September 5, 2016

Dismantling Towers

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When a pastor, staff member, ministry/department, or governing board works against the grain of a church’s mission, vision, or values, they build a tower unto themselves. The principle comes from Genesis 11:

“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 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.’” (Genesis 11:1-4)

Think of it – this huge assembly of people gathered in Shinar (modern day Iraq) and shared the misguided notion that on their own strength, independent of God, they might actually ascend beyond human limitation and to the very threshold of the divine – “to the heavens.”  What could possibly have moved the people in Shinar to take on this kind of building project? The answer, in a word, is pride.

Historians estimate that the Tower of Babel was built around 2200 BC, which means it would have been built around 100 years after the flood.  In the space of a mere hundred years or so, and spanning just a couple of generations, the command of God to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” was blatantly rejected. The people moved eastward, found themselves a nice plain in Shinar, and decided that they would stay there. They were blatantly disobedient, and at the root of their disobedience was pride, which becomes clearer still in verse 4: “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 earth.”

The people in Shinar were so overcome with pride that they couldn’t grasp reality. That’s the effect pride has on people. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis described the problem of pride this way: “Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”

That’s what was happening in Shinar. The people were so stricken with a spiritual cancer called pride that they were unable to love, or be content, or even think straight.

It’s tempting to dismiss what took place in Shinar as an ancient, humorous little blooper reel in the long history of human bloopers.  But let’s be honest. When we give into pride, we do exactly what the people in Shinar did – we build towers. Not towers of brick and mortar, but towers of isolation, achievement, elitism, recognition.

When a pastor, staff member, ministry/department, or governing board functions in isolation, they build a tower. When they point time and time again to all of the good things they have done, they build a tower. When they work not with others but against others, they build a tower. When they are consumed with praise and recognition, they build a tower.

And so we are clear, tower building is ultimately a leadership issue.  As the leader goes, so goes the ministry (or department, governing board, staff, etc.).  And in the church of Jesus Christ, leadership devoid of followership isn’t leadership at all – it’s tower construction.

In Shinar, the people were united behind their leader, Nimrod, a man that Scripture informs us was a mighty warrior who stood not with the Lord but before the Lord – in defiance of the Lord. Nimrod’s very name means “one who rebels.” What does this hold for today’s church leaders? How about this: Don’t be a Nimrod!

We all have a choice to make: We can focus on ourselves and build towers, or we can focus on Christ and join Him in building His church.

In fairness, most of us are in fact committed to serving Christ and His church in ministry – yet struggle at times with setting aside our own interests in favor of the greater good. I know this to be true because I have more experience building towers than I care to admit. But I didn’t set out to build towers, and I don’t believe that the large majority of church leaders do either.  Instead, towers get built slowly, steadily, and oftentimes unknowingly.

But here’s the good news – there is no tower too big for God to knock down:

“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.  That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:5-9)

God is extraordinarily compassionate! Confusing their language and scattering the people over all the earth was an act of discipline to be sure, but more than that it was an act of unmerited love. God gave the people a mulligan – a do-over – of epic proportion. God put a stop to their building project in order to save His people from themselves, and to help them turn back to His plan and purpose for them.

There is no tower too big for God to tear down.  If you’ve built a tower, ask God to tear it down. Fall on your knees, confess your building project to God, and recommit to joining Christ in the work of building His church – the whole church.

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