On Wednesday I linked to Dan Edelen's post Radical For Jesus: What Does That Look Like In America?. The comments have been interesting as always and one of Dan's replies got my attention. He compared the church in America to the grasshopper in Aesop's fables. If you are unfamiliar with the story, here it is below...
The Ants and the Grasshopper
THE ANTS were spending a fine winter’s day drying grain collected in the summertime. A Grasshopper, perishing with famine, passed by and earnestly begged for a little food. The Ants inquired of him, “Why did you not treasure up food during the summer?” He replied, “I had not leisure enough. I passed the days in singing.” They then said in derision: “If you were foolish enough to sing all the summer, you must dance supperless to bed in the winter.”
Translated by George Fyler Townsend. Aesop's Fables (p. 17). Amazon Digital Services, Inc..
Life has been pretty cushy for us in America for a long time, even today in spite of the hand-wringing over the "assault on religious liberty". In this time of ease and plenty we have mostly been preparing to minister, if you can call it that, in a perpetually friendly environment. It has been religious "summer" in America for a very long time. We enjoy virtually absolute freedom along with a pretty unprecedented legal protection from Caesar. We are awash in cash, professionals, property, prestige. Our biggest concerns seem to focus around having enough people showing up to replenish the bank account so we can build bigger and better facilities to draw people in. We seem to live each Sunday as if things will continue on more or less as we have been used to indefinitely. The truth is that those days are ending. Soon.
My great concern is that the church is doing essentially nothing to prepare for the actual future, a future which is much closer than many of us want to admit. This future is not about savings accounts and endowments and vision casting and building projects, it is about trying to minister in a world that is going to be starkly different in terms of the religious climate, a world where commonly held beliefs of the faith will be under assault from within and without. We are investing so much of our time and energy in preparing for perpetuating the church of the recent past, i.e the last few hundred years, when in truth we need to be preparing for a very different world. We seem to forget that the cozy religious culture we live in is a historical anomaly, the norm is persecution and suffering not tax breaks and deference, weakness instead of strength, derision from the world rather than acceptance.
I think our European brethren have a lot to teach us here if we will only listen. They have lived through the sudden cascade of secularism (which if truth be told is no worse than empty cultural religiosity). We look to Europe with her empty cathedrals and shake our heads in sadness, seemingly oblivious to the reality that the same situation is heading our way at breakneck speed.
We are very much like the grasshopper, enjoying our summer-time freedom and affluence and cultural deference but as Ned Stark would say, winter is coming. The church better wake up and start to prepare the next generation for something very different if we are to be found faithfully serving in the years to come. I have no doubt that the work of the Kingdom will carry on whether or not we are prepared but it certainly should make our witness more effective if we prepare for the future instead of clinging to the recent past.