MR #19: Church Renewal: From Caterpillar to Butterfly
From consuming caterpillar to pollen-carrying butterfly: What an amazing metamorphosis!
Hatched from a butterfly egg, the caterpillar consumes large amounts of leaves and fruit. Its task is to eat and grow–to consume and expand–shedding various shells as it grows large enough to pass beyond the larva stage of development.
When the caterpillar reaches full growth, it becomes a pupa by attaching itself to some solid object and covering itself with a chrysalis–a cocoon-like shell to protect it during its period of transformation. The pupa does not eat and is almost completely inactive. It appears that nothing is happening. But inside the chrysalis a great metamorphosis is taking place. A caterpillar is becoming a butterfly!
After this period of becoming, the caterpillar that covered himself with a chrysalis emerges as a beautiful butterfly. His appearance has changed as well as his task. As he draws nourishment from nectar, he naturally carries pollen from flower to flower, germinating them to develop fruits and seeds.
Three Types of Churches
Many churches require a spiritual metamorphosis to become redemptive fellowships. Following the various stages of metamorphosis, churches can be classified into three categories.
Caterpillar churches are by nature consumers. Self-absorbed and self-concerned, they consume most of their resources for their own personal growth and development. Because they base their practices and teaching on meeting immediate human needs, ministry is defined by asking: “How do we meet the needs of members and searchers in our community?” They are only able to crawl in the earthlies, unable to fly into the heavenlies. Although they affirm the need for local evangelism and foreign missions, their failure to understand the mission of God has resulted in ministry without rationale. Evangelism and missions are merely duties to be performed, an obligation to be discharged. Members in these churches claim to be Christians but have yet to die to self.
Pupa churches are in a state of transition–a congregational conversion to become more like God. Questioning their purpose for existing and desiring to become more like God, these churches are seeking metamorphosis from self-centered nominalism to spiritual vitality. Their major questions no longer focus on personal felt needs but on what God desires them to become. They overtly realize their weakness–that they are “jars of clay”–and whatever they do is a demonstration of God’s “all-surpassing power (2 Cor. 4:7). They are learning how to pray, help each other in a increasingly non-Christian world, and teach searchers the gospel.
The difficulties experienced by churches going through the pupa stage should never be underestimated. Rethinking theological foundations and changing structures and methods to reflect the purposes of God creates immense discomfort. It is, therefore, not surprising that churches making the transition sometimes shrink in size. Consuming caterpillars will leave if human felt needs are not met as they desire.
Butterfly churches emerge from a time of spiritual reflection to view the world from God’s perspective. They not only draw nectar but also spread pollen. As God’s people acknowledging human weakness, they draw nectar from God through active reading of scripture, fervent prayer and meditation and from loving fellowship with other Christians. Because of these spiritual resources, the body becomes broadcasters of God’s pollen. They know that the world is lost without Jesus Christ and have prepared themselves to carry the saving message of the cross both locally and globally. Exemplifying the ancient churches in Antioch and Jerusalem, these churches are by nature redemptive fellowships. They understand and prioritize the purposes of God in personal life and ministry.
God’s church is intended to be more than a consuming caterpillar. Trina Paulus in Hope for the Flowers tells the story of two caterpillars who think there must be more to life than just “eating and growing.” They meet in a pillar of squirming, pushing caterpillars each fighting to reach the top, all assuming that true fulfillment–the purpose of existence–would be achieved by reaching the top. Eventually they become disillusioned with the climb, descend from the pillar, and learn that the way to reach the heights is not by climbing as a caterpillar but by becoming a butterfly.
One scene stands out graphically in the book. One of the caterpillars, named Yellow, is surprised by a gray-haired caterpillar hanging upside down and caught in some hairy stuff. To Yellow he seems to be in trouble. “Can I help?” she asks. “No, my dear,” he answers, ” I have to do this to become a butterfly.” At the mention of the word butterfly, “her insides leapt.” “What is a butterfly?” she asks. As the old caterpillar continues to spin his cocoon, he explains.
It’s what you are meant to become. It flies with beautiful wings and joins the earth to the heaven. It drinks only nectar from flowers and carries the seeds of love from one flower to another.
Yellow is fascinated by the thought that inside “a fuzzy worm” are the makings of a beautiful butterfly. With courage she hangs beside the old caterpillar and begins to spin her own cocoon.
Churches must also undergo a metamorphosis to become God’s redemptive people. This transformation occurs when Christians cease attempting to climb into the heavenlies by their own power and allow God to mold them. Human activity to achieve God’s purposes leads to disillusionment because there is no transformation of self. Consuming caterpillar churches must go through a metamorphosis to become pollen-carrying butterfly churches. Redemptive churches are always transformed churches.
Paulus, Trina. 1972. Hope for the Flowers. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.