Perhaps ants are one of the most successful species on planet earth. Whatever the environment throws at them, they manage to overcome and prosper. Nothing seems to faze them.
A growing number of scientists are studying ant behaviour more closely, in the hope of applying lessons from the ant colony in solving human problems. Perhaps the ants, and the ant colony, have lessons for modern day Christianity.
A few years ago I was staying at an all-inclusive holiday resort. Going to breakfast one morning, I noticed a paper wrapper on the floor with a few ants crawling over what appeared to be large amounts of cake (perhaps this had been part of a breakfast muffin?). Thirty minutes later the industry to and from that wrapper was nothing short of amazing, it made me stop and look closely at what was happening.
A colony of ants was zigzagging from a hole in the wall, about six metres away, to the food source and back again. Ants coming from the colony occupied the centre, with ants returning to the nest on each side. This “highway” of ants consisted of many columns, around ten to twelve in total.
I stood still and watched closely for a couple of minutes at this demonstration of highly coordinated effort. The ants had organized themselves into a huge transport system. I figured that such a bountiful and rich food source (large volumes of starch and sugar) must be gathered before someone clears it away! I turned to see what else was happening. A few metres away a single ant was wandering around, going here and there in no particular pattern.
This solitary ant, in human terms, seemed to be wasting his time and effort. There was lots of work to be done just a short distance away. However, my guess is that this ant was looking around for the next source of food. All these ants were acting as though some “unseen force” was at work amongst them. At that moment, I committed myself to learn from these “leaderless” ants. Why? Because I had experience working in the local church and in local government!
Having been a cell group leader, church Pastor and member of a senior leadership team, I consider the parallels between local government and the local church to be astounding. As far as change is concerned, effort is futile!
Local government is often regarded as the epitome of the hierarchal bureaucratic system, but the church is not that far behind. With a plethora of plans, strategies, initiatives, often accompanied by ever increasing KPI’s (Key performance Indicators) and targets, the stress on both managers and Pastors is making people sick in both types of organization. And this is where the ant and the ant colony comes in. No leaders, no plans and no stress. Worry-free living that gets results!
“Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise,
Which, having no captain,
Overseer or ruler,
Provides her supplies in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.”
In these few verses, I believe the Holy Spirit has provided some comfort and reassurance for those of us who have become worn out and burned out with the business of church life in the 21st century, and have left it behind. The ant has no leader, an ant colony functions effectively without leadership. There is no hierarchy and no bureaucracy. Anarchy? But only for “the system”.
How often have you heard it said that, “everything rises and falls with leadership”? It is now my firm belief that our leadership dependent paradigm is not part of God’s plan for His people, Jesus is.
It is through Jesus that everyone can know God. It is through Jesus that everyone can be guided and taught by the Holy Spirit. It is through Jesus we can be partakers in the divine nature, which includes the spiritual gifts and abilities he has for us; gifts and abilities that are given and used according to His will, not to lead (as a captain, overseer or ruler) but to serve. There is only one leader for the people of God and His name is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Next time you see ants at work, give thanks to God for such a wonderful example of how the body of Christ can function effectively in the earth. And if ants are a nuisance, invading your home and spoiling your goods, maybe there is another spiritual lesson for us?