by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) Kingston, Ontario, October 2006
In the hotter areas of the world termites will eat the wood of your house. They do this by tunneling from the inside, and the first thing you know is that the supporting beams have collapsed. But these pests also have lessons to teach us.
Two or three termites on their own do nothing creative. They just move pellets of food here and there aimlessly. But when several dozen find themselves together they begin to do their work. They build the arches for the vaulted air-conditioned galleries that will give access to their food supplies. They work in pairs, each beginning the next arch from the bottom to meet exactly at the peak.
In some species when numbers increase they organize themselves in three groupings of those involved in reproduction, the soldiers who fight off enemies, and the workers that build their galleries. All this elaborate social structure is organized by the genes that they have inherited for thousands of years.
It may seem rude to compare Christians to termites, but a comparison is useful. There are important similarities, and of course many differences.
Elsewhere on this website I have given the picture of only one church in each city (see under BOOKS The Church in my City). In an average city the church consists of hundreds of congregations and meeting places under various denominational names. When termites permeate a building they weaken and destroy its structure. When Christians permeate the social fabric of a city, they make it stronger, healthier, more caring.
The work of a termite colony and the influence of a Christian congregation both proceed mostly unseen. The major difference is that termites are motivated by their instincts and drives. Church congregations are voluntary organizations. Nobody is forced to take part or engage in the costly sacrifice that is required to make a city liveable and beautiful.
We noted that termites only begin to function effectively when a certain number are involved. We need not deny that some Christians are called to do very important work alone. And Jesus said "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:20). But it is also obvious that when we work together, and maintain the unity of a bigger number, astonishing results can occur.
And just as termites organize themselves into various kinds of function to perform, so Christians are given special gifts of the Holy Spirit to exercise for the common good.
Armed with this comparison it is exciting to see how Christian congregations all over the world, often working behind the scenes, enable their city to be touched by the love of God.