In the recent CT article entitled, “The Tiger in the Academy” Asian American Christian Fellowships sound like the necessary ingredient in the strategy to bring more Asian Americans into the fold of Christianity, and while the impact of parachurch organizations like Intervarsity, Campus Crusade, and the Navigators can’t be denied, I think there is a tension between parachurch and church. You may not think so, because well, it’s simply not discussed in either place, but as with many relationships, you can’t discern whether or not something is a sore subject by its absence in conversation.
Many parents see a good university education as the fruit of a strong youth ministry; One that teaches temperance, self-control, discipline, sacrificing today for tomorrow…all those sorts of good “Christian” teachings. However, what is a reality to many youth groups is that this type of support often doesn’t always translate into strong college ministries. In fact, many college students stray a bit, begin to ask questions not “safe” to the youth group, perhaps delve deeper into academic study and testing the “grace” of church friendships and loyalties. In the case that they don’t leave the faith altogether, there is always the possibility that they begin to participate in parachurch organizations like the ones mentioned above. I want to submit that the draw to such an organization is much stronger when there is an absence of a strong local Asian American church OR there is a plethora of Asian American churches that do not have a strategic goal and appear as organized as ethnic-specific arms of Intervarsity or Campus Crusade.
For this reason, parachurch groups are seen in one of at least two lights by the Asian American church. To some churches without resources for college students or perhaps have some sort of barrier to student involvement (travel, staff, etc.), the parachurch is seen as parachute. In other words, thank God that someone else is there to take care of the college students. They may have the perspective that it is good to have other laborers in the field.
Another view of the parachurch is parasite. This is when churches feel that parachurches take the cream of the crop of churches away from the local church body and then goes even a step further. The insult upon injury comes when parachurch groups ask the church body to support their students to go on parachurch mission trips, retreats, outreaches, or even careers for the parachurch.
While they each contribute to the spiritual formation of a particular college student, it is not always easily defined as to which party gets the better end of the deal. Many times, parachurch groups provide opportunities that the students never had before and can provide better forums for discussion in the campus setting. The church however is a place where college students can interact with the larger community of believers and here also they have a place where they can contribute and be invested in as well.
I had a young college-aged friend very troubled by the tension when he was trying to be faithful to both his local Asian American Christian Fellowship and his church college group. I could see how both of them together demanded a great deal of him and perhaps led to some burn-out and disenchantment. There was a point where he stopped and asked me, “What’s the difference between the parachurch and the church?”
We had been talking about how the body of Christ doesn’t often work together, even working against different parts of the body all in the name of Jesus. I could only respond to him, “Ideally, nothing. There shouldn’t be a difference.”
But there is…and just as with interpersonal relationships, just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem.