Because we are broken individuals, the church today is broken as well. That’s why I call my blog the Broken Church. It’s not a put down; it’s a signpost of hope. The more we realize our brokeness and our sin, the more God’s grace can be at work in our midst. God likes to take that which is broken and fix it.
I love the church. It has been used in extremely powerful ways in my life over the years. At the same time, I have seen very sad things in the church. Scripture makes clear it is God’s main way to carry out his purposes on earth. Are we as the church up to the task? How can we be more effective? I write to remind and to challenge us to be all we can be.
I remember very clearly one evening a number of years ago, sitting in front of the phone in an agitated state. I needed to make this phone call, I thought. However at the same time I felt like a Judas, betraying the man, who as the supervisor of my ministry, had built into me the last few years. But again I also felt what he was doing was wrong and had to be reported to his supervisor. What should I do? My conundrum illustrates one of the problems of parachurch ministries.
The overall parachurch organization that I was a part of, had an evangelical statement of faith speaking about basics like the authority of scripture, salvation through the death of Christ and the reality of his Second Coming (though they never said how). To join as a worker in the organization only required adherence to that statement. However many workers in the area and a few higher up went to denominational churches reflecting one conservative brand of theology and that was an influence in our ministries.
The problem began when a beloved upper level supervisor was forced to leave and was replaced by a man not as conservative; in fact though he was evangelical and Bible believing, he was more to the left. As his views came out, friction grew especially between my boss and this man, his boss.
At the same time my boss and the others who worked under him were becoming more conservative in their theology. They were respectful and did not push their views in meetings, but it was a topic of conversation outside of official times.
I was like the others when I started, and went to the conservative church and was even involved in the process of becoming a minister in the denomination. However having been trained in a broadly evangelical seminary, I was not quite ready to follow the more conservative beliefs of my boss. I was stuck in the middle! As time went on the friction grew between the more conservative and the more liberal. There was never any shouting or outright open confrontation but behind the scenes, reaction and counter-reaction. It finally got to the point where it was obvious the two bosses could not work together and my boss would have to leave.
Which brings me to the aforementioned evening of indecision. Earlier I had received a phone call from my boss telling me what was happening with his job. Then he said what I feared, that he was having a meeting of all of us under him to form our own organization and I was invited. I told him I would think about it.
What should I do? I didn’t like the more liberal views coming in that didn’t agree with mine. But I was uncomfortable with the more conservative viewpoint, although my boss never said the new organization would be such. I had a friendly relationship with both men though not as deep with the new one. However I felt what my boss was doing was ethically wrong; he was taking what belonged to the overall organization; its ministry, its workers, its supplies and money, and using them for his own organization. Maybe if the very essentials of the faith were on the line, one should do such a thing, but not for what I thought were such relatively minor issues. Even then wouldn’t it be better to quietly leave and let others do so as well and raise up your own ministry separately?
So after staring at the phone for a while, I felt compelled by the Lord, even though it would hurt my boss and my colleagues in ministry, to report to his boss what was happening. I called and told him exactly what was going on.
As it turned out my phone call was inconsequential. His boss figured such a thing could happen and decided to not directly interfere right then.
However over time as would be expected, the parting of the two groups was a bit messy. My boss and all my other colleagues under him left except for me, and they joined another similar ministry. Eventually they went into a few different ministries and only 1-2 continued together with him. Over the years since, I have been able to reconcile with most everyone.
But it illustrates a basic problem with parachurch ministries. As I mentioned in my last blog, the parachurch ministry structure has been very positively influential for me, but I see problems as well. While having a very basic evangelical doctrinal statement can unite people across denominational lines, it can also allow doctrinal division to more quickly arise where there is not the guidance of a fully developed statement. Certainly doctrinal problems can arise in churches even when there are clear statements, but one can go back to the statement and nip clear problems in the bud. Certainly churches can leave their foundations, but it takes a lot longer to reformulate and reinterpret those original doctrinal belief statements.
There is no easy answer to this problem for the parachurch ministry. A clear statement of values along with the doctrinal statement is important, especially one that states the non-denominational nature of the organization. Somehow there must be communicated the idea that though each developing their own deeper doctrinal distinctives is important, for the sake of the unity of the organization one must major on the majors and minor on the minors. There should be flexibility and tolerance for different views. And there should be rejoicing that God can bring together such a diversity of people for one purpose. Unity is not automatic simply because you have just a few basics in your statement.
Whatever kind of ministry people belong to, whether church or parachurch, there needs to be high stress on an attitude of always working towards unity as Ephesians 4:3 says “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Definition: Parachurch – a nondenominational ministry, parallel but organizationally separate from the local church.
I was just settling into my new dorm room for my freshman year of college, when I heard a knock on my door. I opened to a senior wearing an Australian bush hat, faded blue jeans and sporting a thin goatee (we later called him Uncle Markie). In his little prepared speech, he welcomed me and invited me to the InterVarsity group that was meeting on-campus. And that was the start of a huge shift in my life.
A couple of years before that, I had met the Lord in a small suburban Presbyterian Church through a young gal who through her own life difficulties had developed a relationship with the Lord (see my book, A Walk with God to Remember for more). I had heard the gospel previously, but when she told me of her personal relationship with God, my world was rocked by that deep sacrificial love of Christ.
I continued on in that church and was helped through it. The youth group provided a place to make friends and discuss the intellectual questions of the faith. The advisors worked hard at breaking down the barriers between the boys and the girls with fun relational games. Sunday mornings provided a Christian commentary on world events via sermon along with the great standard hymns of the faith. That church’s caring kept me in the faith in those early years.
But InterVarsity went way beyond that experience. Through it, I found a faith that related to me, a teenager in the early-70’s, because I met other students like me. Most were hippie-types who were ‘cool’ with Jesus, and ‘rapped’ with others about him in their various ‘hangouts’.
I remember being struck by the first fellowship meeting; 25 of us packed into a professor’s off-campus living room, singing folk songs praising the Lord, accompanied not by an organ but a guitar. The setting was so casual and informal, you couldn’t help but feel comfortable there. InterVarsity fit the Jesus Movement of the time. Churches with their formal dress codes and liturgical style of worship were just not ‘in’.
Weekdays a daily prayer meeting was held in Uncle Markie’s room. We squished in, sitting on the beds or the floor for twenty minutes at lunchtime. And the prayer was so different. There was no pastoral type who said the prayers, but everyone chimed in as if they were having a conversation and just included the Lord in it. Once in awhile spontaneous prayer times occurred in an evening after some special event like a weekend conference. I can remember one night particularly; we all held hands in a circle by candlelight, and I could literally sense the Lord’s presence in the room.
A few weeks in, Bible studies started up. These were different, too. No preaching here, but everyone diving in together as to the meaning of the text. They used the inductive approach which meant putting away all your preconceived ideas and looking at scripture with fresh eyes. I often went away saying to myself, “I didn’t know the Bible said that.”
Then there was the Urbana Missions Conference the next year over Christmas break. Fourteen thousand students like myself filled the University of Illinois basketball arena, singing and hearing God’s call to the Lordship of Christ. Amazing, calling that rebellious generation to submit every part of their lives to Christ.
Through all these aspects of its ministry, I grew deeply in my relationship with him. He was my Lord and I conversed with him in a personal way and studied scripture daily. I tried to be like the upperclassmen, who shared their faith so readily with all their peers. My faith deepened, my understanding of the truths of scripture matured. I quickly became a leader in the group. And at the end of those four years of college, I was ready to head to seminary and from there into the ministry.
What made the difference between those two places of Christian experience, the local church and InterVarsity? Just one thing, the explosion of the parachurch movement! A generation before mine, many Christians began organizations parallel, but separate from the denominations of the time. They were not tied to certain buildings and certain practices, but held the same basic beliefs of the faith. Christians from many churches, could come together to focus on a particular goal or ministry or age group, like InterVarsity did. And they could build it toward their target in a way the churches could not. They took the Apostle Paul’s philosophy to heart, “I have become all things to all people that by all means, I may reach some.” (1 Cor. 9:22) Early organizations reached out to the mission front or to the youth of our country.
Now-a-days parachurch organizations have popped up all over the landscape, reaching factory workers, porn addicts, retired seniors, homeless folks, and international students, to name a few that I have been involved with. And they use counseling, friendships, hospitality, education, publishing, media and of course communication of the gospel. Though there are problems with this kind of ministry, we can praise God for the great work he has done though it. I do, God used the parachurch movement to powerfully affect me!