Following a recent status update, a Youth Pastor friend messaged me: “So, how do you battle the trouble Young Life has with connecting teens to churches? Our local YL sees no problem and has no desire to connect teens to churches. Do you have an actual ‘Parachurch’ model working?”
Based on this and a number of conversations I’ve had over the years, I decided to take this question on in the form of a blog series. Yesterday I introduced the matter, read that post here.
Parachurch, as defined by wikipedia: Christian faith-based organizations that work outside of and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism, usually independent of church oversight…
For the sake of my blog, I want to be specific about the kind of parachurch I am referring to. In this series I am specifically dealing with a parachurch like “Young Life,” ones that take on a similar form of that of a youth group (a gathering of students for a programmed time of some sort). Other organizations that could be included in such a category would be Youth For Christ, Athletes In Action, Youth Dynamics, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and several others.
With that specific type of parachurch “club” in mind, I’ll address the “What’s Up With The Parachurch?” question.
What You Might Hear From The Church (or Youth Pastor) : “The Parachurch is only concerned with numbers, keeping their students at their club and is really watered down; they never bring saved students to us.”
Let me start by saying every ministry should be concerned with “shepherding” so, if the argument is being made that a Parachurch leader is “keeping their kid,” I would hope that every leader (church or parachurch) wants to keep (shepherd) their students. The better question/statement could be, “once a student becomes a Christian, is a parachurch ministry effective in discipling the young believer? In general I believe that the parachurch NEEDS to be more proactive with the church leadership in getting students involved with the local church. The goal should not just be to get the student to camp and get them to say the “sinners prayer.” As a leader in a parachurch ministry (Young Life), I believe every student coming through the doors of our ministry (or those we meet outside of the ministry) is a person with whom we hope to share the Gospel. This student may or may not ever get to go to camp, so we look to love them then/there and enter relationship with them so this person can hear about and experience the person of Christ.
Though the parachurch I am volunteering with places a high emphasis on camp ministry (I believe Young Life does it best), the leaders who are most effective are going to be the ones who are committed to relationship now! But because they do camping ministry so well it is really easy to point toward camp and make that summer experience such an emphasis that it really can become about getting numbers to club so that we can do the ultimate push toward camp. I completely understand this potential knock against club-based ministry. It is something WE MUST resist and begin to see each person as a soul in need of redemption and then love them accordingly. God may or may not want them at camp and we must emphasize relationship now!
The issue of “watering down” the Gospel has come up a number of times in discussion. One key thing I would want all church leaders to understand, our goal is to see the unchurched and unreached students at our clubs. Though Christians are very welcome, our hope from the parachurch club side is that we have mainly non-Christians at the club (and that’s really what we want). If a Christian student comes, we believe they should be there to bring their unchurched friends. The audience does change the perspective of the listener. I believe this is Biblical. In Acts 17 alone, we read of Paul presenting the Gospel at least three different ways in three different cities, it was the EXACT same Gospel, but three different ways of presenting because of three different audiences in Thessalonica, Berea and Athens. Whether it is our director sharing, me or another leader, we are looking for entry points to share the Gospel with these students. My presentation style does change when speaking to a primarily unchurched group; everything from the stories I tell, the length of message and the potential point of action–this does not mean that I’ve watered down the Gospel. In fact, I would much rather love a student so well at club that my follow-up conversation at the basketball game or Dairy Queen is the place that I really get to share life with them (and the Gospel as well).
Much like the church, the parachurch is not perfect. There is so much more I can/should write on this subject, however, due to space, I’ll keep it at this for now and take on the “What’s Up with the Church?” tomorrow or Friday. Through that post and probably one more I hope to bring a little resolution as to how I believe we can work together better, get past some misperceptions and see the Kingdom increase so that God is most glorified. After all, this is about Him!