I was recently pointed to (a fairly lengthy) article on the relationship between the local church and the parachurch, particularly in connection with ministry to College Students.
The article is published on the UCCF (Universities & Colleges Christian Fellowship - the British sister to Inter Varsity here). I understand it to be written by Mike Reeves, though I have heard this from a friend - it is officially anonymous.
It lays out the spectrum of approaches to church / parachurch relationship. At one end is the idea that CUs (Christian Unions - i.e. Campus ministries) are not churches, and therefore not a part of God's plan for reaching college students for the gospel. As such they should be abandoned and churches step up to the plate. At the other end of the spectrum is the idea that CUs are in fact churches, and so should start behaving like them (including celebrating the ordinances). The article, of course, finds a middle ground, somewhere right about where he is trying to encourage UCCF to see themselves.
There is much to commend the article. His sketch of what a church I would say includes necessary but insufficient criteria. Yet even in that search he comes up with enough material to show clearly that campus ministries shouldn't consider themselves to be churches. I'll quote some points from the section that I was most in agreement with:
First: a CU cannot function as a church in the manner in which Paul and the apostles
wanted churches to function because it does not have an appointed ministry of word,
sacrament and discipline, and must not pretend to.
Secondly: a CU cannot function as a church because, for all the warmth and
closeness of fellowship that can be experienced within a CU, it does not have the
communal characteristics of a family that the Bible assumes...
Thirdly: a CU cannot function as a church is because it is a specialised ministry that is
seeking to target only one mission field. It has a clearly limited missionary objective:
students. In no sense does it have the ambition to function as the heterogeneous body
that Paul describes in Ephesians 2.
I agree with these three points the article makes. To them I would add.
4) A CU cannot function as a church because it will probably not have men qualified to be elders.
5) A CU cannot function as a church because, not only is a CU homogeneous in terms of age-group, but also, at many Universities it would be homogeneous in terms of intellectual & educational backgrounds.
6) A CU cannot function as a church because people are would be forced to leave that 'church' and, even if staying in the local area, join another, not as a act of discipline or of dissatisfaction, but would be forced to leave because they no longer meet a particular non-Scriptural qualification for church membership - they cease to belong to the University.
In further posts I shall explore the alternative model that the article puts forward, seeing CUs
as para-church, not church.