I remember the moment my paradigm shifted. I had turned over the leadership to one of our lunch outreaches to our interns. I told them, “find a way to make this better.” They did. I sat and watched how students responded to them and how within a semester more students were coming than ever before. Then it hit me: I’d been training them to do their role in my ministry and not training them to be effective ministers. The bottle neck wasn’t them and their ability; it was me and my lack of vision. If we are going to reach the world for Christ and have an impact on not just our campus, but every campus, we have to raise up men and women and give them the opportunity to be better than us. It reminds me of the life of Barnabas in the New Testament. Barnabas was a man who never wrote a single page of the New Testament, but his fingerprints are all over it. He was a man who humbly knelt at the cross so others could stand on his shoulders to see Jesus better.
A quick look at Barnabas’ life gives us a few principles to help us make others great and multiply the kingdom.
Barnabas held nothing back.
We see early in Acts that when a need arose, Barnabas sold his land and gave all the profits to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). Whatever Barnabas had was available for the Kingdom’s use. This is immediately contrasted by the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 who were unwilling to be “all in” and hold nothing back. I think about as a minister how much I hold back from my students when, like the apostles, they are in need of resources for the journey.
After one of our worship services I had a student comment how they wished they could preach like me. I held back. I should have sat down with him and walked through how I do sermon prep and study, giving him everything I had, but I didn’t. To my shame, I smiled, mumbled something about God is gracious, and chose to keep a few little tricks of the trade up my sleeve so I would still have the edge and could maintain some sort of professional “awe” as a speaker.
As ministers, are we hoarders of resources or distributors of resources? How are our students going to change the world for Christ if we hold back things we’ve learned in order to maintain some sort of “professional edge” on them? Is all that we have theirs?
Barnabas was an advocate.
Saul goes from being religious terrorist number one to a follower of Christ in Acts 9. You can imagine the distrust of many believers towards Saul. Saul goes to Jerusalem and tries to the join the disciples, but they were afraid of him! Barnabas steps in and advocates for Saul and testifies to Saul’s faith. It’s only by Barnabas’ word that the apostles bring Saul in.
When I was in college I had a chance to speak to the church. I blew it! My college pastor probably should have been fired, but instead he hired me as an intern. He vouched for me. He was my advocate and defender to the church. Ricky used his good reputation and trust to create a safe place for me to learn and grow within the church. I wouldn’t be where I am today without that much needed experience and growth.
How many times do we use our influence to create safe places for our students to lead, grow, mess up, or fail? Barnabas stood in the gap for Saul. Do we stand in the gap for our students?
Barnabas moved over and let others lead.
Moving along in the Acts narrative we come to chapter 13 where some key transitions happen. Saul changes his name to Paul, and there is also a change in leadership. You’ll need to read the chapter to catch it all, but in short – up till this point they have been referred to as Barnabas and Saul. By the end of chapter 13 they are now referred to as Paul and Barnabas. There has been a role change for Barnabas. He steps back and lets Paul lead. This is monumental! You can image what it could have done to Barnabas to hear the church talk about how “gifted” Paul was. Barnabas could argue that Paul wouldn’t even be there if it wasn’t for him, but what does Barnabas do? He moves over and makes room for a leader to lead, even if it costs him being out front.
Last spring, our state had a missions placement conference for our potential summer missionaries. One of our interns and his wife went with students from our campus and did an excellent job of shepherding our students through discerning God’s will for their summer. I drove up on Saturday to see, encourage, and pray with our students. I got there and most of our students didn’t even know I was there or needed me. They were constantly going to our intern and his wife for comfort and guidance! It was constantly, “Oh, hi Clayton. Have you seen Warren or Sarah?” I was not the primary spiritual leader for them. I had to wrestle with the question: “Do I make room for those with gifts to use them even if it takes away from my ‘spotlight’”? Will I make room in my chariot so we can accomplish God’s kingdom work instead of my kingdom work? Barnabas did, and we should too.
Are we letting our students and staff lead even if it costs us the spotlight? Are we as ministers moving over and letting our leaders lead or is it a power struggle. Is there room at the top for other leaders or is it a constant game of “king of the mountain”?
Barnabas refused to give up.
Paul is now the leader and they press on. Along the way Paul and Barnabas come to a sharp disagreement. Acts 15:36-41 tells us that is was over a young man named John Mark. Apparently John Mark has grown homesick and deserted them on an early trip. Paul wasn’t willing to take the risk of bringing him along and Barnabas was dead set on bringing him. Imagine that, Barnabas is at odds against Paul, the one he had patience with and fought for, because Paul won’t extend that same grace to John Mark. Barnabas refuses to give up on John Mark and in the end, Paul and Barnabas split ways. This is the last we hear of Barnabas in the New Testament narrative. He drifts out of the pages of the New Testament, but his fingerprints don’t. His handiwork shows back up in 2 Timothy 4:11 -”Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry”
Can you imagine? Forget whatever theological training you have. I would give up all my education and training if I could just have a piece of paper that said, “Clayton is very useful to me for ministry. –The Apostle Paul” What a resume! This is same John Mark that he abandoned in Acts 15. Now, after all this time John Mark had become a great minister of the Gospel. What happened? Might I suggest that Barnabas refused to give up on him, was patient with him, and trained him up in the ministry? This is the same John Mark that eventually wrote the Gospel of Mark! John Mark blossomed under Barnabas’ leadership.
Can we see the ripple effect – the Barnabas effect? Here is a man whose name only appears very few times in the New Testament, but his influence spreads throughout most of the New Testament. Are we as campus ministers going to look at students for what they could become and refuse to give up on them? Could it be said of that little homesick freshman in thirty years: “Go get him; he is useful to me in ministry?” It could be, if we would hold nothing back, be an advocate, move over and let him lead, and refuse to give up on him.
If we are going to see our campuses, our world saturated with more gospel writers like Mark and more church planters like Paul, then we need to have more campus ministers like Barnabas.