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When parachurch becomes parasite

Some church leaders I know believe all parachurch organizations are parasites—pirates and pickpockets who suck money, people and time out of the body of Christ diverting resources from God’s kingdom to their own personal kingdoms.  They won’t say this publicly, but they believe it deeply and will tell you in private.

I disagree—I like many parachurch organizations.  I think many help the local church do things we can’t do on our own. Perhaps I work for a parachurch organization—though my University is a wholly owned institution of The Wesleyan Church it still functions like a parachurch organization. And I have favorites among the parachurch organizations: the Gideons, Crown Financial, Billy Graham and World Hope.

However, some parachurch organizations make me mad.  We have such rampant religious freedom in the USA that it opens us up to graft and corruption.  We Christians scream bloody murder any time the government attempts to clamp down on a religious entity so a few folk can get together are found a 501(c)(3) (or better yet a local church-on-paper) the government will pretty well let you alone and you can get away with just about any sort of corruption and profit-taking that occurs to you.  The government will be putting the Enron people put in jail for lesser sins than are committed daily in some parachurch organizations.  I’m not saying that these organizations did not begin with a good cause in mind.  Jerry Pattengale puts it this way:

What beings as a ministry often gravitates to a business then degenerates into a racket.

Some parachurch organizations have become a racket.  Sure, the local church raises money and spends it on itself sometimes.  Sure, the local church occasionally takes money from poor widows and pays its pastor too much.  Sure, once in a while the church has a treasurer, pastor or D.S. who swipes money.  But these occurrences are far less frequent in the church than in parachurch organizations.  The way we let parachurch organizations operate in America invites corrupt practices.  That is what make me mad.

Five things that make me mad at parachurch organizations.

1. When they prey on the poor with promises.

It is no secret that the poor are the best givers—research shows this every year.   I get angry when parachurch preachers promise poor people that God will bless them if they “plant a seed of faith” by sending money to the televangelist. Hogwash!  If this is true then the televangelist should send money to the listeners—then God could bless their own seed-faith!  Seed faith preaching is a signal of crooked hucksterism.  Any preacher on TV or anywhere else giving this line is a flim-flam man not a representative of the gospel.  They are con men making their pitch. The poor folk who respond to these crooks also buy lottery tickets for the same reason—hoping to hit the jackpot to escape poverty.  When I see the Reverend Mister Fancypants sporting his diamond-studded cufflinks assuring poor people that God will bless them if they “bless this ministry” I wonder why God doesn’t strike such snakes dead in their tracks.  It makes me mad when rich parachurch preachers prey on the poor with promises.

2. Making desperate pleas for more money when they already have plenty

One way to recognize a real crook is when they sob for more money when they already have plenty.  This sort of outright deception makes God madder than me I bet.  But it is rampant in some Christian parachurch organizations. Take for instance Trinity Broadcasting who has 341 million dollars in the bank yet televises tearful pleas for more money “or stations will have to close down.”  Shame on you Paul and Jan Crouch! While the average parachurch organization has a zero savings rate (they spend on ministry all the money they take in) TBN socks away a whopping 39%!  What for?  Money is given to the kingdom to be spent on a cause—not buried in the ground. This money was given for a cause not to be stashed away in a rainy day mattress somewhere. I think it is outright deceitful to raise money with fear tactics when you’ve got millions stashed away.  Parachurch organizations can too easily become fund raising machines.

3. When they pay extraordinary salaries to themselves and their family.

I think ministers, like oxen, shouldn’t be muzzled while they work.  They are entitled to a fair salary.  Perhaps there are pastors who receive extraordinary salaries, but the way an American parachurch organization can be set up invites paying the leaders exorbitant salaries.  For instance, in America you could start a parachurch organization then name three of your family members as the entire board—which is exactly what the TBN Crouch’s did.  You could then pay yourself about $400,000, pay your wife another $347,000 then decide that your son Matthew’s profit-making company was doing such a wonderful thing with his new movie idea that you divert $32 million over to his company from God’s money in your organization.  Yes, you read that right—32 million dollars from non-profit TBN to a profit-making company owned by their son Matthew.  I’m not inventing this.  Or, how about Benny Hinn’s salary of “somewhere between $500,000 to $1 million dollars.” What?  How about Benny Hinn’s crusade a half hour from his home where he turned in $25,000 for expenses?  How would a preacher spend $25,000 for expenses?   What do you think of Benny Hinn’s perk of a $10 million seaside mansion?  Nice parsonage, huh?  Do these things bother you?  They make me mad.  Sorry, I know too many pastors getting such poor salaries they buy their kids clothes at second hand shops.  Members in their churches send their monthly gifts to Benny Hinn or TBN thinking they are supporting God’s work.  Their local church suffers.  Their pastor suffers.  The crooks get rich and laugh their way to the bank.  The pastor goes to the bank too—but to borrow money to send her daughter to college. I think these rich parachurch leaders are wrong to accept such huge salaries living a lavish life of luxury.  But I also think these dedicated Christian members are wrong to give to them.  You are a co-dependant in the crook’s sin.  Shame on both of you.

4. When God’s money is used as hush money.

I can’t imagine a local church paying hush money to get someone to not talk about their affair with the pastor.  Hey, when someone confesses an affair with the pastor in my denomination the pastor miraculously disappears before the following Sunday!  Not so in some parachurch organization.  I remember how Jim Bakker used God’s money to hush up Jessica Hawn for her hotel room tryst with Jim Bakker. PTL came to be laughingly renamed Pay The Lady. I think it was wrong to use tax-deducible charitable donations (let along God’s money) as hush money.  So I also think it was wrong for TBN to pay Enoch Ford $425,000 to not speak of his homosexual affair with Paul Crouch.  Both are wrong. God’s money should not become hush money

5. Refusing to be held accountable by hiding information.

I hate it when parachurch organizations hide their data and refuse to be accountable.  I can put up with inefficient parachurch organizations if they will simply be honest and open.  For instance a parachurch organization I’ve been a supporter of for years is Kingdom Building Ministries.   When it comes to efficiency and “bang for the buck” they make a very poor showing—they are in the lowest one percent of all parachurch organizations—ranked 443rd of the 443 parachurch organizations by But I still like them.  Why?  Because when it comes to integrity, honesty, and transparency they are above repreach.  Even MinistryWatch gives KBM an “A” for “transparency.”  What makes me mad (and ought to anger all Christians) is a parachurch organization who simply refuses to be accountable to anyone—they won’t come clean to the ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) or supply full information to (the foremost Christian watchdog group for parachurch organizations).  God’s money should be out in the open not hidden in closets, mattresses and offshore bank accounts.  The books should be open to anyone who wants to see them.  Income, expenditures, audited reports and even salaries should be open to all.  Hey, we have nothing to hide.  Refusing to submit to ECFA or MinistryWatch by claiming a direct accountability to God alone gets might close to blasphemy in my book.  It angers me when parachurch organizations set themselves up as their own monitors. I don’t trusts foxes guarding henhouses.


 Face it, these guys are crooks.  Do they name the name of Christ? Yes.  Could they go to heaven—maybe.  Do they do some good? Yes.  But at the core they are thieves. Even thieves do some good.  They are “Christian thieves” (if there is such a thing).  I’m glad they say nice things about Jesus as they sink their sucking teeth into the body of Christ.  But I do not apply the Philippians 1:18 rule to them.  I don’t believe they are “preaching Christ” at the core—they are flim-flam men preying on the poor and the sick.  They are hucksters of hope who’ve found a haven in American religion and I can’t wait until God or someone else roots them out.  They anger me.  No, they infuriate me. I don’t understand how God puts up them.  How can he let them get away with preying on the poor so long?  How can he ignore this injustice?  He must have a longer fuse than me. Which may be lucky for me, too, I suppose.  But sooner or later He’ll act. Maybe He’ll use us. Or the government.  Or the free press.  Or maybe their own arrogance.  But sooner or later I suspect He’ll act.  God is the exposer of sin—and He never fails to do it…eventually.

 ANYWAY, that’s what I think. Sure, I get angry at local churches too, and I’ll write about that in the future. But this week I’m angry at some parachurch organizations.  That’s what I think—so, what do you think? What would you add to this list that makes you angry?  How do we help our people understand this without being ministry muckrakers?  Who can clean up this mess that ECFA, MinistryWatch and all of Christendom is impotent to fix?  Which parachurch organizations do you like?  Which anger you?

Keith Drury January 23, 2006