Eddie Arthur has engendered a conversation that I hope others take part of. The posts in question:
- 5 Questions we would rather not answer (Eddie)
- Answering 5 Questions (me)
- There are too many mission agencies (Eddie)
- There are too many mission agencies–maybe (me)
- Should YWAM exist? (Lynn Green)
- Should Wycliffe Bible Translators exist? (Eddie)
- Should ActBeyond exist? (this post, me)
Lynn argues that YWAM should exist partly because there have always been two strands of the church – settled and missional – and since there is a place for missional structures, there is a place for YWAM. Eddie argues Wycliffe should exist because it supports the church in the trask of translation, and should only exist so long as it does that well.
So, what’s my reasoning for why Beyond should exist?
I reasonate somewhat with Lynn, but I go in a slightly different direction.
I think that the dichotomy between “settled” and “missional” is a little arbitrary, just as the dichotomy between “sodality” and “modality” is. And if we see that line as very “black and white,” we will rapidly fall into the trap of thinking one organization form is “the church” and the other is “the servant of the church.“
Church, of course, is simply ekklesia. This is the word used throughout Scripture. It means assembly, congregation, the body of believers. We make a pretty big mental error when we equate “church” with something other than a group of believers (see “Church” for some of the ways we do this without even thinking).
Jesus seems to make clear any gathering of believers is a body, an ekklesia (Matthew 18:20). Is a parachurch agency, then, a church? Is a business, a church? Is a government, a church? We flinch at that, I know. But how about this: is a parachurch agency, an ekklesia? Is it a gathering of believers?
We might ask the question, what does a particular parachurch agency do? Or, more specifically, what does a particular strategy team do? The strategy teams with Beyond regularly meet together for fellowship. We bring words of encouragement for each other, and sing songs. We teach and reprove and confess and hold each other accountable. Often (especially at Worldwide Conference, but also in smaller meetings) we have communion. Strategy teams baptize new believers (we’ve never had a baptism at a major conference, but that’s not to say it can’t happen). I’m not sure about the whole marry-and-bury thing – there are civil, legal issues there too – but you get where I’m going.
Christian-run businesses can do these things, too, and some do. Do governments? Ehh.
So, my thinking about whether Beyond or Wycliffe or etc. should exist is trending this way: it may be incorrect to argue that an agency should exist to serve the church if we think that an agency is a church. It is literally a gathering of believers – how is this not an ekklesia?
Now, there are tensions: because different kinds of churches (different churches, different traditions, and yes, agencies vs “churches” in the modern traditional sense) “compete” for members, dollars, etc. But this competition is something to be addressed in how believers ought to interact with each other, not on the basis of the right of one ekklesia to exist and not another.
An agency is just an ekklesia with a bit of a different organizational style, focus of ministry, and mobility. There aren’t two separate strands, but simply two functional ways of operating (just as different churches have different ways of operating – some in buildings, some in houses, some in coffee shops, some in tents, etc). An agency deserves to exist because ekklesias deserve to exist, because Christ has called us to join together as a body, to obey him in the purpose he has called us to.
Standard disclaimer: As always, this blog represents “rough draft thoughts.” I welcome comments and further discussion. Eddie & others sharpen my thinking on this and many other topics. I am a member of Beyond, but my thoughts in this matter do not represent the views of that community or the others in it, nor any kind of formal policy or statement.