Part I: Understanding the Ministry of Barnabas

The Barnabas Project is an outgrowth of two commands the Lord gave me last Fall: “Set your eyes on the harvest, and call the whole church to the ministry.” Today’s teaching will define the specific kind of ministry to which God is calling our whole church: the Ministry of Barnabas.
Who was Barnabas?
  • The first thing you should know about Barnabas was that his name was not Barnabas. His name was Joseph, and he was a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). Barnabas was his nickname. The apostles called him Barnabas because of the way his ministry functioned in the early church. Barnabas is a compound Aramaic term which means “son of encouragement.” The Greek word for encouragement is parakaleo, and it means “to call from alongside.” Barnabas’ ministry in the early church was simple: he loved people, he saw the best in them, and he loved coming alongside people to encourage them in their walk with Christ.
  • The first example of this is in Acts 9:27, when after Saul’s conversion experience, the church is afraid to associate with him because they are afraid of him. “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” Without Barnabas, there would have been no Paul, the Apostle.
  • The second example is found 2 chapters later, when the apostles in Jerusalem hear that the gospel had reached Antioch and sent Barnabas to check it out. “When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all…” He came alongside, not an individual, but a church, and he used his words to encourage the church to keep moving forward toward their God-given destiny.
  • But it gets better, because he realizes that the church there needed more leadership, and he also realized that he knew just the man for the job. 14 years earlier, he had vouched for this guy, Saul of Tarsus. But they had to get him out of there quickly before he was killed for his faith in Christ. He has spent the last 14 years isolated in the wilderness of Arabia and back in Tarsus, where he grew up. Barnabas tells the Antioch church, I’ll be right back! And he journeys all the way down to Tarsus and searches for Paul till he finds him. And he convinces him to pick up and move to Antioch to serve the church there, and then he brings him to Antioch, introduces him to the church, and spends a year there co-leading with him and establishing what would become the flagship church in the Gentile world.
  • It was from the womb of this church that Paul’s apostolic ministry was born. In Acts 13, he was sent forth into the mission field from this church the way a baby is delivered from the womb of a mother. And the entirety of the Gentile mission was birthed out of this simple act of coming alongside: Barnabas seeing the church in Antioch and their need, remembering Paul and his gift, and thinking, I’m going to see if I can bring the two together.
  • Barnabas never became one of the great preachers of the early church. He was not known for planting any great churches or writing any great epistles. But without Barnabas, there would’ve been no church at Antioch. Without Barnabas, there would have been no Paul, the Apostle. Without Barnabas, there would have been no Gospel of Mark (Barnabas came alongside him too, and refused to give up on him, even when Paul did). Without Barnabas, there would’ve been no Gentile Mission. And without Barnabas, there would have been no you and me meeting in this place today, in answer to God’s call to serve him in the ministry.
The Barnabas Project
  • Now you may say at this point, I’m no Barnabas. But remember, neither was Barnabas! His name was Joseph; the apostles called him Barnabas. He was not born a Barnabas, he became a Barnabas as he practiced the ministry of encouragement! And I say that you too can become a Barnabas, if you are willing to practice the ministry of encouragement!
  • Now I think it would be good to define the ministry of encouragement a bit so that you can get a handle on what this means. Encouragement happens when you see a need in someone else, recognize a corresponding gift in yourself, and then lovingly offer that gift to that person in service to that need.
  • Every ministry in the church is supposed to be a ministry of encouragement. Ministry is always about coming alongside someone else and offering your gift to meet their need for the sake of the body.
  • Ministries in the church cease to function as ministries of encouragement when the silo mentality creeps in: when I see my ministry as an isolated task that I execute on my own, I am missing the essence of all service in the ministry. There is no such thing as an isolated ministry in the body: all ministries are for the greater good of the body, and are therefore ministries of encouragement.
The Gift of Helps
  • In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul provides us with a list of ministries that God has appointed in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
  • If I did a seminar on how to be an apostle or a prophet or a teacher, or how to work miracles and healings, I’d pack out the place. But nobody is showing up for a seminar on the gift of “helps.” What is “helps?” Sounds like a lowly, second class ministry. Kind of like a secretary or an assistant, right? Wrong!
  • This misconception goes all the way back to Genesis 2:18, where God determines to make Adam a “helper” named Eve. Eve is Adam’s “helper,” which means she is subordinate to him, right? Wrong. The term “helper” does not denote a sense of subordination.
  • The Hebrew term translated “helper” is ezer, which is used quite frequently in the Old Testament:
    • Deuteronomy 33:26: “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to help you, and in His excellency on the clouds.”
    • Psalm 33:20: “Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.”
    • Psalm 70:5: “But I am poor and needy; make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay.”
    • Psalm 115:9-11: “O Israel, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.”
    • Psalm 121:1-2: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
    • Psalm 124:8: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
  • As you can see, the primary referent of the term “helper” in the OT is God. The term is actually more accurately translated, “rescuer.” And this means that when God called Eve Adam’s “helper,” he actually meant that she was his “rescuer.”
    • And the passage clearly bears this out: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make hm a helper comparable to him.'” God looked upon the sorry state of the lone man and said, it’s not good! He needs someone to rescue him from this state of not good!
    • And this is how the ministry of helps works. God sees David fighting it out on his own and says, it’s not good; let me go rescue him! Barnabas sees Antioch doing the best they could do, and sees Paul all isolated over there in Tarsus, and he thinks, it’s not good: let me help them rescue one another!
  • The ministry of Barnabas is the ministry of rescue! The ministry of Barnabas says, I’m just going to sit here and watch your ship go down when I have a gift that can plug the holes! I’m going to step in and I’m going to offer rescue!
The Tactic of The Enemy
  • There’s a scene in one of those nature documentaries in which a whole herd of Buffaloes are peacefully lounging in an open field. But suddenly the camera zooms into the tall grass to reveal two lions on the prowl. The lions are not hasty; they know that they cannot take down just any buffalo, because if they pick the wrong one they may find out what it’s like to get stomped to death by a whole herd of buffalo. Instead, what they do is watch and wait till they find one that is young, weak, and alone. Then they reveal their presence, and the who herd runs off, leaving the weak one to fend for itself.
  • 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Now when it says that he is seeking whom he may devour, it means that he cannot devour just anybody. If he picks the wrong one, he gets stomped out by the whole church. So what does he do? He looks for one that is young, weak, and alone.
  • One of the primary functions of the Ministry of Barnabas is to identify those who are young, weak, and alone, and surround them before the adversary devours them! So often we see individuals in the church who are aloof, and we just assume that they like it that way. Perhaps they are hurting and don’t know how to reach out. Perhaps they are shy and don’t know how to connect. Whatever the case, if we leave them alone, we leave them vulnerable to power of the adversary.
  • The Ministry of Barnabas is a Ministry of Help. If you embrace the call to be a Barnabas in the house of the Lord, God may use you to rescue souls that are at risk of being devoured. This provides an added layer of safety and security in the body.
The Family of God
  • Ephesians 2:19-20 says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” This is one of several NT verses that speak of the church as a household, or a family (Gal 6:10; 1 Tim 3:15; Hebrews 3:6).
  • Have you ever been invited to someone’s house and found the door open, but no one there to greet you when you arrived? What do you do? Do you go in? Most of us would not. Most of us would stand at the open door and say, “Hello?” We do this because we respect the households of others. I will only enter in if a member of the family comes to welcome me in.
  • Now imagine you are the host and when the guests begin to arrive, you and your spouse are still busy making preparations in the kitchen or in another part of the house. What will you do? You will call one of your children, even a small child, and authorize them to open the door for your guests, welcome them into your home, and escort them to your living room. And your guests will be delighted to be welcomed by your child, and they will happily follow your child into the living room and take their seats with joy.
  • This is how the ministry of Barnabas will function in the house. When newcomers arrive, you are authorized to welcome them and to escort them into the living room. They will not feel welcome if you do not welcome them. They will not feel at home if you do not invite them to make themselves at home. You don’t need a ministry position to do this. You don’t need to be an usher or a greeter; you simply need to imbibe the spirit of Barnabas and make a decision, that when I see individuals who are alone, I will come alongside them. When newcomers enter the house, I will welcome them. This simple step can be the beginning of a powerful ministry in the house!
The Antithesis of Cliquishness
  • In multiple seasons of our history, we’ve fallen into cliquishness. On the one hand, this springs from a good thing: cliques form when groups of people like each other and enjoy each other’s company. It’s a good thing that you have people here at the church that you love to be around and enjoy their company.
  • But we become cliquish when we restrict our interactions to the people in our squad. In doing so, we unintentionally communicate a form of exclusivity that pushes people away.
  • I remember dealing with this for the first time in our third year. We had all these newcomers showing up, but our people were not engaging them or greeting them. Instead, the service would end and our people would immediately consolidate into their cliques, and I would look out over the house and see a lone person there, and another there…
  • I addressed this in a leadership meeting and instituted the following rule: from now on, for the last ten minutes before the service starts and the first ten minutes after service ends, you are not allowed to talk to anyone you already know. Spend that ten minutes greeting the newcomer, welcoming them, introducing yourself and making them feel at home. And I would stand on the platform looking out over the house to make sure this rule was followed.
  • The result was we created a culture of welcome in which people were greeted immediately upon entering. And this opened up our cliques so that they were no longer cliques, but inviting circles of fellowship and connection.
  • But a few years later, I was approached by a middle-aged African man. He told me that he had been visiting our church every Sunday for three months as he was in town for a temporary contract through his work. And in that three months, no one had greeted him, even one time. And I discovered, to my horror, that if you were an urban millennial visiting our church, people lined up to greet you. But if you were anything other than that, you might not ever get a greeting from anybody. Once again, we had descended into cliquishness, just under a new guise. The ministry of Barnabas transforms our cliques into open circles of fellowship.
  • The Ministry of Barnabas is the key to the future of our church! If we pick up the mantle of Barnabas, our future is bright. But if we do not, we have no future. The elect are out there; there are millions around the world who will come to faith in Jesus, and God is looking for places to put them. When we are ready to receive them, they will come. And we are only ready to receive them when the church commits itself to the ministry of Barnabas!

Part II: The Ministry of Barnabas and Discipleship

A certain tension can be found in the NT between the concepts of Christianity and Discipleship. Not all Christians are disciples, but all disciples are Christians. The ministry of Barnabas is actually about responding positively to the Great Commission, the command to make disciples of all peoples. A second tension-point in the NT is between the concept of Discipleship and Church. Not all church-goers are disciples, but all disciples are church-goers. So how does the NT explain this tension? The answer can be articulated like this: The goal of Christianity is Discipleship to Jesus within the context of the church. This means that evangelism is not complete until it has resulted in responsible church membership.
The Church: Local or Universal?
  • Now I know that there are a lot of people these days who believe that the church is a universal body, not a local body, and that one can be a member of the church universal without being a member of the church local. But the writers of the NT would not understand or agree with this idea at all.
  • There is no place in the NT where we are called to a mystical membership to the church universal. All the letters to the churches are written to specific churches, and all of the admonitions that call for our faithfulness to the church call for our faithfulness to the local church.
  • This is because the Church is the epicenter of the discipleship of Jesus. This is why we exist! No church, no discipleship. You might have Christianity, but you don’t have discipleship. Lots of people claim to be Christian without a church. But Jesus said he was building his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!
What is the Local Church?
  • The are four components to the local church, and if you take one of them away, you’ve got something less than a church. The fullness of discipleship to Jesus is found in the engagement of all four. In other words, to truly join the church, you must engage all four of these components.
  • The Ecclesia (Assembly)
    • The church is first and foremost an Assembly, a place where we come together to worship God, hear his word, and fellowship with one another. In the wilderness of Sinai, the people of God had the Tabernacle of Meeting. And whenever Moses would call for it, the people were required to gather for the Qahal Yahweh, the Assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:16). It was not optional, it was required.
    • Why? Because the Assembly of the Lord was the heart of the identity of the people. At the Assembly, Israel became an Assembly.
    • We get it twisted when we see “coming to church” as optional. The worship service is not a “resource” that we can opt in or out of; in the gathered worship experience, we become the Ecclesia tou Kuriou, the Assembly of the Lord!
    • Hebrews 10:25 – Don’t forsake the gathering!
  • The Koinonia (Community)
    • But the church is more than an assembly: the church is a community, or a fellowship. In the Assembly, we present ourselves to God. In the Community, we present ourselves to one another. The NT calls us to present ourselves both to God and to one another.
    • We tend to think of community as a resource that the church offers. But the church doesn’t just have community, the church is a Community. And to join the church while abstaining from the community is a complete misnomer.
    • This is why Jesus defined the greatest commandment of the Law as twofold: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. This is also why he calls 12 disciples; one for every tribe of Israel. He was not simply creating a new covenant through his blood, but a new community of believers that were to be as committed to one another as they were committed to him.
    • Acts 2:46 – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
  • The Diakonia (Ministry)
    • And the church is not just a Community, but a Ministry in which each member is invited to bring their gift(s) to the table for the greater good of the body.
    • We tend to think of churches as having ministries. But the church doesn’t just have ministries; the church is a Ministry! And to join the church while abstaining from the ministry is a complete misnomer. You cannot claim to be a member of the family while simultaneously refusing to offer your gifts for the betterment of the family.
    • 1 Peter 4:10 – As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
  • The Apostolia (Mission)
    • Finally, the church is a Mission; it is a body of individuals who are committed the Great Commission of Jesus, to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.
    • A Mission is a specific task or purpose. The specific task for which the church was born is the mission to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, bearing witness to the salvation that is made available through Jesus Christ.
    • But the church doesn’t just do missions, the church is a Mission. And to join the church while abstaining from the mission of the church is a complete misnomer.
    • Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8
The Ministry of Barnabas & Discipleship
  • The ideal of the mature disciple of Jesus is to live out all four of these simultaneously and perpetually, for the rest of your life. However, very few of us embody this ideal. Most of us only do one or two at a time.
  • The goal is not to get everybody to do everything at once, but to facilitate an individualized process of helping each individual discern their next right step in their current season.
  • Remember when David and his men returned to Ziklag and found the city burned and their families taken captive? They set out after the enemy to fight for the return of their families, but some of the men were too tired to fight, so David left them at the Besor Brook to guard the supplies (1 Sam 30:9-10). When he returned with the spoils, he made sure the men who stayed behind and were too weary to fight got an equal share with those who were strong enough to engage in the fight.
  • The goal is not to shame everyone into doing everything at once. The goal is for us all to have this heart, this understanding, and to discern in every season what is our next right step!

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