The concept of the parachurch ministry was unknown to the first century church and is therefore not mentioned in Scripture. The definition of a Christian parachurch ministry is “a Christian faith-based organization which carries out its mission usually independent of church oversight.” The prefix para- is Greek for “beside” or “alongside.” Therefore, the parachurch ministry is one that seeks to come alongside the local church, providing in many cases that which the church is less able to provide on its own.
Most parachurch ministries are centered on one special area of need within the local church or the worldwide church, such as family, military, publishing, education, missionary support, prison outreach, medical, communications, and transportation. These organizations can be small and local or vast and worldwide in scope. Some are staffed by a small group of volunteers while others have hundreds of paid employees. Some have small budgets and rely on volunteer giving; others have whole departments dedicated primarily to fund-raising and advertising.
As with most things, there are both pros and cons to parachurch ministries. On the pro side, parachurch ministries can accomplish some things the local church simply can’t. Considering that the average local church has 100 or fewer members, it’s easy to see how each individual church can’t possibly do everything the parachurch ministries as a whole can do. For example, Christian publishers provide access to the great writers and preachers of the past—Edwards, Spurgeon, Bunyan—in a unique way, making the vast store of wisdom from these great men of the faith available to believers everywhere. No local church, no matter how large, can duplicate the efforts of a publishing company in this regard. Before the advent of the internet, the only access we had to these great writers was through the Christian publishers. In addition, parachurch ministries that send the gospel message throughout the world via radio and the internet can reach areas that are inaccessible to church missionaries, including the closed Communist and Islamic countries.
On the negative side is what was stated above in the definition: parachurch ministries are usually independent of church oversight. These organizations don’t have the same structure as the local church, which is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The local church is God’s plan for the building up of the saints to do the work of the ministry, and He has gifted believers to accomplish that goal (Ephesians 4:11-12). He has also designed for the church a structure that includes godly leadership who oversee the members, feeding them spiritual truth, ensuring that they are built up in the faith, and protecting them from false teachers and doctrine. There is no such structure in a parachurch ministry. In fact, in some of the larger ministries, workers come from all branches of Christianity and all denominations, which can lead to a tendency to water down the message to the lowest level of agreement among the ministry leadership. While most parachurch ministries have some sort of board of directors that establish and oversee the direction of the ministry, these most often follow business models, not the biblical model for church leadership and accountability.
So, while the Bible doesn’t speak to the issue of parachurch ministries, they do exist. As such, biblical principles can and should be applied in all areas of the ministry, most especially to financial accountability and adherence to biblical doctrine.