On Being a Parachurch Organization

Postcards From Corinth

Let’s say I was a child in Albania and came to Christ and was discipled through the relief organization World Vision, a compassion-focused parachurch structure whose mission is to mobilize the church to help the poor and hungry around the world. It would seem to me that if I was discipled within this context, surrounded by those with the gift of compassion who feed the poor, I would develop a one-sided view of the full missionary endeavor of the church.

The same is true of any parachurch structure which has as its mandate the accomplishment of a specific ministry or task Christ gave to His church. Cru with its evangelistic mandate is no exception. Like the analogy of World Vision, our perspective of the church and the Christian life could become skewed if all we ever experience in the body of Christ is our local Cru chapter.

All who minister within Cru ultimately feel this tension. What is strategic for an evangelism mission might not always be so for the local church: reaching leaders, freshmen, and athletes, as opposed to the homeless, makes sense if your goal is a missionary one (you must find the best carriers of the gospel message). But such outreaches to the poor and homeless by the local church are an essential part of the broader Christian witness within the community.

Though there are several alternatives to dealing with this tension, I believe only one of them is correct.

One alternative, which I have viewed on numerous occasions, is to watch the Cru movement evolve into a church to correct the chemical imbalance. But the church already exists and God has called Cru to a special mission to help the church fulfill its evangelistic objectives. When we deviate from our mission, we step out of God’s calling to us as an organization. We never fully achieve the full-orbed mission of the church on campus and we never accomplish our mandate to take the gospel to every student.

Another option is to obliterate the parachurch altogether and let local churches own the ministry currently being accomplished by the parachurch. But the parachurch structure is indeed part of the overall church structure and always has been. Did Paul’s missionary endeavor and network flow out of the ministry of a local church? It really functioned as a separate structure with a focused mission, answerable to Paul’s leadership. Another way to look at it would be to ask this question: Could a local church accomplish the mission focus, administration, and partnership required to meet the global needs of the poor as World Vision has? The answer is obvious. From seminaries to monasteries there have always been voluntary associations within the body of Christ who provide the necessary focus, administration, resources and broader cooperation necessary to execute the constituent components of the church’s mission.

The best alternative is to make sure your disciples are involved and attending a local church. Here they are exposed to a broader range of biblical teaching and ministry, such as outreaches to the aged, poor, sick and widows. While many functions essential to the church do take place on campus, they are always mitigated in some way by our mission, which is why church attendance has always been a high value as an organization. Bill Bright never intended Cru to be a church.

Furthermore, when we embrace and encourage involvement in a local church, we can point to such ministries of the church and be unapologetic in our strategies to evangelize the campus. Otherwise we will always seem cold and heartless in the strategic nature of our outreach.

So let’s fulfill our mandate and make sure every student on campus has a chance to hear the gospel. But let’s also encourage our disciples to attend and get involved in a local church. Otherwise they may think the mission of Cru is the only responsibility given to the church, with the only gifting required being that of evangelism.

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