Barnabas – A Leader Who Served
By Dr. Mark Herringshaw
Norm and I were having breakfast on purpose-my purpose. How quickly things can change! In every church there are leaders who carry titles such as the “Chairman of the Council” and the “Head of the Missions Team.” And there are leaders who carry influence, even if they don’t manage specific responsibility. Norm is the latter. He is a wise, pragmatic man. When he speaks, people listen. I knew it was prudent to share my vision with Norm, and hopefully win his support.
I had given Norm a written draft of our 2003 plans. The document was high on vision, yet grounded with a specific strategy. I felt confident I could win Norm to the cause. “So, what do you think?” I asked him between bites of waffle. Norm looked at me and smiled. He pulled out his copy. “This is all fine,” he said, “but it doesn’t excite me.”
I swallowed hard. This wasn’t what I had expected. “So, what excites you?” I felt more defensive than I let show. Norm flipped to the backside of the paper where he scribbled notes. “I’ll tell you…” And he did. For the next 30 minutes Norm shared how he and a group of fellow engineers had visited Afghanistan and how doors were open to help rebuild the infrastructure of that nation. He told me how they were planning to build a gas pipeline across the country with the purpose of being able to say, “Christians did this.” I sat dumb and dumber. “So, sure, we need a new roof on the church. But I’m going to change a nation. That’s what I get excited about.” I looked sheepishly at my paper. Then I heard myself say, “So how can we help you?”
Like most pastors I have spent most of my dreaming energy drumming vision to grow the church. I do, indeed, want to see His Kingdom come and His will done on earth as it is in heaven. But are my plans for church ministry big enough? What if God is placing charges inside the lives of Christians that far outpace my own? I had come to Norm hoping he would help me. I left knowing I was called to help him.
Barnabas on Leadership
Barnabas may be the greatest leader in the New Testament Church. Paul? Peter? John? No, Barnabas! His given name was Joseph, but he was nicknamed “Barnabas” which means “Son of Encouragement.” He earned that title as a man who gave generously of his time, talents, and resources to reconcile other believers to their destiny. Today, Barnabas stands as one of history’s preeminent models of servant leadership.
When we first meet Barnabas in Acts 4:37, Luke tells us he “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles feet.” Barnabas is investing his personal resources that others might taste of the gift of grace. But investment of finances was just the beginning on this man’s legacy. When Saul, who had violently persecuted the church, converted to the faith, most Christians were afraid to embrace him. Barnabas however saw the “Paul” inside of Saul. Putting his own credibility on the line he got to know Saul personally. He stepped out as he introduced Saul to the apostles, insisting that Saul had “preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27).
When news of a new church in Antioch reached Jerusalem, the leaders immediately sent their “networking engineer”, Barnabas, who “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23). Then, instead of leveraging the Apostles’ delegated authority for himself, Barnabas found Saul, brought him to Antioch, and released him into public ministry. The two then served the church in Antioch for one year (Acts 11:26). When those in Antioch learned of an approaching famine in Jerusalem, the church took an offering, each giving “according to his ability.” They sent their gift of encouragement back to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11: 28-30).
When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, the Church commissioned them for the first “intentional” missionary journey. The quest was a great success. After their trip they traveled back to Jerusalem to share with the Apostles the miraculous signs and wonders that had accompanied the advance of the Gospel among the gentiles. Their story helped convince the church leaders to “not make it difficult for the gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19). Here, again, Barnabas was working to bolster the spiritual destinies of those he led.
But Paul and Barnabas experienced a bitter parting when Paul refused to allow John-Mark, a young man who had deserted their first mission, to rejoin them. Barnabas, ever the encourager, believed that God had a purpose for Mark. After the fallout he invited Mark to join him on a mission to Cypress. This step of faith saved Mark’s ministry.
Luke describes Barnabas as a good man, “full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24). He demonstrated these attributes by continually drawing attention away from himself. Barnabas understood that his place in the Body of Christ was to help others find their place. Yes, Paul is remembered as the first great missionary. But Barnabas made a place for Paul. Mark wrote the first gospel account of Jesus’ ministry, the text that served as a model for other writers. Yet Mark’s work of inspiration might never have come about had not Barnabas restored him to service. Barnabas was a quintessential servant-leader.
- Leaders Prepare for the Vision
What qualities of a “Barnabas” style of leadership can we employ in our contemporary settings? In Ephesians 4:12 Paul suggests that the role of leadership is to prepare God’s people for service in the Kingdom. Pastors are appointed to equip Christians to fulfill their callings. How, specifically, can a leader nurture the visions that God places in the hearts of his people?
First, a leader may carry a role in the conception of vision. When a preacher, or prophet, effectively communicates the Word of God, life is transferred into the hearts of those who are willing to hear. A leader who accurately opens scripture will impart faith (an apprehension of truth and an eagerness to respond to that truth), hope (a heart-felt encouragement that God keeps his Word) and love (accountability in relationships). Faith, hope, and love will supernaturally spark a specific vision. Recently, many churches have bolstered the birth of vision by teaching about, and then helping their people discover, their natural and spiritual gifts. Only God can “create” true and enduring vision. But by faithfully administering the Word, a faithful leader can prepare the way.
- Leaders Woo the Vision
Once the Holy Spirit has deposited a particular vision in the heart of a Christian, a Barnabas leader can “woo” the idea out of the steward’s heart where it can begin to grow into reality. An effective leader encourages the bearer to believe that God’s visions can become reality. They impart the courage to put the idea into words. Anyone who has borne the weight of a vision knows the risk involved in making it public. Dreams are safe, private indulgences. But good leadership sets an environment where “impossible” ideas are articulated and then given away so that others can join them.
Last winter I began to encourage the members of our church to open their hearts to God’s visions. I was hardly prepared for the avalanche! One young man sheepishly approached me saying, “I know this sounds crazy… but I have this idea. I really think I’m supposed to start a coffee shop staffed by Christians down by the University of Minnesota.” “Okay,” I said, “tell me more.” Over the next weeks a dozen individuals shared their dreams. One person wants to plant an international church in Beijing China, another a prayer retreat center in a deserted resort, another an ESL school for immigrants. Open the door, and visions will flow!
- Leaders Scrutinize the Vision
Not every vision that surfaces is right to pursue. Leaders must test the mettle of church visions. This may involve putting some distance between the steward of the vision and the vision itself. Here several questions need to be pressed: Does this idea pass Biblical muster? Is there a witness of the Spirit in more than one person? Is it prudent? Is there a measure of practicality? Does it flow with the stream of God’s plans for this particular church? Is the timing right? As an idea is passed through this crucible, “right” will emerge from “good” and God’s heart will be revealed.
Sometimes the dream of the individual will need to be adapted and honed. Last year one of our staff launched a worship service for college students. As the vision developed through the gauntlet of real experience, we concluded that the dream needs to be fulfilled from our church, but not within our church.
- Leaders Wait With the Vision
In real estate the question is: location, location, location. Following God’s vision the question is: timing, timing, timing. Joe Rickenback, the former executive director of North Heights Lutheran Church in St. Paul, is one of the most patient visionaries I have ever met. For years Joe served the visionary leadership of Morris Vaagenes. This meant setting aside a personal mandate he had been given by God during one Conference on the Holy Spirit back in the 1970s. Now in his retirement, nearly 30 years later, Joe is released to pursue that idea: to see leadership training released around the world.
- Leaders Connect the Dots
When a vision is from God, unrelated individuals will frequently receive similar ideas. The Barnabas leader recognizes patterns and draws together individuals who share common interests. Sometimes stewards of particular visions are so focused upon their intent they cannot recognize potential relationships. Barnabas leaders connect the dots so visionaries can benefit from the synergy of wider relationships.
Currently there is a great impetus in marketplace ministry. About five years ago the Holy Spirit prompted this theme independently in the hearts of several people throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Last fall several ministries, all birthed independently during that original season of inspiration, came together in a conference to encourage each other and to link their efforts. Servant leaders see these Spirit-inspired patterns and help play matchmaker.
- Leaders Resource the Vision
When a vision is right, and the timing is right and the relationships are in place to begin to see it materialize, servant leaders begin to help resource the dream. On earth every Kingdom activity requires both material and spiritual assets. Prayer, spiritual warfare, prophetic insight, and grounding in the Word are spiritual elements that must be woven into the founding of every Kingdom venture. Barnabas leaders make sure these elements are present.
Physical resources, including time, energy, and money, must also be directed. Barnabas leaders help coach the visionary with wise strategic planning. If the dream is genuine, it will captivate others who will invest their time, human energy, and resources to see it fulfilled. Some churches are establishing endowment funds or other capital drives toward this end.
- Leaders Join the Vision
Barnabas was committed to releasing others in ministry. But in every case he also dove in to work shoulder to shoulder in their labors. Genuine leaders will do more than cheerlead. They will roll up their own sleeves and partner alongside the visionary they serve. This allows leaders a legitimate platform from which to continue to offer prayer and counsel, and gives them an excuse to join the celebration when the vision finds fulfillment.
When Bigger is Really Better
As a pastor I am coming to accept that the objective of my leadership is not to cast a vision for the church, but rather to facilitate and hone the multiple and wonderful visions conceived within the hearts of the sons and daughters of God under my charge. This “Barnabas revelation” may steer my ministry in directions I had not anticipated. After all, I didn’t dream up planting a Christian seminary in Kenya, or building a recreation center for teenagers in our town. I didn’t muster up the ideas for the gas-pipeline across Afghanistan, the orphanage in Belarus, the scholarship fund for needy college students, the plans to support 300 church planters in China, the English language school in the Phillips neighborhood, the Internet-based discipleship program for rural teenagers, the citywide college ministry in the Twin Cities… But with or without me, these and other God-breathed passions are echoing through the hallways of Vision of Glory Lutheran Church. If I can’t beat them with bigger ideas of my own, I might as well join them.
Mark Herrringshaw is senior pastor at Vision of Glory Lutheran Church in Plymouth, MN.
By Paul Anderson
Jerry didn’t like the way the church council meeting went, and especially the way Harvey led it. He talked about it afterward with two other members: “Harvey’s too top-down, too bossy, like his opinion is the only one that counts.” The others mildly agreed, fueling Jerry’s mission to discredit Harvey. When one of Jerry’s children had been involved in an incident at church two years ago, Harvey’s straight-forward approach to handling the difficulty offended the laid-back style Jerry preferred to take.
Being offended is optional, not mandatory. You may, if you desire, choose not to be offended. Solomon says that “he who covers over an offense promotes love” (Proverbs 17:9). On the other hand, he describes offended people as locked up cities: “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel” (Proverbs 18:19). An offended person lives in an unhealthy manner with relationships. Gossip and sowing discord are easy for offended people, as it now was for Jerry, who was mature in some ways and immature in others. Offended people are deceived into thinking that they have the right to slander. They are insensitive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit because of their injured hearts and callous attitudes, and they wreak havoc in the body of Christ.
Wounded people get wounded more easily. And wounded people wound other people. As much as they make vows like, “I’ll never be like Dad,” the negative emotional bond predisposes them to the same characteristics. Scripture encourages us to “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). Those who think they have their rights make grievances an issue of justice: “This shouldn’t happen to me; this is not fair. I deserve more than this.” They are personally affronted-so they take it personally. Because of their insecurity, they choose to be offended and to press for justice.
What if we adopted the outlook of a servant, or better yet, a slave? Slaves have no rights, only responsibilities. They look for ways to serve, not to be served. And they will serve even those who are unkind to them as Jesus did. He came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). So dying was on His mind more than living. It was written into His job description. He was not attempting to stay alive. He was giving Himself away. Before Paul tells us to “bear with each other,” he says, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). Next comes the exhortation, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” (v.4). Because of the cross of Jesus, because He lived to die, we are empowered to live in the same way-and to die in the same way. What would be impossible is now an option for us. We can choose the outlook of a slave. Living as a slave frees us from the obligation of offense. Being offended seems like a privilege; in fact, it is a burden that imprisons us. Dying to ourselves enables us to rise above wounding. The healthier we are, the less we are offended. We walk in the security of knowing that we are loved and affirmed by God, so if someone overlooks us, it is not an unforgivable offense. If someone insults us, it does not degrade us because our confidence is not in what people think about us but in what God thinks about us. However, t is easier said than pulled off. We cannot do it unless we learn to receive love from the Father, unless we know how to be comforted by the Holy Spirit. No one can console us better. But often we choose the injury rather than the healing.
Why do we get offended?
Pride – We have an exalted view of ourselves. We think we deserve something better. That is why taking the attitude of a servant as Jesus did frees us from any obligation to our human nature. The lower we go, the less we are offended. People who go high are offended easily. Those who go low have no rights, no titles, no expectations, so they are not let down. The higher we go, the greater our expectations and the more often we are disappointed. If you get offended easily, you are a proud person.
Wounds – We have injuries not yet healed, which makes us more vulnerable. Wounded people are overly sensitive, like a guy with a sore arm. He walks defensively, because he doesn’t want you to bump into it. Unforgiveness keeps wounds from healing. The more wounds, the more sensitive spots, and therefore, the greater potential for ongoing injury.
We don’t like pain. Like the comedian said, “I have a different outlook regarding working out: no pain-no pain. If you have decided that you need a pain-free life, you are dreaming, because it is neither biblical nor realistic. Paul said, “In the world you will have tribulation…”
They should know better. Some people can offend us, but not our spouse or our parents. And yet the truth is that the people who love us the most sometimes hurt us the most.
Insecurity – We are hoping to get affirmation to build up our sagging egos. When we don’t get it, we are offended.
They should talk! We see it in them, so they don’t have credibility.
We don’t see the benefit of criticism. In fact, going low makes grace accessible to us. When people criticize us, they are doing us a favor, because it is humbling, and it is the prelude to being exalted by God if we accept it graciously.
We are “into” control. People who attempt to control rather than to release others are offended often. They place themselves as judges of others, seeing only black and white, and the reaction of others offends their self-righteousness.
We need pain. Some people instigate offense because of their guilt. Rather than accepting the forgiveness of Christ, they punish themselves.
Someone wrote a new hymn. It’s called, “It Ain’t Well With My Soul.” This unfortunately describes many of the people in the church. We give people a “2” (in terms of potential for reaction), and we get a “7” back. That tells us that they are carrying their past along with them. There’s a history. They are not reconciled with yesterday, so it makes today more difficult to bear. There’s one way to deal with the past, and that is with forgiveness. Offenses not forgiven will be repeated. It is one thing to be offended, and this often happens before we stop to think about it. But it is another thing to choose to own the offense and keep it around. This outlook breaks up relationships and does great damage to the body of Christ, which Jerry engineered without realizing it.
Why do we hold onto an offense? (My friend Joe Johnson helped me here).
- The offense is too great just to let go. If it were smaller, we reason that we would overlook it.
- The person doesn’t accept responsibility, so we think that simply dropping the case would be irresponsible of us.
- The person is not asking to be forgiven, and we think wrongly that that is a prerequisite for forgiveness. (Try the first words of Jesus from the cross.)
- They will offend us again. It is most difficult to let go of offenses that are repeated, such as in a marriage. A broken woman once told me, “I can forgive the past. It is the present that I struggle with.”
- I don’t like them. It is my way of “getting even.” I don’t want to give them the kindness of forgiveness, so I punish them. In reality, I am punishing myself. As someone has said, “Unforgiveness is the poison I drink to hurt my offender.”
- They hurt me deliberately. Involuntary manslaughter is easier to forgive than deliberate words and actions. They did it with purpose.
- If I let go of the offense, I will have to change.
- Someone has to punish them. It might as well be me.
- Something keeps me from forgiving
- I’d be pretending. I don’t really mean it. (And I don’t want to mean it.)
- I don’t want to forget the offense.
- I don’t trust God to work it out.
The greatest example of rising above offense is, of course, Jesus. Peter wrote that “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but entrusted himself to him to judges justly” (I Pe. 2:23). He never took matters into His own hands. He never chose to get even, to settle the score. He always chose to respond to God before He responded to people, and it kept Him from reacting. He wouldn’t allow resentment to lodge in His soul. He gave the devil no room to launch any attacks. And Peter says that this is the way we are to live. We spend too much time reacting to people rather than responding to God. The only way to rise above offense is to die as Jesus died.
The way Jesus lived above offense was to keep His mouth shut, His heart open, and His conscience clear.
- Keep the mouth shut (He did not revile in return). The first line of defense when we are attacked is to open our mouths. We don’t always wait to think about it. We think after we have opened our mouths and said what we should not have said. We draw the sword to defend ourselves-and regret it later.
- Keep your heart open (Jesus entrusted himself to God). The heart stays open when we look to God in trust rather than looking only to what people have done to us
- Keep your conscience clear. (When He suffered, He did not threaten.) One sin does not deserve another. To sin in reaction to others does not make us innocent. We can only keep our conscience clear by protecting our heart and choosing not to be offended. How often have I heard my children saying, “They hit me first,” as if one crime deserves another.
It is harmful to be offended, and more harmful to stay that way, because we are refusing to die to ourselves. We are thinking too highly of our feelings rather than going the way of the cross. We are shutting down relationships, responding in the flesh rather than with the Spirit. And we are as dangerous as a wounded bear.
Some people live with constant offense in their lives, with unhealed wounds, with ongoing resentments. It is impossible for them to have healthy relationships. Those who rise above offense are fun to be with. They are healthy enough to bring health to the table. They contribute to others rather than taking out of them. They are a river rather than a dam. They don’t come to you as a needy person demanding to be filled up. They come to fill you up. They are meek, and life flows out of them. They are not afraid to ask for help, but they are interdependent rather than co-dependent, so they don’t drain it out of you. But people beyond offense are living by the Spirit rather than self-effort. They are filled with grace, and it empowers them and releases others. They are willing to be weak, but they don’t do it at the expense of others. It is a weakness that releases grace, not one that builds an expectation of return.
These truths came home to Jerry after a Sunday series on relationships. He realized that he had foolishly chosen to hold a grudge against Harvey for something as small as a personality difference. He knew he had to get beyond it if he was going to walk in maturity. He confessed it first to God, then to Harvey. They came to appreciate their differences on the church council and even to laugh at them.
How about making these commitments?
- I choose to find security in the love of God.
- I choose not to be offended, especially where I am known best (marriage, family, work, school).
- I choose to turn potential wounds into an opportunity to love the one who is wounding me. I know that the deeper the wound, the deeper the grace of God. I believe that my wounds will become places for grace to be shown most powerfully.
- I choose service, not survival. Dying is not an issue, but ministry is.
- I choose to go low and be a slave. I will not claim rights. I will not take up other people’s wounds and be offended by them.
Maybe you’d like to join me in prayer: “Dear Father, I am embarrassed at how easily I get offended. I know I am overly sensitive to what people say and do to me. And yet it is difficult for me to change. Give me grace to forgive the offenses of the past. I want to live as Jesus lived-above offense, but I know it won’t come easy. I will need your empowering grace. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit, so that I can walk free from resentment and be a clear channel of your mercy and love. Through Christ my Lord, Amen.”