#334 Barnabas: Serving with Failure

September 28, 2022

Barnabas was a great leader and we have reflected on many great things from his life. But he was not perfect! Two incidents are recorded for us that reveal his imperfections.

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (Acts 15:36-41, NIV).

After serving together as a powerful team for years, Paul and Barnabas could not agree on whether to take Mark on the next journey! This unresolved conflict is ironically the last we hear about Barnabas in the book of Acts!

Perhaps even before this well-known disagreement, there was another contentious issue about circumcision in Antioch. Peter acted hypocritically and was rebuked publicly by Paul. In his writing about the incident, Paul also reported:  

The other Jews joined him [Peter] in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray (Galatians 2:13).

In this situation Barnabas and Peter were clearly in the wrong (see note*). But the failures of Barnabas serve as reminders to leaders that even in our failures, we can serve others.

The failure of Barnabas serves by showing that failure is normal.

Paul thought so highly of Barnabas that he said “even Barnabas was led astray.” He implies that Barnabas was the last person he expected to make this mistake! But Barnabas did fail and shows all leaders that failure is to be expected. Certainly, we don’t intend to or plan to fail, but we should anticipate it. Some leaders see failure as a sign of incompetence, so they feel obliged to cover up, deny or ignore failure. But serving leaders accept their humanity and the reality that all leaders fail. They give grace to themselves and ask for grace from others when they fail. In doing so, they serve those they lead by showing that failure is normal.

The failure of Barnabas serves by showing that failure is not the end.

The recorded story of Barnabas ends with the disagreement between him and Paul but his work did not end there. Barnabas took Mark with him on a missionary journey and while we don’t know the results, we can certainly expect that the existing churches were strengthened and other churches planted through their work. Some leaders see failure as the end of their work but serving leaders understand that failure is not final. They learn to continue the journey after each failure and serve by showing that failure is not the end.  

The failure of Barnabas serves by showing that failure can lead to growth.

Both Barnabas and Paul grew through their disagreement. Paul later requested Mark to help him (see 2 Timothy 4:11). Barnabas grew as a team leader while traveling with Mark. God used their disagreement to send out two teams instead of one and brought growth to the churches. On the issue of circumcision both Barnabas and Peter were able to see their mistakes and make corrections. Some leaders see failure as the end of growth but serving leaders see failures as opportunities for growth. They ask what went wrong and what can be learned. They adjust, change, and adapt as needed and then carry on the mission! They serve their teams by growing through failure.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How does the failure of Barnabas challenge me as a leader? What action can I take this week to be more like him as I respond to my own failures?
  • Do I see failure as normal for my own leadership? If so, how do I communicate this to others? If not, how does this impact the way I see and respond to the failures of others?
  • Have I allowed a past failure to stop me from doing what I should be doing? If so, what steps do I need to take to get back on the right path?
  • In what ways have my failures brought growth to my life and leadership? Who needs to hear about what I have learned and when will I share my story with them?               

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll look at how Barnabas served with character.

*Note. Scholars debate about whether Peter’s visit to Antioch was prior to or after the  Jerusalem Council where the matter of circumcision was resolved by the church leaders. (See Acts 15) If the visit was afterwards, the failure of Peter and Barnabas was certainly more grievous. But whatever the timeline they both failed to live out the gospel message.

#333 Barnabas: Serving with Humility

September 14, 2022

There’s not a specific verse in scripture that talks about the humility of Barnabas, but there is plenty of evidence that he served with  deep humility. First, while he was a prominent figure in the life of the church, when the people chose the first deacons, his name was not included (see Acts 6:1-6). This might have been a great disappointment to him, but nowhere is there any evidence that he resented this lack of recognition. An even stronger indication of his humility comes in his relationship with Saul (later called Paul) and how they are noted by the historian Luke who wrote the book of Acts. Early in the story the name of Barnabas is always mentioned first. He was a leader before Paul was even converted so naturally his name was prominent. At the church in Antioch, the name of Barnabas was listed first (Acts 13:1). As they set out on the first missionary journey they went as “Barnabas and Saul” (see Acts 13:6). Barnabas was in the forefront. But very soon this changes.

Paul became the key leader on the team, even in Cyprus, the home of Barnabas. By the time they left Cyprus Luke speaks of “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13) and after Mark left it was “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:42). From this point forward their names were nearly always listed in this order. (See exceptions in Acts 14:14 and 15:2, 25). After the disagreement Barnabas had with Paul in Acts 15 (which we will examine in our next issue) Barnabas made a missionary trip that Luke did not even include in his history of the church and the name of Barnabas is not mentioned again. Only a humble leader can continue serving after losing recognition. His humility did not make him a weak leader but a serving leader who focused on others rather than himself. Barnabas shows all leaders how to serve with humility.

Humility serves by spotlighting the gifts of others

Barnabas recognized Paul’s gifting early in their relationship and continually pulled Paul into places where he would use those gifts. He brought Paul to the church leaders in Jerusalem and later called Paul to join him at Antioch. Barnabas was a gifted leader, but he humbly shone a light on the gifts of Paul until they were recognized by all.

Some leaders want the focus of attention to be on their own gifts and feel threatened by the gifts of others around them. But serving leaders are not threatened by the gifts of others. They do not downplay their own gifts but call attention to the gifts of others. They humbly affirm and acknowledge that others are gifted in ways that they are not and seek ways to let others know about those gifts.

Humility serves by strengthening the gifts of others.  

Barnabas not only highlighted the gifts of Paul, but he also worked hard to compliment those gifts with his own. He walked alongside of Paul and brought his gifts to bear to their teamwork. He traveled, preached, and led with Paul. Paul, even when he took the lead, needed the gifts of Barnabas.  

Some leaders look for others to strengthen their own gifts. Serving leaders look for ways to strengthen the gifts of others.

Humility serves by submitting to the gifts of others.

Barnabas faded from the records as he allowed Paul to rise up as a leader. He submitted his gifts to the greater good and the mission of the team. Some leaders resist yielding their gifts to a larger purpose. But serving leaders submit their gifts to team goals. When, like Barnabas, that means disappearing from the scene, they accept that with humility. If they are by gifting a “Paul”, they find ways to affirm the gifting of the “Barnabas” on the team which they acknowledge they also need to succeed.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How does the humility of Barnabas challenge me as a leader? What action can I take this week to be more like him?
  • In what ways can I spotlight the gifts of others today instead of my own?
  • In what ways do my gifts strengthen the gifts of others? How can I appropriately acknowledge the role of my own gifts while serving others?
  • Do I consciously submit my own gifts to the mission of the team, or do I see my gifts as more important than the mission? How does this impact my leadership?
  • If I am more of a “Paul” by gifting, what can I do to affirm the role of the “Barnabas” on my team today?   

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler In the next issue, we’ll examine how Barnabas served with failure!