Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Para-Church As Church: Addendum

A few thoughts arising from questions or insights that were shared in the comments to the Parachurch as Church post a few days ago, that I thought I'd respond to with this addendum.

Kyle Martin pointed out:
...I guess what I'm thinking is that I agree with a lot of the sentiment, but I fail to see the longevity of the para-church as "church". It almost appears as church "for a time". But perhaps that's okay? But it might not be if when they get home there is no "para-church" for them to plug into. It kind of reminds me of the gap between those in youth groups who, when they graduate, don't connect with adult church.
I really resonate with the last bit of your comment, Kyle; I've noticed many times that former parachurch people have a difficult time re-integrating into church. Blame gets shifted both ways on that one; parachurch is uncharitably portrayed as a hot-house spiritual high that doesn't reflect "normal" life, or the church gets diss-ed as being so dead that totally-alive parachurch ministry only reveals the deadness of the church, etc. That kind of blame-game doesn't do anybody any good (imo).

I don't have a problem with the "season" idea of parachurch ministry; although perhaps we should note that it's not a 'season' for the staff of the parachurch. But even for those with short-term participation, it's their church for that season. And if it creates a greater hunger for authenticity, expectation of the work of the Spirit, and a desire for deep community with like-minded others -- even if that means that they're "ruined" for ordinary church -- I say, "bring it on!"

Chuck had this excellent input:
You didn't include the appointing of pastors, baptism or observing the Lord's Supper in your comparison between a church and a parachurch ministry... perhaps you could comment on the reasons why, and how that fits in with what you're arguing here.
Thanks for pointing out that side of it, Chuck. As Jamie Arpin-Ricci mentioned in the comments to the original post, there are a number of parachurch ministries that do practice baptism and celebrate the Eucharist together. Biblically, I can't find any reason why someone couldn't be baptized in a local pond by their Aunt Suzie and Uncle Jim-Bob, so I'd also extend that understanding to the parachurch's "right" to practice baptism as well.

Remembering the Lord's death, burial and resurrection isn't something that I find that the Scriptures prohibit happening outside of some sort of "official" meeting. Again, it can be (and is) observed in house churches, liturgical churches, seeker-sensitive churches, etc., so I can't see any reason that para-churches couldn't also.

"Appointing of pastors" is an interesting one. The first question that pops to mind is what makes a pastor "properly appointed"? I've been an ordained pastor (yes, I was "Reverend" Robbymac once upon a time), and I know that some denominations make a big deal of that in ways that make me, frankly, really uncomfortable (nay, weirded-out, freaked even). It was all about "the prestige of the pastoral position, and the reverence for those who had attained the office, etc., etc., etc".

I had a hard time reconciling that kind of pomposity with Christ-following, self-denying, cross-carrying servanthood. (Although I have friends who are all of those positive things, and who wear robes in their Reverend positions in their liturgical churches. More power to 'em!)

Like Jamie, I tend to see "pastor" as more about spiritual giftedness and function in a local gathering of the Body. Some with pastoral gifting get paid and are "clergy" according to Revenue Canada, and there's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I'm not comfortable with only paid clergy being seen as "real" pastors.

I've been a pastor for 21 years, and I got paid for it for seven (non-consecutive) years out of that time span. The rest of the time I've worked in detention centres, as an outreach counselor for a school district, a shipper-receiver in a factory, a graphic designer, a bass player in a Celtic Rock band, and most recently as a barista at St. Arbucks -- but I've never ceased pastoring.

All that to say, para-churches "appoint" pastors, but it probably looks a little different than a more traditionally-understood clergy position.

Thanks, Mike, for reminding us:
I think, as Christians in the post-western world, we ought to embrace various forms of expression and and worship; the para-churches are doing just that, living for Christ in a place that isn't all too friendly to an exclusive claim to deity.
Emerging Grace, thanks for the Barna stats. 2025 isn't really all that far off! And judging by the many conversations I've had in the analog world, as well as the blogosphere, we may be closer to Barna's projection right now.
"But by 2025, Barna writes, just one third will have their primary attachment in a traditional congregation, and a like number will be connected with alternative forms of church. He notes that these forms are still emerging, but already include house churches, informal worship gatherings, small/accountability groups, and service ministries and parachurch organizations."
I look forward hearing your input on these, as well. Thanks for helping to sharpen my thinking!

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