This passage describes the missionary challenge in most of the world today: too many converts, too few pastors and teachers. The good news is people are coming to Christ in record numbers, but the bad news is there arent nearly enough trained people to take care of them. Its as though someone went out into a wheat field and cut the ripe wheat, but then left it lying on the ground to spoil. Wheat needs to be bundled together and put into a barn. Cutting it is just the first step in the harvest.
Its not enough to lead someone to Christ. They need to be established in their faith, and that takes a long-term investment. They need to be taught the Bible, prayed for, coached on how to live a godly life. To change metaphors, no one asks a newborn baby to go out and find food and feed itself. Babies need a loving family, and in the same way new believers (and old believers) need a loving spiritual family so theyre not facing the world, their flesh, and the devil alone. Its not fair! Its downright cruel to bring someone to Jesus and then abandon them. But thats whats happening because many dont take responsibility for those they bring to Christ and because there arent enough pastors and teachers to care for Gods flock.
The situation in Antioch is happening all over the earth today: huge numbers who have and will come to Christ, but no one to lead or teach them. To meet this need well all need the heart of Barnabas, who, when he saw the grace of God at work, rolled up his sleeves and began to teach them... But who also went out and searched for Saul til he found him.
In this verse Luke described Barnabas using three specific statements. First, he says he was a good man, meaning, most likely, that he was generous, that he regularly did deeds of kindness. We saw him in Acts 4:36, 37 being one of the first to give, at a sacrificial level, to care for those suffering for their faith. Second, he says he was full of the Holy Spirit, certainly meaning that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, but also that he was still moving strongly in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit and was still being guided by the Spirit. My guess is that, like his whole generation (He 13:7), he not only taught the Word but also ministered healing and deliverance (Ac 8:4-7). And third, Luke says he was full of faith, meaning he was a man who prayed boldly and believed God for great things.
We need to remember that Barnabas was a Levite (Ac 4:36), with every reason to be legalistic and to stay distant from Gentiles. But as we watch him, he clearly wasnt bound by his traditions. He knew God and had the spiritual eyes to recognize when God was at work in people. And he had the humility to let God lead. If God was okay with it, so was he.
There was a consistency in Barnabas. Whenever we read about him hes the same person. He would watch for what God was doing, whether it was in people such as Saul (Ac 9:27) or Mark (Ac 15:36-40), or in places like here in Antioch (Ac 11:23). He would throw his heart and energy into helping, wherever he was needed. If they needed teachers, he could teach, so he taught. He didnt take notes on what was happening and then return to Jerusalem and give a report. He stayed to help.
The Barnabas model (Ac 11:23-30)
As we watch the way Barnabas responded to the need in Antioch he becomes an excellent model of how each of us can respond to the needs around us. If all of us became like Barnabas, we too would see a sizeable multitude
added to the Lord. When human need meets the power of God, through the people of God, something good always happens. Heres what he did:
1) (v23) he discerned the Holy Spirit at work.
This is God!
2) (v23) he encouraged what was happening, he didnt try to control it.
You either structure for control, or you structure for growth, but you cant do both. (Rick Warren?)
He didnt shrink it down to a manageable size.
3) (v23) he stepped in and personally helped.
He didnt write a report and go home.
He didnt tell them they needed more teachers
4) (v24) he stayed spiritually healthy.
A decade after he came to Christ he is still a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.
5) (v24) the number of people grew under his care.
We either kill, halt, or release what we are given.
6) (v25) he recognized the need for more workers.
Im not enough!
7) (v25) he didnt just wish for more workers, he went after them.
8) (v26) he mentored Saul for one year.
He worked beside him.
9) (v26) he produced disciples who looked like Jesus, not him.
Christians, not Barnabasians.
Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6, 15)
Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ (1Co 1:12).
Lets take a second look at Barnabas and see the deep, godly attitudes at work in him:
1) He didnt try to make God do something, he aligned himself with what God was doing.
He recognized the hand of God even though God was working among the wrong group of people.
2) He didnt just watch and go back to Jerusalem, he saw the need and helped.
We cant respond to all the needs, but neither can we use gifting and calling as an excuse not to help.
3) He didnt shrink the church down to a size he could manage. He looked for more teachers so the church could keep growing.
He knew teachers were vital to the success of what God was doing in Antioch.
He was willing to go to great effort to find and train more teachers.
This same Barnabas later wrote in his letter to the Hebrews, For by this time you ought to be teachers
(He 5:12). He could only say that if being able to teach is a function of maturity, not gifting.
Every Spirit-filled believer can teach the Word of God so that people understand it and grow.
4) He saw the potential in people and didnt hold past failures against them. He expected them to grow.
He remembered what God had said about Saul (Ac 9:15, 27) and was confident eleven years in Cilicia had matured him.
5) He mentored Saul long enough to let him be successful.
Observation, encouragement, correction, consistent feedback, long enough so the person gets the feel.
He reproduced his strength which was teaching the Word
6) He made disciples for Jesus, not himself.
He attached their affections to Christ.
He taught them Jesus sayings, not his own.
He called them Christians
Pastors and teachers
A pastor is a man or woman who leads a flock. They organize, they plan, they take responsibility for the care of others. A teacher is someone who teaches people how to be Jesus disciples. They dont merely impart information, they explain spiritual principles so people can understand and live those truths. And they use more than words to do their teaching. They use their own lives. Like Barnabas, they model what theyre saying so people dont just listen to them, they imitate them (1Co 11:1).
Workers (Mk 9:37, 38)
When Jesus asks us to look at the harvest and to beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers
, its pastors and teachers he primarily means, because thats where Gods harvest always bogs down. Too many people willing to come, too few people willing to care for them.
Fishers and Shepherds
Some people might say, But Im not a shepherd, Im a fisher. My job is to catch em, not clean em. But that kind of compartmentalization of disciple-making isnt Biblical. Jesus wants us to be both. Peter, the fisherman, illustrates this:
1) (Mt 4:18, 19) Now as He was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, and He said to them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
2) (Jn 21:15-17) After His resurrection Jesus told this same fisherman to feed My lambs, shepherd (pastor) My little sheep, feed My little lambs.
And thats exactly what Peter did. He didnt just catch em, he also led and fed em (Ac 9:22-43; 10:48; Lydda, Joppa, Caesarea).
So how does Barnabas example challenge me? What steps can I take to become a worker in the Lords harvest?
1) I can look for opportunities. Are there people who need to be led and fed, or is there someone who needs my help?
2) I need to evaluate my situation.
Some are already giving themselves beyond their capacity to keep going.
Some are giving themselves, but could do more. Its still too comfortable.
Some have disqualified themselves because they feel untaught/untrained.
3) I need to grow in my capacity to pastor and teach.
LMI (Life Ministry Institute)
Life Group leader/assistant
MTC (Ministry Training Class)
Stephen Ministry training (also: James, Jonathan)
OSL (Operation Solid Lives) coach
General Missions Training
What does Jesus see when He looks at America? He sees multitudes who are distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. He sees a harvest that is plentiful but the workers are few. Will you and I go into His harvest field?
1) Who fed and led you when you were a new believer?
2) Name someone God has used you to feed and lead.
3) What is the next step God is asking you to take to increase your capacity to serve in His harvest?