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#334 Barnabas: Serving with Failure

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

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!

#332 Barnabas: Serving with Availability

One of the greatest ways Barnabas served the early church was simply being available. Several times his story includes a situation where he was sent by the church leaders to fulfill a specific mission. He was first sent by the apostles to the new church in Antioch.  

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22, NIV).

Then Barnabas was sent to safely deliver a financial gift.   

29The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:29-30).

Later, as we have already seen, he was sent with Paul on the first missionary journey.

So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:3).

When the church council met to debate a contentious issue, Barnabas was sent, along with others, to deliver their decision to the Gentile churches.

Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers (Acts 15:22).

We often think of leaders as the ones who look for people to send to accomplish tasks. But Barnabas shows us that serving leaders are available to be sent.  His posture was one of being available as needed and where needed. Serving leaders learn from his example how to serve by being available.  

Availability serves others by the surrender of program.

Barnabas was available to be sent and again and again gave up his own program to serve others. He gave a most precious gift for a leader, time! He likely had his own schedule before he was sent, but he surrendered that to advance the mission of the team. Serving leaders guard their time carefully, but they learn from Barnabas not to use it selfishly. They are willing to surrender their program to meet the needs of another. They are not intimidated or diminished by being sent. They serve by being available.  

Availability serves others by the surrender of proficiency.   

Barnabas was available to serve with the gifts and talents he brought to the team. He was an encourager and was sent to encourage. He was wise, so was sent to deliver sensitive information. He was dependable, so was sent to carefully handle finances. He was highly proficient as a leader, but deliberately made his gifts available to serve the team. Serving leaders bring their gifts to serve the team, not to build their own credentials. They make their gifts available as needed for the mission. They serve by being available.  

Availability serves others by the surrender of plans.  

Barnabas was not an idle leader with no plans. But he was continually willing to lay down his own dreams and ambitions for the sake of others on the team. This did not diminish his leadership capacity but rather focused it on the needs of others rather than self. Serving leaders are not afraid to surrender their own plans for the advancement of the team. They serve by being available.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How does the availability of Barnabas challenge me as a leader? What action can I take this week to be more like him?
  • Do I have any flexibility in my program/schedule to be available for the needs of others? What do I need to change in the way I manage my time to create opportunities to be available?
  • Do I see the skills and gifts that I possess as resources to be used for myself or for the sake of others? How can I make them available in service to others?
  • Am I willing to lay down my own dreams and plans for the sake of others? What makes it hard for me to surrender these plans? What step can I take in my own leadership to lay down my plans for the team?              

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

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

#330 Barnabas: Serving with Worship

August 17, 2022

Serving leaders can learn many actions from Barnabas that can increase their leadership skill and capacity. We have already reflected on his generosity, his encouragement, and his work within a team. A closer look at his story reveals the source of these positive attributes.

 1Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3, NIV).

What was Barnabas and this leadership team doing? Were they brainstorming about the future? Developing a five-year strategic plan? Setting SMART goals for the future? While these actions are all appropriate, this team was “worshipping the Lord and fasting…” The example of Barnabas shows how worship changes serving leaders.   

Worship serves by changing the heart.

This team of leaders gathered in worship. Their act of worship was an intentional shift of focus towards God. They focused their hearts and minds on God. They fasted from food as an act of denying themselves what their bodies craved. Their worship shifted the posture of their hearts away from themselves. Worship turned their focus from themselves to God.

Many leaders focus on the external actions of leadership and indeed many can be practiced without a change of heart.  But these actions will ultimately be self-serving unless there is an internal change of heart. Worship produces a change of the heart. Worship shifts the focus of the heart from self, our visions and plans and dreams, and turns our heart upward and outward. This heart change is revolutionary and prepares a serving leader to authentically serve others. It allows the leader to focus on a higher cause than selfish interest. Worship shapes the motives of our heart and forms character. Our hearts matter! Character matters! A heart change is required for the selflessness that serving leadership demands. True serving leadership begins with a heart changed by an encounter with God.

Worship serves by changing the head.

While this team worshipped, they heard the clear direction of the Holy Spirit. Without worship, they would likely have kept their minds focused on strengthening the existing church in Antioch. But in worship they experienced a shift of thinking and direction. Worship produces a change of thinking. Many leaders try to change their thinking to practice effective leadership. But serving leaders acknowledge that worship changes their thinking as needed.   

Worship serves by changing the hands.

After hearing the instruction of the Spirit, the group laid hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them away. Consider the cost of this action. These two were the senior leaders in the church and now they were sent elsewhere! This was a totally new and unexpected course of action. Worship produces a change of actions. Serving leaders allow God to guide them in new directions as they worship. Hearts and heads that are changed result in changed actions in the hands. True serving leadership acts flow out of worship.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How does the worship of Barnabas challenge me as a leader? What action can I take this week to be more like him?
  • In what ways has my heart been changed by an encounter with God? What evidence of this have I seen in the past week? If it is not evident, what is missing in my leadership and what do I need to change?
  • Have I found ways to build times of worship into my leadership calendar? If so, are there ways these times can be strengthened intentionally? If not, what step can I take this week to change?
  • If I am leading persons who do not value worship as a leadership practice what can I do to lead well without causing unnecessary offense?              

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll examine how Barnabas served with availability.

Barnabas: Serving with a Team

August 3, 2022

Barnabas was an influential leader in the early church, but he didn’t serve alone. Barnabas served with a team. Nearly every reference to Barnabas includes him with at least one other person. This can be seen most clearly at the church in Antioch where Barnabas was sent to provide leadership after a small church was launched there. He first encouraged the believers. But right away he went to Tarsus to find Saul and brought him to Antioch. Together they worked to strengthen this church and built a team of leaders that eventually sent Barnabas and Saul on what would become the first missionary journey.  

1Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:1-3, NIV).

Barnabas served others by serving with others. He models how serving leaders build teams around them that help to carry out the vision and mission of the organization.

Serving with a team affirms diversity.

Barnabas knew he needed Saul; he also recognized that he needed the others on that team to help build this church. The team at Antioch was very diverse. There were different gifts, different races and nationalities and certainly different personalities. Each of these brought their own unique strengths and perspectives to the team.

Some leaders try to build teams of people just like them, people who will see from their perspective and not offer different views. But serving leaders recognize the strength that comes from diversity. They acknowledge that they will never be a well-rounded leader, but they can develop a well-rounded team. They affirm the different gifts and perspectives that others bring to their teams and deliberately seek to build teams around strengths.  

Serving with a team achieves direction.  

Together the team heard God’s direction and were able to begin the first intentional outward expansion of the church. Their decision would take the church to the entire known world. There was strength in the direction they took because they were not working alone. They discerned together and could then move together.

Many leaders find that it’s easier to make decisions alone and set the direction of the organization alone. It seems quicker and less complicated to set direction this way. But serving leaders acknowledge that a team provides greater wisdom.  Serving leaders work through teams to accomplish the mission of the organization. They recognize that they cannot do as well or as much alone. Their teams provide needed wisdom and perspective that help them make good decisions that align with God’s purpose for their existence. 

Serving with a team avoids disruption.  

Following this team decision, the two key leaders left the church but the church continued thriving! Not only were the gifts and callings of Barnabas and Saul released to the world, but the leaders that remained at Antioch were also raised up to new levels of authority and responsibility. This was only possible because they were working as a team.  Where there is no team when a leader is gone, the work often collapses. But serving leaders know that long term success only comes when they build teams that can carry on after their departure. They acknowledge that where there is no teamwork, there will be no ongoing work. So they choose to serve by building teams.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • How does the way Barnabas served with a team challenge me as a leader? What action can I take this week to be more like him?
  • Reflect on your current team. How diverse is my team? Do we have all the perspectives and strengths that are currently needed? What strengths, if any, are missing from the team?  
  • Do I tend to make strategic decisions on my own or with my team? In what way does this impact my leadership? What can I do to strengthen the ability of my team to make wise decisions?
  • What would happen to my organization today if I was suddenly gone? Is my team equipped to carry on the vision without me? If not, what steps do I need to take to help them be ready?
  • Barnabas built a team that ultimately released him to a greater and higher calling. Am I preparing my team to release me? What might next steps look like for me?

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

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

#329 Barnabas: Serving with Generosity 

July 20, 2022 

The first recorded action of Barnabas was one of extreme generosity.   

36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:36-37, NIV). 

Barnabas sold a field he owned and gave the money to the church leaders. He was not the first of the believers to do this (see Acts 4:34), but his name is the first one mentioned in this regard. His action seems to have inspired Ananias and Sapphira to also sell their land (see Acts 5:1-11) but their heart and motives were entirely opposite to those of Barnabas.  The generosity of Barnabas demonstrates traits that all serving leaders do well to imitate.  

Generosity serves by demonstrating sacrifice. 

Barnabas sold the field he owned. This property was likely at his home in Cyprus and perhaps his family inheritance. He likely needed to travel home and then bring the money back to Jerusalem. In any case, in addition to giving the value of the property he gave time and energy. His act of generosity was a sacrifice and reflected the posture of his heart to give. Many leaders are in leadership for what they can get out of the role whether financial gain, prestige, or power. 

But serving leaders sacrifice their own desires and needs to serve those they lead. At times, like Barnabas, this may be a financial sacrifice. But many times, serving leaders sacrifice time and energy or other resources for those who follow. True generosity always demands costly sacrifice.  

Generosity serves by demonstrating sympathy.   

Barnabas was moved to generosity by the needs in the community. There were people who had needs and he had sympathy and compassion for them. He was not looking down on others, but he was looking out for others. His act of generosity shows his heart of sympathy for the needs of others more than his own needs. He recognized that he had possessions that were not intended only for his use but to bless others.  

Many leaders see others as the means to an end, people that can help accomplish the goal or the vision of the organization. But serving leaders do not see ‘workers’ or ‘members’ but they see human beings with their own dreams, passions, and desires. They look at others and see opportunities to bless and encourage. Because serving leaders focus their heart outward, they respond to these needs with sympathy and compassion. They recognize that they have been entrusted with gifts and resources that are intended to flow through them to others.  

Serving leaders give generously to those with genuine needs because they truly care about others and sympathize with their needs.  

Generosity serves by denying self.    

Barnabas sold his land and “brought the money and put it at the apostle’s feet.” In this gesture he gave up the right to determine what happened with his contribution.  The apostles would decide how it would be used in the early church. He wasn’t generous to receive praise. While it’s natural to want others to recognize our good deeds, Barnabas denied himself in this act. His act of generosity shows the focus of his heart which was on others rather than self.  

Many leaders consider being as generous as Barnabas but want to make sure that their name will be announced in the list of donors. Others act with generosity but want to control the outcomes or determine the way others should receive their gift. But serving leaders deny themselves and generously release power to others.  

For further reflection and discussion: 

  • How does the generosity of Barnabas challenge me as a leader? What action can I take this week to be more like him?  
  • When I give, is my generosity sacrificial or do I usually give only what I don’t want or use anyway? What steps could I take to be more generous?  
  • How do I see others on my team? Do I view them as persons who are there to help accomplish my vision or do I see them as humans of equal worth as myself, with their own dreams, desires, and difficulties? How does my view of others impact my leadership?  
  • Reflect on a time when you gave finances or tangible items to others with these questions. Was I able to give without any need for recognition or appreciation? Was I able to release control of the gift fully to the recipient or did I maintain power in the transaction? What do my actions reflect about my heart?  
  • Read Acts 5:1-11, the account of Ananias and Sapphira who also sold their property. In what ways did their generosity contrast with that of Barnabas?  

Until next time, yours on the journey, 

Jon Byler 

In the next issue, we’ll examine how Barnabas served with a team.  

#328 Barnabas Serving with Encouragement

Issue #328, July 6, 2022

If I asked you to name the top 10 leaders in the New Testament church, I doubt that Barnabas would be on the list. Yet, he served the church in amazing ways. He was the catalyst for Paul’s acceptance into the church. Barnabas helped establish the church where followers of Jesus were first called Christians and was on the first team sent into cross cultural missions. He was trusted with significant amounts of money and was a part of the Jerusalem council that provided equal footing for Gentile believers. He played a key role in the lives of two New Testament writers: Paul and Mark. In this series we’ll look at the ways Barnabas served the church and learn from his example.

We first hear about Barnabas soon after the church in Jerusalem was established.  36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:37, NIV)

At the first mention of his name, we find that his real name was Joseph, but he was already called Barnabas by the Apostles because of the way he encouraged others. While we don’t have a record of what Barnabas did prior to this first mention, there are subsequent actions that give us a glimpse of how Barnabas served with encouragement.

Barnabas encouraged by believing in the unaccepted.  

Paul had been the chief persecutor of the church and was intent on killing and imprisoning those who followed Jesus. Even after a radical conversion, when Paul came to Jerusalem the church was afraid of him and would not accept him as a brother. (Read Acts 9:26-27). But Barnabas believed in Paul and leveraged his influence to bring him into the Jerusalem church. Imagine how Paul felt as he listened to Barnabas validate his calling! By believing in the unaccepted, Barnabas served the church by bringing in the greatest apostolic missionary of all time! Serving leaders encourage by believing in the unaccepted.  

Barnabas encouraged by believing in the unproven.  

Soon after the persecution of the church scattered the believers, a small group of Greeks came to faith in Antioch. These Greek believers had just come to faith in what was up to that time an almost exclusively Jewish movement. They were unknown and unproven. The Jerusalem church leaders sent their trusted encourager, Barnabas, to investigate the reports. He “was glad and encouraged them…” (Acts 11:23). Imagine how these believers felt to have a leader like Barnabas accept and encourage them. Barnabas spent a year there developing this fledgling group into the people first called Christians and from where the gospel would expand to the rest of the known world. By believing in the unproven believers in Antioch Barnabas served the church by building the team that would be the base for launching the gospel to the rest of the world. Serving leaders encourage by believing in the unproven.

Barnabas encouraged by believing in the unsuccessful. 

Mark, a cousin of Barnabas, went with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but Mark turned back. He quit! Later, when they were ready to go on their second journey Paul understandably didn’t want to take Mark along, but Barnabas believed that Mark should have a second chance. (Read Acts 15:37-39). Imagine how Mark felt as he listened to Barnabas argue that he deserved a second chance! By believing in the unsuccessful, Barnabas served the church by keeping alive the leadership capacity of the author of the book of Mark. Serving leaders encourage by believing in the unsuccessful.

Barnabas served by believing in people that others found it hard to believe in. And he shows serving leaders the power of that belief in others.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • What risks did Barnabas take by believing in Paul, Mark and the new Greek believers in Antioch?  What motivated him to take these risks? What holds you back from believing in these kinds of people?
  • Reflect on the way Barnabas believed in the unaccepted, the unproven and the unsuccessful. Did you ever fit into one of these categories? Was there someone, like Barnabas who believed in you and encouraged you? If so, what can you do to express your gratitude to them?
  • Who in your life right now fits one of those categories (unaccepted, unproven, unsuccessful) and what action can you take to serve with encouragement like Barnabas?
  • How does Barnabas’ encouragement challenge you as a leader? What action can you take this week to be more like him?

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll examine how Barnabas served with generosity.

#327 A Flourishing World: Failure is Anticipated

God’s world was beautiful and perfect! It was filled with all the ingredients that would allow flourishing to continue for generations. Yet, while God had created a perfect and flourishing world, He was not caught off guard by the failure of Adam and Eve! As He cursed the serpent, He revealed His plan for ultimate victory, thousands of years before it would happen.  

 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15, NIV).  

Then, after cursing the serpent and the ground, God continues to act in response to Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Again, God demonstrates that He was not surprised by their actions.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them (Genesis 3:21).

God graciously provided leather clothing for Adam and Eve; much more durable than the simple leaves they had used to cover themselves. He put new boundaries in place and provided new direction for Adam to work the ground outside the beautiful garden environment.

Anticipating failure accelerates flourishing by acknowledging the intent.

While God did not intend for the first couple to fail, he anticipated it and was prepared for what happened. He could not spare them from the consequences of their sin, but He would provide next steps for them to take.  His intent after their failure was for them to live as fully as possible in a flourishing world. He was ready to help them move past their failure.

In our broken world, we can certainly anticipate failure on a regular basis! Anticipating failure does not mean looking for it in every action or assignment, but it does mean thinking ahead to reflect on what steps may be needed when failure occurs. Serving leaders learn that it is better to be prepared for failure than surprised by it!

 Anticipating failure accelerates flourishing by anticipating the impact.

Since the first failure of Adam and Eve, we have had plenty of opportunities to learn from failures! But we are often surprised when we hear stories of leaders who have been caught in a scandal and caught off guard when something doesn’t go as planned.

Many respond to failure with fear and shame. They fear the consequences, the punishment, and the shame of their failure so they cover up failure, deny it or run from it.

Others respond by making failure as their identity. Instead of saying, “I failed” they accept the identity, “I am a failure.” This response provides no productive way forward.

 But serving leaders learn to anticipate failure and prepare well for it. As they do, their teams can flourish. The fear of failure will be replaced by a willingness to anticipate the reality of failure and use it as a part of the learning journey. Serving leaders remind their team that even when they fail, failure is not their identity! Serving leaders anticipate that failure will bring growth to their team.

Anticipating failure accelerates flourishing by accepting the implications.

Serving leaders learn from Adam and Eve to anticipate failure, first in themselves but also in those they lead. They don’t dwell on failure and don’t encourage it. But they anticipate it and lead their teams to a healthy expectation that there will be failures on the journey. They teach their teams to fail well, not being blindsided by failure and not rejoicing in it but acknowledging it. They lean into failure, design plans to address it and learn from it! By talking about failure and removing the stigma on their team, they accelerate flourishing even in a broken world. Serving leaders cannot recreate the garden of Eden, but as they anticipate failure, they do create a flourishing world in which individuals and teams learn to thrive through failure.

Serving leaders continually cultivate into their leadership all the ingredients needed for a flourishing world. And the result can be seen in the people around them who are flourishing.

For further reflection and discussion:

How has thinking about failure been distorted in your context? Reflect specifically about the thinking in this area in your culture, your family, and in the organization you lead. What impact has this thinking had on you as a leader? In what ways do you need to adjust your thinking to align with God’s intent?

Reflect on what the impact would be if everyone in your organization would fully grasp and live out what it means to anticipate failure. Write at least three reflections.

What action steps will you take as a leader to anticipate failure in your home, organization or community? Choose which of these areas you will focus on and then list 2 or 3 specific steps you will take and dates for when you will take the actions.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll start a new series!

# 326 A Flourishing World: Accountability is Natural

God’s flourishing world included clear standards as we have already observed. God told Adam that there was one tree from which he was not to eat. Sadly, it wasn’t long before that command was broken.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.  Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:6-11, NIV).

Adam and Eve knew they were guilty, they quickly hid when they heard God coming. But what would happen because of their action? God calls them and inquires about what happened. The story continues (read Genesis 3:14-24) with God’s response to their disobedience. This exchange between God and the first couple reveals another ingredient God built into His flourishing world, accountability! The standards were clear, and they were held accountable for their actions. Serving leaders learn that accountability is an essential part of their leadership as they cultivate a flourishing world around them.

Accountability accelerates flourishing by acknowledging the intent.

At first glance it may appear that God’s intent for accountability was to punish and He clearly explained the consequences of their actions. But His heart was expressed when He asked, “Where are you?” He wanted to restore the relationship that had been broken by disobedience. This restoration could not happen without accountability. By addressing the issue God showed the depth of His love for them and the great value He placed on them. His accountability indicated that their actions mattered! It also showed that His commands mattered! Two-year-old’s quickly learn whether the commands of their parents are followed up with accountability. And when there is no accountability, a spoiled child is the result! Serving leaders create flourishing as they hold people accountable for their actions.

 Accountability accelerates flourishing by anticipating the impact.

Since the fall of the first man and woman, we naturally resist accountability. We don’t like to be asked what we did! But serving leaders anticipate a world in which people thrive as they are held accountable in genuinely healthy relationships.  They envision workplaces where everyone understands that their work matters so much that they are accountable. They envision churches where members understand that they are held accountable for expectations. Serving leaders anticipate flourishing as they hold people accountable.  

Accountability accelerates flourishing by accepting the implications.

Serving leaders recognize that if they are to hold others accountable, they must first be accountable. They accept responsibly for their own actions and ask for forgiveness when they fail. Then they also make it clear that others will also be held accountable. They are not afraid to ask what happened. They are quick to provide opportunity for the relationship to be strengthened through accountability. And as people realize that their actions matter, they step up and flourish! Serving leaders create a flourishing world around them by establishing accountability.

For further reflection and discussion:

How has the intent of accountability been distorted in your context? Reflect specifically about the thinking in this area in your culture, your family, and in the organization where you lead. What impact has this thinking had on you as a leader? In what ways do you need to adjust your thinking to align with God’s intent?

Reflect on what the impact would be if everyone in your organization would fully grasp and live out what it means to be accountable. Write at least three reflections.

What action steps will you take as a leader to implement accountability in your home, organization, or community? Choose which of these areas you will focus on and then list 2 or 3 specific steps you will take and dates for when you will take the actions.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll examine another ingredient of a flourishing world: Failure is Anticipated

# 325 A Flourishing World: Growth is expected

A significant part of God’s flourishing world was the marvelous and diverse animal kingdom. God quickly gives Adam an assignment in relation to the animal world.

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals (Genesis 2:19-20, NIV).

The assignment God gave to Adam is profound in so many regards. It sets him apart from the animal world and prepares the stage for God to create a companion suitable for him. It demonstrates God’s expectation that Adam was not a bystander; he was to rule over the creation. This assignment also reveals that God expected Adam to grow and develop. There was work to do and God expected Adam to learn and grow. Scholars and scientists debate over the actual number of animals that Adam needed to name and it’s not likely that he had to name all of the currently known 1.2 million species of animals. Nevertheless, the task was not an assignment for a few minutes or a couple of hours! Serving leaders observe that the expectation of growth is an essential ingredient for a flourishing world.  

Expecting growth accelerates flourishing by acknowledging the intent.

God brings the animals to Adam and expected Adam to name them. God had created Adam with the capacity to name the animals but now Adam had to grow into this potential and come up with names! God could have given the names to Adam and asked him to memorize them but He wanted Adam to grow. Growth is baked into our DNA and is a natural expectation. We enjoy the clumsy efforts of infants as they learn to walk but we expect them to grow and mature. We anticipate the advancement of knowledge and maturity that comes as children progress through their formal education. And this design for growth is intended to continue our entire lives. Serving leaders acknowledge God’s intent for human growth.  

 Expecting growth accelerates flourishing by anticipating the impact.

God must have smiled as He watched Adam thinking and then speaking out a name! And He imagined a world filled with men and women each stretching and growing, learning to master their domain. But sadly, many people today simply show up at work for a paycheck, not expecting to change or grow. They join churches expecting only to attend meetings and be inspired. Serving leaders look at those they serve and not only see who they are now, but see what they could become. They anticipate the growth of the entry level worker to become a manager. They expect the newest member to grow into a future leader. They dream of their organization being filled with people who are fully alive, learning and growing in their capacity to shape their world.

Expecting growth accelerates flourishing by accepting the implications.

Serving leaders also realize that God has placed them in a position of leadership to accelerate the process of growth. They first make sure that they are growing themselves, continually seeking to improve and learn. Then they observe that God deliberately gave Adam an assignment to help him grow. Serving leaders take responsibility to serve those they lead by giving challenging assignments that will stretch the capacity of their followers. They encourage, mentor, coach and guide others to reach their full potential. And, like God must have done, they watch with a satisfied smile on their face as they observe others growing and flourishing around them.

For further reflection and discussion:

How has the intent of expecting growth been distorted in your context? Reflect specifically about the thinking in this area in your culture, your family, and in the organization where you lead. What impact has this thinking had on you as a leader? In what ways do you need to adjust your thinking to align with God’s intent? In what ways are you growing yourself as a leader?

Reflect on what the impact would be if everyone in your organization would fully grasp and live out what it means to expect growth. Write at least three reflections.

What action steps will you take as a leader to expect growth in your home, organization or community? Choose which of these areas you will focus on and then list 2 or 3 specific steps you will take and dates for when you will take the actions.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll look at another ingredient of a flourishing world: Accountability is Natural.