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Para-church Christian Ministries

Para-church Christian Ministries

Are Board of Directors, Elders still responsible to Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3?

by Larne Gabriel October 2,2020

In Church conflicts or sin, regarding both the congregants and elders, God’s Word gives specific instructions on dealing with those issues. We clearly see that in the “Rebuking an Elder” and “Church Discipline” articles. But today we find not all ministries are centered around the local church. In many cases they are extensions of the church, but their focus is on a larger potential audience and support base than any one church could offer. The examples we see are Salvation Army’s ministry to the poor, prison ministries, facilities for unwed mothers or mission sending organizations. These are great mission outreaches but require both capital and labor to provide those services, much more than most churches feel they could provide. With their independence these ministries can easily cross denominational lines thus providing a synergy to their targeted outreach.

Sadly, we also find some ministries that are nothing more than christian themed businesses that were established under the IRS tax exempt status (503c-1) and the applicable state nonprofit laws. Everything produced is sold or charged an entry fee. Scripture is clear that a workman is worthy of his hire and elders are due a double portion, but nowhere in scripture is the Gospel sold.

In Acts 8 we clearly see the reference to those seeking to profit from the Gospel in verses 9-25 regarding Simon the magician. Clearly, he sought to profit from participating in sharing of the Gospel. The severity of Peter’s rebuked and stern judgement can be seen with Peter’s words, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.(ESV)” Sadly, in Simon’s response in asking to be spared from Peter’s judgement, we see no mention of his repentance and he disappears from the pages of Scripture.

We see three contrasts above, the Church, true sacrificial ministries, and ‘christian” businesses that are name only ministries. The governance of the first we find in scripture, but what about the other two. No where do we find them, since today’s nonprofits are a product of modern society and tax codes. The problem lies in the governance of those last two entities. In their formation the state requires a Board of Directors in setting up the nonprofit corporation, these positions are often initially filled with early supporters of the ministry, by either finances or time or are friends of the founder. Yet since they are required government positions, those selected might not have fulfilled all the elder qualifications found in Titus 1 or 1 Timothy 3.

Legally, the board positions have a primary responsibility to follow governmental rules dealing with finances and employees. As time progresses and the ministry grows those board positions are often filled with successful and influential people who lend credence to the validity of the ministry. Once they align their reputations with the “ministry” there is a natural tendency to protect the ministry for the sake of their own reputations with the excuse of preserving the name of Christ. Decisions are too often made from a business perspective with little regards to the sins of the top group of leaders. The end justifies the means and when there is a collision between convictions and cashflow, cashflow seems to always win, even if it means the ignoring or covering of sin. I have been in organizations and churches where the congregant’s sins are publicly dealt with but the leaders/elders sins are repressed for the sake of the ministry. (cashflow)

Fundamentally these “christian” businesses can be operating in a very gray area regarding the combination of government regulations and more importantly the Scriptural mandate of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, should the Board member not be elder qualified. I can think of one organization where one of the board members, a former pastor and then a successful businessman, had an affair, divorce and married another woman. In 2014 when confronted with the charges against the man, the founder stated he “gave $100,000 a month to missions” as if this was a more important qualification than the scriptural elder mandate. There are other flagrant acts of sins regarding this organizations influential board members relating to a 1980 scandal and their effort to overlook or cover sin and to inquire diligently in the decades that followed.

In summary, if an organization, not part of church governance and under the Scriptural ability for church discipline purposes to call themselves a Christian Ministry, they should insure:

  • Their board of directors, as required by government regulation, also meets the elder requirements of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.

  • Place moral and sin issues at a greater importance to include the responsibility to rebuke and discipline a leader/elder on their board or in a senior ministerial leadership position. This should be done regardless to the potential impact to the ministry or their own reputations for the sake of the purity of the Gospel and adherence to scripture.

  • This should be within the bound of their responsibilities to the state by fulfilling the regulatory requirements of the board as overseers.

I believe if an organization chooses to call themselves a Christian ministry, they should make every effort to fulfill the requirement of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 and fulfill the mandate as established for a church regarding its governance. Sin needs to be called out and false doctrine exposed and for those that persist in sin the words of 1 Timothy 5:20-23 demands to be remembered and proclaimed, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” We also need to remember that our rebukes need to be done in love, as Paul reminds us of in Ephesians 4:15-16, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

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