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What Is a Para-Church Ministry?

Many pastors of the past have worked wonderfully well with ministries that were not started by a local church. Men like Dr. Lee Roberson, Dr. Jack Hyles, Dr. Tom Malone, Dr. G. B. Vick, Dr. John Rawlings, Dr. Dallas Billington, and others worked with The Sword of the Lord, Bill Rice Ranch, Bob Jones University, BIMI, Youth for Christ, Word of Life, Gideons, Salvation Army, Pacific Garden Rescue Mission, Christian Law Association, Revival Fires, International Board of Jewish Missions, Gospel Tract Society, etc. All of these were para-church ministries. John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold…”
“Oh,” you say, “But look at the direction many of the ministries have gone.” Yes, and we could easily look at the direction many of those churches have gone.
Dr. Hyles often taught that we all use para-church ministries in one way or another. He loved the idea that the local church could do it better, but he never black balled those who provided helps to the local churches whether in or out of the local church. One time he told us that all of us drew the line of using para-church ministries at different levels, but at the end of the day we all use para-church ministries.
If we are not careful, we hypocritically oppose men of God led of God who start ministries. These are men of God in their own right and are just as led of God. There may be a disagreement of the thought of should they be started by the local church or a man of God. Good men may disagree, but that does not seem to stop God from leading men to start such ministries.

Logic with me. If they were started by the local church obviously they would budget that ministry in their church budget. Many local churches have ministries brought to them with the membership transfer of a man of God. These men of God who join never ask to be put into the church’s budget, for that ministry lives by the faith of that man of God. These men of God choose independent Baptist churches because that is who they are in the faith.
Yet, to be consistent, no pastor should accept any ministry not started by that local church if they are going to be consistently opposed to para-church ministries. The pastor who takes this stand should start and finance every ministry. He should refuse to take a man of God into the church membership who has a ministry from God if the pastor cannot control and run it.
Throughout the years men with ministries would join churches I pastored, and I never stuck my nose into their ministry. They stayed out of my ministry I stayed out of their ministry. When they asked my opinion or counsel, I gave them my opinion and counsel.
The truth is, never in my thirty-three years of pastoring have I had a problem with a man who brought in or started a ministry as a member of my church. I was not opposed to them because I was not the final authority on what God was doing in another man of God’s ministry. I simply made myself available to them.
I, like Dr. Hyles, preferred the local church start these ministries, but I quickly learned from Brother Hyles, and these other great men, that God moved on other men of God to start ministries to aid the cause of Christ. Also, I quickly learned that I could not finance everything I wanted to do.
I desired to have a camp, but the finances never materialized. However, we still went to summer camps whose ministries actually started the camp first, and the church second. It was not the way I would have done it, but I still used them. The wonderful thing is they have enough sense to be associated with an independent fundamental Baptist church of like faith and order.
The para-church ministries I’m talking about are not at all like years past , those whom I call “Protestant Baptist”, who had NO association with local churches. They were truly defined as “para-church” because they had no association with any local church. They fed off the church without being a part of a local church. That is just not the case today in independent Baptist circles. This is not your father’s para-church.
I worry that we are not looking at the bigger picture and have become so small minded that we believe without us nothing can be accomplished for Christ. Again, I prefer the local church start everything, but if they cannot finance it they should not start it.
So, here comes a man of God who is doctrinally sound and is led of God to start a ministry to help win the world to Christ. He does not ask to be put into the church budget. He believes like the pastor doctrinally. He tithes and give offerings, he is a personal soul winner. He and his family live consecrated lives. He defends fundamentalism. He is King James only for the English speaking peoples. He is rarely there for he is traveling with his ministry. Should he not have the right to be a member and lead a ministry as God tells him?
The para-church ministries produced by the “Protestant Baptists” of yesteryear are different from the ones started inside of local churches of our day. Many today who are independent Baptist Evangelists, Periodicals, camps, etc., started their ministries while they were members of a local independent Baptist church. They would never have started their ministry outside of their membership in a local independent Baptist church.
These men were men of God in their own right and totally agreed with the independent Baptist church polity. To ostracize these men’s ministries and define them in the same definition as those of yesteryear is duplicity of definition.
These ministries are not at all like the ones of years gone by started outside of ANY local church; simply because those of old believed in the universal church. To compare those to these of today in independent Baptist circles is ridiculous.
There was respect in days gone for such because they understood the callings of God in various ministries. Our mentors never mistreated the men or the ministries of such who were members of their local churches or chose not to ask to be put into the church budget.
Dr. Hyles used to teach that if the church can do it, that is better, but if the church cannot do it, then we need these ministries to accomplish what the church cannot do. One of the reasons Dr. Hyles wanted to build a great church was to be able to provide as many ministries through the church as possible, but he never completely abandoned his association with para-church ministries.

Here are a few observations regarding these “para-church’ ministries

1. They come alongside the church to assist. Many of these ministries provide a service that helps many churches. Every church, without exception, uses ministries outside their church! To say ALL belong and are run by the local church is just NOT true.
2. They do not take the place of the church. This is important. As long as a ministry does not attempt to replace the church, I am for it.
3. They are not a substitute for the church. Nothing can substitute for the church, yet some ministries attempt to do so. The ministry I can support is one that understands that the local church is most important in the lives of the people.
4. They are not necessarily a ministry of the church and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes the church can actually limit the work of one of these ministries.
5. They are not to make the church subordinate to them. The church should never be second to a non-church ministry.
6. They are para not anti-church. This is important. If they do not see the value of the church, they will be in conflict.
7. They have been a part of the work of God since the New Testament. Christian publishers have traditionally been para-church as have many other ministries.
8. If a ministry is strictly under one church then all churches who submit to or use that ministry are submitting to that church.
9. Any ministry that provides a service to a local church is a para-church ministry, even if it is under the authority of one local church.
10. Para-church ministries should never solicit the tithes of a local church, but they should be allowed to generate funds from the services they provide. (If I bring my people to your conference and you ask for money you are soliciting money from my people.)
11. Every Christian college is a para-church ministry to you even if it is under another church. You are putting your faith in that church the minute you support that college.
12. Effective and Biblical para-church ministries strive to serve the church.
13. The danger for a para-church ministry is placing the welfare of the ministry above that of the local church.
14. Many para-church ministries began to fill a void the church was not filling. Most homeschooling is para-church and if not then the materials we use often come from para-church groups. Local churches who start Christian Schools use para-church educational material in their Christian Schools.
15. Having to pretend a ministry is of a local church just to appease other pastors is foolish and needless.
16. God started the home, yet we have many para-home institutions. If we strictly applied our para-church rules we would find we are a bit inconsistent in our position.
17. If a ministry is truly a ministry of the local church, then why do we support it when it picks up and moves to another local church? MANY of the ministries named above have relocated “under” a different local church. If they were truly under the church, they would not have the freedom to do so.
18. The leaders of a para-church ministry should all be active members of a local church and personally accountable to their pastor, without giving up accountability of their ministry.
19. It is not best when a church is under a ministry, such as a campus church or a church that is started by a Christian camp. However, even though it is not best, it is not necessarily wicked.

May I conclude by reminding us all that in all things we should maintain a balance. That is what made Dr. Hyles so unique. He believed in the local New Testament church as much as any man I knew, however, he never discounted the work of ministries which were started by a man of God rather than a local church. Ministries that are brought to a local church by a man of God are no less of a ministry than those birthed by a local church. Brother Hyles applauded the work of God even if it was not always done in the exact way he would have done it. May we too understand the importance of not excluding these good works merely because we do not directly control them. Independence is lost with dictatorial rule of ministries not started by the local church.

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