Bagging on a “Para-church organization”? Don’t make me “Go Mordecai” on you!

Rant warning…..rant warning……rant warning…..rant warning…..rant warning…..

The next time I see a pastor raise his eyebrows or roll his eyes or cock his head and then with a smirk say something like, “that’s a PARA-CHURCH-ORGANIZATION”, with disdain in his voice, I’m not sure I’ll be able to restrain myself from going “Mordecai” on him.

So in order to restrain myself, I want to “Go Mordecai” in this post and get it out of my system.

First, my guess is that compared to most pastors, I spend a large portion of my time swimming in the sea that is dominated by Para-church Organizations, (PCO’s).  By and large, the vast majority of what’s taking place in the missions world is being accomplished by PCO’s.  And not just the missions world, but also the campus ministry world, the prison ministry world, the bible translation world, and so forth.

When I went into pastoring full-time more than 27 years ago, I didn’t really know what a PCO was.  But it wasn’t long before I began hearing what other pastors thought about PCO’s.  And honestly, very little, if any of those opinions were positive.

When I asked some of the pastor-friends why they seemed to be so critical of these obviously God-used entities, I was told things like this:

1.  PCO’s aren’t really biblical.

2. PCO’s exist to exploit local churches for their people, their money, and their connections.

3.  PCO’s divert church member’s attention, loyalty, time, and gifts away from the ministries of local churches.

4.  PCO’s are too agressive about marketing their vision and raising the funds that enable them to accomplish their vision.

5.  PCO’s say they encourage their workers to be a healthy part of a local church, but then operate in ways that actually undermine the very ingredients necessary to be a healthy part of a local church.

And you know what?

Over the years, I’ve learned that many of those criticisms, in many cases, are actually somewhat accurate.

But the reality is this:  PCO’s exist and are doing amazing things.  And God is not just tolerating their existence or  begrudgingly permitting them to do what they do.

He’s blessing them and the work they do in amazing ways–almost as if He Himself had something to do with their actual creation.

He did.

I believe He did so for many reasons, but at least one of those reasons comes from what He revealed about Himself in the book of Esther.

If you’re one of those pastors or church leaders or whoever, that believes God’s plans and purposes in this world would be better served by PCO’s making an exit from this world, I will now “Go Mordecai” on you by sharing some of my observations from the book of Esther:

God had sovereignly placed her in a strategic position in the midst of an unGodly environment…..kind of like the church.

And yet in the midst of the unGodliness, the Lord blessed her with incredible privilege and a degree of power and access to resources that few others in the kingdom possessed….kind of like the church.

But God had a specific purpose for her being there.  His plan and purpose was not just to bless her and make sure her needs were met.  She was there for a purpose larger than her own interests.

Eventually, God used a pressing, life or death type situation in the lives of others,  and her uncle Mordecai’s wise perspective on the whole situation, to unveil His invitation to her to now become part of that larger purpose that He had always had for her.

Here’s what Mordecai, outside the palace, told Esther, inside the privilege of the palace, by way of Hathach, a Eunuch that the King has assigned to her as her servant:

Esther 4:13,14  And Mordecai told them to answer Esther:  “Do no think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.  For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Here’s what bugging me:

1.  The church, comprised of those who are His people, who have been “saved”, especially in America, is an incredibly privileged position and possesses an incredible amount of resources.  Those resources are amazingly diverse, (money, business expertise, vocational expertise, educational expertise, life-experience expertise, family-raising expertise, medical/dental expertise, and so forth).

2.  We have His Word and we know that His desire is for all men to be saved, (1 Tim 2:4).

3.  We know that Jesus commissioned His church to GO and to make disciples from among all of the ethnic groups that He has created and scattered around the world (Matt 28:18-20, Act 17:26).

4.  And we know that He will accomplish His “end game” and that He WILL receive worship from every ethnic group that He has created, (Rev. 5:9, 7:9,10).

I don’t believe that I’m stretching it when I say that Esther and local churches today have some sobering things in common:

–Both are in a privileged position, even in the midst of ungodliness–in a sense, living the “palace life” while the majority of the rest of the occupants of the world, including other people of God, are struggling to find food and clean water on a day to day basis.

–Both have daily access to incredible resources that few others could ever dream of.

–Both have all of this BY GOD’S DESIGN.

–Both have been given an opportunity by God to be an integral part of the “relief and deliverance” that He is going to accomplish for His people, (those that know Him already AND those that are His even though they haven’t heard the gospel yet, whose deaths are imminent).  See Acts 18:10

–Both need to know that they have been placed in the privileged position they occupy for “such a time as this”.

–Both need to know that He will accomplish that “relief and deliverance” through other people that do recognize and seize the opportunity He has placed before them to be part of this amazing work that He is going to do.

–And both need to recognize that there are serious consequences for NOT participating–their own imminent deaths.

I believe that God meant what He said when He told Esther that He’d bring relief and deliverance for His people from some other place.

We don’t know what that other “place” that God would have used actually was because Esther, after seeking prayer and knowing the risk to her own life, actually seized the opportunity.

But we do know what God used–that “relief and deliverance from another place”, when the leadership of many of His local churches balked at getting on board with His plans and purposes.

He created PCO’s.

It reminds me of Acts 8:1,4

Those that knew Him the best and were the most equipped and that heard from His own lips the commission to take the gospel to the whole world, couldn’t be budged, even by persecution, from the comfy confines of the area around Jerusalem.

So what did God do?  He used others, probably brand new believers to take and preach the gospel across geographic and cultural boundaries.

With all of the above as the back drop, here’s what I’ve observed:

Leaders of churches tend to be overly critical of the very things that God has brought into existence because those leaders  haven’t taken seriously the things that God says His people should be interested in and participating in.

I spend a large majority of my time trying to help pastors and church leaders see the importance and the value of being an integral part of God’s heart for the world that He has so clearly revealed in His Word.

And the vast majority of them not only ignore me and the other churches and PCO’s that are participating substantially, they actually go a step further and question the need of PCO’s to even exist.

The dots don’t seem to connect for many of those who have this attitude.

The reality is that PCO’s obtain a portion of their reason for existence because of the unwillingness of local church leaders to seize the opportunity that they and their churches were created for.

Like Esther, they are in the position they’re in “for such a time as this”.  But they don’t recognize it.

Instead of bagging on PCO’s, maybe they should follow Esther’s lead and pray diligently and then take a risk that might cost them their very lives as they mobilize their resources for those that God is going to deliver with or without them around the world.

Ahhhh, I feel so much better.  I’m now one more step away from having to “Go Mordecai” on a fellow pastor or church leader.  :–)

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 replies
  1. Ralph Gaily
    Ralph Gaily says:

    A clear word from the Spirit, Jeff…. thanks for your obedience. “But the end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer….. as every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen……. for the time has come that judgement must begin at the house of God…. 1st Peter 4”. The wood, hay, and stubble will soon be removed… and that which can’t be shaken will remain to finish The Work

    Reply
  2. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Jeff, few people, including Christians, realize that the majority of “relief” work is carried out by PCO’s all over the world. It’s been an incredible witness even to unbelievers. I know you know this, but it goes unknown too often.

    Especially churches in developing countries are unable to meet the needs of their own people locally. In the US, they may be unwilling, but that’s another issue altogether. PCO’s fill that need and often partner up with local churches, not take from or compete with them.

    Perhaps it’s a matter of some needed discretion. The PCO’s that partner with local bodies (& supporting churches) should be considered with some respect and appreciation. Those that don’t, and even refuse to do so, well… maybe not so much respect.

    I hate generalizations like “all PCO’s…” because it’s just not true. I think of PCO’s that provide servies for local church bodies in the US & throughout the world. One that comes to mind is Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators out of NM, you might have heard of them 😉 If not, there are plenty others.

    Good rant Mordecai!

    Reply
  3. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:

    Thanks Trip. Really good points, especially about local churches in developing countries and the blessings PCO’s can be to them.

    My Mordecai mentality will be extended to PCO’s too in a few weeks.

    Reply
  4. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Thanks for this Jeff. I make a distinction for which I would like your opinion. A PCO is not the church organizationally, but it is the church spiritually. Those who serve in a PCO are followers of Jesus and therefore members of the body of Christ, His church. So, when a PCO does something, it is His church that’s doing something. I don’t know that The Lord makes a distinction between church and para church. They are all followers of Jesus, gathered under His Lordship, seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Maybe think of it like a SEAL team and a sailor. Both are members of the Navy. But the SEAL team can go where a sailor can’t and do what a sailor can’t and is recruited from among sailors, taking personnel from the regular Navy. They are directed by another command center, but ultimately all are under one head. What do you think? A SEAL team member is still part of the Navy and a PCO member is still a part of the church – and in the vast majority of cases actually belongs to a local church. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Matt Kottman
      Matt Kottman says:

      Tim,
      I think that’s a good observation, that the PCO is part of the church spiritually though it is not a church organisationally.

      On that note, what do you think Jeff and Tim about PCO employees/volunteers who approach the PCO as their church? Should the PCO replace the unique calling of the local church in regards to the ‘members’ of the PCO?

      Reply
  5. Ralph Gaily
    Ralph Gaily says:

    It’s beginning to sound like a lot of “hairsplitting” on the identity of His Church. It’s actually one, large, single head of hair…. and He has us all numbered, which means we are His. Personally, I think this division of “PCO vs. local church”…”spiritually vs. organizationally”, is grounded in money. Let’s get serious! It is getting very late!

    Reply
  6. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Ralph – to reduce it to money is quite an insult to worthy servants of Christ regardless of what they call themselves – PCO or church.

    Matt – the PCO as their “church” is convenient, but at the same time may largely supply all that they would receive at ‘church.’ There is fellowship, teaching, relationships, mission, accountability. The sacraments may be missing, but certainly can be practiced. I think the danger would be a sense of isolation from the wider body and a sense of elitism. Christ’s body is gathered and organized in many forms and fashions.

    Reply
    • Matt Kottman
      Matt Kottman says:

      Tim,
      Good thoughts. As gathered believers, they will be church-like, but I think it may be missing some important things (when viewed as a local church substitute).
      1.) As you mentioned, the sacraments.
      2.) Possibly an imbalanced perspective, kind of like a one issue church (evangelism church, community projects church, overseas mission emphasis, domestic mission emphasis). This is probably where potential elitism can come in.
      3.) Body relationships. The church is multi-generational (babies to elderly), multi-staged (new convert to mature believers), led by those who may not necessarily be elders (such as good business men, managers, etc, but without specific pastoral emphasis such as labouring in the prayer and the Word), multi-gifting (with a necessarily narrow mission, the diversity of the gifting can often be lacking). Actually, I would say the same thing to churches founded on the homogeneous unit principle.

      I think I would be comfortable saying that they are part of the church, but should not be the local church.

      Reply
    • Ralph Gaily
      Ralph Gaily says:

      Tim…. not intended as an insult… but as a warning to those so called leaders who don’t consider the “unconventional” believers in God’s Kingdom as part of His Body.

      Reply
  7. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:

    Brothers,

    Great input. Tim, I too like the military analogy you used, and the balanced perspective that both you and Matt bring to the table on this subject.

    Personally, I don’t believe that it wise or healthy for PCO’s to operate as if they themselves are a church. Matt, I agree with your reasoning on this, especially your point 3 above.

    Using the military analogy, the Seals or other “special forces” are a part of the larger military, yet exist for a specialized purpose. So it generally is with PCO’s. Many of them are “one issue” focused entities and in many cases that single issue is beyond the normal exposure or ability of a local church–like bible translation.

    My perspective is that both local churches and PCO’s are valid expressions of God’s love and useful for His purposes, but in different ways. And for His glory and His purposes to go forth, it is obviously better for them to work together in unity to accomplish His purposes. Sadly, that isn’t usually what’s happening.

    In my next post, I’m going to explore in more details some of the similarities and contrasts between local churches and PCO’s with the hope that the more that each entity understands about their fellow co-worker for God’s glory among the nations, the better able they will be to work in harmony.

    Reply
  8. George Lim
    George Lim says:

    Leaders of churches tend to be overly critical of the very things that God has brought into existence because those leaders haven’t taken seriously the things that God says His people should be interested in and participating in.

    – I love this. Not that it is happening but that you mentioned it directly. Thanks Jeff, always enjoy your posts! (So does my wife who actually told me about this one)

    Reply

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