Church vs. Para-church

March 14, 2006

Not exactly what I’ve been reading, but I’ve been taking a missions class and this week was all about why we should have a ‘para-church’. I’m always a little skeptical of anything so self-serving (the organization that puts on the class is itself a para-church organization, etc.) but I figured I might as well outline what they said.

The premise is that throughout the history of the church, and even prior to that in the context of Judaism, there have been nurturing structures and mobilizing structures. Some examples: synagogue/”khevra” (apparently the Pharisees were a “khevra”, an organization that went about promoting their brand of purity to Jews in the diaspora), church of Antioch/Paul and company, Parish/Monastic orders, etc.

One big thing I hadn’t really thought about that they brought up had to do with the history of mission in the Protestant church. Now, Luther thought the whole idea of an elective “second tier” of the church was a bad idea. He hated the monastic orders and was probably the origin of the modern idea that “the church ought to do all the work”. He believed in reaching peoples outside of Christianity but felt that it was a job for the church. Calvin apparently felt similarly.

The result was that between 1521 and 1792 there were no Protestant missions. The only exception to this was the work of the Moravian group, which was essentially a para-church organization. During this time the Catholic church expanded around the globe, and we can still see the result of their work.

I’m not sure why they don’t count the missionary endeavors of John Eliot and David Brainerd, because they talked about them in other sections. Maybe they are speaking primarily of European efforts.

In any case, the official beginning of Protestant Missions was in 1792 … in which year William Carey started a para-church organization to help him go to India.

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3 Responses to “Church vs. Para-church”

  1. Sungkhum Says:

    “church of Antioch/Paul and company”

    Were they saying that Paul was part of a para-church org?

    Besides that – those are definitely some interesting thoughts – and really important to think through before going and while you are on the field.

    It is a very difficult struggle.

    But I assume, they were more talking on a “sending agency” more than people being “para-church” missionaries on the field (meaning they don’t go along with what the local church is doing, but start their own deal).

    Interesting.

  2. Ben Says:

    I think, too, that they would define missions as “going where the church isn’t and getting it started” rather than “going where the church is and doing more stuff” … that kind of eliminates your conflict, I think. Not that their material is totally consistent, but they did have a section with four stages of a mission field.

    They were all P words, but I only remember the concepts. The first was establishing the church, the second was training the church, the third was partnering with the church, and the fourth was “only coming when you’re invited”. Something like that.

  3. Daniel Slavich Says:

    I’m not sure exactly what I think about para-church stuff. But I don’t think that historical examples should ultimately direct our thinking on this issue. We must look at what Scripture says about the nature of the church and its mission. For instance, the lack of missionary action after the Reformation doesn’t mean that the Reformers’ teaching on the church’s role in missions was wrong. Maybe its a matter of implementation. I wish I had time to study this further.


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