The Limitations of Parachurch Ministries & Church Planting


Abraham Lincoln once said that that if he had eight hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend six hours sharpening the axe. Wise words from a wise man—and helpful to aspiring church planters.

If you find yourself dreaming about planting a church, might I suggest you see the local church as the “axe-sharpener”? Spend “six hours” of sharpening there in the “eight hours” of your preparation to plant.

In other words, do not look to the glitz of a parachurch organization to assess you, train you, and send you. Instead, give extended time and service to a local church in the audience of its elders as the primary means of readying you for gospel ministry—whether as a church planter, a future pastor, or something else entirely.


When I think back over my experience of being evaluated as a church planter almost a decade ago, I’m struck by the significant differences in the external organization’s evaluation comparison to that of the internal “organization” of my local church.

The elders of my local church had kept eyes on brothers in the congregation and—I realized later—had even listened to the effectiveness of our public teaching. For the four years we were there before our planting, these men took note of everything, from our participation and effectiveness in small group ministry to the health of our marriages.

It was only after this informal evaluation period that my planting partner and me were invited into a residency where we were shepherded by one particular elder. All the while, we remained under the watchful eye of the other elders.

The kinds of conversations we had in those days were more in keeping with what we read in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and Ephesians 5. In other words, these men had been watching our life and doctrine. In particular, they watched how the two worked together to create life in God’s people. They didn’t need to ask the kinds of questions that an external organization asked anymore than a parent needs to ask if their child is able to consistently clean their room; they simply knew by living with and watching us.


Compare this with some of our external partner organizations. They spent very little time investigating doctrine, nor did they spend much time investigating if I’d discipled anyone and walked with fellow Christians through the ups and downs of life. In fact, I don’t recall any of them ever even listening to me teach the Bible.

Truthfully, there was a small amount of interest in my marriage but a great amount of interest in that now-ubiquitous church-planting category of being “entrepreneurial.” And all of this was done in no more than several hours together.

There’s an element of this that makes perfect sense. Parachurch organizations aren’t capable of doing what the church does, and we should not ask them to. Further, parachurch organizations have a large number of candidates to work through and, oftentimes, tens of thousands of dollars to steward. So with such limited time and ability to really know me, they know they can check off the doctrine box by asking me to affirm a statement of beliefs, which allows them to get to the punch line of determining the answer to a simple question: “Will he really make it?”


My plea for those of you aspiring to begin a church is that you would invest your life in a local church that will come to know your life and doctrine, one that will help you see things you cannot see yourself. When compared to just hitting the ground running with the best of intentions and a lot of ideas and the rubber stamp of an external organization that ran you through its “school,” this kind of slow process may seem mundane, if not outright ineffective. But it’s the best way to make the most of both your life and your prospective ministry.

By all means, utilize para-church organizations. But please understand them more as external “seed partners” who gladly support the “farm” you and your family have decided to begin for the good of others. Don’t see them as “the family” but as supplemental partners that you’re glad to have support you as you go.

Sadly, far too many brothers either go straight to large para-church organizations. They put too much stock in them to answer the questions of whether they should go or where they should go or even how they should go. All of this is misdirected because these entities are simply not set up to meaningfully answer those questions . . . even if they say they can.


The local church, on the other hand, has far greater power and far greater wealth than any para-church organization. Five years of service in your local church will yield much better dividends than five hours of being evaluated by the greatest church planting minds in the country.

You only have one life, and you only have so much time. So sharpen your axe as long as you can in the place that was made for sharpening, the local church. Then, wherever you end up planting, you will possess both the equipment and the confidence that comes with being sent by people who really know you and what you need to establish a healthy church.

Nathan Knight

Nathan Knight is the pastor of Restoration Church in Washington, D.C.

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