I have some concerns about parachurch organizations, about the Church, and about how we all work together. I am writing to you today because of these concerns.
You may not agree with what I have to say. You may not like it at all. But, in the interest of the greater interests of God’s Kingdom, would you sit with me so we can talk for a minute?
Before I begin, I want you to know that these opinions are entirely my own. I haven’t talked to anyone else about them, and no one told me to write this. But I am very concerned, you see; concerned both for parachurch organizations, for the Church, for you, and for believers in general; and I believe these things need to be addressed. So, again: these opinions are entirely mine and I take complete responsibility for them.
Here’s the thing that concerns me about parachurch organizations and the Church:
(And by the way, when I write “Church” with a capital “C,” I am referring to the Church at large. When I write “church” with a little “c,” I am referring to the local church.)
I don’t know if you’ve given any thought to this before, but organizations–and people in general–have a spiritual scent:
- Sometimes it’s a sweet smell; a holy smell; something that smells like Jesus, the Rose of Sharon.
- Other times, there is an indifferent smell; something that neither attracts nor repels. If it’s your calling and works for you, you’ll enjoy it–but it’s all about whatever your calling is.
- Still other times, there’s a bad smell. And, in the worst cases, there’s an utter stench.
It’s not a literal smell. It’s a spiritual scent, and anyone with spiritual discernment–whether that discernment is learned by experience or gifted by the Holy Spirit–can smell it. But every church, every person, and every parachurch organization has one of these kinds of scents.
And when you smell a particular scent, Jesus said that we should not make snap judgments, but should instead judge BY FRUIT to discern whether something is godly and holy, good or bad–a true prophet or prophetic movement–or a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Matthew 7:15-20 says:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.
Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
So we look at fruit.
For me personally, the spiritual scent surrounding a thing, person, or organization makes me perk my ears up and gets the radar going. But the fruit is what tells me if my “sniffer” was right or wrong. (Sometimes we can be wrong, you know. We all have to look at the fruit.)
Sometimes it takes me years of looking at the fruit to discern what the true nature is of any organization, situation, etc. Never make snap judgments; wait until you see enough fruit to know for sure as you compare everything to Scripture.
But dear parachurch organization …
I wanted to talk with you in particular about this today because, very often, I think people in parachurch organizations don’t give any thought to this. Now, certainly, there are some who just don’t care–some who operate completely in the demonic, who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. From such men, O believer, withdraw yourselves, as we’ll talk about later below.
But sometimes I think parachurch organizations get so passionate about their particular ministry that they don’t realize how they come off to other people. They get so enthused about their cause that they forget that they are not islands; that we are all part of the Body of Christ–His Church–which He built, and in which He gets glory.
Ephesians 1:22-23 says:
“And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
The CHURCH is the entity that Jesus built. It’s His Body, and the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
And what distinguishes the Church from parachurch organizations?
1. The Church is, according to 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, set up under the governance of the five-fold ministry: first apostles, then prophets, then teachers; and pastors and evangelists also come after that.
2. The Church is also, by definition, an ekklesia, which means a body of people who govern. (Read here to find out if your church governs or not.)
If you are not organized under the Scriptural authority of the five-fold ministry, under the covering of an apostle, and if you are not ALSO a body of people who govern, then you are not the Church. You are a parachurch organization.
And if you’re a parachurch organization, that’s fine; I’m not mad at you about it. I’m just defining what the Church is, so we can be clear as we move forward with this conversation. 🙂 Ok?
Now. Back to the topic at hand …
I really think a lot of parachurch organizations don’t consider how other people in the Body perceive them. They don’t take the time to evaluate their spiritual scent, and they get so fired up about their dream, cause, or gift that they don’t stop to think about where they fit into the Body as a whole.
And that’s a problem. Because parachurch organizations are missing out, and the Church is sometimes hurt as well.
So if you have a parachurch organization, or if you follow, volunteer with, study with, or otherwise participate in activities sponsored by a parachurch organization, how do you know if the cause you’ve joined yourself to is godly? How can you tell if you’re drinking at a fountain of holy bread or of foul water? How can you know which organizations to support, and which ones you should flee from?
There’s only one answer: look at the fruit.
The biggest fruit I look for is: Is this person or organization’s teaching Scriptural? Does it line up completely with the Word of God? For example:
- Does it depend completely on Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit? Or is someone telling you that you can do something of your own power or volition?
- Do they preach, advocate, and live unity and pursuing peace with all people?
- Do they exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in all things?
These things are tests that we have to evaluate things after, first and foremost. After that, however …
After the Scriptural test, the biggest, most telling fruit I look for in a parachurch organization is how they relate to AND TREAT the local church.
And this is the big thing I wanted to talk to you about today.
Here’s the deal: I see parachurch organizations treating the local church three different ways, depending on the organization:
1. Sometimes they submit to the local church; stay loyal to the church; do everything they can to build the local church; stay accountable to the local church; and point people toward the local church.
I know a lady who has a wonderful ministry to people experiencing homelessness. Her ministry fits within this category. She and her co-laborers work so hard to minister to people, and she points them to the fellowship and teaching of the local church. She provides for people; wins them to Christ; supports the over-arching vision of the Body of Christ; and God gets all the glory.
To me, that’s what a parachurch organization should look like. Spiritually speaking, the modus operandi smells good. Organizations like this show that they have the heart of Jesus–because Jesus reached the lost, hurting, and broken in order to build HIS CHURCH. And when we build His Church too, we are acting like He acts.
This is what I try to do with this blog.
I am EXTREMELY pro-local-church and pro-local-pastor. And I do everything I can to help build up God’s Church with whatever tools are in my hands. For example:
- Time? I dedicate my service time to serving the people of God within the local church.
- Labor? I use it to benefit the church and serve its people.
- Blog? I continually am pushing you, my lovely readers, to the church. Do I not tell you continually: Get in a good, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled local church! Be faithful to it! My blog posts, emails, preaching, and teaching all harp on this theme. TO HIM BE GLORY IN THE CHURCH!
- Influence? I use whatever influence I have to push people toward the church. I invite you to watch my church on live streaming. I invite you to attend with me and come to conferences. I send you over to read my pastors’ blogs, because I know you’ll be blessed by them.
I am also extremely accountable to my pastors, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I serve at their direction and I benefit from their spiritual covering. I do this because I love Jesus, and I love the Church; and if I ever act otherwise, I would want my pastors to correct me on that. The Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
The long and the short of it is: If you’re going to be like Jesus, then zeal for God’s house must consume you as it consumed Him.
John 2:17 says:
Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.'”
Jesus is the embodiment of love for the local church. He built the Church. Everything He does contributes to it. The Church is His Bride; His Body; and His invention. It’s also where He gets glory.
And parachurch organizations that treat the Church with the same love, loyalty, and respect that Jesus does smell GOOD.
2. Sometimes parachurch organizations work alongside the local church–valuing the Church and working hand-in-hand with it, but doing work the Church is not equipped to do.
In my opinion, organizations like Compassion International, YWAM, Teen Challenge, etc fit within this category. They work hand-in-hand with the local church. They are not the church, and aren’t necessarily arrayed under the five-fold ministry; but they do work which the Church is not equipped or organized to do.
And many of them, in their own sphere, do actually build and plant churches.
Organizations like this also smell good spiritually. They don’t rob the Church; they work with it to do the additional work of the Gospel that Jesus prescribes–feeding the poor, caring for orphans and widows, rescuing people from modern-day slavery, helping people find healing and freedom, etc.
These are vital, critical needs that are met by parachurch organizations, and supporting them in addition to supporting your local church is a beautiful thing.
You can feel the joy and the fruit of supporting these organizations, because there is a oneness, brotherhood, and unity between these organizations and the rest of the Body of Christ. These organizations smell good too.
3. But sometimes parachurch organizations rob the Church, try to draw people away from the Church, and use the Church for their own agendas.
And if your organization does this, my friend, please know this: it reeks, and the people of God can smell it. Even if someone doesn’t know quite how to verbalize their impressions, they can tell.
People have talked to me a number of times about various parachurch activities. They have told me things like, “I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t feel right about going to XYZ parachurch event.”
“I prayed about going to that, but I just don’t feel led. Something just doesn’t feel right.”
And I can’t blame them, because it’s often about a situation that I have also prayed about and also don’t feel led to get involved with. Here’s why:
There’s a big difference between trying to advance your own agenda and trying to advance the Kingdom of God.
Want to know how to tell the difference? It’s all about looking at the fruit. Here are the questions I ask myself when evaluating the fruit of a parachurch organization:
… and this is where we have to get really real, but keep reading, ok?
1. Whose authority are they under?
You can only have authority if you’re under authority, and to the degree that you are under authority. And if you’re not under the authority of the five-fold ministry–which is how God set up governance of His Body–then I’m sorry, but even if you don’t mean to, you reek of rebellion.
I know you may not mean to. You may not be doing it on purpose; but that’s just how it is. And if you want to fix it, then you need to SEEK OUT spiritual covering from apostles and pastors, purposefully place yourself under it, and be accountable to those apostles and pastors.
Beloved, if you’re not under authority, you carry a smell that is not good. And God’s people can smell it.
I’m sorry if that upsets you, but I hope that you’ll listen and purposefully seek out godly authority and place yourself under it instead of getting mad. You need the protection, wisdom, and leadership of godly authority figures anyway.
The Body of Christ is a cluster. Jesus designed us to work like an amoeba–flowing together as one. And if you go off by yourself, dead-set on your own agenda, you’re acting like an independent cowboy, not a team player.
2. Question #2 I ask myself about parachurch organizations: Do they pull people away from the local church or push people toward it?
This is a big tell-all. If people serve in your organization or attend your meetings, but they won’t serve in the local church or attend the same type of meetings there–and you encourage that behavior–then HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM. You are robbing from the church, not building it.
And people can smell that too.
3. Did they leave their local church?
We’re not all called to the same local church, so sometimes people leave one church and go to another. If they leave a church honorably and join themselves to another local church, placing themselves under the leadership there and serving with integrity, that’s fine.
But getting mad and leaving the church is a whole different thing altogether.
There’s really no way to say this other than to put it bluntly:
If you got mad at your pastor/church/ministry leader/local church body and left your church mad, deciding to start a new organization “where you can do things right,” that is what people often refer to as a “storefront curse.” And if you have birthed a storefront curse, your chances for success are low because the Holy Spirit cannot bless something that was birthed in rebellion and anger.
Beloved, He loves you too much for that. He’s too much of a good Father to teach you that anger and division will ever bring you benefit. So, dear one, if that’s you, please. Please:
- Seek reconciliation with your pastors.
- Go back to the time and place where anger, bitterness, offenses, and unforgiveness set in, and make things right.
- Put the pieces of broken relationships back together again.
- Seek godly counsel and covering.
- Submit to authority and be accountable.
Do these things not because I say so, but because the Word of God says so. God tells us to pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. He says that if we have something against someone else or someone else has something against us, we should go to them and talk it out. And He says that we must be under godly authority and accountability.
It’s for our own good. So please, seek reconciliation.
And a note to all believers who attend extra-church activities put on by someone who has left the local church: Beloved, be careful whose fountain you’re drinking from.
If someone has left your local church–especially when they are mad or claim unfair treatment–you can be assured there is more than one side to their story. And the visible fruit that they left the church–instead of pursuing peace with all people and submitting to pastoral authority and/or correction–should be a HUGE red flag to you that SOMETHING IS WRONG.
In these situations, if you’re not sure what to believe, TALK TO YOUR PASTOR about your concerns.
Also, look at the fruit. Ask yourself the questions above. Ask yourself whose ministry God is affirming with fruit, influence, and reputation. Is it the godly pastor? Or the person who got mad at the pastor?
Dear, fellow believers: be cautious when you decide at whose feet you will sit.
Know that you receive an impartation when you let someone speak into your life. It is a godly impartation if the person from whom you are learning is walking in a godly spirit. Alternatively, it can be a demonic impartation that opens doors to the enemy and destroys your life–even if it sounds kind and nice–if the person from whom you are receiving actually walks in an unholy spirit.
Beloved, please … be careful. Be oh-so-careful.
And the fourth question I ask myself is:
4. Does the person or organization use the church for their own ends, or do they help build it up?
If I see you using all your time/money/energy to do your own thing, but none of your time/money/energy to build up the church, that’s a red flag to me. If I see you only valuing the Church for what it can do for you, instead of valuing it because Jesus does and seeking what you can do to serve Him in it, that’s another red flag to me.
Using the Church is not cool.
I think we all have to evaluate our motives on this one on a constant basis. Even pastors and church workers have to ask themselves this question. For example:
- Do we sing in the choir or play an instrument because we want to worship God and serve? Or do we do it because we want people to hear how well we sing or play?
- Do we preach God’s Word to build His Body and bring souls into the Kingdom? Or do we do it to look great and hear the accolades of men?
- Do we teach that LifeGroup or Sunday School class to serve and equip the Body–to make disciples? Or do we do it because we want to be heard or have an outlet for our passions?
- Do we even attend church to obey God and sit at His feet? Or do we attend for the free coffee, free donuts, and to see our friends?
Motives are everything, and none of us are immune to having our motives occasionally slip into where they shouldn’t be. That’s why we all need to pray the words of Psalm 139:23-24 without ceasing: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
When it comes to parachurch organizations, friends, we have to be careful.
We have to be careful if we own one–careful to work WITH the Church, the Body of Christ, and support it, rather than stealing from it or using it.
We have to be careful if we participate in a parachurch organization: careful that we do what we do for the right motives.
And we have to be careful when deciding whom to follow or with whom to join hands: careful that we only follow organizations and leaders who are walking in the Holy Spirit, not in an unholy spirit.
Whether you own one, follow one, or otherwise embrace a parachurch organization: Look at the fruit. Take the time to perceive the smell.
Does the organization and its activities pass the smell test? Are its activities and beliefs Scriptural? Does it produce godly fruit? Was it birthed in godliness and accountability? Is it governed by godly authority? And does it treat the Church right?
If so, great. But if not, beloved, do something about it. There is a place for parachurch organizations, but that place is alongside and hand-in-hand with the local church. Remember: to Him be glory in the Church.