Last month I wrote of my search for an icon of Barnabas and of his example as the prototypical Christian coach. A couple of things have happened since. I found the icon on line (pictured here) and it is now hanging in my office. I have also been teaching The Book of Acts on Sunday morning and have been immersed in texts on Barnabas’ role as a leader in the growth of the early church. I still affirm his empowering role as a coach, but I have seen another aspect of Barnabas as well.
Barnabas was a missional leader. He was committed to the missio Dei—the mission of God. The missional church concept is built on the nature of a missional God, One who sends. God sent the prophets, God sent Jesus Christ, and God is now sending us. This God has a people who are living out his mission in the world. Barnabas was one of those people. Although he was not officially an apostle, he was one of the “sent ones” who furthered God’s mission in the early days of the church.
We see his missional life style in several situations in the Book of Acts.
First, Barnabas showed a spirit of generosity by his care for others in the church at Jerusalem. He saw possessions not as something to be accumulated but an opportunity to bless others. Missional Christians are very conscious of the proper stewardship of those things with which God has blessed them.
Second, he exercised hospitality even if it involved taking a risk. When Saul came to Jerusalem and could not get a meeting with the leaders there, Barnabas took a risk and became his advocate. In so doing, he was exercising radical hospitality to a former persecutor of the Way. Missional Christians today are challenged to open their doors, hearts, and lives to those who are different, even potential antagonists.
Third, he found where God was working and got involved. When he visited the church at Antioch, he sensed the work of the Holy Spirit there and not only became engaged himself but sought out Saul to join the community. Missional Christians are sensitive to where God is working (and God is working just about everywhere) and invest themselves there.
Fourth, Barnabas was open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit set aside Saul and Barnabas for what we now call “the first missionary journey” to the Gentiles, there is no indication of hesitation on his part. He accepted the opportunity willingly. Missional Christians today need to recognize the leadership of the Spirit into new places of service and ministry and respond quickly.
Fifth, he was willing to be creative and innovative in sharing the Gospel. Barnabas and Saul worked together to penetrate their culture for Christ. When the leaders of the synagogues rejected them, they moved on to other venues and new relationships. Missional Christians are willing to adopt new (and sometimes old) methodologies to reach people for Christ.
Missional Christians today can learn much from the faithful example of Barnabas as a missional leader.