I have been preaching through the Book of Acts on Sunday mornings. It has been a blessing for me for all the reasons it is usually a blessing to be engaged weekly in sermon preparation and preaching to God’s people. One of the characteristic features of the Book of Acts is the blessed redundancy that characterizes Luke’s account of the earliest days of the church. That is, page after page, chapter after chapter the church is described going about what Jesus commissioned her to do. It is almost as if Luke is using the repeated examples of the church’s stewardship of the great commission to suggest that it is the unique calling of the church to make disciples of all the nations. And for all of man’s efforts to find more appealing organizations for the cause than the messy church, the Lord of the church has never rescinded his original commission.
I am thankful that The Gospel Coalition recently posted an article reminding everyone that the church is more important than TGC for indeed it is. The church matters more in God’s economy than any parachurch organization. That is not to say that parachurch organizations are wrong. I cannot think of any reason to suggest that the parachurch is fundamentally wrong. Surely we can all think of ways that some parachurch ministries have been a definite win for the church.
But I am also persuaded that for a parachurch ministry to be healthy and helpful it must understand its place. And since the parachurch is not an abstract entity but an organization of people, it is the people who lead the parachurch who must understand the place of their ministry. Those who run the parachurch must be on guard for runaway ambitions and the sneaking suspicion that they are somehow going to fix all that is wrong with the church. Knowing a few things about my own heart, I imagine that it is quite easy for those running a parachurch ministry to see themselves as outside or even over the church rather than submissively serving her.
I understand the pressure. It is exceedingly difficult to reign in one’s ambitions. The more employees an organization has and the more programs it launches the more money is needed to sustain the whole thing. So where does it go for money? To the membership of local churches, of course. The same local churches which often must live, financially speaking, from month-to-month. The same local churches which cannot afford to give their pastor a raise after years of service. The same local churches which simply cannot compete with slick and compelling media appeals from unaccountable organizations which promise to “reach the world.”
And if you think I am exaggerating the problem, if you think that church members will not reduce their support to their church in order to give to something with the power and promise of big evangelicalism then I would suggest you are being naïve.
Don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that it is wrong for a parachurch ministry to solicit donations. But with enormous ambitions come enormous budgets. And with enormous budgets come powerful appeals. And many local churches simply cannot compete with the grand claims made by some parachurch ministries. And personally, I have never seen grander claims than those coming from The Gospel Coalition.
I am not suggesting that TGC does not do good work. I have written before that I have benefitted from some of the work of TGC and I hold many of its board members in high regard. But I repeat my observation that TGC seems to be more of a denomination than simply a parachurch ministry. I have no idea to whom they are accountable. And this is a serious issue. What is the controlling authority at TGC? Who is looking over their shoulder? It is not a church or denomination.
Therefore, it leaves me feeling rather sad that TGC would so aggressively seek donations
from men and women whose churches do not have wealthy people to issue impressive matching challenges. Pastors of local churches must constantly walk a fine line between calling church members to give faithfully and turning them off for “talking too much about money.” These local churches do not have a Director of Development on their payroll. They don’t have individuals committed to multi-year endowments. But it is nevertheless to these churches that our Lord has entrusted his great commission. It is true that the vast majority of churches cannot afford dope websites and world-class conferences with tens of thousands of dollars worth of stagecraft. But the local church is still the pillar and ground of the truth, the steward of the oracles of God, and the means God has appointed to reach the world.
As far as I know my own heart I am not disgruntled about anything. But I am troubled. I am troubled by the fact that TGC is calling for the church to join them as they do what God has commissioned the church to do. I am troubled by what I see as a lack of transparency. I am troubled by what looks like runaway ambition. I am troubled by the fact that there has yet to be any explanation or apology from TGC for the several major blunders that, at best, sowed confusion among churches. I know I probably appear to some as being an annoying fly in the ointment. Who am I to question an organization that is doing so much good? Who am I to question such well known godly men? Good questions for sure. I’m small potatoes after all (I mean that). But given the size and ambitions of TGC; given their rather cloudy accountability I believe it is vital that there be pastors who are willing to ask some questions and offer pushback at times. So there will probably be more to come.
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