Every pastor needs a Barnabas in his life. Barnabas was not only a mentor to Paul, but a faithful friend and peer. I have a handful of ministry friends who have been firewalls for me against isolation, loneliness, and spiritual drift for 35 years of vocational ministry.
Pastoral wellness is not realistic or sustainable without the help of other pastors. So why don’t more pastors receive this kind of support from other pastors? The primary reason, in my opinion, is that we don’t ask or don’t know what a Barnabas looks like.
What does a Barnabas-type friendship look like?
A Barnabas will be supportive.
Barnabas was a Jewish priest from Cyprus whose real name was Joseph. The apostles preferred to use his nickname, which is translated “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36).
All pastors and ministry leaders need a Barnabas who will speak words of encouragement, and sometimes rebuke, into their lives.
When his nephew, John Mark, “wimped out” on his first mission trip, Paul wanted to permanently kick him off the team. Barnabas chose instead to mentor Mark, who got back on his feet and became a contributing author to the best-selling book in history. Mark would also become an invaluable partner to Peter, and yes, even Paul.
A Barnabas will be unselfish.
In Acts, we read about the generosity of this church leader: “Barnabas sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37).
You have enough takers in your world. A Barnabas is the type of friend who will think of your needs as more important than his own (Phil 2:3).
A Barnabas will be loyal.
When the Jerusalem church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch, he took along a risky new convert named Saul (aka: Paul). Paul had a reputation for persecuting Christians before his conversion, and few assumed Paul was a genuine convert. However, the apostles trusted Barnabas, and Barnabas trusted Paul. Otherwise, Paul may not have had his first ministry opportunity (Acts 11:22-30).
A Barnabas will be mature.
When the church at Antioch began to grow exponentially through the conversion of Gentiles, the leaders in Jerusalem got a little nervous. They sent a mature and trusted representative, Barnabas, to check it out, “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24).
Pastors need a mature confidant they trust, as much as the early church trusted Barnabas, to share victories and defeats with. This kind of partner is invaluable when we need someone to talk us off the cliff of ministry suicide, when we are on the verge of a tantrum, or worse.
A Barnabas will be humble.
Paul was a good writer and speaker, yet there was no evidence of Barnabas doing either. Most Christians are not called or gifted to take up the pen or microphone, so we may be tempted to assume that our gifts are inferior to those on stage.
Somewhere along the way, “Barnabas and Paul” became “Paul and Barnabas.” It is a change that Dr. Luke subtly, but intentionally, makes in the book of Acts.
A Barnabas will be bold.
Barnabas was more than just a nice guy. He didn’t back down from Paul when they had a sharp disagreement about John Mark (Acts 15:36-39). Sons of encouragement don’t look casually beyond our weaknesses. They walk through those challenges with us.
Pastors need more sons of encouragement who are committed to helping other pastors succeed. Who are you encouraging, and who is encouraging you?