Next to Jesus, there’s a guy in the Bible who is one of my all-time favorites. Maybe it’s my season of life and ministry, but this guy is now at the top of my list. When I was a kid, it was Daniel. Spurred on by a Sunday School tune, “Dare to Be a Daniel,” I loved Daniel because of his bravery in the face of lions and more. Of course, maybe it was because Daniel is my middle name. But honestly, my all-time favorite now isn’t Moses, Abraham, David, Daniel, or Paul, it’s a guy who is mostly known by his nickname, Barnabas.
About a year ago, I remember reading something that Jo Saxton wrote about Barnabas and it resonated with me as to why this guy is my hero. His name was actually Joseph. But he was so defined by his attitude and actions that they called him the “Son of Encouragement,” or Barnabas.
Jo Saxton’s comments were about Barnabas responding to the exponential growth in the first century church by constantly celebrating it through giving up money, control and even his own reputation so the growth was never hindered. Saxton’s challenging question to leaders was, “can you celebrate what God is doing in others on your team or in another church in your community?” My gut level response to that question was, “Usually!”
I think this Barnabas-like nature is one of the strengths God has developed in me over the years. I’m grateful that I “usually” look for what God is doing and celebrate it rather than being so insecure I have to shut it down or highlight my past successes to “one up” someone else’s current victory. I’m confident it’s connected to the reason I planned and implemented a Successful Succession leadership plan 10 years ago at the church I founded.
But, back to Barnabas. He first shows up in Acts 4 where he sells a field and gives the disciples the money and he doesn’t insist it gets used for a specific project. In Acts 9, Barnabas risks his reputation on a newbie, named Saul, giving him access to other church leaders and asking those leaders to take a risk and give this new guy (later named Paul) a chance.
A little over a decade ago, I had an “aha” moment when I discovered that Luke always used Barnabas and Paul’s name together (in that order) into Acts 13 and then switched it from Acts 14 and beyond to Paul and then Barnabas. It’s a picture of their changing notoriety. I believe Barnabas understood that lighting another person’s candle didn’t blow out his own. In fact, it never hurts us when we celebrate the potential and the successes of others.
Barnabas willingly took a brash, bold, brilliant guy named Paul, and raised him up into prominence. We see it with Barnabas and John-Mark, (who completely messed up), and Barnabas personally coached him back to success. I find this fascinating. There is no New Testament letter or book named after Barnabas. But the imprint of his influence is throughout the New Testament because, without Barnabas, would there be a Paul and would there be a Mark?
I pray that my legacy as a leader is that I put this Barnabas characteristic into practice. This is what I know. It requires me to be generous and secure enough to share my life, my stuff, my gifts, my opportunities and my mission with others. It requires that I give away without expecting anything in return. Am I ready for that? Can I invite people into leadership and help them get there, even if I become less and they become more? Can I invite people alongside me in mission? This always sounds lovely until you have to do it. But then that person’s got something I don’t have or is doing something I may never do. Can I still celebrate that? I pray I will be known as one who lived up to the example of my favorite guy.
QUESTION: How are you wrestling with this challenge of being Barnabas-like in your leadership? I’d love to hear more.