Be a Barnabas; Pursue a Paul; Train a Timothy
By Paul R. Martin
In a world of increasing disconnectedness and declining numbers in vocational ministry, it should not come as a surprise that the relational dynamics of ministry development are being revisited. Words like mentor, small group, cluster, and accountability group are buzz words highlighting the symptomatic issues resulting from a lack of meaningful relationships.
The ministry demands open, trusted relationships. Inappropriate feelings, behaviors, or attitudes fester when covered with a shroud of secrecy. Unfortunately, more often than we want to admit, this renders the man of God spiritually and emotionally crippled.
Perhaps “know and be known” would be a timely call for all leaders in the Lord’s church. Jesus had three inner-circle friends. The apostle Paul had his trusted ministry companions throughout the Book of Acts. John Wesley had the Holy Club, complete with a series of probing questions that went much deeper than, “How many are you running?” or “What’s your golf score?”
I sometimes wonder, Who really knows me, my feelings, my struggles, my failings?
Some pastors believe they have long-distance accountability relationships. But in reality, for the most part, only what is willingly shared is what is known. Some expect a public platform to provide the safeguard; others join a small group.
Accountability is not guaranteed by any certain relationship since the relationship itself does not have the ability to hold us accountable. We must make ourselves accountable. Unless one willingly submits to another, the vulnerability of a duplicitous life remains. Transparency, openness, honesty, and the like can never be imposed; rather, they come from a sense of the fear of the Lord.
In a day when the number of Christian ministers is in drastic decline, perhaps a revisit of some basic ministerial relationships may help turn the tide. At least three key relationships surface in an overview of ministry models in the Book of Acts. Perhaps through a prayerful application of these examples and introspection of our own ministry relationships, the Holy Spirit can illuminate our own realities. By God’s grace, further casualties among Christian leaders may be averted.
Be A Barnabas
One wonders if Paul would have made it without Barnabas. The Damascus dust may still have been on Paul’s sandals. The fear of Paul’s murderous threats toward those of the Way was still very much a reality when Barnabas took Paul to the apostles and vouched for the veracity of his testimony (Acts 9:26,27). Barnabas did not have to do this, but this act of encouragement provided a necessary link between Paul and the fulfillment of his calling. Several years later, Barnabas was prompted by the Holy Spirit to look for Paul (Acts 11:25). No doubt the Damascus Road testimony had been forgotten by most, but not by Barnabas.
Barnabas, in keeping with his name, always seemed to be looking for someone to encourage in the ministry. The Tarsus tentmaker had seemingly been overlooked by the established church and bypassed for meaningful ministry assignments. But Barnabas remembered. Because of Barnabas’ influence, the Antioch church found a place for Paul and helped him develop trusted relationships and a respected teaching ministry (Acts 11:26; 13:1,2).
This was not the only time Barnabas took such an initiative. Remember John Mark (Acts 15:37)? Regardless of the baggage or failure from the past, Barnabas was there.
How many ministers have needed a modern-day Barnabas to come alongside them to give them ministry opportunity? How many ministers sit dejected on the sidelines because of a failure? Their church didn’t grow. The vote was not strong enough to stay. The program was a disaster. A marriage or family relationship disintegrated. Where is the brother or sister in the genre of a first-century Barnabas to look for the forgotten, to believe in the divine call, to hope for the best?
The 21st century needs larger numbers of Barnabas-minded ministers. Deserting the call is pandemic. Be a Barnabas. The silent sufferers are hidden in the shadows of the successes of others. Be a Barnabas. The challenge is before us. Scan the topography for the bypassed, the overlooked, the rejected. Be a Barnabas. Look for someone who has failed and is discouraged. Be a Barnabas. Retaining our ministers will certainly help reverse the trend of declining numbers in vocational ministry.
Pursue A Paul
Much is being said today about mentoring. The need, no doubt, is being exacerbated by sociological realities of the 21st century. The breakdown in the home where sons and daughters have distant or nonexistent relationships with their fathers certainly has had a negative effect on leadership development. In times past, the son worked alongside his father, learning not only skill and competency, but also behavior and values. Where does this happen today? Peers in a classroom learning theory?
Real life is different from laboratory theory. An education in itself does not prepare one for life. Just as an airplane has two wings, the cognitive must be balanced with practical application.
Think of the list of individuals in the New Testament who were impacted by the apostle Paul. Did this take place in a formal classroom for Titus, Onesimus, Luke, and Silas? Probably not. Rather, their foundational training in the Scriptures was given context and application as the apostolic ministry team went from city to city.
Who is the 21st century Paul you are pursuing? Observation tells us that mentoring is not best accomplished through a formal program. Mentoring takes place best as the one desiring formational input pursues.
“Will you mentor me?” is probably not the right question. Mentoring takes place as we watch, listen, serve, follow, learn, read, glean, emulate.
In Elisha’s day, this process took place as “the two of them walked on” (2 Kings 2:6*). “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you,” embodies the resolve Elisha had in pursuing Elijah.
Each minister needs to pursue someone who excels in some area of life or ministry. Thanks to 21st-century technology and travel, the whole world is open to us through print media—classic and current—tapes, interactive CDs, the Internet, conferences, and networking. This allows any minister, wherever he or she may be serving, to connect with any Christian leader anywhere.
Mentoring is not something someone does to someone else; it is the result of a diligent pursuit of another’s life and ministry. So, pursue a Paul. Look around. Key in on someone you respect. Prayerfully ask the Lord to lead you to the influencers who can have formational impact on your life.
Pursuing a Paul is not an activity solely for the younger minister. All can benefit from being a lifelong learner. Pursue a Paul. Perhaps the attrition rate of ministers can be normalized.
Train A Timothy
A third key ministry-development relationship we observe in the New Testament is embodied in training. When, as a minister, you find a willing, motivated follower, take time and expend energy, and invest in training.
Training is a cyclical activity involving instruction, implementation, observation, and evaluation. In this model, the event of teaching/instruction is but one component in the process of training. Training gives further opportunity for implementation and observation with evaluative feedback, followed by further instruction as necessary with the cycle continuing.
Intentional training is needed in the ranks of our ministers today. Skills need to be learned and competencies need to be refined. Many young Timothys desperately need increased effectiveness. They need to be well-trained.
While the primary result may be that the young minister is trained and more effective, several things happen as a by-product of this activity. Benefit also comes to the one doing the training. As the teacher shares the principles, they are further highlighted in the teacher’s mind and heart, thereby strengthening the faith and resolve in the one doing the training. Additionally, a certain amount of accountability is applied to the life of the one doing the training, “so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Furthermore, joy wells up in the heart of the one investing the training energy whenever those influenced become effective in the work of God. The aged apostle John, referencing his friend Gaius, said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
Well-trained ministers have a better potential for longevity in ministry just as well-trained marathon runners have a better chance at finishing the race. Train a Timothy. In addition, the process and discipline of training another can have a positive effect on the trainer through reinforcement of truth. It brings accountability and adds a joy factor to the ministry.
If every minister would seek to be a Barnabas, pursue a Paul, and train a Timothy, many ministers on the sidelines or in the grandstands could be active in ministry assignments. In pursuit of much needed mentoring, ministers, as lifelong learners, could be better prepared for the long haul. When younger ministers are mentored, they will be more effective in the work of the ministry. And those offering themselves in training will be further encouraged and safeguarded along the way toward “the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The more ministers we have who are better equipped and who are in the ministry for the long haul will have a profound positive effect on the declining number of ministers. Be a Barnabas, pursue a Paul, and train a Timothy.
Paul R. Martin is lead pastor, First Assembly of God, Rockford, Illinois, and former superintendent of the Illinois District of the Assemblies of God.
*Scripture references are from the New International Version.