In Sept. 1999, I was participating on the Gospel Advocate forum, one of the active spots in the brotherhood at the time. I made a post, called, I believe, “The Organizational Church,” which Greg Tidwell thought was “an excellent piece,” and asked permission to publish it in the Gospel Advocate magazine.
I believe it was this piece that was published under the title “Parachurches and the Local Church,” in July 2000. I did not see that issue, so I’m assuming it’s the same, since I have no idea what else it would be.
Below is the text of the post. I’ve no idea how it may have been edited for the Advocate.
A variety of organizations beyond local churches of Christ have usurped congregations’ resources and mission, attempting to achieve results on a grander scale than can be done under a local eldership.
This is a real concern: organizations that purport to assist the local church have taken on functions that properly belong to the latter. I have heard at least one elder of a nationally known church propose the exact equivalent of a missionary society. It appears we may be quietly losing the battle, won with great difficulty the last century, against “ministries” that in fact are taking on the job the churches should be doing.
Americans are enamored with big projects. We think people are won by the gospel in flashy campaigns, national advertising and loud “gospel blimps” (see book of the same name). Not to mention our Holy Trinity of mission work: build a building, put a national evangelist on US funds, and start a training school, often sponsored by American colleges on the latest trend of setting up foreign campuses. On top of that, big benevolent efforts crank up in many areas.
We involve ourselves in activities that have little to do with real evangelism and growth and ignore the one-on-one and face-to-face work that really pays off. In our practical mindset, we want the big project with fast results, forgetting the lesson Jesus taught us: The real result comes in investing in people who can in turn teach others to reach others (see 2 Tim. 2:2). In the long run, the big project does not pay off, and we do not even understand the local culture enough to realize that it usually does not fit well the national needs.
Witness our mission work around the world. Things are improving some, but we go in, stay two or three years, barely learn the language, if at all, leave a struggling little group with weak faith, because the missionary has been concerned about raising funds for buildings and preacher support instead of pouring out his life with the converts. He stays his American distance from them, and they never see the real person in whom Christ is present, but a foreign official with money in his pocket to spend.
Sure, this is a caricature, but close enough to the truth that one may see how we have steered away from a heart-to-heart ministry for a pocket-to-palm work. And our organizations are more than ready to help us do that.