“North American Christianity faces twin crises these days. The first is a leadership crisis, and the second is a funding crisis.
Let’s say out loud what we all know to be true: Some organizations are led by crummy boards that have hired inferior executives who preside over ineffective staff, and to give them one dollar more is just sending good money after bad. It’s about time that those organizations disappeared, and maybe this latest blast of financial trouble will remove them once for all.”
– Opportunity and Responsibility in the Financial Crisis by John Stackhouse
As a Christian, don’t you feel that you are constantly invited to para-church “fund-raising dinners”, “walkathons”, or “vision-sharing nights” throughout the year? Besides begging for more money to save their financial statements that are blinking in bright red, you would also hear endless complaints of lacking resources, lacking space, lacking staff, lacking volunteers…… even though they have already sucked up most of the time and energy of regular parishioners, leaving vacuums in church ministries.
Let me be frank. I really have nothing against good, focused, and well-run para-church organizations (PCOs) that are really benefiting the body of Christ and furthering the expansion of the kingdom of God. The only problem I have is seeing so many PCOs in the market competing against each other, doing redundant things and doing them poorly, and end up becoming parasites of the body of Christ, i.e. endlessly sucking people’s time, energy, and resources, yet provide little to no results (both quantitative and qualitative — including spiritual growth), but only existing for the sake of existing, constantly striving to raise tens of thousands of dollars just to support that one or two staff members, who are twiddling their thumbs in their empty offices. Is it worth it? Really, is it worth it?
“Do we need all of the Christian schools we have in North America? Do we need all of the Christian publications? Do we need so many different Christian student ministries? Do we have too few good leaders spread among too many organizations? Do we need more or better in any of these cases, and thus ought we to provide more support for such persons and their ministries?”
Another thing that upsets me often is that when I meet good faithful Christians who felt they are called by God, and I would ask them where do they think God is calling them to, many of their responses would be: “Definitely not pastoral ministry. Yes, I’m certain I will not be a pastor.” Then I would probe further asking: “What specifically then do you feel you are called towards?” And they would say: “Um…… I am not sure…… hmm…… I really have no idea…… BUT I’m PRETTY SURE I will NOT work in the church.”
Maybe that’s because I’m at Regent. Maybe that’s because most people come here precisely because Regent is good at equipping the lay (and not clergy). But I don’t understand why people rule out the call to pastoral ministry so easily? If a person has really clear and identifiable gifts in a certain area (e.g. serving the poor, marketplace ministry, academic contributions), then I’d say, sure, go for it, don’t even look back. For those, however, who still have no clue what they are going to do — why rule out so easily the call to work in the primary base where lives are transformed and the body of Christ built up? Is it genuinely due to God’s calling or merely our selfish and self-preserving impulses that drive us to such conclusions? Some may say that they think they are totally unqualified or unsuitable for pastoral ministry, but I’d like to ask how many pastors in this world ever feel they are absolutely qualified or suitable for the task at all? I don’t. And just to name a few more: Moses, Isaiah, John the Baptist…. none of them felt worthy enough, but they still did it, simply because of obedience.
Instead of “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained” (Prov 29:18), I’d say “Where there are too many visions, the people are unrestrained.” I’ve seen too many brothers and sisters claiming to have a “vision” from God, but often it is just synonymous with merely having an idea to do things differently. Then you’ll see new organizations, new ministries pop-up here and there haphazardly, each adding more stress to the system. I’d like to question whether many of these so-called “visions” are genuinely from God, or are they merely a manifestation of personal egos, unwilling to submit and cooperate in existing platforms, but much rather to start their own little planet so that they can be their own CEOs, full of unrestrained power and freedom? (Is it a surprise that you can find a lot of PCO leaders are usually of the maverick type that don’t get along well with local pastors?)
I just feel that, as long as these good, faithful, and gifted Christians are still fleeing away from the church to PCOs, our churches will continue to lack vitality and will continue to be irrelevant and powerless (which is a problem many PCOs are desperately trying to solve). The problem is not whether we should have PCOs or not, but which is primary and which is secondary: the church or the para-church? To use an analogy, it is like Microsoft’s Vista.
Rather than putting their money and resources in rebuilding and fixing the core OS, Microsoft spends billions of dollars on marketing and other peripheral things, trying to make the OS more appealing. That’s just like when we are overloaded with PCOs, where gifted people flee from working in the church, and they try so hard making the church more relevant, but end up pulling away all the resources that can truly build up the mother ship. My conviction of the ideal is such: I believe if the Church truly lives up to what it should be (i.e. to do a good job in worship, edification, outreach, social justice, dialogue… etc.), there will really be no need for PCOs.
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6)
There is no church outside the church. May PCOs fit rightly where they belong and do what they are supposed to do, helping the body of Christ tone up to a lean and mean muscular body, rather than dragging it down like a sluggish fat belly.
P.S. I know I might offend some dear brothers and sisters who are serving in PCOs, who may hold views different than I have. Well, this is my stance as of now, but I welcome friendly and honest dialogue to further our understanding regarding the role of PCOs and its relationship with the Church. I don’t mind having coffee and chat for hours =)