Monday, April 12, 2010

Growing Up In Parachurch

Reflecting on the message of Stephen's video below, it occured to me that kids in evangelical culture grow up in parachurch as much as in church. I don't want to knock this too hard; there are more than a dozen "ministries" outside our congregation that we contribute to, and over the years, the number of such organizations we have given our support to is large. Christian schools tend to be more like parachurch groups, drawing on numerous local churches for a specific purpose. Popular Christian music is more tied to parachurch ministries than local congregations.

Parachurch groups tend to have better speakers (if they are to survive financially). With narrow purposes, it is easier to ease difficult people out of the picture. And for all their lip service about working with local churches and supporting them, they are the most notable group criticising the churches in general. At least since Keith Green's "Asleep In The Light," Christian musicians have made their careers by bemoaning how inadequate the church is, (supposedly) neglecting this important ministry or that one. Elderly ladies caring for disabled husbands never seems to qualify as being as important as evangelizing college students or revitalizing marriages or engaging in dialogue with (fill in the blank).

Stephen movingly described growing up in the church, and all the children in our Bible study, including our own, would say the same. Our two oldest were as home-church centered as one would likely find. Yet even they went to Christian schools at churches they did not attend; went on short-term missions with still other groups; volunteered with us at Seafarer's, with Angel Tree, at CHOC; at festivals, conferences, crusades, camps, VBS. And finally, denominational colleges from other evangelical groups. And ours were at the low end of that scale in our group.

I wonder how much of this has driven the desire of the rising generation for other church structures. Over the last decade we have noted that few of them have gotten married in a church (Stephen was one). The complaint against parachurch organizations has usually come along the lines of drawing resources from the local church. This has turned out to be true, but I wonder if the drain by these organizations hasn't been more powerful in another direction. They have drummed home the continual message of how inadequate The Church has been on various issues: evangelism, AIDS, homelessness, slavery, hunger, Reaching Out To Troubled Youth, Supporting The Traditional Family, Putting The Scriptures Into The Hands of The People. And The Church, when you look at it from that perspective, pretty easily translates into Your Church.

As I said, we support a lot of these organizations. Heck, a large percentage of our family members arrived as a direct result of these things. I don't knock it. I don't say they shouldn't do it. Prison Fellowship, Mercy Corps, American Bible Society, Friends of Forgotten Children and all the rest, those are good things. Things like IHOP, Goddard, and various Seminars, I'm less sure.

But to read about Christians even a few decades ago is to enter a different world. Lewis, Chesterton, Tozer - even the original parachurch people like Graham, Schaefer, Wilkerson - describe a world in which churches, congregations, were a central part of the picture.

I wonder what we have wrought. The functions that local churches provide - sacrament, community, enactment - have become less important in the Christian's mind. Impact, feeling, connection, international action - these have risen in importance.

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