by Burk Parsons
I sensed God’s call to pastoral ministry when I was fifteen years old. Having recently been converted to Christ, it was the only thing I believed I could do and should do as I strived to follow Christ obediently and be a good steward of the gifts that the pastors of the church confirmed were in me. Upon my conversion, the church became my home. As a newborn infant in the faith, the church became to me a mother, father, brother, sister, and friend. Through my parents’ divorce, my father’s death, and my nomadic childhood—I had moved around the country at least sixteen times by the age of sixteen—the church was to me a cradle, a home, a community, a schoolhouse, a shelter, a hospital, and a rescue mission.
I was converted through the faithful preaching of the gospel by a local church deacon who came to my house and asked me two penetrating questions about what I believed regarding my salvation. He then went on to explain the gospel simply and clearly. I later discovered he had been trained by a parachurch evangelism ministry, and he was using a resource that ministry had developed. After my conversion, I regularly attended youth conferences that God used profoundly in my life—all conducted by parachurch ministries. Within two years of my conversion, my faithful pastor had us view several video series by a theologian I had never heard of named R.C. Sproul. Within three years of my conversion, a couple in our church brought me to a conference hosted by a parachurch organization called Ligonier Ministries. And four years after my conversion, a friend gave me a gift subscription to the best magazine I had ever read, called Tabletalk.
From my work with Youth for Christ, to my service on foreign missions, to the Christian college I attended, to the pastoral and theological books I read, to the seminary from which I graduated, to the thousands of sermons I listened to on the radio—God has used parachurch ministries in my life in a profound way, as has been the case for nearly every Christian on the face of the earth. Every Christian has been affected, in some measure, by a parachurch ministry, whether directly or indirectly. Still, many questions remain about the relationship between the church and the parachurch: Are parachurch ministries biblical? Should we support them? What is their appropriate role in serving the church? What kind of work should parachurch ministries undertake?
Parachurch ministries exist to come alongside and serve the local church, but if they ever try to replace the church, they should close their doors. The ordinary-means-of-grace ministry of the local church is the primary means of growth, and parachurch ministries exist to remind us of this and point us back to the church. As such, every parachurch ministry should have as its long term goal to work itself out of existence—all the while knowing that until Christ returns, we need to continue to use every biblically faithful means possible to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in making disciples of all nations for the glory of God alone.