The Barnabas Way of Shaping Lives for Jesus

By Jonathan MurphyJonathan Murphy

Barnabas (“son of encouragement,” Acts 4:36), was just an ordinary member of his local church, but we shouldn’t overlook his significance in leading the early church. Jonathan Murphy explores Barnabas’ crucial role in spreading the gospel and shows us what his life teaches us about becoming a servant leader as we seek to be everyday influencers for Christ.

Barnabas was a picker and a piggybacker. He got those around him involved. He made sure he gave them the lift they needed to succeed as God intended. We see this clearly as his role in the book of Acts begins to increase and he is used by God to lead the first globally minded church in history, the church in the city of Antioch.

Up until this point in Acts, we’ve seen Barnabas emerge gradually through a few verses in Acts 4 and one in Acts 9. But in Acts 11:19-30 God begins to shine the spotlight on him some more in the pages of Scripture. God wants us to see His choice role model as the leader of the first church that strategically planned to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

When we left Barnabas in that cameo appearance back in Acts 9:27, he was the human hinge that swung open the door for Paul’s acceptance into the church. Furthermore, he was the human bridge Paul walked across toward ministry life.

Much has happened since then in the book of Acts. If you recall, Acts is the record of the activities of the Holy Spirit through followers of Jesus. Acts tells the story of the unfolding of Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 that His followers bear witness to Him in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth—all in the power of the Holy Spirit. And this was occurring.

The book of Acts captures this flow in its broad structure. In its introduction (1:1–11), we read Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples, just before He is taken up to heaven: “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). Then the rest of the book of Acts shows Jesus’ followers carrying out that mission:

  1. Witnesses of Jesus throughout Jerusalem (1:12–8:3)
  2. Witnesses of Jesus throughout Judea and Samaria (8:4–11:18)
  3. Witnesses of Jesus throughout the ends of the earth (11:19–28:31)

What I want you to see is that this next account of Barnabas launches the third major section of that flow of Acts—the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Barnabas is key to this right at the beginning of this global move.

Barnabas was chosen by God to play a crucial role in the establishment of that first church that actively implemented God’s vision to take the gospel to all. Again, our passage makes it clear that the hand of God was driving this move (11:21). These are the activities of the Holy Spirit! Sometimes He uses persecution or hardship to accomplish His purposes (vv. 19–20), but He also uses regular people like Barnabas and you and me.

The Barnabas Way Guides Others

An authentic influencer leads regardless of any formal position of leadership. We’ve already seen that Barnabas influenced those around him from wherever God placed him. Up to this point it’s not been from an official leadership role. We, too, must lead whoever is nearby from whatever position God has us in, even if it means stepping into formal leadership roles from time to time. Several insights emerge from Barnabas’s willingness to step up into a more formal leadership role.

Barnabas is picked to lead and bring organization to the task at hand. Barnabas emerges in Acts 11 as sort of senior pastor in the church at Antioch. He brings order and direction to this new church plant. Barnabas was specifically picked to do this, which again reveals his reputation among the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. In fact, previously in Acts 8, the leadership sent none other than the apostles Peter and John up to Samaria to assess and organize the spread of the gospel into the second phase of God’s plan: the witness of the gospel in Judea and Samaria (8:4–11:18). As we enter this third movement, they pick Barnabas. That’s a massive vote of confidence in Barnabas’s leadership approach and organizational skills.

Barnabas is chosen and so he steps up. He doesn’t shrink back. Upon arrival, he takes note of what’s happening. He discerns it to be the work of God. He rejoices with the believers and encourages them to live with devotion to God. He also becomes their teacher, a role in Acts so far that is associated with the apostles as leaders of the church. Barnabas establishes this church plant into a healthy and outward-looking body. He moves them in the right direction; he leads them to catch God’s vision for the world.

Barnabas is a leader qualified by godly character. A key qualification in the Scriptures for a godly influencer—be it a servant leader in a ministry or an everyday believer wanting to shape those around them—is godly character. When character, competence, and convictions merge in an individual, you have the makings of an authentic influencer. Skill sets and know-how (competence) and a commitment to truth with passion and vision (convictions) will collapse if the person does not have moral qualities and integrity (character)—godly character. It is indispensable.

Influence, at whatever level, is godly only if the heart is transformed to follow the pattern of Jesus Christ and produces the fruit of the Spirit. God wants us to know that Barnabas’s qualification to represent Him in this pastoral role is in his heart: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24).

Barnabas is a generous leader who leads a church to generosity. When we were introduced to Barnabas in Acts 4, he was a role model of generosity to those around him; he was sacrificial in his giving. This emerges again. While it is mentioned briefly, it is significant. God sent word through a prophet concerning a famine that was about to occur, and those whom Barnabas had taught to discern God’s Word responded with a relief mission. They set up a benevolence fund. The outward and self-sacrificial generosity of the believers at Antioch is but one expression of what they’d been taught from their leader. Barnabas had been their teacher for a year, and as we’ve seen, he showed God’s people how to be generous. He was contagious!

Barnabas was always available to do what God needed done; he didn’t care if the matter was big or small. Barnabas was always a breath of fresh air to those around him: he encouraged the apostles, he encouraged Paul, and he encouraged the churches in Jerusalem, Antioch, and all over what is modern-day Turkey.

No, Barnabas didn’t write any book on theology or an epistle in the Bible, but he did give us the apostle Paul. He didn’t write a gospel, but he gave us John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. It is also believed that under Barnabas’s ministry in Antioch, Dr. Luke—the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles—came to faith. Yes, Barnabas was just an everyday Christian, but he is a perfect example of how God uses ordinary believers to accomplish His extraordinary purposes on earth.

_________Authentic Influencer by Jonathan Murphy

Adapted from Authentic Influencer: The Barnabas Way of Shaping Lives for Jesus by Jonathan Murphy.

You may feel like an ordinary believer, but God has a knack of using ordinary people to accomplish His extraordinary purposes. Authentic Influencer encourages you to walk with Barnabas, learn from God, and shape the world for Jesus Christ— one life at a time.

God’s approach to influencing the world is through His people. People shape people. And yet, many of God’s people spectate from the sidelines unsure of what to do. Authentic Influencer is rooted in principles emerging from the life of God’s choice example in the Scriptures—a man called Barnabas—rather than recycled quotes from corporate leadership works.

Authentic Influencer is a Christian leadership book that:

  • Highlights 15 key principles that emerge from Barnabas that are relevant, practical, and customizable to every believer
  • Inspires you to shape those around you for Christ
  • Urges you to practice investing in others through discipleship
  • Challenges you with inspiring stories and practical wisdom emerging from biblical truths

By studying the life of Barnabas, we see how he influenced the world for Jesus Christ in practical and doable ways. Become encouraged to shape our world for Jesus— beginning with whoever happens to be close by.

Jonathan Murphy is a professor, pastor, and author. He is the Chair of the Department of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, a board member of Insight for Living Ministries, and a teaching pastor at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Jonathan’s cross-cultural ministry is wide in scope. He was born in Northern Ireland, raised in Spain as a missionary kid, and educated in Scotland and the United States. He resides in Texas with his wife, Sarah Jane, and their four children.

Authentic Influencer is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

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