As some of our readers know, Os Guinness is one of my favorite modern authors. His work is not trendy and his books are not typically all very similar (as is the case with some other modern Christian authors’ books). One of Guinness’ books that stick out in my mind is The Last Christian On Earth. This book is a modern take on C. S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters.
In Memorandum 7, the Deputy Director [the church’s chief enemy] writes to a subordinate to discuss how modernity and relevance will help them destroy the church. He specifically targets the parachurch movement in one section. Now, before being too critical of what follows, be sure to pick up on the nuances of the discussion. I was going to edit it for length, but it was too difficult to do while still capturing the logic. (Note: my underlines below are words that Guinness italicized). Here it is:
“Christians have always shown a curious inability to consider things from a long-term perspective. Most have been blind to the dynamics of a parachurch movement. How else could they fail to see the natural stages of its trajectory?”
“Put simply, there is first a man or woman with a vision of something lacking in the wider church. Next, there are people who share that vision, and gather around the pioneer to support his stand. Then, there is a movement, structured and organized to express that vision and thrust it on its way. Finally, after however many years, with the hallowed portrait of the founder smiling down on the boardroom of his or her successors, all there is left is a monument. In short, rationalization not only quenches the true Christian spirit, it helps turn the revolutionary into the routine, the insight into an institution. The trap is slower and less glamorous than the Midas touch of consumer religion, but just as deadly in the end.”
“An important part of our game here is bluff. Leaders of parachurch ministries are well aware that to succeed in their task they must feed their contribution back into the local churches. Their job, they say, is to put themselves out of a job. And, of course, they are right. Nothing would arrest rationalization faster. But out of many thousands who pay lip service to this principle, only a handful actually follow it. Most parachurch ministries clutter the ground long after their days of usefulness are over.”
“We bluff them by agreeing with them. We urge them to make ‘service’ their motto and their theme song, knowing that service is addictive once it becomes the source of their identity (and income). Slowly they get hooked. At first they are needed, and they serve. Soon they both need to serve to be needed, and they need needs to serve. Before long, they become experts in service. And, because indispensable servants often become indistinguishable from masters, they finish as masters, not servants. In the end, they put the local churches out of a job, not themselves.”
“You can see why we assign field agents only in the early stages. After a certain point the shift from ministry to movement to monument becomes automatic, and the rationalization does its own work. Parachurch ministries start with service as their motto and end with it as their epitaph. We cannot have too many such movements. There are a few exceptions to this, but these are extremely rare” (p. 141-2).