry traveling to different countries, strengthening the brethren and preaching the gospel, I doubt he ever questioned whether or not he was part of the "church". Certainly he had the blessing of being sent out by a local congregation (the Church assembled in the ancient city of Antioch), although there seems to have been very little direction given except by the Lord. "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them". The Antioch brethren obviously responded to this calling of the Lord. It is difficult to know how other "local churches" felt about this, but they all seem to have acknowledged in some way the call of God upon Paul’s life and ministry.
The example of missionaries/workers being sent out by local congregations to accomplish the "work to which He has called them" (perhaps with another organization or another local church) is the very best kind of situation. For various reasons, this does not always happen. But if possible, this can be a wonderful arrangement. It is true that almost every missionary I know is also a vital, participating member of a local church and that can be a blessing as well. I have often wondered what Paul would have done if the Antioch church had not responded in the way it did. How would the apostle have handled this calling upon his life?
As mentioned, most missionary organizations operate with a focused mission and calling. These groups are not designed to minister to every need within the Body of Christ or to facilitate every means of taking the good news of Christ to the lost. They have limits ("the field God has assigned to us") and are not called to do everything.
This is true for local churches as well. No church can do everything that needs to be done in the work of the Kingdom, and the Lord never meant for us to attempt this. He has designed us to work together in serving Him as His Body, as His church, and we desperately need to do this. It would be difficult to imagine where we would be if the Lord had not so richly blessed the missions organizations of people like Billy Graham, Dawson Trotman, Francis and Edith Schaeffer and Charles Colson, all ministries of the Lord´s church.
I believe God is really honored when He sees His children, His servants, working together in helping reach and disciple a lost and dying world. And I believe this is the only way we will ever have the impact for Christ He intends us to have. For example, The Navigators have been learning how to develop disciples for over 70 years. CDM believes the Lord wants us to serve local churches (if they so desire) in learning more about disciplemaking, in how to become disciplemaking churches. And what a joy and privilege this has been. At the same time, every involvement is a tremendous learning experience for us. Our love and appreciation for all of God’s Body has grown in fresh, new ways. And our love for pastors and the local church has increased greatly.
This is what happens when we come to respect one another and learn to appreciate the calling of God on every member, every part, of the Body. A body divided against itself “cannot stand”. A body that does not respect all its members cannot function as it was designed. On the other hand, a Body functioning as Jesus prayed we would in John 17 can achieve all of God’s purposes for His people in the advancement of His Kingdom on earth. The Lord is still very much in the business of “building His church”.
As we move into the future together, the authenticity and fruitfulness of the church of God depends in many ways on our understanding and commitment to this truth. We should praise the Lord for His ministry through local churches. And we should also praise Him for His ministry through the whole Body, the whole church.
Scripture: Matthew 16:18, Acts 13:1-3, II Corinthians 10:13, Mark 3:24-25, John 17
About Darrell Sanders:
A former businessman, Darrell joined the Staff of The Navigators in 1970. He and his wife, Vollie, have ministered in the Collegiate Ministry, the Military Ministry, the Community Ministry and the Medical Ministry with The Navigators. Darrell has served as the Regional Director in the Southeast Region, and as the Field Director in California and the Northwest from 1985 through 1988.
From 1988 through 1998, he served on the National Leadership Team of the U.S. Navigators. He now serves as the National Director of the Navigators' Church Discipleship Ministry. An ordained minister, Darrell and Vollie have three children and six grandchildren. They live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
For Further Study:
Leadership That Works: Hope and Direction for Church and Parachurch Leaders in Today's Complex World by Leith Anderson
The Church and the Parachurch: An Uneasy Marriage by Jerry E. White
The Prospering Parachurch : Enlarging the Boundaries of God's Kingdom by Wesley K. Willmer, J. David Schmidt, Martyn Smith
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