Shooting myself in the foot

Jodie McNeill

There's a great expression that describes the act of harming yourself by doing or saying something stupid.

It's called 'shooting yourself in the foot'. I'm a little worried that this is exactly what I'm about to do now.

You see, I'm trying to work out the value of so-called 'parachurch' organisations.  And since I minister in a 'parachurch' organisation, I'm setting myself up for a fall… or a hole in the foot.

By definition, a 'parachurch' is an organisation that works in parallel with a church. Typically, they are the kinds of organisations that work alongside ministries of the local church, usually by trying to do the things that an individual church would find hard to do well.

In our own ministry patch, examples of this include Anglicare (for welfare support), Moore and Youthworks Colleges (for ministry and theological training), and Evangelism Ministries (providing resources for churches in evangelism and church planting).

Some may say that since these are Anglican Diocese of Sydney organisations that they are not strictly 'para' churches, but are actually part of 'the' church.

However, any such statement shows a misunderstanding of what the Bible says about church.

Church, in its simplest form, is just a gathering of people. The Greek word ecclesia that is usually translated 'church' is simply a secular word of the first century that described a gathering of people.

However, the gathering of people in the name of Jesus was a special church. It enabled those present to meet with Jesus, "clothed with his own promises" (to quote Calvin), present by the Holy Spirit, in a genuine participation of the heavenly gathering of which they are already members, and for which they long for the full experience at the return of Jesus.

So, whilst Youthworks is a ministry of the 'Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney', it's really just another parachurch organisation, not a church in itself.

But, if these organisations are truly parallel to the local church (as the name suggests), then this would mean that both church and parachurch should work alongside each other, each having an equality of purpose, and potentially working independently of each other when needed.

Yet, if the 'local' church is the only church that really matters, then parachurch organisations must see themselves as servants of those local churches. Parachurch organisations, by etymology, don't work in parallel. Rather, the 'parachurch' must come second to the (local) church.

So, we should probably call these kinds of support organisations 'hupochurches' (from the Greek hupo meaning 'under'), not 'parachurches' (from the Greek para meaning 'beside').

This has important implications for our so-called parachurch ministries.

For, if Youthworks is a hupochurch, then that means that it will always aim to minister to the churches, rather than act independently of them.  It means that we will not seek to run ministries that operate independently of the local churches.

Now you can perhaps see why I'm worried about my feet.

For, if what I'm saying is true, then I need to make sure that Youthworks Outdoors acts as a servant of the local churches, and does not act independently of them.

I'm pleased to say that this is something that is in the mission statement of Youthworks, namely that we 'work with churches and schools' in our Word ministry to children, youth and families.

But, what does this mean, for example, for the Youthworks Holiday Camps, which are marketed directly to children and youth? Does the current strategy for holiday camps run against the Youthworks mission statement and against a correct theology of the church?

I don't think so. But you'll have to wait until my next blog to find out why I think my toes are safe.

Jodie McNeill is the Executive Director of Youthworks Outdoors, the camping and conferencing arm of the Sydney Anglican hupochurch organisation known as Youthworks.

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