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All rights reserved by Jonathan Wolpert
All rights reserved by Jonathan Wolpert

Targeting Youth Parachurch Threats: Relearning How To Love Your Neighbor And Enemies

* Post inspired by the Holy Spirit, Lars Rood, and Nate Stratman

*  When I use the term youth parachurch organization, I am referring to organizations such as: Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Youth for Christ.

My argument: Youth parachurch organizations can be huge assets to youth ministries across the globe.

Problem: Many youth pastors don’t want anything to do with parachurch organizations because:

1)  They “steal” students from the church youth group.

2)  They don’t assimilate students back into the church body.

3)  They don’t concentrate on discipleship.

4)  Youth pastors have too many responsibilities within the church and wear too many hats as it is, and they don’t have the time to cultivate additional outside partnerships.

5) Parachurch communicators are not proclaiming the Gospel.  Read more here if you are curious about how and why Young Life got in trouble for not preaching the Gospel.

6) Youth pastors feel they need to focus on the students in their own church context before going beyond.

–>  I am going to show my cards…I love youth parachurch organizations.  One of my youth ministry mentors loves and worked in Young Life.  Also, I have had great success working with both FCA and Young Life.  In my experience, I love parachurch leaders because they are functioning like real world missionaries reaching lost kids. Here is my rationale for why parachurch leaders rock:

Parachurch leaders know and pursue evangelism like it is going out of style.  Unfortunately church youth ministries have deeply failed to embrace and do evangelism effectively in a postmodern context.  Parachurch leaders have a firm focus on strategies in youth outreach, a solid theological understanding of incarnational outreach, how to appropriately talk about Jesus without looking like a cultural irrelevant freak, and do inside/out evangelism very effectively.

–  The parachurch leader knows how to fund raise and raise support.  The longevity a leader’s parachurch youth ministry efforts is determined by the success of fund raising efforts.  There is a huge urgency to raise financial support. Having to fund raise gives a ministry leader a new appreciation, focus, and mission for why they are doing what they are doing.  There is no messing around if you are having to provide the $ for your ministry – it is all business.  The parachurch leaders that I met with were always intense, focused, and on mission because they knew time and money was limited.  Therefore, they needed maximum results in a minimal amount of time.

Youth pastors can learn a lot from youth parachurch leaders and vice versa. What youth pastors need to remember when a parachurch organization comes into the community:

–  Youth parachurch organizations are the founding fathers of youth ministry.  Respect your youth ministry roots and history.  Learn more about the history of youth ministry by clicking here.

–  Do youth ministry with an urgency and with no complacency.  I have found that  major difference between a paid church youth pastor and a self funded parachurch ministry leader is that the youth pastor may be more prone to complacency.

–  Observe and assess on how parachurch organizations effectively reach the school campus for Jesus.  Last year, I was talking with a big wig for Youth for Christ and I told him I spend a lot of time on the school campus and he was surprised.  He said it is highly unlikely for a paid church youth pastor to spend x amount of hours on school campuses.  Why is that?  Every youth pastor should be a regular visible presence on the school campuses he/she serves (establish connections with school administrators and get permission, of course!).  You may be surprised to find (as I was), that school personnel will even call you directly when there are issues on campus, even if your students are not involved.

I think paid church youth pastors can learn a thing about raising finances for a self-supported ministry.  Youth pastors cannot always rely on the church to fund the ministry vision, mission, and goals.

Parachurch ministry leaders don’t know how to assimilate kids into your church because they don’t know that you or your church exists.  It is your job to connect with these organizations to ensure that students have a landing pad and are not left standing alone without a clue what to do with faith.  It is even better if the parachurch leader attends your church.

–  Your students may need a parachurch ministry that meets them where they are at.  Church youth group may not necessarily be the best fit for every student you come across.  Nate Stratman stated it best:  What is best for each student as far as long term spiritual formation is concerned, and how can the church and YL (parachurch) play formative roles in that process?

–  Youth pastors need to know students who attend their church are not prized possessions. They are special, important, and deserving of our time and energy, but they are not “ours.”  They belong to the Lord.  We have to learn to trust Him with them!

–  Students need more trusted adults in their life.  Research proves that students with healthy adult influences (beyond their parents) grow into healthier adults than their counterparts.

________________________

What is your experience with parachurch organizations?

Do you have local parachurch ministries alive and thriving in your community?

What is your relationship with them?

How can we better love our parachurch friends, and partner with them to advance the Kingdom?

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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10 comments

  1. I was not happy with that first post that came with Lars blog. I had a long comment that I ended up retracting. I understood the intent but loathe reading comments form people who have never participated in a YL club or camp. If your only experience is thru the filter of the students in your group you’re missing the big picture. To think of YL as stealing kids is a disservice to the Kingdom. It’s also man centered thinking. It conveys that kids can only be cared for under an organized body. Big C church not little c. Build the Kingdom everywhere. Jesus is populating Heaven with new citizens everyday. I pray for youth ministry and YL.

  2. I agree with everything you have said about parachurch organizations. And yet…

    All the stereotypes from the first part of the post have been a staple of them in my experience. If you know me, you know that I am the least territorial guy in youth ministry. As long as a teenager is getting what he needs, I don’t care where they go. Having said that, I worked at a church that was over 60% parachurch, professional Christians. The reality of that experience was that as much as this organization said it wasn’t trying to replace the church or target kids who were already happily involved in the local church, that is exactly what they did, shamelessly. Again, I didn’t mind, if they were getting what they needed. Few were. I have yet to have a good experience with one.

    I know that I have just drawn a line in the sand, but there is so much being said, I just needed to provide a bit of balance. I think there are some wonderful, helpful parachurch ministries out there. Just like churches get the blame for the churches that have harmful practices, so do the para-church ministries. Not all are like my experiences (for some reason I attract weird situations), however, I think there is a very present battle that goes with adding para to church.

    • So good.

      My hunch is: the kids will most likely gratitude towards the parachurch guys/gals because they are more edgier and untraditional? Were these folks every confronted and called out?
      How did the parents of the students feel about their students attending events that were not “church” sanctioned?
      I have heard a few young lifers talk about locating the cool and popular kids and using them to recruit other students. However adolescent popularity contests has greatly changed so only going after the popular kids is a bit more spread out and affinity based.

      • Jeremy, there is so much I could say. One of the staff of the para-church ministry went to our church and was great having a high ecclesiology. She was older and less edgy (did I mention GREAT?). I talked with all of the staff as they came through at breakfast meetings that we hosted with them and partnered with them in.

        Their side: They needed student leaders to make their ministry work and supplied them from local churches. Yes, their culture very much taught that they should target “cool” kids and let them lead evangelism. I understand their need.

        My side: I had several times when I was meeting with my youth leaders in public places when a leader from the para-church ministry would use that as an opportunity to “evangelize” kids I was meeting with.

        Parents were mostly ok with it (and even put pressure on) because they worked for this org. Several attempts were made to partner on events but that didn’t work out. I hate to confess this, but I began to really nurse some bitterness about some of the people there. It wasn’t one of my finer moments.

        All in all, I still love working with other churches and para-church ministries. Together we can do more than separately. I am hopeful that in the future, churches and para-church leaders will have to start working together as they are hard pressed to staff and pay for ministry.

        One story: After about two years at this church, several of my student leaders started complaining about this para-church meeting. They were unhappy about the depth and commitment for their continued growth. It was a great moment for me to affirm the calling of this ministry. I told them that they shouldn’t be grumbling against them because they are only doing what their mission says. The ministry was very upfront about it’s call to evangelism and using student leaders. It felt great to affirm this ministry and the leaders there, when I had been praying about my own bitterness towards them. As always, God has a great sense of irony especially in timing.

  3. Interesting conversation. I have yet to be in a context that a para-church youth ministry organization has had a meaningful contemporary ministry. I am currently in the Kansas City area and Youthfront has a meaningful ministry throughout most of the metro but not in my corner. So I wonder how much the para-church church tension is experienced in youth ministry?

    In one community (rural) that didn’t have any meaningful connection with a para-church youth ministry organization, I found that church based youth ministries were more student led (8 out of 10 churches in the network) and “edgier.” So I wonder in the absence of a para-church youth ministry organization if something organically happens to church based youth ministries to gravitate toward being like a para-church ym organization?

    Just some wonderings from a guy on the edges of the conversation:)

    • I like your question — I wonder in the absence of a para-church youth ministry organization if something organically happens to church based youth ministries to gravitate toward being like a para-church ym organization?

      I would say church based youth ministry probably control the youth ministry market within the community, which forces students to step up to be the primary evangelism. I may have to look into this assertion, because you got me thinking……..
      In fact… I wonder if parachurch organizations will be around in 10 years?

  4. i realized much of my angst about para-church youth ministry was mostly my own insecurity. there are thousands of students in my context and i was all messed up because one or two students found young life to be a better fit than the ministry i was leading.

    once i got my head out of my butt and realized that god has given all of us different passions and different calls, and my view and model of ministry wasn’t the only proper way of doing ministry, i was able to see all the great things god was doing in and through our local young life.

    and over the past year, the young life director and i have become friends and even partnered in ministry. and this collegial partnership has benefitted both of our ministries.

  5. I have been a part of a parachurch organization for 22 years. This organization has been around for more than 60 years, Word of Life. In my years I have had the attitude that “we are better than them” and seen the attitude of “we don’t need you” as well. Both attitudes do not help us in the calling we all have to make disciples. As a part of the Local Church branch of WOL our purpose is to come along side local churches and assist them in evangelizing and discipling students. My best friends in the world are youth pastors and from these men I have gained much that has balanced me. I have also had the opportunity to help them in their ministry. It is my great joy to help local churches reach and disciple students and I can say that is the passion of our staff across the globe.

  6. I have my critiques of para-church groups but I do not mean to say that they are true of all Para-church groups. These critiques are only true for my experiences across 15 years and 3 states. So there are many for whom i cannot speak at all.

    When i have talked with leaders of para-church leaders they emphasized evangelism and I believe evangelism is a good thing for the Church. But when they have said evangelism they described it as talking about Jesus. They want kids to say they are Christians and then talk their friends into doing likewise. And so they talk alot about practicing a testimony. and having the right language to speak about their faith. As a Youth pastor, i want the kids i work with to evangelize with their whole bodies, not just their mouths. I want them to be friends with the smelly weird kids. I want them to stick up for gay and lesbian students. I want them to offer rides to uncool middle school students. I want their life to be a testimony, I don’t see evangelism as language i see it as a lifestyle.

    I also note that in my experience Para church groups have a very conservative/fundamentalist leaning. If thats how they want to be great. I hear from them that they want to be a place where there is no denomination where its just the Gospel. I think they are kidding themselves, because even atheists have a theology, and so does my church. so does FCA and Young Life and Chriysalis. We all have a theology and theirs tends to run more conservative than my church, and in truth that makes dealing with them some what difficult.

    Thirdly, I feel like para-church people have quit on the Church. Why aren’t they doing this ministry through the church they attend? I feel like para-church groups have said we can reach kids way better if we leave the church behind. Instead, I wish they would come into my(their) church and struggle alongside me to help churches see how to reach the younger generations. Instead they say we will branch out on our own. I know my church has flaws, but i stick by it because it is the Church, and i want it to be better. Leaving it behind, so i can do it my way only helps me, not them.

    That is my relationship with the para-church. It is not great. It is not all their fault, i have my hang-ups, too.

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