Going Parachurch 4: Wrap up
In this series I’ve highlighted that mission doesn’t need to be hinged to a denomination, yet missionaries will seek connections in terms of the capital-C Church, the organic Body.
Am I just being anti-institutional? On the one hand, yes. Working within institutions has never sat well with me. However, I hope I’ve grappled with more than simply my own preferences! As I’ve explored in this series, I do not believe mission and ministry needs to be institutional — and I believe ministry trainers need to speak out about this reality. On the other hand, however, I’m quite happy with the presence of institutions. After all, institutions develop just as organically as movements — even in mission. In order for a missionary movement to endure, it must organise, which immediately makes it institutional — and my own connections, CMS and IFES, are prime examples of this. The thing is, I’m not concerned so much about escaping institutions as working out whether my institutions need to be denominations. My parachurch organisations are themselves institutions but the point is that, as a missionary, I do not necessarily need denominations. Needless to say, missions organisations can be just as prone to being anti-missional as any denominational institution!
Am I really off the hook with ordination? Well, as a missionary, I view denominations and their structures as ministry networks much like any other. What matters is connection with the organic Body. What I believe I require, then, is ‘ordination’ (appointment) by the right people — who may or may not be denominational. As a missionary, my appointers will be diverse, including all my senders, supporters and partners, such as my mission organisation (CMS), my base churches and friends. Those are my Body connections, so my ministry accountability is to them. It may be appropriate for a denomination to be included in my appointers — but if so, the shape of that ordination will depend on what I’m doing. When my work takes me outside the orbit of a denomination, I must be unhinged from the denomination. When my work happens within the bounds of a denomination, I will place myself under denominational terms.
Here, the shape of Martin Garner’s own ministry is helpful. In terms of his paid weekly pattern,
- One day: Garner ‘tent-makes’ by writing ornithology articles for natural history journals.
- Three days: Garner is paid by Free Spirit, the missionary trust he established, which equips missionaries and develops mission methodology and materials. All his work for Free Spirit proceeds in communication with local churches.
- One day: Garner is paid by his own local church, for which he does occasional preaching and mission training. Within this work with his local church, Garner makes himself accountable to its senior pastor, but Garner does not report to staff meetings, instead consulting with the church’s strategy team. Outside these local church boundaries, Garner makes himself accountable to the Free Spirit trustees, his friends and other Christian leaders. His own local church ‘is more of a friendship/peer relationship than an employer’.