Have you ever read the story of the Tower of Babel and been utterly confused? You should have been—it’s a confusing story. You can find it in Genesis 11:1–9 and I would encourage you to read it and think about each and every verse you come across. Here’s a quick reminder… The whole world had one language. They decided to build a city and a tower up to the heavens, so that they could make a name for themselves and wouldn’t be scattered. God saw what they were doing and confused their language. They were scattered—the exact opposite thing they wanted to happen. And the tower they were building was not able to be finished.
Keep that story in mind and look at Acts 8:1b: “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria” (NRSV). These stories seem completely unrelated, other than the fact that they both revolve around the idea of being scattered. You might be saying: “They were scattered for completely different reasons.” And you are right. So what is the connection? We have to go back a few chapters in the book of Acts for this to all make sense. When we look at ch. 2, we find a powerful parallel to the story of the Tower of Babel. In v. 4 we find: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” This newly established church was empowered by the spirit of God. But God does the exact opposite of the Genesis story in this scenario—he empowers his church with the ability to understand new languages, as opposed to confusing them.
In Genesis, the people’s language was confused and they were scattered. In Acts, the people’s languages were understood and they were also scattered several chapters later. So why were the people in Genesis scattered? There are many theories, but the most significant rational is because they “wanted to make a name for themselves,” meaning they were doing it out of pride. The people in Genesis wanted to build an unbreakable city that would never be divided, to bring glory to themselves. In the book of Acts, we see a church that is ready to make a difference in the world and they need to know that they are being prepared to be scattered for the glory of God. While I don’t believe that God created the persecution they faced, he would use the scattering as an opportunity to fulfill the mission: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts, 1:8).
So let’s bring this down to a practical conversation… What does this mean for us today? I have been thinking particularly about church multiplication and multisite development. One area that particularly intrigues me is the change of theology found from the Old to New Testaments. In the Old Testament, there was something powerful about people coming to the Temple to worship God. This even became an issue that divided the people of Israel (Jews and Samaritans). In an interaction with a Samaritan woman, Jesus seems to indicate that it doesn’t matter where we worship, so long as it is done in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). The kingdom of God was no longer confined to the temple, but was being extended throughout the region and later, the known world.
Often times, we become focused on building up our church or ministry in one specific geographic location, that we forget the call to extend our ministry into the entire world. I am not advocating that every church needs to begin launching new campuses all around the world. But I am suggesting that we all need to seriously consider what it means to plant churches and launch new campuses, because being “scattered” is part of the mission of the church.
Ralph Moore is the pastor of a large church in Hawaii, but his church has also planted more than 800 churches. In his book, Starting New Churches, he talks about how his church planted another church when they only had 150 people. Although it didn’t make sense to do this, he knew that it was the right thing to do. And the seats of a few dozen people who were sent to plant a new church, were filled within weeks of sending this group of people out. God was faithful to their ministry and brought growth in the midst of their commitment to be scattered.
This is some food for thought—how might God be calling you to move beyond the boundaries of your current location and be scattered for the sake of the gospel? God has equipped us to go into all of the world. What does that look like for you?