In the May 3, 2014 edition of WORLD magazine, they shared the troubling story of Ron Luce and Teen Mania Ministries, a parachurch organization based in Garden Valley, TX. Here’s a small portion of what the article said: “On Feb. 3 this year, Ron Luce called the management team into his newly renovated conference room with its four flat screen televisions, leather chairs, and a glass-top conference table. Luce then dropped a bombshell: Teen Mania would abandon the 472 acres and move to a still-undetermined site in Dallas. Luce framed the decision as one that would allow the ministry to have a global reach, and unveiled a press release that did not use the words ‘default’ or ‘foreclosure’ – appropriate terms for what was happening.”
“That was the first time Teen Mania communications director Cindy Mallette heard about the move. She later found out that Teen Mania had stopped paying its mortgage in November so as to meet payroll, and had then gone into default. After Mallette, who was fielding a flood of inquiries, prodded Luce to acknowledge a foreclosure was occurring, the ministry fired her on Feb. 13. She now states that Luce was hiding ‘the full nature of the situation’ in the hope funders would ‘donate to this new vision.’”1
The article went on to say, “The ministry hasn’t suffered from a lack of revenue: Teen Mania has brought in almost $300 million since 2001. Jacob Morales, a former volunteer who went on four Global Expeditions trips, left Chase Manhattan to become Luce’s executive assistant in 2007 and 2008. Acting as a liaison between Luce’s office and the accounting department, Morales saw ‘reckless spending. … Letters are going out saying, ‘Help, help, we’re going under,‘ yet we’re dropping $100,000 for a guy who is going to speak for 50 minutes.”
“That payment, Morales said, went to Dallas minister T.D. Jakes to get him to speak at a New York City BattleCry event on Feb. 8, 2008. (Jennifer Saunier, then Teen Mania’s sales director, confirmed that figure; Jakes' organization did not respond to a request for comment.) Morales says Teen Mania chartered a $21,000 private jet and spent more than $4,000 on a two-night stay at the Ritz Carlton for Jakes, whom Luce wanted as a Teen Mania partner. Morales says he had discretion over $10,000 in case to buy imported flowers, chocolates, rare bread, candy, iPods, and other gifts for the Jakes family to find in their hotel suite, green room, and two Cadillac Escalade limousines.”2
WHAT IS A PARACHURCH ORGANIZATION? In their recent book, MISSION DRIFT, Peter Greer and Chris Horst said, “The rapid creation of separate parachurch organizations is a relatively recent phenomenon. Para, parachurch’s prefix, is Greek for “alongside” or “beside.” The purpose of the parachurch organization is to come alongside, to support, the local church.”3 Many parachurch organizations do exactly that: they come alongside, support and help the local church. Many do not. Instead, they become parasitic leeches, siphoning off resources from the local church rendering it powerless and ineffective, while the parachurch organization thrives and grows even larger.
According to Charity Navigator, there are over 1 million nonprofit organizations in the United States.4 Not all would be classified parachurch organizations, but many would. While there is a literal ocean of Christians in our world, potential givers and supporters who have been blessed by God to support the work of God in addition to the churches that have been ordained by God; there are also an unlimited number of nonprofits and parachurch organizations with nets in the water as well. Some would say, “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” so it’s no big deal. But the facts won’t support such fantasy. The fact is, most local churches can’t compete with parachurch organizations. Yet they find themselves doing just that – competing with the very organizations (“ministries”) that were supposed to “come alongside” and help the church.
SOME KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER:
- I want to be very clear. There are many good parachurch organizations that are important partners with the local church. (Here’s a list of parachurch organizations/missions Crossroads supports: Our Missionaries, The Solomon Foundation). Unfortunately, there are a number of parachurch organizations with no connection to the local church except in requesting donations and recruiting workers to help them with THEIR mission, not the mission of the local church.
- Some parachurch organizations have a strong bottom line but a weak biblical link.
- Some parachurch organizations resemble the business world more than the biblical world when it comes to structure, strategy and operations. For example the qualifications for leaders in 1 Timothy 3, and the biblical pattern of a plurality of godly leaders required for the local church in 1 Timothy 5:17, are often ignored in many parachurch organizations.
Too many times people who become involved in parachurch organizations become less involved in their local church. I’ve not seen anyone come to our church from a parachurch organization who became an active, viable, integral, long-term part of our ministry. What I have witnessed are individuals who were very involved in our local church at one time, but became distracted and eventually detached because their “favorite” parachurch organization became the primary focus for their time, talent and treasure.
- Parachurch organizations can become havens for former ministers or staff members whose marriages, families or ministries have blown up. Often, a person with a checkered past isn’t checked out. People with questionable character aren’t questioned and those who have failed in previous ministries aren’t held accountable for their actions. The bar for strong moral leadership can often be very low in parachurch organizations where people who would never be qualified to serve in a local church are able to serve, sometimes at a high level of leadership and influence.
Again, this anomaly is possible because of the absence of accountability to a local church.
- Most local churches can’t compete with the marketing capabilities of parachurch organizations in recruiting workers and raising donor dollars. Parachurch organizations often have massive budgets that would dwarf those of a local church, oftentimes with little or no accountability as to how funds are spent and without consequences when funds are misused or mismanaged.
- Some parachurch organizations call themselves a ministry and use biblical terms to describe their ministry and mission in order to attract donors and dollars. But a closer look reveals a money-making machine, driven more by the bottom line than making disciples and helping the local church.
- Some parachurch organizations no longer need or, in some cases, want the local church. They view the local church as a hindrance to their work.
Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). In Mission Drift the authors state, “In God’s wisdom, the local church is God’s Plan A. There is no Plan B. His work continues through His chosen instrument. With a supernatural origination and divine mandate, the church is Christ’s hands and feet bringing the Good News as we love God and our neighbors. The church is Christ in the world; Christ’s bride really makes Him present, at this time, in this place, among the people. While imperfect, the body of Christ is the anchor, ‘the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.’ You cannot remain Mission True without a rigorous commitment to Christ’s body – the church.”5
There are many good parachurch organizations, but they must never take the place of the church. Every parachurch organization, if they are true to mission, needs to be accountable to the church. Not just the church “at large” which is hard to define, but local churches with actual addresses and actual people who will ask the right questions and address real concerns. We also need to be diligent and discerning in determining which parachurch organizations really help the church and which ones have become parasites actually hindering the church and her mission.
The best of our time, talent and treasure ought to be devoted to our local church. Not some parachurch organization, even if it’s located in our local community. If you’re giving your best to your local church and then decide above and beyond that you want to serve or help support a parachurch organization, go for it.
The irony of it all is this: if every Christian were actively involved, enthusiastically serving and supporting his or her local church, there wouldn’t be a need for most or even any parachurch organizations.
Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
© 2014. Barry L. Cameron
1 J.C. Derrick, "Management Mania: Christian youth organization struggles to survive financial turmoil," World Vision 2 May 2014: 47.
2 Derrick, 48.
3 Peter Greer and Chris Horst, Mission Drift (Bethany House Publishers: Bloomington, MN, 2014) 168-169.
4 Ken Berger, "America Has More Than a Million Nonprofit Organizations," Ken's Commentary 19 May 2014, 18 June 2014
5 Peter Greer and Chris Horst, Mission Drift (Bethany House Publishers: Bloomington, MN, 2014) 171.
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.