I was chatting with a friend the other day and he mentioned that his church struggles with finding young adults to become youth leaders. Many young adults from his church are involved in Christian groups in their universities so often they don’t have any time left in their week to volunteer for youth ministry back in their own church.
The youth group – no, actually: the youth suffers from a lack of young adult leaders to mentor them in their spiritual lives.
On the other hand, another friend enthusiastically tells me about the great time she had on a Young Adults Retreat weekend organised by another parachurch organisation. Not just Young Adults Retreat, but she’s also actively involved in their annual camp, social justice group, and other events. She makes a good point when she said her church doesn’t have young adults retreat so she finds it really helpful for her spiritual life when she gets to go to ones organised by ‘Parachurch X’.
I have mixed feelings when it comes to parachurches. On one hand, university ministries like ‘Parachurch Y’ can pull people away from serving in their own church, but on the other hand, organisations like ‘Parachurch X’ can provide something that some churches can’t provide – a weekend retreat, high intensity evangelical night, youth camps, mission trips, etc.
Last year I tried to organise a youth study camp for those about to do their HSC (or university entrance exams). I thought it’d be a good way for evangelism and inviting these older teenagers to come along to our youth group but there’s already a handful of other parachurch organisations who run these study camps throughout the year and every camp they run, they attract lots of desperate students. My dream of a study camp failed because we couldn’t get enough registrations.
‘Do we need another parachurch organisation?’
This question is too broad to ask because the answer is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
It depends what kind of parachurch organisation you’re thinking of. Are you thinking of social justice groups like charities? Are you thinking of organisations who run big conferences for youth, young adults, adults, or aspiring leaders?
It depends who’s asking. Are you living in an area where local churches can’t provide for the spiritual needs of the community? Are you the pastor who’s struggling to find youth leaders?
The Bible doesn’t talk about parachurches. From the get-go, Jesus empowers his disciples to become a church that is passionate about doing justice, fellowshipping together and worshipping God. The Book of Acts, which recounts how the early church started, gives us a clear picture of the task of the first Christians. For example, they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship… [The believers] sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need…” (Acts chapter 2, verses 42 to 47).
I don’t know when and how parachurches first started and how they have a strong presence and influence around the world, especially in the West, but I do believe they started with the best intentions and Christian heart to serve Jesus. They saw a need, and the churches around them couldn’t address that need, or the church leaders wouldn’t listen to their ideas to create a new ministry.
So, they did something about the need that they saw. That’s the heart of a Christian who ‘act justly and love mercy and walks humbly with God’ (Micah chapter 6 verse 8).
Sometimes it seems like those making a difference in the world are those parachurches who actively pursue the very things the Bible teaches us about. They don’t get caught up in church politics or religiosity. They focus on the – or ‘a’ – task Jesus calls us to.
I wonder if there’s any way our churches can be empowered to do well what Jesus entrusted churches to do?
If I may try this analogy: In Sydney, tutoring and coaching has become so popular it’s almost like children and teenagers are going to two schools. Parents and children are relying on these ‘outside help’ to help them pass exams and get good grades. If a school teacher’s only job is to teach children the syllabus, there’s almost no need for them.
Are parachurches also taking over the function of our churches?
I’d love to see a parachurch exist solely for the growth of their local churches.
Rachel is the children and youth pastor at Northern Life Baptist Church in Sydney. She loves volleyball, reading and a good TV drama! She has recently finished studying a Master of Divinity at Morling College and she’s continuing further studies towards another Masters.