Two or three times this week, I was discussing the idea of planting a church in a certain place and someone else suggested rather than start a church, start a Bible College or a meeting or ministry.
Now, leaving the fact that Biblically the only way Christians ever advanced the kingdom of God was through local churches a loond opening new local churches, there are real issues that go wrong when people don’t put the church first before any para-church ministries.
Firstly, most para-church organisations fish in local churches. Take your average Bible school – it isn’t looking to seek and save the lost, and nor should it. It isn’t looking for dysfunctional Christians who need counsel, assurance of salvation. It’s looking for on fire Christians who can work for or believe for fees and who can give up a year or three to prepare for life and ministry. You find those Christians in local church. If you are pioneering to a new nation, with very little Gospel coverage, and you start with a Bible school and do not start with a church, then you might be fishing in a very small pond, leading to very little growth. A good church training and raising disciples would create people who would be willing to go to Bible school, or help with a specialised para-church ministry, or volunteer and give to other ministries.
By trying to start a para-church ministry without there being strong local churches, you have no churches to support and no Christians to support you. That’s a big mistake and it won’t go well.
Secondly, you need to see the church as the first port of call. I often liken it to a GP. If someone is unwell, they go to a GP. A general practitioner. Someone who is good at everything. If they think you need specialist help, they send you to a specialist, who knows a lot about one thing. But the generalist is who you see first because he can get the big picture and help you there.
I am not the best preacher on certain subjects, for pretty much everything I preach on I could name a travelling speaker who could outpreach me in that topic, but I know very few preachers who could preach a good message on as many subjects as me. I am the generalist. So is every good pastor.
And if you let us call in the guest speakers, put you in touch with specialist ministries – whether to help you or for you to serve, and go to Bible College while you are rooted in a local church, not only will you be far healthier you will get the most out of para-church organisations.
If you have a spiritual issue, first call should be local church.
Third, you do not get a better chance to grow than in local churches. Growth isn’t sitting in a room for hours listening to videos. That can often be part of preparing for growth, but Christian growth is service. No one is bigger than the last person they served! Your Bible College doesn’t have a children’s church, your para-church ladies worship meeting or business men meeting doesn’t have street outreach. There is nowhere with as many opportunities to grow as local church, because there are so many places to serve. That’s how you grow!
Finally, you don’t get anywhere more diverse than local church. There are people in Tree of Life Church this weekend who would never and will never (and don’t need to) go to Bible College. There are people who should go but never will too. There are people not called to the men’s weekend, the ladies glowing meeting, the other meetings. There are the nod to God people too, who only go Sundays. We have new born babies and octogenarians. We have over thirty nationalities.
We have people who are in all sorts of stages of life, some would be thrown out of some para-church ministries (some have been) , but as church we cannot afford that luxury. We are the pillar of grace on the planet.
You need to spend your time with as wide a range of people as possible to grow and learn.
During my last year of Bible College I found out not only were all my friends now Christians, they were all the same style and brand and type of Christian. That’s not healthy for anyone let alone a trainee pastor. I quit a weekly prayer meeting and headed to my local to find some friends. Thankfully I was plugged into local church and volunteered to do some home visits to people that, quite frankly, wouldn’t be invited or welcome at most para-church events
You need to keep it real. Church does that by introducing you to real people with real problems every day you want to meet them. You will grow like never before if you invest and sow in them
Jesus’ body is the church. If you want to be more fruitful than ever before, plug into the body – the church. Go to church, get on a rota, start serving… And watch life surround you.