Outsourcing the Local Church?

Tim Brister —  October 1, 2007 — 32 Comments

This is a question I have been thinking about in the past couple of weeks.  Do you think it is a valid one?

Let me just mention a couple of areas.  Theological education has been outsourced to Baptist colleges and seminaries.  Church planting has been outsourced to denominational entities, namely the North American Mission Board (NAMB).  Biblical counseling has been outsourced to “Christian psychologists” or professional counselors.  Evangelism has been outsourced to vocational evangelists and revivalists.  Benevolence and mercy ministry has been outsourced to parachurch organizations such as World Vision, Compassion International, and Salvation Army.

Should these not be primarily functioning in the local church?  Why have these over the years become so outsourced in the SBC?  Have we lost confidence in the local church?  Am I missing it here?

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32 responses to Outsourcing the Local Church?

  1. I have been thinking the very same things lately. Just last night, I addressed this in part to a question I received in our Fifth Sunday Evening Questions and Answers time. The question dealt with ministry inside the church and ministry outside the church. I tried to tear down this dichotomy. As far as I can tell ministry is what the church does period. My gut is the reason we have so many para-church ministries or whatever you want to call them is because the local church has neglected many of its responsibilities.

    I think local churches should have blood clinics.
    I think local churches should be planting churches, and not agencies.
    I think local churches should have job training ministries.
    I think local churches should have drug/alcohol ministries.

    When enough reformation and revival comes to the church. And when church leaders/dreamers begin to think and plan for these ministries, then perhaps we may put some agencies out of business.

  2. Timmy,

    I think you are right on with this one. The SBC seems so fractured with all of our different agencies. The local church should be doing far more than it does, and the agencies are not helping with this. Quite frankly, the only reason I can see for the SBC to even exist is for international missions. Many of our small SBC churches would have at least some difficulty sending folks overseas. For that reason, I’m glad the IMB does what it does. Apart from that, the local church could and should be doing the rest. We really don’t need NAMB, ERLC, or Lifeway.

    It will take reform from the people in the pews in order for the local church to take back these ministries. I pray that this happens.

    Eric

  3. I’m not convinced it’s a valid question. Think about the people who teach in those seminary classrooms; who train and encourage church planters at the North American Mission Board (by whom I was commissioned as a church planting missionary for seven years); who have pursued specialized training as Christian counselors; who trade a comfortable parish ministry for itinerant evangelism; and who feed the hungry and minister to the marginalized people of the inner city. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the church of the Living God, extensions of Christ’s body: His hands and feet, as it were. In fact, every SBC agency requires its members of staff to be active members of a local church.

    C’mon, guys! Let’s not forget that we’re part of the same team, pursuing the same prize, fulfilling God’s calling to be salt and light in a dark world. How can we even think that these ministries are illegitimate because they do not answer to the elders or deacon board of one local church?

  4. Bill,

    I am afraid you are missing the thrust of my questions. I never argued that they were illegitimate. My point was, “Should not these ministries flow out of the natural functioning of the local church?” Jesus never promised to build a parachuch ministry, denominational entity, or mission agency. He promised to build His church. When these ministries are being outsourced from the local church, I can help but wonder if we have lost confidence in the local church.

    The local church should train their members for ministry.
    The local church should be committed to planting other local churches.
    The local church should make it a priority to meet the needs of their community and around the world.
    The local church should pastorally care for their members and labor for one another’s sanctification.

    Am I wrong for expecting that? Should the local church just send their money and people elsewhere?

  5. Timmy,

    These are good questions.

    I have read many old Biblical Recorder articles and I think that in 1902 there might have been a shift in that Baptist paper away from emphasizing theology to emphasizing institutions. Now, if this did happen and happened in the broader denomination, then I think what we are experiencing now in the SBC might be the ripple effects from that shift.

    I think it would be good for there to be a shift in emphasis away from institutions [although not disregarding them totally] back to local churches in the SBC.

    But I think the only way that can happen is for guys to be willing to plant themselves in local churches for a good while in order to be used by God to make lasting change.

  6. Tim,

    I agree with you whole heartedly. We have shirked our opportunity to reach the world and do outsource, especially along the lines of counseling and evangelism. Perhaps we have created competing institutions out of a pragmatic mindset.

    However, it might be beneficial to draw a distinction between an association of churches working together vs. a separate institution. I guess it would boil down to how do we should define the local church? Would a close knit association of churches (Say within a small town or city) who agree theologically and share a concern for benevolence be outsourcing if they were to work together to combat poverty in their area?

    I am opposed to institutionalizing the work of the church by means of a para-church organization. However, I think there is plenty of precedent for local churches working together across geographical bounds. (for example Acts 15, I Cor. 16, etc…)

    Grace,

    Jonathan

  7. Benji,

    Pastoral permanence is key. Thank you for bringing that up. I think that is something our generation needs to hear. We are often so impatient. I am so impatient. Perhaps impatience is what is also driving folks to planting rather than reforming.

    The purpose of this post was not to diss the SBC entities as irrelevant or illegitimate. However, the SBC is a convention of churches. When I hear people talking about the SBC these days on blogs and elsewhere, the predominant discussion is about SBC superstructure, politics, entities, etc. and not the local church. We can write open letters, draft resolutions, join a committee, and cast our vote, but ultimately the issues that lie before us are ecclesiological and not bureaucratic. Perhaps the starting point to shift from institutions to churches is to change the conversation.

  8. Jonathan,

    Thanks for sharing brother. You bring up a good point. We see various churches contributing to the needs of the saints, such as the churches in Macedonia and Philippi. I guess the issue would lie in whether or not the churches accepted or diverted the responsibility before them. I think associations and church networks are great, so long as the network or association doesn’t turn into a hierarchial structure where we are sending our money and efforts to a third party organization. I think one of the major critiques of 20th century fundamentalism and later neo-evangelicalism is widespread growth of parachurch organizations and curious absence of the local church. Bible colleges, magazines, academic societies, disaster-relief organizations, mission agencies, college/campus ministries, etc. all flourished in the 20th century. And all of these benefited (if I want to sound cynical I would say took advantage of) from local churches.

    So I would say that it is entirely possible for churches to partner together for the sake of the gospel and kingdom enterprises so long as they do not shirk their responsibilities of being the church (and function as the church) and expect other organizations to do the work of the ministry for them.

    But that’s a tough question, one that can be nuanced in different ways. In summary, what I see in Scripture and in the NT examples, the churches trained their own people for ministry (Timothy and “faithful men” 2 Tim. 2:2), cared for the poor (Gal. 2:10), evangelized the lost (Acts 1:8), and planted churches (Acts 14:19-23).

  9. Timmy,

    I know what you are saying. I think the national scene is mainly revolving around one entity–the IMB. It is probably troublesome for many to be pastors, for example, of SBC churches all the while thinking that they [and perhaps people in their churches] could not go though the IMB to do missions.

    And I think that, if I am correct, it is good to keep that in mind when Patterson, Mohler, Burleson, Yarnell, etc. are being talked about in the Blog scene.

    Even if local churches get turned around, if their pastors and/or members are shut out from going through the IMB, then I think that can be discouraging.

    And I think many people are thinking “if we don’t act [i.e., vote, blog, etc.] NOW, then the IMB could be lost forever”.

    I’d love to know your thoughts Timmy.

  10. Benji,

    I think there is a legitimate point to be made that the IMB made a policy that you must adhere to the BF&M2000 when it was written to be on board with the IMB, and that within a couple of years, IMB was making policy decisions beyond the BF&M2000. At one time it was a litmus test; at other times, it was policies made by trustees outside the BF&M2000. So which is it?

    I fear that the whole system has too many political agendas involved. Some do not want Calvinists on the mission field. Others don’t want continuationists. Once political agendas dominate the trustee system, incredulity arises and contempt sets in. I hope that never happens, but I fear for that day. So to a degree, we do need to care about the entities and who is leading/running them. I think that members of churches who are well within the BF&M2000 are shut out because there is a growing polarity between entities and autonomous churches. That’s a tension I don’t think can be resolved, although striving for a consensus and unity among our confession is something that we must work towards. Are the trustees who are making these decisions with the IMB (who are sending out their members) accountable to the churches? If so, to what degree? If not, then why not?

    I am by nature an optimist, but that optimism does not afford me the license to ask the hard questions. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I am willing to work to help find one or two along the way. I don’t know if that is what you are looking for. Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time looking and reading most of the SBC discussion out there, and most of my thoughts are related to ecclesiological matters more than denominational issues. So if I am out in left field with this comment, then there’s my disclaimer!

  11. Timmy,

    No, I don’t think you are out in left field. Thank you for letting me know your thoughts. I think you are one of the most respectable voices out on the internet.

    I don’t want to shift your post topic away from what you have posted to something else. So, let me just say thank you once again for your thoughts.

    God Bless you brother

    Benji

  12. Benji,

    Thank you for your kind comments. I do not mind discussing these issues. It is just that I see our hope in ecclesiological reform more than denominational reform. I hope to speak to both issues and readily admit I have more to learn and listen from others more informed and wise than me. God bless you too, and thanks for the conversation.

  13. I’m not ready to line them all up against the wall and shoot them but I do think we have too many levels of denominational bureaucracy in the SBC. Do we really need a National Convention, All those State Conventions, and over 1000 Association?

    Think about it. We are operating with an organizational structure that was intact in the late 1800′s, and duplicating work through many of them.

    With all our transportation, communication and networking capacity today I’m not sure we need all three denominational levels at least in their current state.

    I think the local Baptist Association is essential and I think the national convention is necessary. Guess which one I think could use some serious downsizing?

    Jim S.

  14. What about seminaries? Shouldn’t the local churches be raising up, teaching and training pastors for ministry? If someone graduates from a seminary in California and gets a pastorate here in Atlanta how does the Atlanta church know the man and that he’s met the biblical qualifications? They don’t know him.

    It also seems that seminary presidents, for example, have become pastors of many. They have a wide reach with much influence. Too much influence? Some would say so. They may or may not be pastors. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think the academy should run the church. That’s what seems to happen to a point when we institutionalize. In some ways it’s a reflection of the local church in that people who have limited biblical understanding are put in places of influence and power on various committees, etc.

    gotta run…
    Mark

  15. johnMark,

    I have heard many leaders in our seminaries say that the seminaries shouldn’t be necessary. What are they doing about it then? If by having seminaries, we are following an unbiblical model, then we need to shut them down. What are we doing to raise up ways in the local churches to train men for ministry. We have a lot of churches and seminary students here in Louisville. We could close the seminary doors and start equipping people at the local churches with the seminary profs. and get our training. But then we wouldn’t have our prestigious offices and titles and salaries.

  16. Jim,

    I am going to write briefly about that redundancy probably on the back end of these posts, probably at the end of the week. Let’s just say for now that I think you are on target.

    johnMark,

    You make a good point, also which I am going to mention in a post on disconnects. More and more seminary professors do not have pastoral experience, have never reformed a church, and do not extend training beyond the textbook. Seminary presidents are entity heads who have assumed leadership roles that would not exist if the seminaries were not there. I am not saying that is either good or bad, but it is fair to argue that seminaries provide a viability and presence that otherwise they would not have.

    Adam,

    First of all, what happened to our Tide this weekend? Where has our offense gone? Oh well. Seminaries are relatively novel in church history, though I do not think they are inherently bad. I think they are a result of the church’s failure to train and educate their ministers in an ecclesiological context, and seminaries/Bible colleges developed as a result. They are serving a good and necessary purpose, but I would argue in a surrogate way. As we are seeing the SBC, seminaries are qualifying men for ministry with sound doctrine and disciplines, but so many have no pastoral experience or know how to address church polity, handle people and problems, etc. These are things that seminaries just can’t teach. They weren’t supposed to teach them. And that is why I am advocating theological education primarily in the local church and working towards that in my Blue Collar Theology series.

  17. I wish I knew what happened to our offense! We are getting worse every week. What’s worse is the enemy (Auburn) beating Tebow the prison preacher. John Parker has been the most consistent quarterback last year and was this year, but the last few weeks he is all over the place. As for seminaries, I am thankful for our seminaries (Southern especially) my point was simply that we shouldn’t make extreme statements and not live out actions to correct the problem. If seminary leaders really think that seminaries shouldn’t have to exist, but that churches should train up ministers, they should leave their posts and plant biblical churches that do the job!

    Alabama 3 , Houston 37

  18. Adam,

    Right on, except for the prediction!

    Dr. Mohler made the request and appeal that pastors put him out of a job by teaching and training God’s people in local churches. I don’t think I will every forget that. I for one am wanting to take him up on that challenge. ;)

  19. Timmy,

    I fully understood your question, but you did ask, “Do you think it is a valid one?”
    And my response is, “No, I don’t think so.”

    Where is it written that every ministry should somehow “flow out of the natural functioning of the local church” as you put it? My point (which I think you missed) is that collectively, WE (every single believer who serves the Lord Jesus whether in a local church or parachurch ministry or outside both of them) are the Church! The verses about despising certain parts of the body come to mind here.

    My objection to your post is simple. I’ve heard these same sentiments repeated almost parrot-like for decades—often expressed by frustrated pastors of small dying churches—and their colleagues simply nod their head in agreement as if it came straight out of one of Paul’s epistles. I just hate to hear these same rumblings coming from a bunch of young guys who are just starting out, because it could quickly fester into a root of bitterness.

    You also stated in your response to my comment, “Jesus never promised to build a parachuch ministry, denominational entity, or mission agency. He promised to build His church.” From my perspective, those ministries, agencies, and entities are part of what Jesus promised to build. Obviously, you don’t think so and that saddens me. I hope you reconsider the implications of what you and your friends are saying.

  20. Bill,

    I did not realize that believing in the local church as the place where ministry should function was so narrow. I guess the only question I have is whether you believe in the church universal and local. It appears that you hold to the idea of a universal church (invisible) and a low view of the church local (visible). I think that’s where our differences lie.

    Your projection on me does bring me concern because you couch your argument that I am young, immature, and ignorant, and you are wise, mature, and experienced. While I don’t doubt that you are, I think you are dismissing what I am attempting to say on arbitrary grounds. I readily confess that I have a lot to learn, especially about loving Christ’s Bride, and I look forward to how God is going to teach me through men young and old to be a servant of Christ and faithful member of His body.

  21. Timmy,

    Actually, it’s one of the most narrow-minded viewpoints within fundamentalism. Sorry, brother. If the shoe fits….

    As I said, I’ve heard statements like yours all my life, but when I look at the biblical pattern I see only two legitimate expressions of Christ’s body: (1) the entire Christian community in any locality, such as a city, or town, or village, and (2) the entire Christian community without reference to locality. The first I would be willing to call “the local church” and the second “the church universal.”

    There is a biblical basis for cooperation, which is the foundation (and some would say “genius”) of the SBC. Paul collected money from one group of believers and shared it with those in a different region who desperately needed such support. Not exactly the same thing as the Cooperative Program, but the principle is there.

    By the way, if you want to duck the issues I’ve raised and accuse me of “projecting” on you, that’s fine (it’s your blog), but I did not say that you were immature and ignorant. Just wanted to clear that up. I value your contribution to the kingdom and, for the most part, I agree with much of what you write.

    Blessings,
    Bill

  22. So that if I understand Bill Lollar correctly, he would not view the local SBC congregation as “the local church”, or any other individual congregation in a given locality, but only the totality of the Christians in a given locality.

    Thus the Christian counsellor in Huddlesfield would be part of the local church of Huddlesfield, whether he attended or were a member of First Baptist of Huddlesfield or Huddlesfield Redeemer Lutheran or Huddlesfield Community Church (for example), and sending troubled people to him would not constitute “outsourcing” because he is IN.

    Similarly the homeless shelter operated by Christians from any congregation(s) in Huddlesfield would be a ministry of the local church in Huddlesfield rather than an example of outsourcing.

    That would come very close to “that they may be one as the Father and I are one” …

  23. Finally, someone understands what I’m trying to say. Thanks Wolf Paul!

    And if a huge number of believers from around the world decide to pool their resources to feed the hungry through World Vision, or show mercy to the untouchables through Leprosy Mission, then the hands and feet of Christ are on display to the world.

  24. Dear in the Lord,

    I am Pastor Emmanuel Osei from Ghana. I have a mission to spread the word of God to the needy,orphans,the deprive in the society so as to get them well grounded with the word of God.To provide them with food,clothes, shelter, health, and educational supports.

    I would want to join with your outfit so that the vision the Lord have given me would be fulfilled here in Ghana and plant churches, evangelize,plant schools, open prayer centers.Hoping to receiving a favorable response from your outfit. (Matthew 25:31-44)

    http://www.offei.zoomshare.com

    P.O.Box 629.Ashaiman.Ghana

    Phone:0233-285046422
    DeleteReplyForwardSpamMove…

  25. John Taylor is falsely accused by modern Baptist historians of being the Anti-Missions “anti-Christ” among frontier Baptists in the early 1800′s. The man was a missionary and supported missions, but he just didn’t think much of the new societies that were springing up. He said of the entire missions movement and specifically the promoters of that movement, that the big problem was we would never be able to send them enough money.

    In a sense he was right. There are always solicitations by well meaning and good people everywhere that must be refused by Local Churches simply because we don’t have unlimited resources.

    Therefore each Church must under the leadership of the Holy Spirit determine where they will use the financial resources they have been blessed with.

    Southern Baptists have a great system in the CP. Unfortunately the great men who started the Cooperative Program left out the Local Baptist Association when it came to the funding formula.

    What my Church and the Churches of my association are rediscovering is that the Local Baptist Churches in our Association make up the best “feet on the ground” missions team we know of anywhere and we are putting our money where our hearts are. My church for example sends 5% of its undesignated receipts to the local Baptist Association and 5% to the Cooperative Program.

    We are seeing unprecedented growth in Missions activity and Missions interest in the churches of our association.

    Last night in my church’s business meeting – most of our discussion centered around Mission opportunities that our church wanted to participate in with other churches in our association. The end result will be more missions involvement by the local churches and more missions giving which will in time increase our giving to the Cooperative Program.

  26. Wolf Paul, Your idea or really Bill’s, brings many questions to my mind. Are you saying there is no local church per se but only the universal church?

  27. Ken,

    Oh, no! The local church exists in every village, town, and city (where the power of the Gospel has borne fruit in the lives of residents), but in the writings of Paul there is only ONE church in each locale (i.e., the church in Corinth, the church in Philippi, the church in Jerusalem). While there would have been multiple households in a city the size of Corinth, the collective sum of those household congregations would have been called “the church in Corinth.” That’s how I believe God sees “the local church.”

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