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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The Church At Work" (John Pellowe)

TITLE: The Church at Work
AUTHOR: John Pellowe
PUBLISHER: John Pellowe, 2012, (343 pages).

Is there still a place for para-church organizations today? How should a Church and a para-church relationship look like? Are agencies legitimate Christian ministries? Based on his doctoral dissertation, John Pellowe, CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities has written this book to affirm that not only are these para church organizations vital for today, both Church and agency need to work together toward for the sake of fulfilling the Great Commission. In doing so, he is lumping them together as "the Church."The point is clear. If agencies are legitimate expressions of the Church, traditional churches need to extend a hand to work with them.

Pellowe takes us through a historical development of self-governing agencies, beginning with the P Protestant movement as one such agency offering alternatives to the then incumbent Roman Catholic Church. The number of parachurch organizations mushroomed between the 17th and 18th Century, and the growth today continues to grow unabated. Despite that, some pastors and ministry leaders in churches continue to maintain a skeptical perspective. Pellowe follows up with support from Christian leaders who championed both churches and agencies as legitimate expressions of Church. Like Ralph Winter, Orlando Costas, John Hammett, Howard Snyder, John Stott, and Jerry White, Pellowe believes that any model for cooperation must ultimately unite, streamline working relationships, and respecting the work of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the model can help renew the churches and organizations from within.

Four key points set the theological foundation of his model. Firstly, mission and structure inform the shape of the organization. The one focused on structure will lean more toward Church as primary. The one based on mission will let the agency take charge while the church follows. Secondly, the Christology-Trinitarian focus will mean differences in structure. Thirdly, the role of clergy needs to be asked whether they are custodians or equippers. Fourthly, understanding God's provision determines the level of focus in stewarding finite resources or exercising flexible use of resources in faith. Pellowe summarizes the issue very well. He writes: "People who focus on structure often have a Christological focus, see clergy as custodians of the faith, and act as if they believe God has provided a finite amount of resources to the Church." (p44)

Pellowe's proposal is for a "People of God" model which sees the Church as being helmed by people working toward the fulfilling of the Great Commission. The model contributes to overall unity. It enables people to work within their local church structures as well as across denominational boundaries. It is accountable to ecclesiastical bodies, and enables renewal of the local church. Rather significant is the care not to use the wrong terminology in church-agency relations. The clearer it is; the less divisive; the theologically correct; easy to use and understood; the better. The reason why Pellowe prefers to use "agency" to describe parachurch is because it conveys the point that ministry is done on behalf of someone or some other organizations.

I enjoy reading the part about Church-Agency relations which provides a step-by-step guide on how to cultivate good church-agency partnership. One interesting point was the argument by some people that without agencies, the churches would get more donations. The truth is, there is no guarantee that the disappearance of agencies would automatically lead to increased takings for churches. The part on mutual respect is particularly important as it means respecting the legitimate functions of each side, and more importantly, to recognize that God can use the people of God in any legitimate way.

This is the first book I have read that has covered church-agency matters in such detail. Backed by some quantitative research, Pellowe has the experience of leading an organization that connects with some 3200 churches, denominational offices, and Christian agencies. He has managed to condense the complexities of the relationship into one book. There is much material in the book that would merit a better set of table of contents, illustrations, and index. I would have liked an easy reference to the various models proposed in the book. That is exactly what a "manual" would need, rather than to have readers combing the book to look for any particular content. Of course, there are always those people who would respond with the "easily said than done" statement. To that, I would say, this book should give a starting push. The momentum will need to be worked out by all parties concerned. Most importantly, one must be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. After all, God loves and leads the people of God.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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