Defining Our Strengths
As we look at the story of Paul (also known as Saul), Barnabas and John Mark outlined in Acts, we get a great insight into each one’s strengths and weaknesses. The story emerges in these elements-Paul and Barnabas are sent forth on a mission venture which takes them to many different cities and towns to spread the Gospel where they experience a great many difficult challenges. They had taken John Mark with them to assist them but he returned home part way through the trip. Although this is mentioned without explanation in chapter 13, it is obvious in chapter 15 that Paul felt that John Mark had abandoned them. This led to a dispute between Paul and Barnabas when they planned to set off on a second journey and ultimately caused them to split up and go in separate directions.
To better understand this conflict we need to add some background so we can see who each of these important leaders are. Barnabas is actually a nickname that means Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36). He is described as a generous giver (Acts 4:37) but it is in relation to Paul that we first truly see him living our the character expressed in this epitaph. Saul/Paul had been a zealous persecutor of Christians until he was radically converted to faith in Christ. Even though he began to publicly preach his new found faith in Jesus, the Apostles distrusted him. Barnabas took the risk and bridged that gap. He approached Paul and then introduced him to the Apostles so he could be accredited with them. He was able to see the hand of God on Paul’s life and dare to have faith in him. Thereafter, Paul and Barnabas are linked arm in arm in the ministry of Christ. So for the two of them to split up and go in separate directions is serious. How did this happen to Paul and Barnabas? Does this indicate that one or the other is a bad leader or acts in bad character?
Paul is an apostle. The word apostle means that one is sent on a mission, tasked to fulfill the purpose of the one who is sending them. An apostle is focused on completing the mission, all else must be put aside in order to continue moving toward that goal. The is demonstrated by the Apostles when they receive complaints about the care of widows. Their response is to immediately delegate the task so that they could remain focused on their mission to teach the word of God (Acts 6:1-7). Paul is likewise focused and driven forward in the mission. He views the departure of John Mark as a lack of readiness or a lack of commitment that creates a distraction he cannot allow for in their second journey. Barnabas, on the other hand is the Son of Encouragement. Just as he saw God’s hand on Paul and took a risk on him, he now is compelled to do the same with John Mark. Thank God he did!
Who is John Mark and what happens after this critical turn of events? John Mark is first introduced to us as member of a faith filled home where prayer was fervently lifted up when Peter was arrested. When Peter was delivered by an angel from prison, it was to the home of John Mark that he went first. Under the mentorship of Barnabas, John Mark clearly grew and found productive roles in ministry for years to come. We know John Mark mainly as simply Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark! Mark even becomes a valued coworker to the Apostle Paul who twice refers to him as such (Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).
What we see here are the strengths of each of these leaders being applied. Nothing in their actions need condemn any of these leaders as ineffective or unkind. We can conclude four points from this:
- No one has all the strengths needed.
- Some people can’t work with some other people (it takes a Barnabas to work with certain people and situations).
- Some people are wrong for certain roles and tasks so each one needs to find a fitting place.
- For some, it is a matter of timing or a need for maturing. So we should not write people off with a permanent marker.
Consider these questions and discuss them with your group of friends.
- Can you see yourself or any of your family and friends reflected in any of these individuals? In other words, are you a Paul, a Barnabas or a Mark?
- How does Barnabas taking charge of Mark help both Paul and Mark to be more effective?
- Think about ministries you serve in, can you see people with these different strengths – a leader, a teacher, an encourager, someone who has potential but needs the time and help to grow? Do you ever see conflicts similar to that of Paul, Barnabas and John Mark?
- Does seeing Barnabas fill in the gap with grace give you ideas of how you can serve to support others in the church, your family or work?