Friday, July 17, 2009

Feeding of the Five Thousand - Part 5

My second point from the Feeding of the Five thousand was:

Jesus called his disciples (the church) to be part of the solution.

I believe that wherever we see a need, the call on the church is to be part of the solution. It's so easy to start to talk our way out of that call. To rationalise and come up with a whole host of reasons why we shouldn't respond to the need. That we're too busy, haven't got enough resources, it's their own fault or it's somebody else's problem. But just take a moment to consider the story of the Good Samaritan, or the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and see how Jesus saw the call to meet the need.

Bill Hybels makes his famous statement that "The local church is the hope of the world", which I believe with a passion. That the local church in Zambia is the hope of Zambia. The local church in Poland (where I'm off to next week) is the hope of Poland. And the local church in the UK is the hope of the UK. Not political parties, not charities, not education, not pressure groups but the local church.

So where does that leave the parachurch, Christians setting up organisations other than the local church to meet needs and further the cause of Christ. I've read articles in the past deeply critical of the parachurch, arguing that they only exist because of the failure of the local church to do its job. I'm sure there are cases where that is true, but I believe there are many places where parachurch plays a vital role, not replacing the local church but equipping it to do its job better. Let me just take two organisations we work with.

First of all Christians Against Poverty. There is no doubt we as a church could set up our own debt counselling service. Finding people in debt, getting details of their debts and then contacting all their creditors to renegotiate the debt repayment. Arranging insolvency hearings for people who are in too much debt and then managing repayment schedules until people are debt free. But that would leave our team spending much of their time on the phone contacting creditors, becoming insolvency experts, managing repayments and a whole host of other tasks, leaving little time to spend building relationship with the clients. How much more sensible to have one national organisation with all that expertise, leaving our team to actually work on seeing lives changed.

Or take Tearfund. We could have tried to work out on our own how to engage with the issue of HIV/AIDS in Zambia. We could have tried to find a group of churches out there to partner with, worked with them to produce a strategy for what we were going to do together, launched and then monitored all aspects of the project including financial accountability and trained and equipped teams of our people to go out there and work alongside the churches. But I'm convinced it would have taken longer, cost more and been far less effective than partnering with an organisation with decades of experience doing exactly this sort of project.

So in my mind parachurch does have a huge part to play. But that part must always be to equip and strengthen the local church to be more effective at what it has been called to do. That's why I love CAP, who only work through the local church, and this year have an incredibly aggressive strategy to open 60 new local church based debt counselling centres in the next year. And why I love Tearfund's Connected Church strategy of being a link between local churches in the UK and local churches in the developing world.

So we'll build the local church with all the energy God gives us, but realise that often the most effective way of meeting the need will be to partner with other people who are already experts at what we're trying to get in to.


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