Hard times. Difficult times. Times that try patience. We’ve all gone through or are perhaps going through situations that tax our Christian witness. Maybe even to the point of asking, “Where is God in all of this?” Christians are not exempt from events that lead us to the edge of the Red Sea as the Hebrews were in Exodus 14. The enemy is to our backs and the sea in front of us blocks our progress. All along we’ve been trusting in the providence of God when we come to a difficult path to walk. What was God thinking? Why has God allowed me to find difficulty when I was expecting freedom? Should I have been following my leader who asked me to believe that God will direct my paths when now the path has made a turn for the worse? Such are the questions prompted by the Hebrews and maybe Christians today when reading Exodus, chapter 14.
I love my pastor. Actually, I love pastors. I have had six of them in my life. Two of them have gone on to heaven. The other four are still serving our Lord. At one time, I thought I was to be one, a pastor, as well. Very early in my vocational ministry God revealed to me via trials, successes, and much prayer while serving in churches that this was not to be. God, of course, had something else in his plans. Having served in different staff positions in one way or another over time I had realized my calling. Part of that calling as a member of a church staff was to support the Pastor. I can trace a good deal of this particular focus in ministry to what began long ago and continues today to a Bible study of the life and ministry of a fellow who worked alongside the apostle Paul. His name was Barnabas. There has been much written as well it should about the life and times of Paul. What role did Barnabas have in the ministry of Paul? What does it have to do with those who serve the Lord today in the local church and who are not Pastors? What can we who are ‘staff’ learn from Barnabus?
Barnabas is first mentioned in the book of Acts (4:36) and is known by his contemporaries as the ‘son of encouragement’. He is also the cousin of Mark (Col. 4:10). After Saul’s transformation into Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul went into his own wilderness of reflection and self-examination. After all, Saul went from being a Pharisee and persecutor of the followers of the Way of the Nazarene to becoming Paul, a follower of the Jesus himself. Soon after we are introduced to a man who will befriend Paul like a brother. He will introduce him and defend him to those who are skeptical of his conversion. It was Barnabus that the early church in Jerusalem will later send to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him back to the city. Barnabus will be found many times throughout Acts to be the traveling companion of Paul. If one reads a little deeper in the Scriptures, you will find this man had a subtle yet very positive if not encouraging impact on the life of the Apostle. Barnabas is the servant-leader who will travel alongside, support, and work with Paul from his earliest ministry efforts to the end of his days. Others are listed in the New Testament as coworkers with Paul during his years of ministry but none will have the initial and then consistently affirmative impact on the ministry of Paul as did Barnabas. He is always there, behind the scenes, a reliable and committed coworker for the Lord.
Is there a place for a Barnabas perspective on vocational ministry today? Yes, you will find many who are like Barnabas today in the local church. Look around and you will find staff members who are devoted to God through Jesus Christ and are dedicated to the ministry of the local church. They serve their God and His church in fellowship with and under the guidance of their Senior Pastors. Many subjects crop up when approaching the issue of the relationship between a Senior Pastor and his staff. One of the first topics is that of authority. Here I draw on lessons learned from studying the relationship of Barnabas and Paul. The Scripture is clear that Paul was called by Christ to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. So, what was Barnabas called by God to do and be? Barnabas found at least part and maybe the most important part of his calling to be clear. God in His providential will had placed Barnabus in a time and place to be just what those around him needed, especially for the Apostle Paul. He was to be the supportive arm upon which Paul could depend. He was co-worker in the Kingdom of God and his place was to be much more of a colleague and helper in the ministry of Paul than as the one to be ‘out in front.’ It should be understood but not all vocational ministers are called to fill the pulpit as the local church Pastor or as the Senior Pastor of a multi-staff church. There is a ‘Barnabas ministry’ to be done by those who are willing to serve not necessarily ‘out in front’ but find their calling by God in vocational ministries among the many supportive roles found on today’s local church staffs. Is there a ‘Barnabus ministry’ that God is calling you to be a part either as encourager or as recipient of ministry? Are you already serving as a staff member in a church and need a clearer focus in your ministry? Pastor, is there a Barnabus asking to help you on a personal, practical, or spiritual issue? We call all take a lesson from our encourager, Barnabus.
A book to buy and read… I love reading books that help pastors that in turn may help the staff member in a church as well. The latest book to recommend is titled What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary by Senior Pastor, James Emery White. It is subtitled “25 Lessons for Successful Ministry in Your Church” and is published by Baker Books. This is a book for pastors recommended as a read for staff persons. Well, yes, many of the issues covered in the book are not all uncommon to staff members as well. It will also help the staff member more fully appreciate the life and times of their Pastor. The book is an excellent choice for those in any church ministry, but especially for pastors, as Dr. White explores areas both public and private that have urgent practical impact in the life of a vocational minister. Staff member, do you want to better understand your pastor and the issues and pressures that he deals with daily in your local church? Do you want to be a help, an encourager, and a more perceptible prayer partner for your pastor? Yes, you will also identify with many of these same issues and pressures in the life of a staff member. Read this book with your prayer journal and calendar nearby.
God’s call to vocational ministries in the local church is diverse in its many applications. It is also intensely personal. A good study of the life and ministry of Barnabas in the book of Acts is a great place to begin or to examine one’s own place in the ministries of our Lord Jesus. Also, pick up a practical book on the subject and see what encouragement it might offer. As I said at the beginning, I love my Pastor and my heart goes out to all who serve our Lord in this rewarding yet trying ministry vocation. Do you want to be a ‘Barnabas’ minister, just ask, “Pastor, can I help?” .jem