You are on page 1of 18

Of Para-church Ministry in

(A Believers Perspective)
Alex Shianda

Of Para-church Ministry in
(A Believers Perspective)

Of Para-church Ministry in
(A Believers Perspective)
Alex Shianda

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without
written permission from the author.
Lent 2015
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living
Translation, copyright 1996, 2004,2007, by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by
permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights

Toward a definition of para-church organization
How a para-church organization is perceived in Kenya
Toward a working framework

In his book The Smell of Sawdust: what evangelicals can learn from their fundamentalist
heritage Richard Mouw gives the following story;
"...She had graduated from our high school the year before and was now a student at a large
public university. She was home on her (campus) break, and she visited our (teenage bible club)
group to tell us what it was like to be a Christian on secular university campus.
I will never forget her testimony. She told us about a philosophy course she was taking. It was a
very weird subject, she said. The professor tried to get them to ask questions like, What is
truth? What is goodness? What is reality? At one point in the course, she reported, he had even
asked them to think about whether the desks in the room continued to exist when no one was
perceiving them.
We agreed with her-this was pretty weird stuff. We shook our heads in disbelief that anyone
could waste their time with such strange thoughts. And then she said something that made a
deep impression on me. "I'm glad I'm a Christian," she said, "because that means I don't have to
worry about such things. When you know that Christ is the answer, then you don't have to
worry about the questions!"
There will be many revivals in para-church organizations in Kenya when the missionaries in
them set their mind to think. As well illustrated by Mouw on anti-intellectual themes in society
(by a lack of asking questions), such (anti-intellectual) Christians are many in Kenya today
especially in para-church ministries.
This brief essay offers a reflection on para-church ministry in Kenya, as perceived by selected
para-church ministry leaders experience in Kenya. Each of the interviewed leaders had current
or past ministry responsibilities and their views therefore reflect para-church realities in Kenya.
The inferences of this study may bring about organizational changes if explored.

This essay would find relevance if;
1) You or your spouse is a missionary with a para-church
2) You or your church supports a missionary in/or a para-church
3) You are indifferent to para-churches
4) You want to understand para-churches for whatever reason (joining one, supporting
one, leaving one etc)

Toward a definition of para-church

Ministry in the New Testament is seen as service to God and to other people in His name (1). It
is an activity carried out by Christians to express or spread their faith, the prototype being
the Great Commission (2).
With the growth and spread of Christianity, ministry has evolved to be a term that covers office
bearers e.g. pastors not just individuals in the Christian faith.
Generally, most churches are called to various ministries. A church may have a childrens
ministry, a womens ministry, praise and worship ministry, an ushering ministry, a prison
ministry, a mens ministry, a choir, hospitality ministry, an administration department, a drama
ministry, a helps ministry, a widows ministry among others. Each of these ministries may have
an office bearer or an individual who serves there.
A para-church ministry is different from a church ministry. It does not have the five-fold
ministry present (Ephesians) in its structure as para-churches generally have are narrow in
focus. Trinity Fellowship, a para-church for example, would not be interested on how to provide
care for ushers as would say Deliverance Church.
Michael Lindsay, in Faith in the Halls of Power, argues that multi-ethic/cosmopolitan
evangelicalsprominent leaders in a variety of fields"are more active in para-church groups
than in local congregations."
This is true too in Kenya as we the presence of Christian Unions even in corporate organizations
like EABL.
Further, Mark Galli notes that the most gifted and ambitious influencers in our movement
serve and take their cues from the parachurch. In other words the parachurch has become a
de facto leader in contemporary evangelicalism.
I find the above words to be true too as I note the associations artists, celebrities and other
professionals give credit to what and they consider are bodies engaging with society. There is a
therefore a place to step back and look at para-church ministry in Kenya


1) They avoid church-like order
Nearly every church in Kenya has a form of denominationalism.
They organize their order of services and liturgy around a denominational agreed order of
service. How ministry is executed is also done in view of the churchs DNA (denominational
Para-church ministries in Kenya avoid church-like order. They want to appear as transdenominational organizations. They therefore strive to work with different denominational
churches as they organize their annual or bi-annual conferences.
As a trans-denominational organization, para-churches can set their ambitions very low. They
need only to agree with certain basic denominational truths.
As they avoid church-like order, low ambitions are set in leadership stands. Self appointed
leadership is very evident in para-church leadership. As one missionary told me, you dont
need anyones permission to do Gods work. Jesus said go, 2000years ago!
2) They come alongside the church
With very weak ecclesiology, para-church organizations in Kenya claim to come alongside the
Kenyan church to fulfill various missions.
The church is an institution and a body of believers.
If there are believers present who claim not to be part of the body of Christian but simply body
organs that come alongside the main body, then they are vestigial if not cancerous and
therefore dangerous. It is dangerous ecclesiology to form bodies that dont work THROUGH the
church in the name of Christ but claim to work WITH the church.
Such trans-denominational organizations are like pyramid schemes.
They are at the top of the pyramid getting the most benefits from donor support from local
churches and church members to support their missions. It is a dangerous ecclesiology to have
a para-church apart from one church.

3) They dont foster church unity

I once read a heretics condemnation statement that went something like this;
"It is our opinion that _____ (give the name of the heretic) should be burned at the stake, but
since such process is now against the law and perhaps not in keeping with the spirit of Jesus, we
can only state that we would like to burn ______ (again give the name of the heretic) at the
stake, and can only wish that eternal damnation will be visited upon him for his grievous
offences, which are highly offensive to us and, we hope, to God also
Para-church organizations in Kenya do not have church discipline structures.
When one of their staff members sins or holds a different theological view point, they are
castigated as heretics.
They have no structures on how to correct, rebuke, encourage or comfort their own. They
simply expel the errant staff member. They then share in their network of churches/parachurches that they no longer work with brother or sister so and so.
By doing this they do not foster church unity but drive a wedge among believers. They sow
seeds of discord among several brethren because of lack of church discipline structures.
4) Believe-belong-become
For you to be a member of a para-church ministry in Kenya, you must change your beliefs and
align them to the organizations statements of faith.
You are not allowed to serve (belong) in a para-church unless you subscribe to their
transferable concepts. These transferable concepts are like their statements of faith. They
are the ideal (who you become) when you serve in their organization.
This is a clear show of insecurities; un-like a church that welcomes everyone to belong and
eventually believe, para-churches are anxious groups forcing their transferable concepts on
One does not have to really believe with their hearts these transferable concepts. He/she
simply needs to affirm them intellectually and tell other people about it.

5) They discriminate on who can serve the less fortunate in society

For over two years, I engaged with Life Ministry Kenya on the need to have their university
students serve the less fortunate in society. They consistently vehemently refused.
One email sent to me as a reason for their refusal gave the following reasons;
I (a Life Ministry missionary) look at Social action as a fruit of a transformed inner man
Matthew 5:13-16, otherwise I would just be advocating for a righteousness of works.
Secondly, when I look at the state of our movement and the direction/goals we have, I feel we
are not ready to consume this material (of helping the less fortunate). We have decided as a
leadership team of CL (their campus ministry) to slow down on activity and concentrate on
building the foundations in the guys we are discipling. We feel introducing this might be
disruptive and guide away from our objectives this semester
This is the third year since this email was received (which by the way was sent after a series of
several meetings).
It was affirmed again (this year) that they have not changed their position. They are not
interested in non-Christians, and people who dont believe like they do, in helping the poor.
They discriminate on who can serve the less fortunate in society.
6) They welcome new money but not new ideas
Para church missionaries raise funds for a living.
They are open to new financial ministry partners. Many of them see money as a blessing from
God. However, these same missionaries will not welcome new content apart from their
transferable concepts.
While as a student in campus, I was involved with Life ministry Kenya.
They had several of their transferable concepts; four spiritual laws, interacta studies,
assurance of salvation, confidence, empowerment, basic new life training, intermediate new life
training manual, advanced new life training, training of trainers, great commission training,
practical Christian living among tons of others which I went through.
These discussions guides had very irrelevant examples for our Kenyan audience.

But having a conversation about contextualizing these tracks was never welcome. Translating
these studies into local languages is always a welcomed conversation though. It is welcomed
because it means project financing rather than patenting original work.
As an organization, many para-churches do not welcome materials that are not from their
organizations headquarters. The biggest irony is when they consider themselves movements.
Movements tend to have a life of their own. But para-church ministries in Kenya strive to have
a life full of foreign culture.
7) Egotistical leadership
Conceit is a weird disease that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.
This is also true for hubris.
Many para-church missionaries suffer from a lot of hubris.
Because of their lack of church-like order in their leadership structures, these organizations that
come along-side the church, tend to come with an attitude of knowing the most effective
method of winning the world; they claim to have devised the structure and system to mobilize
non-believers into the kingdom, and the church to give them the financial and human resources
because they have the optimum idea, they are convinced they have the right perspective on
the alliances they should have among other expressions of conceit. Even a conversation around
the presence of egotistical leadership in para-churches is not welcomed.
8) They create churches that are not Christ-like
The para-church is effectively a new kind/form of religious organization.
According to Ryan Waldron, "In the first quarter of the 19th century, para-church organizations
were abundant in many forms -- Bible tract societies, independent educational organizations,
independent missionary groups, and moral reform organizations.
The defining characteristic of a para-church is that it stands outside of the organizational
structure of well-established religious bodies.
Parachurches are often the creation of an entrepreneur or a small cadre of people who seek to
achieve specific goals."

Since this is a significant point, consider the following thoughts from scholars that point out
about how para-church organizations create churches that are not Christ-like.
1) Mark Copeland thoughts

It has no scriptural support

There is no example of NT churches sending money to human institutions as a way of carrying

out their work of evangelism, edification, or benevolence. The practice began in the 19th
century (see above).NT churches sent money directly to other churches or individuals - Ac
11:27-30; 1Co 16:1-4; Ro 15:25-26
2. It gives oversight of the local church's work to those not its elders
Human institutions are governed by board members, CEOs, or other individuals. Churches
outsource their work and their oversight by giving to such organizations
3. It turns local churches into collection agencies for man-made organizations
Institutions appeal for churches to support their organizations. The local church thus becomes a
mini "United Way" for human institutions
4. It tends to denominationalize the church
Institutions usually identify their association with a particular group of churches E.g., a "Church
of Christ college", or "Campus Crusade for Christ", etc. The use of "Church of Christ" in such a
way contributes to a denominational mindset
5. It has led to division among many churches
Supporters of human institutions fight hard to get them into churches budgets. Churches and
individuals that do not go along are often libeled ("anti!", "orphan hater!") Brotherhood papers
have used such issues to quarantine and isolate the opposition

2. William McDonald thoughts

1. It deprives the church of workers
"One result is that capable teachers and preachers have been called away from their primary
ministries in order to become administrators. If all mission board administrators were serving
on the mission field, it would greatly reduce the need for personnel there."
2. It is an inefficient use of funds
"Another result of the proliferation of organizations is that vast sums of money are needed for
overhead, and thus diverted from direct gospel outreach. The greater part of every dollar given
to many Christian organizations is devoted to the expense of maintaining the organization
rather than to the primary purpose for which it was founded."
3. It can hinder the spread of truth
"Organizations often hinder the fulfillment of the Great Commission." Jesus told His disciples to
teach all the things He had commanded. Many who work for Christian organizations find they
are not permitted to teach all the truth of God. They must not teach certain controversial
matters for fear they will alienate the constituency to whom they look for financial support."
4. It contributes to factionalism
"The multiplication of Christian institutions has too often resulted in factions, jealousy, and
rivalry that have done great harm to the testimony of Christ. Consider the overlapping
multiplicity of Christian organizations at work, at home, and abroad. Each competes for limited
personnel and for shrinking financial resources. And consider how many of these organizations
really owe their origin to purely human rivalry, though public statements usually refer to God's
will." (Daily Notes of the Scripture Union)



"An acute writer, contrasting the apostolic work with the more usual modern missionary
methods, has said that 'we found missions, the apostles founded churches.' The distinction is
sound and pregnant.
The apostles founded churches, and they founded nothing else, because for the ends in view
nothing else was required or could have been so suitable.
In each place where they labored they formed the converts into a local assembly, with elders always elders, never an elder (Ac14:23; 15:6, 23; 20:17 Php 1:1) to guide, to rule, to shepherd,
men qualified by the Lord and recognized by the saints(1Co 16:15; 1Th 5:12,13; 1Ti 5:17-19);
and with deacons, appointed by the assembly (Ac 6:1-6; Php 1:1) - in this contrasted with the
elders - to attend to the few but very important temporal affairs, and in particular to the
distribution of the funds of the assembly...
All they (the apostles) did in the way of organizing was to form the disciples gathered into other
such assemblies. No other organization than the local assembly appears in the New Testament,
nor do we find even the germ of anything further."

9) They are all about control, control and more control

Since many para-church organizations have distinctive egotistical leadership, many missionaries
in Kenya are more concerned about watching their back than their brothers back.
There is no one for all and all for one culture in para-churches.
These para-church organizations, like the Kenya Christian Professional Forum, want to control
governments with their transferable concepts
10) They are not learners
Many para-church missionaries in Kenya are not open to learn. They do not consider ideas,
skills and the opinions of others.
Leaders are perpetual learners.
One of the saddest things is to hear these para-church ministries organize leadership seminars
yet they are not learners. They are more concerned about transferrable concepts. A majority
will read this brief essay and neglect to learn anything from it.
11) They are surrounded by sycophants
Many para-church missionaries tend to be isolated from truth tellers in their life.
When told that their strategy of fund raising is not wise, they would rather surround
themselves with those who think it is the Christian way of living.
They would rather tell other people to invest money but they themselves dont invest the gifts
they receive. They do this because they are surrounded by sycophants.
12) Pass around negativity
I think because of the begging for finances to make a living, many para-church missionaries in
Kenya pass around a lot of negativity.
They are negative about every sector of society even though they try to crown it with but God is
n control or doing a new thing or whichever clich they find appropriate.
It is usually very depressing to sit with these missionary friends.

13) They build walls

A majority of these missionaries assume they are building bridges with their tracks while in
actual sense they are building walls with their neighbours.
Zeal without knowledge is dangerous.

Toward a working frame work

Richard P Dugan The Para-Church Organization is Dead captures our working frame work. In his
paper, he traces the roots of para-church organizations and concludes that many of them have
completed their usefulness.
Para-church agencies, he says, must evaluate their relationship to the local church.
He examines the Bible college movement, in particular, and outlines a plan for restructuring
twenty-first century Bible colleges.
Furthermore, he challenges para-church organization at large to recognize the primacy of the
local church and to keep its ministries separate from those of the local church.
In addition, he suggests that churches and local para-church ministries pool their resources to
carry out a balanced program of instruction, worship, fellowship, and service.
You can read the lengthy journal here if the above abstract is not sufficient;