A few weeks ago we had the unique opportunity to listen to three of Spokane’s ministry All-Stars talk about their organizations and their work in the Spokane area. It was amazing to hear about their heart for the people of this city and how they were living out the missional call of Christ.
During the Q and A session at the end of class, a question was raised about how these ministries plug the people they serve into churches in their communities. A fair question, and one I was glad was asked because I was wondering the same thing. The answer, however, was not anything like I thought. I just assumed that we would get an answer like, “well, we’re not a church, and we don’t want them to mistake us as a church, so we have built relationships with local churches so we can plug them into a church community.” But I didn’t get that answer. Instead all three kind of paused with furrowed brows. All three answered that they don’t actively try to plug people into churches and that their ministries have actually become church communities in a way for the people they serve. Furthermore, all three of our guests were unapologetic about this fact.
This blew my mind. I’m not employing hyperbole, I was actually shocked. For as long as I’ve been serving in youth ministry, I have been under the understanding that Younglife (or any other para-church organization) should never become a kid’s church. I have always seen Younglife as a tool to eventually get kids into a church, never as an end in itself.
This made me rethink how I perceived the para-church organization. If church is the body of Christ in fellowship with one another and God, wouldn’t Younglife and other para-church organizations fit the criteria? I have quite a few kids for whom Younglife is their “church.” Younglife gives them a community of believers, a support structure for their spiritual and regular life, and they say that Monday nights at club are when they feel the closest to God. Is it possible that instead of a steeple on Sunday morning, these kids are experiencing “church” on a Monday night in a hot and loud back family room? These kids would never feel comfortable in a church full of strangers, so why would I try and push them into one? I haven’t made my mind up on the issue, but I am overjoyed that my kids feel like they are part of a vibrant community where they can feel safe and experience God in brand new ways. I guess I would say that sounds an awful lot like church... just on a Monday night.
Question: Is it okay for a para-church to become someone’s church?