By Elizabeth Prata
A parachurch organization is a Christian ministry that operates outside the local church’s governance and funding. Some work closely with a church, others are loosely connected, and still others seem to be separate from any oversight from a local church.
While laudatory in many cases, some of these organizations increasingly draw women away from their home church, infuse them with false doctrine, and re-seed them back to their church to infect it.
Examples of parachurch ministries
GotQuestions defines a parachurch ministry this way: “The definition of a Christian parachurch ministry is “a Christian faith-based organization which carries out its mission usually independent of church oversight.”
Some different types of para-church ministries are, those involved in evangelism (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Child Evangelism Fellowship), discipleship, (The Navigators, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship), Bible dissemination (Gideons International), disaster relief (Samaritan’s Purse), medical helps, domestic violence shelters, and so on. Christian book publishers and Bible translators are also considered a para-church organization. RC Sproul’s Ligonier.org is a parachurch organization designed to have a primary focus on the theological education of laypeople.
The Church is where it’s at
The positive with some para-church organizations such as radio ministries, Bible dissemination, or missions organizations are that the Gospel can be introduced in closed countries or places devoid of a church. The downside to a parachurch organization is that many of them lack oversight. Some discipleship parachurch organizations even become a substitute for church.
Yet, Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14 of the church that it’s “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
The local church is to teach-
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2).
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)
Parachurch organizations did not exist during the time of the first century church, so the Bible doesn’t mention them. Acts 2:42 outlines principles of the purpose of the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The church is the pillar, and Jesus is the cornerstone of it. Our entire focus should be life lived in and around our home church.
It goes without saying that believers should be a member of a church, submitted to elders and faithfully attending. There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. Each of us has a spiritual gift given to us by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of edifying each other within our local body of believers. Staying outside the confines of church life is a denial of the gift and makes a hole in the global tapestry Jesus is weaving. Not to mention failing to participate in the ordinances: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
Our focus for our believing lives on earth should be the local church. If your church has raised up men to lead Bible studies, great, or women who disciple as per Titus 2, super. If you have classes or structures in place teaching for children and youth, that’s wonderful.
Ladies, watch out
Sadly, some women look elsewhere than their own church for fellowship, prayer, or Bible study. They gravitate toward parachurch organizations. Some do so simply because they were invited by a friend, and being curious and with servant attitude, follow her friend to the organization to try it out. Those are the organizations to which I take exception to, the ones rife with false doctrine and slyly begin to substitute for the local church. Upon first reading of these parachurch organizations, they sound good. Their aims and goals sound solid. Healing, discipleship, fellowship, what is wrong with that?
Nothing…until you look deeper and you realize healing, discipleship, and fellowship are a church function. And then you look further that these organizations are founded on something other than the word of God. Many of them are based on experiences, half-biblical truths, or ecumenicalism of the worst degree, where false religions’ doctrines are introduced.
Jesus promised to build His church- Matthew 16:18. The weekly global gathering of true believers would find expression in local congregations, where Jesus promises to build them up. It is in these congregations, if they adhere to a biblical ecclesiology, that men would be teaching and leading.
Ambitious or dissatisfied women who want to teach and lead in ways the Bible does not prescribe, find that their unbiblical ambition is able to be satisfied by founding an organization outside the church. These ministries, by definition, usually have no connection to or spiritual association with a local church. Jesus did not promise to build a parachurch.
Yet many of these parachurch ministries founded and run by women seem to have women who have no connection to a local church. Many of their About pages don’t list that the women even belong to a church. Or if they do, and you look at their speaking schedules, you see that they miss most of the Sunday gatherings per year because they’re on the circuit. Or they are just very busy, well, running the parachurch organization to attend church, or even to minister to their own families.
Again, not all parachurch ministries are bad. Some are good. Answers in Genesis is an evangelical parachurch organization. So is Fellowship of Christian Athletes. These operate independently of a church. Grace to You is a parachurch organization directly connected to a church. This author writes,
While I do not desire to denigrate excellent Christian ministries that function outside of local church oversight (I was saved through a parachurch ministry, I went to one for college and seminary, and I currently work at one), it must be asserted, based on the Scripture we examined above, that these ministries, no matter how large or effective or well-managed, owe their very existence to the institution Christ established two-thousand years ago. Without the church, there would be no organization to stand beside it. (Source)
Yet the parachurch organizations that go wayward, as it says in the article below, can do damage for years.
J. Mack Stiles in this 2011 article said: “The standard cliché for parachurch is that it’s not the church, but an arm of the church. Yet historically, that arm has shown a tendency to develop a mind of its own and crawl away from the body, which creates a mess. Given the grand scope and size of many parachurch ministries, those which go wayward can propagate error for years: missionary organizations become gyms, heretical seminaries pump out heretical pastors, and service organizations produce long-term confusion between the gospel and social action.”
As some para-church ministry grow, they take on a life of its own, disown the local church, and crawl off, drawing the unwary with it. They end up competing with the church instead of supporting the church.
As this phenomenon has increased, para-church organizations have confused the global body about what the church does as these organizations take on more of the roles the Bible says what the church should be and do. Granted, many churches have abandoned their calling to evangelize, disciple, and serve the community, but it is not for parachurch organizations to pick up the slack. It is not for parachurch organizations to become a kind of church that supplants the called church. Many of these are founded for ‘discipling’ purposes, co-opting a role reserved for the church.
Worst of all, it is my contention that many of these parachurch organizations that are female founded, female led, as a result, are petrie dishes of false teaching, only to slither out of the dish and propagate itself like leaven into real churches.
Carl Trueman on parachurch organizations, describing 2 ways they go off the rails. One way is rampant ecumenism. Here is the other way they go off the rails:
Parachurch Organizations Rarely if Ever Have Proper Structures of Accountability
The second reason parachurch groups go awry is that they rarely if ever have proper structures of accountability. The New Testament makes it clear that the appointed custodians of the faith are the elders, men specially selected because of their qualities of character, ability, and reputation, who have a special duty to safeguard the faith and practice of the church. Parachurch groups have no such biblically sanctioned structure, and many of them have not thought carefully about the framework of accountability needed to remain orthodox. Further, they tend to be run by the self-appointed, or by people with money, or by those with a can-do attitude. (Source)
Many of the worst of the worst are parachurch organizations founded by women and they are the worst because they hardly ever have an accountability structure. Indeed, these women CEOs should be sitting in their own church quietly learning (1 Timothy 2:11) and asking their husbands at home. (1 Corinthians 14:35).
Examples of women- founded parachurch organizations gone off the rails from the start
- If:Gathering was founded by Jennie Allen on an alleged direct revelation by “a voice from the sky” her words, who started IF to discuss feelings about the Bible (not what the Word means, but how they feel about it).
- Walk to Emmaus, a weekend retreat, was developed by women, it’s all about forcing an emotional reaction to the blowout personal experience at the end. Catholic doctrines are laced throughout the weekend teachings.
- Proverbs 31 Ministries was started by Jennifer McHugh but expanded in 1995 when Lysa TerKeurst and Marybeth Whalen came on board. The women who are part of this organization partner with false teachers and preach to men.
- Going Beyond was founded by Priscilla Shirer, for the purpose “not only to see all understand His written Word but for all to experience His Power!”
- Raechel Myers founded She Reads Truth and “invites women of all ages to engage Scripture through curated daily reading plans, as well as online conversation led by a vibrant community of contributing writers.” It “started as a small group of strangers on the internet who wanted to be more intentional about reading God’s Word.” Fellowship and teaching through a flat screen? No thanks. The Bible knows none of that. Experiential parachurch ministries founded by women are sadly too common.
- Living Proof Ministries, founded and led by Beth Moore, teaches false doctrine, has no accountability, and refuses doctrinal or lifestyle correction.
And now we have two more female founded and led parachurch ministries that have recently come to my attention and I was asked to review, “The Yada Factor” and Ruth Haley Barton and her Transforming Center. Tomorrow: The Yada Factor.