Thursday, September 11, 2014

St. Barnabas: A Christian Coach

When I visited Conception Abbey recently, I asked for an icon of St. Barnabas.  I was disappointed to learn that neither the book store nor the Printery House at the Abbey had such an item.  Barnabas, one of my favorite characters in the New Testament evidently does not get the respect he deserves!

Why do I like Barnabas?  Because he exhibits all of the best characteristics of a Christian coach.  We can learn a lot from Barnabas and how he invested himself in others. 

The man we know as Barnabas was originally named Joseph.  He was a Levite from Cyprus who became part of the church in Jerusalem.  Because of his unusual generosity, the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” or “son of exhortation” (Acts 4:36-37).  When Saul first appeared in Jerusalem after his conversion from persecutor to preacher, the members of the church were afraid of him. Barnabas became Saul’s advocate, bringing him to the apostles and vouching for his conversion to the faith (Acts 9:26-27). 

When church leaders in Jerusalem heard that the gospel was being preached to Gentiles in Antioch, they were concerned and sent Barnabas, a man they trusted, to investigate.  Barnabas saw clear evidence of God at work in Antioch and became part of the Jesus movement there.  He went to Tarsus to find Saul. Together they provided leadership to the growing Antioch for a year (Acts 11:22-26).

Led by the Spirit of God, the Antioch church set aside (ordained) Barnabas and Saul for a mission to other Gentile cities (Acts 13:1-3).   On this first missionary journey, Barnabas was the apparent leader, but he encouraged Saul (who became known as Paul on this trip) to exercise his considerable gifts.  They established several churches in Asia Minor, but their success led to controversy with the church at Jerusalem about conditions to be imposed on Gentile converts.  At the first church council, Barnabas and Paul spoke out for an unhindered gospel and were vindicated (Acts 15:12-23).

Paul and Barnabas began to make plans to revisit the churches they had established in Asia Minor, but they had a major dispute over taking John Mark with them.  The young man had deserted them on the earlier journey, and Paul did not want Mark to be part of their group.  As one might expect, Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance. The old partners disagreed so strongly that Paul chose another traveling companion and the two men parted ways (Acts 15:36-41).  Barnabas’ confidence in Mark’s potential seems to have been justified by later writings attributed to Paul.  In Paul’s letter to Philemon, Mark is identified as one of Paul’s fellow workers who sent greetings (Philemon 24).  Paul wrote to the Colossians to receive Mark if he came to them (Colossians 4:10).  In his last letter to Timothy, he asked Timothy to bring Mark with him because Paul considered Mark a useful helper (2 Timothy 4:11).

What are the characteristics that Barnabas exhibited that a Christian coach should embrace?
·         He found joy in the giving of himself to others.
·         He saw people through God’s eyes—full of potential.
·         He lived out the belief that God is at work in every person.
·         He rejoiced when individuals joined God on mission in the world
·         He saw mistakes as learning opportunities rather than terminal experiences
·         He exhibited unconditional positive regard—grace.

Barnabas provides us with a role model for the effective Christian coach, one who always looks for the best in others and helps them to achieve their goals.  We are challenged to follow his example.  We all need a Barnabas in our lives, and we can become a Barnabas in the lives of others.

(Adapted from Disciple Development Coaching by Mark Tidsworth and Ircel Harrison)

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