You are on page 1of 14

Read the Lausanne document on “The Relationship between Church and Para-Church

Organizations”. In a ten-page paper, describe a Para-church Organization you belong to,

or are familiar with, indicating its origin, reason for existence, particular emphases, and

the way it relates to the church in your area. State lessons you consider both the Para-

church Organization and the Church can learn from the papers that can enable them to

function more harmoniously together and achieve their objectives more effectively.

The term ‘parachurch’ or ‘alongside the church’ describes special-purpose Christian

organizations that are not tied to a church or denomination.1 Some people find the term

derogatory as it may imply that the ‘true church’ is only found elsewhere in more

traditional ecclesial structures. Others take the other extreme of according them full

‘church’ status in the congregational sense even though such organizations do not

administer the sacraments like baptism or the Holy Communion. Nevertheless, it seems

fitting for our purpose to use the term without its negative connotation but retains the

distinctions that members of the Body of Christ are extending their service within these

non-congregational structures.

1
John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Evangelical Landscape: Facing Critical Issues Of The Day, (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 2002), page 27

1
My spiritual journey as a Christian began in secondary school, where I first heard the

gospel of God’s love and forgiveness shared at an Easter event organized by the student

fellowship. In Malaysia, several parachurch organizations like Scripture Union (SU),

Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) and Campus Crusade For Christ (CCC) had a

rich legacy of service amongst students. I consider myself a fruit of their evangelistic

labor and subsequently took active part in the student fellowship at school and later,

college. Upon obtaining my degree and starting on a new job in the city, I naturally

‘graduated’ to the marketplace ministry called “Graduate Christian Fellowship” (GCF).

In retrospect, much of my own 17-year pilgrimage has been influenced by interaction

with these different interdenominational parachurch agencies. Even in Malaysia, George

Marsden’s description of American evangelicalism as being built around networks of

parachurch agencies rings true2. Based on my experience, the overall relationship

between these groups and churches in Malaysia could be characterized by synergistic

cooperation and mutual respect. However, I could also recognize the existence of

tensions and contentious issues discussed by the Lausanne paper on Church/Para-church

relationships, which could help us to improve on the existing symbiotic networks.

2
George Marsden, “Introduction”, Evangelicalism and Modern America, ed. George Marsden (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), page 14.

2
Origin, Vision And Emphases

By way of introduction, Graduates Christian Fellowship (GCF) of Malaysia is a non-

profit organization for Christian professionals and graduates to “build a community of

servant-leaders committed to transforming society for Christ".3 It evolved as a natural

outgrowth from the ministry of the Fellowship of Evangelical Students, which is

committed to reaching university and college students for Christ and nurture them in the

faith. Some of these students continued to gather informally after finishing their studies to

encourage each other to impact the post-campus world. Eventually, in 1969, the informal

fellowship grew into a movement of people committed to make a moral impact in the

marketplace. Due to its historical roots, GCF is focused on ministering to Christian

graduates and professionals while not restricted to only those who came through the FES

ministry.

3
Soo Inn, Tan, “What is Our Vision?” Graduate Christian Fellowship of Malaysia.
http://gcfmy.org/reflection_vision.php (5 October, 2007).

3
Current specialized emphases of GCF today involve helping graduates to transition into

the marketplace in small, peer accountability groups called “Headstart”, training them to

seize the opportunities afforded by their tertiary education as a responsibility for humble,

servant leadership to others (Matthew 20:26). As the members mature and took up more

influential roles in their respective workplace, the “Beyond Headstart” cohort groups

would equip them in transforming these spheres of life for Christ. The distressing drop

out rate among converts in campus present a great need area for its existence as many do

not eventually survive as disciples in the “working world”. Also, some graduates who

came back from overseas or too accustomed to the campus ministry environment faced

acute ‘reverse culture shock’ or reentry problems into the local church.

Through its peer mentoring groups and annual iBridge camps, GCF sought to provide a

support group for these graduates to work out issues like meaning in work, vocation

discernment, avoiding materialism, intentional rhythm of work/rest and spiritual

revitalization in the midst of busyness, relationship-building and other marketplace

concerns so that they could be ‘salt and light’ in the world.4

Relationship With the Local Churches

4
“If we do not have a theology of vocation we lapse into debilitating alternatives: fatalism (doing what’s
required by ‘the forces’ and ‘the powers’), luck (which denies purposefulness in life and reduces our life to
a bundle of accidents), karma (which ties performace to future rewards), nihilism (which denies that there
is any good end to which the travail of history might lead) and… self-actualization (in which we invent the
meaning and purpose of our lives, making us magicians).” Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days: Vocation,
Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), page 72

4
Most active members of GCF also serve and belong to a local church. Indeed, the GCF

committee members are also leaders of good standing in their respective churches. They

consciously do not see the ministry as a church per se. Generally, they have a broader

perspective of the ministry as the extension from Body of Christ actively involved in the

marketplace. Fresh graduates who attend the Headstart groups are also encouraged to

recognize the need for community and accountability, subsequently joining a local church

as part of their discipleship. In the resource material used for Headstart group

discussions, we would be admonished not to be “satisfied with just casual social

gatherings anymore. Seek out and cultivate true Christian fellowship. A Christian life is

to be lived in community, reflecting the truth that in Jesus, we have already been

incorporated into a new family.”5

The GCF also provides an interdenominational context for cross-pollinating ideas and

shared ministry such as national anti-corruption campaigns. These projects of shared

concerns could be carried out with support from the denominational leaders without

having to go through lengthy bureaucratic procedures. Sometimes, issues such as

lobbying for integrity in corporate governance, discernment of personal vocation and

integration of biblical values in the marketplace do not feature prominently on the radar

of many churches.

Given the huge amount of waking hours we spend at work, it seems rather strange that

“secular” work occupies such a vague place amongst Christians.6 By and large, many
5
Marvin K. Y. Wong, Between Friends: Reflections On Christian Discipleship in the ‘Real World’,
(Petaling Jaya: Scripture Union, 2002), page 149
6
Among others, Paul Stevens argued that business could be an arena for individual witness, a means of
church planting, societal service and grappling with the powers. R. Paul Stevens, Doing God’s Business:

5
Christians are still caught up in a ‘sacred-secular’ dualism that regards the workplace as

merely a platform for evangelism but carries little intrinsic spiritual value in itself7.

Through GCF public seminars on marketplace theology conducted by scholars like

Robert Banks, Gordon Preece and Paul Stevens, awareness is created amongst local

churches to integrate the sacred and ‘secular’ spaces. With emphasis on developing

servant-leadership, GCF seeks to help Christians develop a proper theology of work,

integrate biblical worldview into their work and develop strategies for evangelism in their

workplace.8 In these ways, the organization has served the wider network of local

churches in Malaysia.

However, there are also signs of friction from time to time. Some may argue that

parachurch ministries merely prolong and perpetuate the ‘reentry’ problem by providing

graduates-in-transition with an alternative albeit artificial environment, where they

missed out the intergenerational interaction available in a local church. As long as they

stay exclusively among people of similar age group or background, their spiritual growth

would not benefit from the wisdom of elders, lessons learnt from believers of different

social class or opportunities in caring for the children or teenagers.

There are also some church groups who felt that the existence of bodies like GCF is like a

temporary crutch, needed only because the local church was not able to do its job well in

Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2006), pages 78
7
“Dualism blurs the valid duality between obedience and disobedience because dualism identifies
obedience, redemption and the kingdom of God with only one area of life. It sees the rest of life as either
unrelated to redemption (or the sacred), or worse – under the power of disobedience, sin and the kingdom
of darkness”. Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian
Worldview, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), page 95
8
Soo Inn, Tan, “Equipping Christians For The Marketplace” Graduate Christian Fellowship of Malaysia,
http://gcfmy.org/reflection_mission.php, (16 November, 2007).

6
this area. Ideally, if churches were able to develop their own ministry for young adults or

graduates, then there would be no longer any need for their continuance. Indeed, some

larger churches have now developed young adult ministries, which deal with similar

marketplace concerns therefore creating some duplication of efforts and competition for

resources.

“When two groups (one church, one Para-church) want the same people, the same

programmes, the same dollars and the same authority, a clash is inevitable and both

ministries suffer”9. In smaller churches, church leaders may frown upon the divided time

and energy of their young members. The Lausanne document accurately described some

ecclesiastical figures who “in their zeal, deny their flocks the freedom of inter-

denominational contact, out of fear of doctrinal contamination.”10 Sadly, such parochial

attitudes rob others of the opportunity to learn from other traditions and join them in

shared action on common causes.

Another frequently asked question we heard was, “Is GCF an elitist organization since

her membership is open only to Christian graduates? Are non-graduate Christians lesser

in the eyes of God or less effective in transforming the society?”11 Specialized ministry

should not lead to a superior attitude since all Christians are equally valuable in the eyes

of God (Galatians 3:28).

9
Co-operating in World Evangelisation: A Handbook on Church/Para-Church Relationships, Lausanne
Committee for World Evangelisation, 1983, page xiiiv. The complete handbook is available at:
http://www.lausanne.org/pattaya-1980/lop-24.html
10
Co-operating in World Evangelisation, LCWE, page xiii.
11
Soo Inn, Tan, “Is GCF Elitist?” Graduate Christian Fellowship of Malaysia,
http://gcfmy.org/reflection_elitist.php (5 October, 2007).

7
Therefore GCF took special effort to clearly communicate their mission to the public in

order to avoid unnecessary suspicion and misunderstanding. As clarification, we could

find out from the official website that “associate membership in GCF is not restricted to

graduates and even the ordinary membership accepts members with any valid tertiary

educational experience, not just those who have gone through the traditional university

system”.12 Being focused is not a sign of elitism. Just as many churches today have age-

groups ministry to cater for different needs of believers at different phrases of their lives,

the GCF ministry is structured similarly to better address context-and-age-specific needs

of a particular group - Christian professionals and graduates. They would then be released

to minister to all regardless of educational background.

Proliferation of marketplace-oriented parachurch bodies highlighted a concern of the

Lausanne Committee, which was ‘rivalry between ministries’ as a result of the growing

number of independent but similar ministries.13 Could there be unnecessary uniqueness

generated in diverse organizations such as GCF, Grace@work, Influencers For Christ,

Full Gospel Businessman Fellowship and The Agora? From time to time, we also hear

complaints from one campus evangelism organization that the other student ministries

were not doing enough in evangelism. In response, the organization was also accused of

being overzealous in their methods. Sometimes, campus events organized by two or more

agencies overlap and resulted in wasteful competition, if not presenting a fragmented

image of the Body of Christ. Although some may view that as healthy competition

leading to better efficiency, we also need to heed John Stott’s reminder that “sometimes

12
Ibid.
13
Co-operating in World Evangelisation, LCWE, page xxv.

8
the attempt to glorify the spirit of competition among us thinly disguises a sinful

evangelical power-struggle of which we need to repent in dust and ashes”.14

Some Proposals For Improvement

The Lausanne document gave a helpful overview of some models for understanding the

validity of so-called “para-church organizations”. Some missiologists view churches as

vertical structures and other Christian ministries as horizontal structures, forming an

interdependent tapestry that shows unity in diversity of the Christian movement. The

former has internal diversity, overall objective perspective but lacks mobility and prone

to remain in maintenance mode. The latter has more defined objective and greater

mobility but tends to be myopic and oversell its causes. Both need to learn and

complement each other. Other missiologists reject the term ‘parachurch’ and argued that

both structures together constitute the Church.15 In my view, it would be more helpful to

maintain that some distinctive marks of a church are absent in most parachurch

organizations such as the preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments and

discipline. Though they are not churches, these agencies are certainly part of the church.

From the Lausanne Commission proposals, organizations like GCF could function more

effectively and harmoniously with the local churches by clearly communicating their

goals and purposes.16 A suggested approach may be inviting denominational leaders to be

part of the Advisory Board so that they could be aware of decisions made and endorse

14
Ibid., page xx.
15
Ibid., page xiiv
16
Ibid., page xviii.

9
these plans concretely in the churches.17 Concerns by the local churches could also be

shared openly via proper channels with the executive committee.

Christians have often been urged to “tithe where you are fed (i.e. in the church) and let

the church decide which agency to support” perhaps due to questionable fund-raising

techniques in some circles.18 But if a denominational leader is able to check financial

dealings are transparent and responsible, church members would be more assured and

receive guidance from their leaders to choose wisely from the plethora of existing

agencies in need of funding and volunteers. A weakness in the approach is the fact that

most denominational leaders would be too occupied to be actively involved in the

decision-making process. It may also result in more bureaucratic red tape if leaders from

multiple denominations are represented, thus slowing down the usually responsive

“horizontal” organization.

Although duplication of effort in itself may not be wrong, it could be motivated by

competitive, “law of the jungle” attitudes.19 In view of the growth of overlapping

ministries, leaders need to strategize and network together how to leverage on strengths

and specialize. For example, Youth For Christ Malaysia noticed that many government

universities and colleges already have ongoing ministries and intentionally chose to focus

their efforts on Chinese-language schools instead. Much duplication of work and waste of

resource could be avoided with humble and strategic ministry specialization. Perhaps in

an overly generalized way, I would suggest that among the marketplace ministries -

17
Ibid., page xv.
18
Ibid., page xxxii
19
Ibid., page xxviii

10
Grace@Work has its forte in teaching, IFC has its strength in marketplace evangelism

and GCF has experience and strategy for mentoring and marketplace transformation.

On the part of local churches, denominational leaders would need to avoid dogmatism

about non-essential doctrines while remaining steadfast in the touchstones of orthodoxy

such as the Deity, Incarnation, Atoning death and Bodily Resurrection of Christ.20 It is

possible to stress so much on the ideals of unity and failing to ground it on solid doctrinal

foundation or overemphasize ‘separation’ by creating unnecessary schisms. Indeed,

different levels of agreement determine the extent of collaboration. Perhaps it may be

appropriate to suggest as Yoder had done that less unity is needed to tackle dualism than

to commune and less agreement needed to advocate integrity in corporate governance

than to apply church discipline.21

The sacred-secular divide is pervasive amongst churches and some church leaders may

need to leverage on the skills and experience from GCF in their congregational young

adult or marketplace ministries. It should be seen as a mutually edifying relationship

rather than an intrusion into our authority or territory. A defective ecclesiology may lead

to a sense of insecurity and reactions of jealousy that promote “spiritual inbreeding” and

hinder trans-denominational edification.22 In an illuminating discussion on the meaning of

laity and clergy, Paul Stevens wrote, “Clergy must be liberated by laity from having the

impossible task of representing the entire ministry of the church. Laity must be liberated from

becoming clergy assistants to discover and embrace their own ministry. Pastors then become

20
Ibid., page xiii
21
Ibid., page xiv
22
Ibid., page xviii

11
assistants to the rest of the people of God. This mutual liberation must be a ministry of love, not

rebellion.”23

Conclusion

I am deeply indebted to the selfless service of Christians who ministered in parachurch

agencies that provided a trans-denominational context to appreciate diverse church

traditions and work together in a harmonious way. Generally, they work well with the

support of local churches in a God-honoring way. However, there is always room for

improvement and certain tensions exist and could potentially be problematic if left to

fester.

The evangelical patriarch John Stott summed up some basic guiding principles when he

wrote, “The tendency of the ‘establishment’ to control individual initiatives runs the risk

of quenching the Spirit. The tendency of voluntary organizations to insist on their

independence runs the risk of ignoring the Body. It is the age-old tension between

authority and freedom… It is therefore, basic to our evangelical responsibility that in all

of our labors and relationships we should magnify Christ by seeking simultaneously to

give honor to His Body and liberty to His Spirit.”24

23
Paul Stevens, The Complete Book Of Everyday Christianity: An A-to-Z guide to Following Christ in
Every Aspect Of Life, edited by Robert Banks and Paul Stevens, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997)
24
Ibid., page xvi

12
Bibliography

1. Between Friends: Reflections On Christian Discipleship in the ‘Real World’, Marvin K.

Y. Wong, Scripture Union: Petaling Jaya, 2002

2. Co-operating in World Evangelisation: A Handbook on Church/Para-Church

Relationships, Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation, 1983

3. Doing God’s Business: Meaning and Motivation for the Marketplace, R. Paul Stevens,

Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, 2006

4. Evangelical Landscape: Facing Critical Issues Of The Day, John G. Stackhouse,

Jr., Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2002

13
5. The Complete Book Of Everyday Christianity: An A-to-Z guide to Following Christ in

Every Aspect Of Life, edited by Robert Banks and Paul Stevens, InterVarsity

Press:Downers Grove, 1997

6. The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, R. Paul

Stevens, Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 1999

7. The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview, Brian Walsh and Richard

Middleton, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1984

14