And, just what is a parachurch institution? Well, up until lately, like most people I imagined a parachurch organization to be what missiologist Ralph Winter called a sodality ministry (in contrast to the local church which is modality). A sodality ministry structure focuses on specific issues and usually cuts across denominational lines.
Taking the BGEA as an example, the clear focus it has is evangelism. Graham’s philosophy has been to work with virtually any church which would work with them. Other sodality organizations include World Vision which focuses on world hunger relief and Campus Crusade which caters to students. The now very popular Acts 29 Network which focuses on planting churches would fit the profile of being a sodality structure. Indeed there are hundreds of parachurch organizations which exist in North America, and the focus for each is usually singularly specialized.
Nor is the profile of parachurch organizations just merely my opinion. Dr. Nathan Larry Baker, then professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:
“A working definition of a para-church group is that it is an organization which exists alongside the church, parallel to the church, whose functions and goals and membership may overlap with that of the church” (Baptist Polity and Para-Church Organizations, Baptist History and Heritage, July, 1979, p.63).
Baker goes on to list several characteristics of parachurch groups including a sense of “entrepreneurship” from gifted leaders who rally a concerned constituency; parachurch ministries cater to both denominational structures and independent churches; and most parachurch organizations are “single-issue” groups which direct their energies toward “particular target groups.”
I think enough is stated to give us a sense of what parachurch has historically meant in the SBC.
At least until recently…
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit in North Carolina and member of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, has other ideas.
“The SBC was born out of the "good parachurch" model: the agencies of the Convention facilitated the ministries of local churches” (//link)
“The SBC is simply a group of churches that give together to sponsor church planting and mission efforts” (//link)
“Parachurch ministries (and, denominations and networks) exist to facilitate the ministry of the local church…Good parachurch ministries FACILITATE the ministry of the church. BAD parachurch takes ministry from a local church and does it for her... In my opinion, the SBC has, in many places, descended into a “bad parachurch” model” (//link)
What’s obvious from what we read is, for Greear, the Southern Baptist Convention, is a parachurch ministry. The SBC exists to “facilitate” the ministry of local Southern Baptist churches, not do ministry for local Southern Baptist churches. In addition, note the single facilitating purpose of the SBC is church planting. Hence, in keeping with Winter’s metaphor, the SBC is a sodality ministry.
Even more, for Greear, the SBC has become a “bad parachurch” ministry. Why? While Greear is short on specifics, he is very clear concerning our problem. He writes: “They [the SBC] expect the local churches to turn over resources so the agencies can do the work. Burgeoning bureaucracies were created that basically duplicated what was to be happening in the local church. We, the local church, are to give our money and be happy with the results, and scolded for not giving properly” (//link).
Elsewhere, Greear indicated concerning “bad parachurch ministry” (which, for Greear, the SBC has become), “Bad parachurch says, "Give us money and people and we'll do ministry for you" (//link).
I have been a Southern Baptist since 1977. And, if I am not mistaken, at that time, Greear was in a toddler class somewhere in an Independent Baptist Church. However, I have never, to my recall, got the impression the SBC was either a parachurch ministry—good or bad—which said, “give us your money and we’ll do ministry for you.” Nor from my reading of Baptist history is the SBC in general or each state convention particularly a network of churches whose sole purpose is to plant churches. From where does this notion originate?
The idea that the SBC or any agency of the SBC is a parachurch ministry may come from Wesleyan theologian, Howard Snyder, now teaching at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, Canada (//link). Snyder delivered a paper at the 1980 World Congress of Evangelism held in Thailand entitled "The Church as God's Agent in Evangelism" (//link).
In the paper, Snyder concludes he sees no fundamental distinction between “denominational structures and para-denominational structures,” concluding that all structures outside the church should be viewed as parachurch.
The chart below compares and contrasts Snyder on church structure vs. parachurch:
|God's creation||Man's creation|
|Spiritual fact||Sociological fact|
|Cross-culturally valid||Culturally bound|
|Biblically understood and evaluated||Sociologically understood and evaluated|
|Validity determined by spiritual qualities & fidelity to Scriptures||Validity determined by function in relation to mission of the Church|
|God's agent of evangelism and reconciliation||Man's agents for evangelism and service|
|Eternal||Temporal and temporary|
|Divine revelation||Human tradition|
|Purpose to glorify God||Purpose to serve the Church|
Personally, I have never been a “denominational” guy. The ministries the Lord has allowed me to participate in through the years have been very irenic toward those outside my own faith community. Nevertheless, we’re living in a day when the Southern Baptist Convention is trashed by its own employees!
Dissing the Southern Baptist Convention
For example, not long ago, Ed Stetzer blurted out this strange oddity toward the very ones who writes his paycheck:
"I've worked for a lot of Southern Baptist entities. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly and I can't say I'm impressed with the SBC” (//link).
Imagine for a moment if a relatively upper level manager for FedEx made a similar statement about the company during a morning press conference. Do you think he’d have a job by lunch?
Suppose an associate pastor made a similar statement about the church’s ministry? Do you think the Senior Pastor might call him in for a pep talk?
Or, again consider the words of J.D. Greear, a member of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, in a candid moment speaking about the future of the SBC:
“Honestly, I don't care one whit whether my children are Southern Baptist” (//link).
Do you see my point? Here is “expendable” and “temporal” taken to its ugly and extreme conclusion.
Understand: Stetzer and Greear are perfectly free to believe about the Southern Baptist Convention as their conscience leads. That’s cool. Indeed that’s Baptist.
On the other hand...
Should someone who doesn’t care a whit whether their children are Southern Baptist or not and believes the SBC, including the CP, is as expendable as any other “parachurch” ministry, remain a viable voice for Southern Baptists as they consider how they may do missions better? I don’t think so.
But, of course, I’m only one Southern Baptist.
And, while we’re at it, we might as well ask if Southern Baptists should continue to cater to men who insist they’re not impressed with Southern Baptists and their Kingdom work? My answer is simple common sense—we should not. Yet I’d bet a week’s worth of Starbucks the research for the GCRTF comes from the personal files of Dr. Ed Stetzer.
The present time is crucial for Southern Baptists. Has there ever been an historical moment when three major positions—President of the North American Missions Board, The President of the International Missions Board and the President of the Executive Committee—will soon be vacant? If we are not careful, those with the loudest microphone will yell their way in.
Furthermore, we need men to lead, inspire and counsel our great Southern Baptist Convention who love it and are unequivocally committed to leading us to be the best we can be for the glory of Christ. Those who don’t “care one whit whether [their] children are Southern Baptist” earn not a plug-nickel’s worth of respect from me.
Nor do those who pillage our support but manage to poke us in the eye by slurring us with “I'm not impressed with the SBC.” Perhaps if they are not impressed, they should find greener pastures to graze.
With that, I am…