Posted in theology

I’m suspicious of para-church organizations. Here’s why

By Elizabeth Prata

Where did all these para-church organizations come from? Why do we need them?

EPrata photo

While laudatory in many cases, these organizations increasingly draw women away from their home church, infuse them with false doctrine, and re-seed them back to their church to infect it.

What are para-church organizations? Wikipedia definition: “Parachurch organizations are Christian faith-based organizations that work outside and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism. Parachurch organizations seek to come alongside the church and specialize in things that individual churches may not be able to specialize in by themselves.”

GotQuestions defines a parachurch ministry this way: “The definition of a Christian parachurch ministry is “a Christian faith-based organization which carries out its mission usually independent of church oversight.”

Some different types of para-church ministries are, those involved in evangelism (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Child Evangelism Fellowship), discipleship, (The Navigators, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship), Bible dissemination (Gideons International), disaster relief (Samaritan’s Purse), medical helps, domestic violence shelters, and so on. Christian book publishers and Bible translators are also considered a para-church organization. RC Sproul’s Ligonier.org is a parachurch organization designed to have a primary focus on the theological education of laypeople.

The pro with some para-church organizations such as radio ministries Bible dissemination, or missions organizations are that the Gospel can be introduced in closed countries or places devoid of a church. The downside to a parachurch organization is that many of them lack oversight. Some discipleship parachurch organizations even become a substitute for church.

Yet, Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14 of the church that “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”

The local church is to teach-

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2).

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)

Parachurch organizations did not exist during the time of the first century church, so the Bible doesn’t mention them. Acts 2:42 outlines principles of the purpose of the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

The church is the pillar, and Jesus is the cornerstone of it. Our entire focus should be life lived in and around our home church. We read in this article, Who is Responsible for Training Pastors? :

"Training pastors is the responsibility of both church leaders as well as churches as a whole. Churches are responsible to support their pastor’s work in training men for ministry, give whatever resources they can to train men for ministry, encourage and equip men themselves, and ultimately to select their own leaders, which implies some kind of responsibility to oversee their training."

The life if a believer should focus on one’s own church. It goes without saying that believers should be a member of a church, submitted to elders and faithfully attending. There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. Each of us has a spiritual gift given to us by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of edifying each other within our local body of believers. Staying outside the confines of the church life is a denial of the gift and makes a hole in the global tapestry Jesus seeks to weave. Not to mention the practice of and witness to the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

Our focus for our believing lives on earth should be the local church. If your church has raised up men to lead Bible studies, great, or women who disciple as per Titus 2, super. If you have activities for children and youth, that’s wonderful.

Sadly, some women look elsewhere than their own church for fellowship, prayer, or Bible study. They gravitate toward parachurch organizations. Some do so simply because they were invited by a friend, and being curious and with servant attitude, follow her friend to the organization to try it out. Those are the organizations to which I took exception in the second paragraph, the ones rife with false doctrine and slyly begin to substitute for the local church. Upon first reading of these parachurch organizations they sound good. Their aims and goals sound solid. Healing, discipleship, fellowship, what is wrong with that?

Nothing…until you look deeper and you realize these organizations are founded on something other than the word of God. Many of them are based on experiences, half-biblical truths, or ecumenicalism of the worst degree, where false religions’ doctrines are introduced. Here are a few examples of these parachurch ministries to be careful of.

Immanuel Prayer / Emmanuel Approach

Immanuel Prayer/Emmanuel Approach is one of these parachurch organizations that is dangerous in my opinion. IP circumvents the Bible entirely and counsels seekers along the lines of past experiences, memories, and emotions. They also mention that they are a ‘deliverance ministry’ and a ‘prophetic ministry’. They focus on healing psychological trauma and offer counsel in the form of what amounts to contemplative prayer.

This ministry’s practitioners focus on the Lord’s presence and how you feel about it, in order to emotionally heal you. They write that the opening session begins with prayer and goes like this

1.) Recall past experiences of positive connection with the Lord;
2.) Deliberately appreciate specific aspects of/details from these past positive experiences; and
3.) Refresh perception of the Lord’s presence and connection with Him in the present.

They get involved with demons and deliverance, ‘binding’ demons and stating they can be aware of certain demons who may be attacking the counselee or the counselor. Secular Psychology. This sounds like a very dangerous ‘ministry’.

The founders are a husband-wife team. The wife is Charlotte Lehman, who is referred to as “Pastor Charlotte” and duties include preaching at church and teaching mixed audiences at retreats etc. This activity is not scriptural.

IP is based on theophostic counseling, which is not scriptural. More information here on Immanuel Prayer, and Theophostic Counseling-

What is theophostic counseling?

Immanuel Approach training manual

Immanuel Approach declares that Protestants and Catholics are essentially united

If you are in need of counseling, please approach your own pastors / elders for help, either receiving counseling from them or obtaining a referral from them to a solid and biblical organization. Immanuel Approach is rife with false doctrine and is a dangerous approach to counseling. It will draw you away from your church, and worse, from Jesus.

If:Gathering

This is a parachurch ministry begun by Jennie Allen in 2014. At that first Gathering she announced that a few years prior “a voice from the sky” whispered to her to begin this ministry. This statement alone should be enough to stay away from this parachurch organization. Their foundation is based the question, “If God is real…then what?” which is a question straight from Genesis chapter 3 from the serpent to Eve. Again, if you weren’t convinced not to participate in an organization where the founder is deceived enough to follow a voice from the sky she interprets to be God, then participating in an organization founded on doubt should cement it for you.

Their About statement is that they exist not only as an annual conference event, “but a discipleship ministry focused on putting tools and resources in the hands of women in the church. Through these, IF is able to empower women to reclaim discipleship as God’s means to change the world.” The local church should disciple women and puts resources in women’s hands. We don’t need a duplicate of what the church is charged to do. I am unaware of a need to reclaim something that has never expired. That statement indicates that IF:Gathering believes itself to be a substitute for the church.

Also, the use of the word ‘reclaim’ and ’empower’ are concerning. IF has a lack of male oversight and is mainly run by women, who also develop the study materials. They are all about liberal theology, shaky hermeneutics, usurping lifestyles, and pushing their idol of social justice. Please do not be drawn away into this subculture of female reclamation and empowerment AKA feminism, under the guise of discipleship.

More information in IF:Gathering-

Updated review 4 years later (2018)
Thinking of attending an IF:Gathering? This is eye-opening (2021)

Cursillo/Great Banquet/Walk to Emmaus/Tres Dias

The aim of the program is to make known to people the love of God and to revive them for service to others as a lifetime priority. This is a good thing.

However, Cursillo’s theological grounding is from the Catholic religious system, its methods use emotional and psychological manipulation (to purposely “break you down” through intensive experiences), it is theology-lite, and as a parachurch ministry it tends to separate people from their own church, or undermine it, requiring constant reunion meetings and written “service sheets” to track your Cursillo efforts.

Further, the experience deliberately separates wives from husbands, who participate on different weekends. I am suspicious of any teaching or experience that disallows husbands and wives to be together, just as I am suspicious of the Passion Conference which does not allow parents to accompany their youth (only the youth minister is allowed to chaperone the youths inside the arena. Cursillo is labeled a ‘movement’ and the movement is recognized by the Catholic Holy See as member of the International Catholic Organizations of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome.

Brian V. Janssen wrote, “It is evident that Cursillo is not really about theology from the fact that the method is so readily adaptable to very divergent theological perspectives: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism (Via de Christo), Methodism, (Walk to Emmaus), Anglicanism (Episcopal Cursillo), Presbyterianism (Presbyterian Cursillo and [Great Banquet], Pentecostalism, (Tres Dias), and Dutch Reformed (Reformed Cursillo).”

Can one participate in an immersion weekend and emerge unaffected by an all-purpose or watered down theology? A theology born of Catholicism no less?

No, one cannot. Jesus said in Matthew 7:14 that –

For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

For more information on Cursillo et al,

The Cursillo Theology
The Cursillo Experience
Should you attend a Cursillo weekend?

Community Bible Study

Not all parachurch organizations are at locations to which you go, separate from the church, such as IF:Gathering in people’s homes or a certain retreat location such as Cursillo. Some parachurch organizations develop Bible Studies which are to be introduced into your church. One would hope that the Sunday School Superintendent or overseer of curricula, preferably the pastor, would vet the materials on which his sheep will be feeding. Sadly, that is not always the case. When I saw that the next ‘study’ at an old church I used to attend was about to bring Priscilla Shirer’s Jonah Bible Study in, I approached the Superintendent in charge of curriculum. He dismissed my concerns out of hand, saying, “If it’s from Lifeway, it’s good.”

Community Bible Study does both, develops curricula to be used in church or as small-group Bible studies to be done in a leader’s home. About page says their goal is to encourage individual study. “Transformation happens as individuals engage with God in His Word. Study questions help participants apply the timeless truths of the Bible to their daily lives. Participants gain additional insights and grow in their confidence with God’s Word as they discuss Bible passages in a safe small-group setting.” Isn’t that the job of the church?

I’ve heard from women and read online that CBS quotes and uses material from less than solid female teachers, in fact, this woman said she was introduced to Beth Moore through a CBS. This leadership newsletter for Community Bible Study teachers pushes material from Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Jim Cymbala, Anne Graham Lotz, and other false teachers.

This woman enjoys CBS, saying, “CBS does not take the place of your local church or church activities. Instead, through study of the Word of God, CBS raises up local members to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Through that discipleship members often times take what they have learned back to their local church in the form of Sunday school teachers and adult ministry leaders.”

Well if that’s the case, yes it does take the place of your church. The local church is supposed to train up leaders and educate its people. Al Mohler, the President of the nation’s largest seminary, said in 2014,

"I emphatically believe that the best and most proper place for the education and preparation of pastors is in the local church. We should be ashamed that churches fail miserably in their responsibility to train future pastors. Established pastors should be ashamed if they are not pouring themselves into the lives of young men whom God has called into the teaching and leadership ministry of the church."

See also the Acts and the Timothy verses above as to what a church’s mission and activities should be. A friend told me some years ago about one of these para-church ministries she had tried out, that it seemed to her when the participants returned to church after having had the experience, it was creating a two-tier membership. It felt to her there was a growing clique of folks who felt superior because they had enjoyed the breakthrough experiences, or had ‘heard from God,’ and they pitied in the rest of the congregation because they had not enjoyed such experiences.

Some para-church organizations are good and might even be necessary. I’m sure the goals of such ministries don’t start out negatively, but the inevitability of an organization started on less than solid foundation, lacking oversight, it will inevitably drift in its mission and instead of coming alongside a church as para is defined, will begin to compete with it.

And Hannah Anderson raises an important point specifically regarding female parachurch ministries.

"On the other hand, because so many female spiritual leaders are operating in parachurch contexts, their ministries have the potential to lose the doctrinal and structural accountability that the established Church provides. The digital age may free women from the gendered constraints of traditional ministry, but this means that they also have the potential to become free agents." (Source)
Hannah Anderson continues, "Consider how few female evangelical leaders are visibly attached to an institution such as a church, seminary, or non-profit that did not grow up around their personality. Name a male leader like Rick Warren and you immediately think of Saddleback Church. Say Beth Moore or Ann Voskamp or Jen Hatmaker and most of us will draw a blank about which local church these women affiliate with. This is not to say that they aren’t connected, but their local church isn't a visible or central a component to their public ministry." (Source)

However, the fact is, if you think about the most popular national women’s ministries/discipleship organizations, they’re led by women who don’t seem attached to their own local church. IF:Gathering, Propel Women by Christine Caine, Living Proof by Beth Moore, Going Beyond by Priscilla Shirer, and more, are all female led ministries and parachurch entities that lack theological grounding and real oversight.

Before you get involved

Before getting involved in one of these ministries or organizations ask yourself some questions:

  1. What is this parachurch ministry offering that I connect with, that my church doesn’t offer? Is it a sinful lust, or a genuine spiritual need?
  2. If it’s a genuine spiritual need, such as a small group Bible study, have you spoken with your elders about the possibility of them starting one in your own church? Or you starting one?
  3. If your church does offer training up, leadership opportunities, Bible studies, etc, why am I interested in going outside the church when it’s essentially a duplication? Is it because it’s new and shiny? Is it because I have unresolved social issues with some members in my church or its group leader?
  4. If I truly believe that participating in this parachurch ministry is genuine and necessary, have I done my diligence in vetting it, or have I asked my husband or my pastor to look into it for me to ensure it has integrity in its doctrine and function?
  5. If I decide to participate in a parachurch organization is there solid and thriving male oversight, and is there a disciplinary mechanism?

Resources on Parachurch Ministries

Are Parachurch Ministries Evil? Bad and Good Arguments for the Parachurch

Keeping the ‘para’ in parachurch

Your Parachurch Ministry Isn’t the Church

Author:

Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

5 thoughts on “I’m suspicious of para-church organizations. Here’s why

  1. Hi Elizabeth….I read this post on Instagram today and wrote a rather lengthy comment, ending with a question on your opinion of Bible Study Fellowship. So you see comments across these two platforms? I’m not sure how that works, but I would love to hear your answer and thoughts regarding my comment.,,

    Jana Walczuk

    Like

      1. I’m so sorry I bothered you today…I just saw your tweet about having a fever…..pray you get back to your fun routine soon and thank you for the reply.
        ❤️Jana Walczuk

        Like

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