Neil Cole’s new book Organic Leadership is insightful, provocative, and prophetic. The first section of the book points out the weeds growing in the soil of the American church. One particular weed is the parasitical effect of parachurch ministries. To be sure, Cole does not view all parachurch organizations as an impediment to the church; however, he prophetically points out how the parachurch has assumed the role and mission of the church leaving her weak and anemic. Consider these areas of capitulation:
- Her leadership development has been assumed by colleges, seminaries, and Bible institutes.
- Her compassion and social justice have been given over to nonprofit charitable organizations.
- Her global mission has been relinquished to mission agencies.
- Church government and decision making have often been forfeited to denominational offices.
- Her prophetic voice has been replaced by publishing houses, self-help gurus, and futurist authors.
- Her emotional and spiritual health has been taken over by psychologists, psychiatrists, and family counseling services.
The Anemic Church
Now, before you react let this settle. Detect the truth in these statements. Where can your church recover certain elements, perhaps not in totality but in measure? Cole is not sweeping all parachurches aside. Rather, he is pointing out the professionalization and specialization of the church into ministries that have left the church anemic. We have capitulated to this fragmentation of the church. Cole notes:
The world today looks at the church wondering what relevance she has. The only use they see for the church is performing the sacerdotal duties of preaching, marrying, burying, baptizing, and passing around wafers and grape juice. The church was once a catalyst for artistic expression, social change, and the founding of hospitals, schools, and missionary enterprise, but today she has settled for providing a one-hour-a-week worship concert, an offering place, and a sermon. (116)
Ralph Winter: Sodality and Modality
Cole is careful to note the distinctions made by Ralph Winter regarding sodalities and modalities. Winter’s helpful article emphasizes the more apostolic, missionary nature of certain entities like Paul’s roving, planting, missionary bands. These are sodalities. These sodalities don’t do everything that the church is responsible for, instead they specialize. Modalities, on the other hand, are a little more static though missional and are churches. The church is a modality because it is given the responsibility to do everything that God has commanded us to do (feed the poor, disciple, translate the bible, etc.). A church is modality and parachurch sodality. Sodalities can weaken or strengthen churches.
Cole affirms the need for both modalities and sodalities but contests these distinctions as a point of division between church and parachurch. He writes: “both modality and sodality are part of God’s redemptive purpose. Both are the church in the eyes of Paul. I do no think he saw himself as at all separate from the church…” (122).
What do you think? Where has your church capitulated to the parasitical parachurch? Is there a way forward? And what of the modality sodality distinction? Are both mission agencies and local churches together the church? Much more could be said on these matters.