“GO TO THE ANT”
September 13, 2008
“Wow, the yard is alive with ants!” I proclaimed as I rushed in the front door of our home in search of a can of bug spray. In the process of dragging a garden hose across the lawn in order to set the sprinkler in precisely the correct spot to cover the greatest area, I had inadvertently disturbed a nest of ants. Within seconds a good chunk of turf was crawling with black fury. It was mass chaos with the miniature varmints scampering in every direction including some who were ferociously attacking the sprinkler head.
Some ten minutes later after I had hunted down the bug spray and answered a phone call I returned to the front lawn to discover an amazing site. The entire colony was mobilized, highly organized, and headed in one direction—toward our house. It appeared as though every single ant had been activated. Some were scouting the way forward, others were still attacking the snake-like intruder, and the rest were packing the belongings of the colony on their backs on their way to a new home. I was thoroughly amazed at how quickly the entire colony had agreed upon a single course of action and was pressed into service to carry it out. Everyone had a role in the crusade and everyone was busy doing it. For a while I was caught up in observing their energy and determination. I felt a kindred spirit with Solomon who was also a keen observer of the ant.
“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” – Proverbs 6:6-8.
I was almost sad to be forced to terminate these industrious midgets—almost! But I did delay their execution long enough to interview one of their number. I suppose some of you will be skeptical of my ability to communicate with such a creature, but what I’m about to share with you is absolutely true. The ant swore to me that he wasn’t lying. He referred to himself simply as “serve-ant.” I’d reveal his full identity to you but he spoke on condition of anonymity since he wasn’t an official spokesperson, or rather, spokes-ant.
I scooped up the tiny creature with my hand, brought him up to eye level with me and asked him how his colony managed to organize itself so quickly.
“We are all created to fulfill certain roles in the colony,” replied Serve-ant with an attitude of condescension. “When a crisis occurs,” he further explained, “no-one has to think about what to do; we each respond as we have been programmed by nature. In this case, the highly sensitive radar ants were the first to discover the approaching danger. As soon as they felt the vibrations of your gargantuan feet walking across the lawn they relayed the warning to the scout ants who quickly scampered up a blade of grass to survey the land. Upon discerning the reality of the situation by being struck by the first few drops of water from the invading sprinkler, they rallied the colony to attack the intruder. They also asked the radar ants to quickly contact the queen and return with any specific directions. When the order came from the queen to move out to a new location the scouts, who thrive on the adventure of invading new territory, hurried off to determine the best location to begin work on a new colony. The rescue ants, who can’t bear to see anyone lost, set to work saving those who were already being inundated by the flood. The community organizers [apparently their actual titles—no disrespect meant to a currently popular politician] formed everyone into small groups, portioned out to each one enough food for the journey, and encouraged them to do their best for the colony. And the drill instructors made sure everyone was up to date on the latest techniques for colony relocations. Since every single ant was created for a specific purpose and endowed with the natural instincts to act within its given role, the entire colony was able to spring into action at a moment’s notice, the instant the command was received from the queen.”
Serve-ant spoke matter-of-factly, as though what he was sharing was the most basic of knowledge and I was a complete moron for having asked such a simple question. I thanked him for his time, set him back down on our front porch, and stomped on him with my gargantuan feet. I then dispatched the rest of his family with a generous dose of bug spray. Okay, so I’m cruel. But there are a few billion more ants in our neighborhood waiting to take Serve-ant’s place in this never-ending attack against my domicile.
Later, however, I took some time to meditate upon what this brave foe had revealed with his dying words. The ant colony was incredibly efficient; able to rally every single member to action in order to achieve a common goal. On the other hand, in the body of Christ a great deal of energy is released by a relatively small number of members while most of the colony remains dormant. And very little is ever accomplished toward the common goal of advancing the kingdom of God. If only the church could be organized more like an ant hill. But wait; isn’t that exactly what we see revealed as a pattern for the church in Scripture?
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-13.
This is not unlike the organic, natural, gift-based, servant-oriented structure which Serve-ant revealed to me, but it appears to be worlds apart from the man-made, control-based, top-down, hierarchical structure we see dominating much of the body of Christ today. Allow me to translate the description of ant-hill, organic structure, which was passed on to me through the dying words of Serve-ant, into a pattern of organic structure for the body of Christ.
Do we still have apostles (scout ants) in the church today? The answer is, of course, yes but obviously not with the stature or the authority of the original twelve. The word “apostle” is simply the Greek equivalent of the Latin based word, “missionary.” Apostles are the scouts for the expansion of the kingdom. They are gifted by the Spirit to be able to see the big picture. They are usually called to a given geographical area, although they tend not to linger long in any one location, and they thrive on the adventure of planting new works, conquering new territory, and opening up new venues for the Gospel. They often have a unique ability to perceive the identities of the other four members of the ministry team and can rally them into service.
What about prophets (radar ants); do we still see their role active in the church today? At the risk of being branded a heretic by some, I am compelled to answer that question also in the affirmative. I have simply experienced far too much obvious communication from the Spirit through gifted individuals to be able to ignore this vital function. God still speaks to His servants today through His Word, through circumstances, through His “still small voice,” and through certain individuals who are gifted prophetically through the Spirit. However, we must be careful to thoroughly test what we hear from such individuals. Usually, a genuine word of prophecy will be confirmed by several other sources, and it will never contradict the written Word of God. Prophets have a unique ability to be sensitive to the voice of God. The church would be well served to pay more attention to them.
Evangelists are the “rescue ants.” They have a burning passion to find those who are perishing, an ability to feel the heart of God crying out for the lost, and an overwhelming burden to see everyone come to salvation through Jesus Christ. We need to equip these individuals and release them into the world to do what they have been gifted to do. Having them remain cooped up in the church will drive them crazy. However, when new converts are won, the evangelist needs to team up with an apostle in order to plant a new church within the surroundings the new believer. Bringing a new believer back to an already existing church will spoil the opportunity to invade new territory with the Gospel.
Contrary to popular practice, pastors are not the CEO of the local church. Only Jesus should have that role. Pastors are shepherds (community organizer ants) charged with caring for, protecting, and encouraging a small group of believers. They are people-oriented servants who bring a touch of God’s love to the body of Christ. Pastors who have built up larger congregations are probably apostolically gifted servants who have remained trapped in the current, man-made structure of contemporary Christianity.
Teachers (drill instructor ants) are specially gifted by God with the ability to make complex truths easily understood. They usually have the companion gifts of wisdom and knowledge and have an insatiable appetite for God’s Word. They are charged with training and equipping others to fulfill their Spirit-gifted roles in the church.
According Ephesians 4:11-13, we have all been created by God and gifted by the Spirit to fulfill certain roles in the body of Christ. The emphasis is on performing a function rather than holding an office; engaging in humble service rather than striving after titles; allowing the Spirit to lead through empowering gifted individuals rather than controlling individuals through man-made power structures. The result should be an organic structure which enables people to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as they have been programmed to do, rather than an artificial, human-birthed, top-down structure that forces people to engage in activities in which they have no gifting.
For the last seventeen centuries the church in the west has been dominated by pastors and teachers. I have nothing against these essential servants of the church, but they are only two of the five-fold ministry team we see set forth in Scripture. When pastors and teachers comprise the entire team we end up with a church that is focused inward, caring primarily for its own. Believers are expected to spend their entire lives attending worship services and learning more about the Bible. Consequently the church is filled with passive pew-sitters content to pay others to do the work of the ministry and possessing an inordinate amount of Scriptural knowledge. I pray for the day when our emphasis will switch from learning about how to advance the kingdom to actually doing it!
Evangelists are tolerated, but only if they are successful in funneling new converts into our existing churches. Apostles are sent overseas and allowed home only once every two years when we are thrilled by their power-point presentations of natives from distant lands coming to Jesus. At such times we take up an offering to send them back overseas convinced that such kingdom expansion could never happen where we live. And what about the prophets? Well, we treat them like we read about in the Bible; we stone them! Or the more compassionate among us kindly suggest they could benefit from some professional therapy. The result is a church where those who are gifted apostolically or prophetically are not welcome. These gifts are either subdued or are cast out of existing congregations where these spiritual vagabonds end up starting new churches, para-church organizations, or entirely new denominations. And the body of Christ becomes more and more fragmented, and less and less effective in transforming society and advancing the cause of Christ.
My conclusion, and I believe I can also speak for the dearly departed Serve-ant, is that the body of Christ needs to learn how to work together to rally every believer to respond as a single unit, as Spiritually programmed, in order to further our common goal—moving the colony forward. We need to release all five components of our Spirit-given ministry teams and allow the Head of the church to regain the control that rightly belongs to Him.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:15-16.
Why do I feel so passionately about the imperative of the body of Christ enabling all of the five-fold ministry team to work together as the Spirit directs? Well, you might say a little ant convinced me. But more importantly, a succession of “radar ants” has brought word of approaching vibrations. Several of our “scout ants” have surveyed the land and determined the time for action has arrived. Indeed our “Queen” has spoken and called us out of our comfortable tunnels to advance across the land planting new colonies as we go. A crisis is upon us; a challenge is set before us; the call to mobilize the entire body of Christ has sounded. Is this the time when we all decide to move forward together?
Bill, a child of God, answering the call