Missions: The Barnabas Model
Allow me a few unconventional thoughts on what we refer to as “missions.” If it is detrimental to the church's growth to have a founding pastor who never leaves or stays for 20, 30, or more years at the same church, it is, in my view, even more detrimental when the typical missionary to a foreign land pioneers a work, and it may be a very good work, mind you, and also stays for 20, 30, or more years, or until his dying day. This is not the biblical pattern set forth and lived out by Paul and others of like ministry in the early days of the Church.
A prime example, even before Paul received his apostolic call, was when Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch. True, later on Baranbas would essentially function in more of a supporting role as part of this ministerial tandem. But, at the beginning, it was Barnabas who assumed the lead, pioneering a prototype model for church planting upon which Paul and others would follow and expand upon. But, make no mistake, this was anything but a clever idea birthed from the mind of Barnabas. It was, in fact, a Holy Spirit revelation from the Mind of God which provided the spiritual principles upon which the tangible birthing and building of a local church was predicated upon.
And, who was Barnanbas at this time? There is no title or position of authority attached to this man, except for his character traits, which is quite revealing. The Scripture describes Barnabas as a "good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." What is remarkable about this description is not that he is referred to as "full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." Many others in Scripture have been known by these same characteristics. But, what is remarkable in this case is that he is referred to as "a good man." That is exceptional! You will be hard-pressed to find that description attached to many in the entire Bible.
From what we can gather, Barnabas was a man who acquired an excellent reputation by simply being a good, solid, mature, and faithful brother in the Lord in Jerusalem. It also should be noted that he was apparently accompanied by an unusually high dose of humility, the benefits of which would be manifest shortly, thereafter. Having said that, we read the following, "And the news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he had come to and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord, for he was a good man, and full of the Holy spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Act 11:22-26).
There is much to be considered here. First, let me say that I believe this may have been the most critical event in the early history of the church as it influenced the spread of Christianity and the establishment of churches after Jerusalem. Barnabas was the right man at the right time. Had he been the wrong man, we probably would have wound up with a satellite church known as "Jerusalem North." Another man would have taken Jerusalem's blueprint and placed it over Antioch. Just think of it, the first denomination!
Now, notice what he does, and more importantly, what he does not do upon arrival at Antioch. He doesn't go in as "God's man on the scene," with his borrowed agenda from Jerusalem, with the attitude of "Let me show you how we do it!” Remarkably, the first thing he does, contrary to the natural inclination, is he watches and waits in order to "witness the grace of God" in their midst. Before he does anything, he patiently observes what God is doing in Antioch rather than in zealous presumption jumping in with the attitude of "move over boys and let me show you how it's done in Jerusalem!" Against all human wisdom, he did the most difficult thing of all. He left them alone to be who they were in the Lord, to discover who the Lord was in them, and allowed them to express their own unique characteristics within their cultural expression. A lesser man would have done the exact opposite of Barnabas, and would probably have set Christianity back a hundred years........ No, probably a thousand years!
Another significant action taken by Barnabas, and indicative of this man's character, is that he isn't interested in being "the church boss," “the one-man show." Once he assesses the situation, he almost immediately seeks out Paul to help him with the task of discipling a fledgling, yet rapidly growing church. It is clear from this that Barnabas at no time considered Antioch, "his church," to run. He was all about what was in the best interests of the people, and God, and not his own.
It is recorded that Barnabas and Paul remained and taught for an entire year at Antioch. Now, at this time, they briefly went to Jersusalem to discuss the controversy over circumcision and then returned. But, it was not long after that, that they were called and sent out as church planters (missionaries). What I am getting at is, though in many ways this was their “home base” they did not, however, remain in Antioch, indefinitely. Even when we include the significant time they spent there in between their first and second missionary journeys, it is difficult to extend the total length of time invested beyond 3 years. In fact, besides Antioch, the longest Paul remained with any local church was at Ephesus, also for 3 years, and at Corinth for 1 1/2 years. Today, even the apostle Paul would be accused of being a “church hopper!”
Local elders, always consisting of a plurality, remained indefinitely, apostles or church planters, did not. They were essentially itinerant, and with good reason. Why? Had they stayed for an indefinite period of time, eventually, they would rival the Lordship of Christ. They would ultimately assume the position of preeminence, even with the most honorable of intentions. As earthly parents, we train our children with the end view of having raised functioning, independent, responsible adults. If that is so, why on earth, in heaven’s name, do we not follow suit in regard to spiritual training? If it would be considered inapropriate not to ween a child by a certain age, it is no less inappropriate not to do the same as it relates to the spiritual training and release into spiritual adulthood at the corporate level.
Soon, Paul would take the foundational principles of this model laid down by Barnabas as led by the Holy Spirit and take it to a deeper level. He would build upon it and expand it on a grander scale. And, when it came time for Paul to leave a church, as he always did, he would “commend them to the Lord.” Examine the Book of Acts closely and you will discover that it was not mere lipservice he was offering here. See how he consistently exhorted the churches to press on to spiritual maturity, and all that it entailed. He meant what he said, and said what he meant. In this one phrase, Paul capsulizes his ultimate ministerial aim in his letter to the Colossians, “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.” In other words, his objective was to work his way out of a job, not in terms of relationship, but in continued dependency upon him, or any other man for that matter. That was the true measure of a job well done.
And so, I look forward to that day when I shall finally meet brother Barnabas, who showed us how a man with a true apostolic heart, even before the confirmation of this call, raises up a church to be ultimately released to her Lord. Even now, I can almost hear the words, “Thank you, Barnabas, for a job well done!”
Wanted: “Missionaries to the Church in America!” Unthinkable? Probably. Vital? Absolutely! Is it a predominant thought among American church leadership today? The answer is obvious, which is why the very concept, for all intents and purposes, is unthinkable. Why? ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing, and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Invest your financial resources in order that you might bring to America those handful of Christian workers who are capable of imparting that which the church in America so desperately lacks; brokenness, humility, sobriety, an overriding desire to decrease so that Christ might increase, a message of “Christ and Him crucified,” one who has truly seen Christ, experienced His Cross, and has received a revelation of the church through His eyes. But, with those exacting qualifications they will not be easy to find, for like Christ, they have become “men of no reputation.”
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