Growing up a “PK” (pastor’s kid), the “tower of Babel” was one of my favorite stories. I heard it throughout my childhood, saw it on our Sunday school flannel graph and even listened to it on Adventures in Odyssey. (Y’all don’t know nothin’ bout that!)
A few months back, I read this story with a fresh set of eyes, and I was blown away by how much it applies to worship, ministry and leadership.
The story picks up in Genesis 11. These are the ancestors of Noah himself (I guess weall are if you get super technical about it). Commanded by God to replenish the earth after the flood (Genesis 9), they’ve decided to do things their own way…
Genesis 11:3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (NIV)
So right off the bat, you can see there is a heart issue here. They’re not unlike most churches in our culture today. Verse 3 tells us they’re building in a way that no one had to that point, using brick and tar (innovation). That wasn’t the problem. Verse 4 is the real issue. It tells us their true intentions. “Let us build ourselves a city.” “So that we can make a name for ourselves.”
How many of us are doing this as a Pastor? Worship Leader? Maybe even as a church? You won’t find anyone more pro-innovation than me. I love the latest tech stuff, new songs and new methods to reach more people. Innovation is great! But what’s the motivation?
The people of Babel were so all about their name that it is believed they actually inscribed it on every single brick! That sounds so insane reading it about others right? But don’t we do this as leaders too?
“That’s my song,” “This is my department,” “My budget,” “My team,“ “My members.” “Ibuilt this from the ground up… you should’ve seen it before I got here.”
Sounds so ugly when you see it in writing, but we’ve all been guilty at one time or another of statements like these. And it never ends well as we see in the rest of the story. Here’s God’s response:
Genesis 11:5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (NIV)
Isn’t it fascinating that God acknowledges they just might have accomplished what they set out to do because they were unified and speaking the same language? Proof that it’s not enough to just speak the same thing as a church, ministry or team.
We have to be speaking the right things together or God will have no part in it. It’s a great indicator that size doesn’t always equal success in God’s eyes. We can successfully build a ministry and still be outside of God’s will! Now that’s a sobering thought.
The story ends in Genesis 11:8 with a final action on God’s part…
Genesis 11:8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. (NIV)
I think God is still saying the same thing to His people today… “I didn’t call you to congregate in comfort – building your name and your kingdom. I want your worship within the walls to win the people outside of them!”
Are you building Babel?
Joe Cameneti Jr