The Church of “Tomorrow? What Tomorrow?”


In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”

“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”

“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew:

It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.
—Aesop, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”

I lost my faith in American business years ago. The reason? I started working in American business.

In no time at all, the average worker (like I was) will pull back the curtain and confront the engine that drives American business: expediency. Today, mention long-term planning at a shareholder’s convention and you’ll get hoots from everyone. They’re only thinking about next quarter. Business summons its finest wise guys who know how to massage the numbers to please shareholders, and when another quarter goes by and everyone’s still got a job, they’ve been successful—at least until the next quarter.

No better indicator exists that the American Church has been wholly corrupted by business practices than the fact that we’ve lost our eternal focus. We’ve become the Church of “Tomorrow? What Tomorrow?” If we can keep the shareholders—pardon me, “congregants”—happy through Forty Days of Purpose and then another fifty sailing on that high, then we’ve had a successful quarter. The offering plates are full now, the church is growing, the youth group is still bright and shiny, and we’ve got good buzz in the neighborhood.  Everything’s spiffy!

Or is it?

Laser-like, we concentrate on that moment of justification, but aren’t certain how to address the sixty or so years of sanctification and discipleship that come afterwards.

We set people up for experiential spiritual highs, but when we can’t maintain that warm fuzzy feeling forever, we watch them drift off to whatever Church of the Moment thinks it can.

The Ant and the GrasshopperWe throw ourselves into ensuring Our Best Life Now and not our Infinitely Better Life to Come.

We pour all our energy into trying to train up our children to be good Christians, but we’re not sure exactly what the end product should look like anymore because we’re not so sure we’ve got our own faith down pat.

We build multi-million dollar edifices we call “church” that can burn down in an instant, but we don’t seem to be preparing the next generation for any sort of deeper life than to be consumers that build multi-million dollar churches.

We’re increasingly dispensational and premillennial because God knows we’ve got no plan if we’re not Raptured out of here the second things get a tad bit nutty.

The only time we think about the future is when we repeat our pseudo-Christian mantra of “Some day I’ll tell my neighbor about Christ. Some day I’ll go on the mission field. Some day I’ll volunteer at church. Some day I’ll read through the Bible. Some day I’ll stop committing that sin I can’t stop committing. Some day I’ll visit the sick, feed the poor, and clothe the naked. Some day….”

Expediency. As long as we feel fine about ourselves at the end of the quarter, we think we’ve done well. It’s a hard habit to break because many in the Church can find verses substantiating living only for the day. Consider this widely quoted one:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
—James 4:13-15 ESV

But that passage isn’t about living for the moment. Look at the context:

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
—James 4:12-17 ESV

That passage argues against haughtiness and judgmentalism by showing the lack of humility in the lives of those who are presumptive. Wise planning is not being presumptive. On the contrary, it’s required of us. If anything, God considers those who fail to plan foolish.

Consider the following parables of Jesus:

The man who built his house on the rock

The five wise and five foolish virgins

The talents

The wedding banquet

The persistent widow

All of these carry with them the idea of preparation for the future, be it the Lord’s return, being ready to face the storms of life, or persevering even when the moment doesn’t look promising. Jesus is not against us thinking about tomorrow. His only correction is that we let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day by not dwelling so much on the future that we ignore the present. Again, like so many things in the Christian walk, balance is needed.

Last weekend, I was in a small group meeting discussing marriage when I brought up one of my pet issues: starting marriage and family classes for children as young as ten in order that they be better prepared to be godly husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. My pastor is a part of that group and he immediately noted that parents would object to the church usurping that responsibility.

And he’s right. Some parents would complain. But by backing off completely, we open ourselves up for the same disappointments that expediency always brings. Kids in the youth group start having sex, a couple girls get pregnant and may even have abortions, and we’re left picking up pieces from shattered lives that may never have been broken had we thought long-term.

We can see the issue of God’s sovereignty creeping into this can’t we? Some would argue that long-term thinking attempts to play God or force His unforceable hand. But I’ve read the Bible and none of the Psalms begins, “Que sera, sera….” We have not because we ask not. Some kinds don’t come out except with prayer and fasting. Slay lambs and spread their blood over the lintels. Noah build an ark. Freely we have received, freely shall we give.

God doesn’t rain down manna from heaven to feed the poor, the orphan, the widow; He asks the Church to do the feeding or else it may very well not get done. Our godly plans and our earthly actions matter. We are the Body of Christ to go out and do, and that going out and doing involves planning, both short-term AND long. It is what God in His sovereignty has asked of us. If the Church had no reason to think beyond tomorrow, then God in His wisdom could have taken each of us up to heaven in a flaming chariot the moment we believed.

Nothing good comes to a church that thinks like Aesop’s grasshopper, yet so many churches have lost a vision for tomorrow’s generations, so lost are they on their own selves.

Winter is coming.

13 thoughts on “The Church of “Tomorrow? What Tomorrow?”

  1. Dan,

    Another excellent post. An Austrailian theologian, Kevin Connor, wrote a book a number of years ago called THE CULT OF SELF. In that book he documented the adoption of the self-focus of the modern church. It is very difficult to read because of its power of conviction. The evangelical church as a whole is lost in a sea of “self-focus” so deep, that it will take a move of God to turn it around.

    Indeed, until we can come to the realization that an encounter with the Lord Himself in our personal lives is the only way we will ever be empowered to change our focus.

    Many prayers need to find either the assurance of an answer, or they need to change into that which the Lord can hear and bless. We are muddled in our own designs and plans. None of which He has given as vision, instead many so called “visions,” seem to me nothing more than the ambition of man.

    My soap box. O.K. But it is frightening to witness the slide into mud instead of witness the promise of power and light. I praise Him that He is still on the Throne and still giving us time to change our focus. It is not about getting us well and happy! It is about us giving our lifes to Him and His kingdom.

    Keep writing — you are a blessing.

    • Iris,

      Not familiar with that book, but I sure know about the topic!

      I don’t think we’re going to snap out of this unless we see that our national religion has become the Religion of Consumption. We’ve lost the whole reason of what we are for and therefore all we can do is think about expediency and fulfilling whatever our need is right now.

      Thanks for considering me a blessing. It’s hard to write some of these posts and I never know if they bear any fruit beyond someone reading them, then going on to the next blog.

  2. Greg

    Wow- great post.
    There are so many “product-oriented” churches today, manufacturing something that the end user can consume and move on with their life. It’s a hard thing to get involved with people- to get involved with the day-to-day sanctification, to foster a community of believers that aren’t looking for the quick-fix. So many people choose the path of least resistance. Great read, and I’m feeling some David Wells…

    • Greg,

      I read a David Wells book about five years ago. I really liked what he had to say, but I’m not riffing on his commentary. It’s just stuff I notice as I make my daily rounds on this planet.

      Some days I write hard-hitting things and other days I know that people can’t hear that all the time. One of the regular readers and commenters here (who has some great insights) labeled me “Dire Dan” and I don’t want Cerulean Sanctum to be known as a place where people come to be railed against by some pseudo-prophet banging a shoe on a lectern à la Krushchev. We get a lot of shiny, happy quasi-Christianity in this country, so sometimes I feel it’s necessary to pull back the curtain and ask what we’re doing about this issue or that, but that’s not all that goes on here.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting.

    • Vikki

      Great post – it speaks truth, convicts and spurns me to dig deep into God’s infalliable word.
      I’m currently reading David Wells’, Above all Earthly Powers. I’m going through my first “wimpy” read and will definately have to read through a second time to fully comprehend and reflect on his critique of American evangelicalism.

  3. Pingback: gregorious thoughts » Blog Archive » the short term church
  4. Mr. Edelen,

    It made me smile to see you mention how young people should actually train for marriage. I’ve been realizing more and more that this is what I should be doing, and have been making the most of every opportunity. It’s good to have a reminder that I’m on the right track! Thanks for you post, the Lord bless you.

  5. My pastor is a part of that group and he immediately noted that parents would object to the church usurping that responsibility.

    Hi Dan,

    Perhaps your Pastor was just making a comment without giving it much thought, but his reason for not starting a marriage class is very un-pastorally and quite typical of Church leaders. Nothing worthwhile will ever come without objections and complaints. It is either appropriate or it is not appropriate depending on the circumstances of your Church, but the decision should not be based on the resistance of some parents.

    I also find it interesting that he immediately knew what others would think about such a proposal without ever discussing it with them. I don’t know your Pastor so I won’t make assumptions about him, but I do know many Pastors who do exhibit a type of arrogance that pretends to speak for others.

    BTW, you are absolutely correct. Churches, businesses, and families, all need to do more eternity activities, and less, live-for-the-day activities.

  6. Diane Roberts

    A few years ago I was listening to a pastor challenge people to stop talking about getting more people into the church and start preparing for it. For example, he asked, “Are you training your Sunday School teachers NOW for the children who will come? Or will the children come and you will be caught short-handed?”
    I’m not telling this because I am hung up on numbers of people in churches, but rather as a good illustration of looking ahead as you’ve suggested. In other words, what we beleive the Lord is saying to us to do, are we preparing wisely?

  7. ccinnova


    I got back from a trip out of town a few hours ago and just got a chance to read your post. This post should be required reading for pastors and elders, and probably Christian businessmen as well. I belong to none of those categories and I was still convicted.

    Thanks again for another outstanding post.

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