Roger Severino

Six Things Barnabas can teach us about Spiritual Leadership (Acts 11:19-26)

Who comes to mind when you think about a great spiritual leader? The Apostle Paul? Billy Graham? Martin Luther, or one of the Reformers?

One of the reasons we may not think of Barnabas is that he seems like a normal guy in the New Testament. That’s one of the reasons our church has a series called “Just Like Barnabas”; he is someone we can relate to and don’t feel overly intimidated to follow his example.

In our current sermon series, our church has emphasized that Barnabas is encouraging, generous, and affirming. This week we also consider how Barnabas is an example of leadership. What do we learn about spiritual leadership from Barnabas’ example in Acts 11:19-26?

  1. Spiritual Leaders have Credibility and Character
    Spiritual leadership is not primarily about skill and charisma. A spiritual leader must have credibility established over time by watching his or her character. Why did the church at Jerusalem entrust Barnabas with the important task of evaluating a new work of God? Part of the reason is that he had a good reputation with the church that had been achieved by observing his life.
  2. Great Leaders have a blend of both Openness and Discernment
    Leaders can either embrace the latest trend without proper discernment or resist anything new which may require them to change. It takes a special leader to be open to how God is working in new ways while using spiritual and biblical discernment to evaluate. The church at Jerusalem selected Barnabas because he had shown an openness to the “outsider” such as Saul (see Acts 9:26-27). He would not shut something down simply because it was different or new. Likewise, Barnabas had the spiritual maturity to protect the church from heresy, divisiveness, or wrong practice.
  3. Spiritual Leaders Recognize and Encourage the work of God
    Once Barnabas was convinced that the church at Antioch was a work of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts. Notice, Barnabas does not try to micromanage the work of God, nor does he try to steer or take credit for any of it. Now, there may be times when appropriate oversight is needed with a group—and this does occur in this church in the next verses—but Barnabas is careful not to get in the way of what the Lord is doing. Rather, he encourages the church to continue and affirms the path they are on.
  4. Great Spiritual Leaders are full of the Holy Spirit and Faith
    This characteristic of Barnabas is simply lifted from the text (v. 24). Being full of the Holy Spirt requires a life yielded to the Lord and seeking His presence and power that comes through the indwelling Holy Spirit. What about being full of faith? What does that mean? Do we have faith in faith? No, the object of faith is not itself, but rather a radical trust, dependence, and belief in the Lord. A trust that God is greater than our obstacles and is able to do abundantly more than we can imagine (see Eph. 3:20-21).
  5. Spiritual Leaders seek out and develop other Leaders to join in the work
    Barnabas didn’t try to do it all by himself. He recognized that God had called and gifted others to do the work. He goes and finds Saul / Paul, a man uniquely qualified to work with a movement of God’s Spirit outside the geographic center of Judaism (since he had grown up in Tarsus as part of the Jewish diaspora). He did not feel threatened by this new leader, even though Paul would go on to overshadow Barnabas in the history of Christianity. Spiritual leaders recognize that it is not about them.
  6. Spiritual Leaders work hard to lead God’s People well
    Spiritual leadership is not about glitz and glamour, nor a force of personality. Barnabas took time to manage, shepherd, and teach a fast-growing young church. He did the hard work of daily leadership that is costly and out of the limelight. The fruit of his ongoing labor included the city recognizing this movement of God: “The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.”

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