What does it take to be a disciple-maker? One might assume a seminary education would be a basic requirement. Perhaps expertise on personality traits and leadership qualities, possibly organizational skills.
All of these may be useful, even helpful for large-scale discipleship models. But is this what Jesus had in mind? Is this what we see in the early church?
No seminaries existed in those days, nor any personality trait tests. How did they do it? Like many things, it's a lot simpler than you might think.
Like Jesus but different
Jesus is the obvious model for a disciple-maker. He discipled the first leaders of the church, and gave the command to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). We call this the Great Commission. I've written about this earlier.
All Christian believers are called to follow Jesus, but we aren't all exactly like Him. Each of us have different personalities, gifts, skills, and backgrounds.
So, is there another more ordinary example to follow besides Jesus, or Paul and Peter the apostles? There is.
Joseph the generous man
We get our first glimpse of our ordinary example in Acts 4:36. His introduction is sandwiched between a wonderful testimony and a woeful one.
A heart-warming insight of the early church's life is found in Acts 4:32-25, and Joseph is part of that. He sells some land and donates the proceeds to the church for the benefit of everyone. This view of the church reaches back nine verses earlier (Acts 4:23-31), and even earlier than that (Acts 2:42-47).
But an abrupt shift follows Joseph's generosity when one couple's deceit and greed costs them their lives (Acts 5:1-11).
Joseph known as Barnabas
Joseph was best known as an encourager. In fact, his name changed to Barnabas, which means son of encouragement. This became his identity. It was what he was known for, and this is seen as we track his life through the Book of Acts.
Our first insight into the character of Barnabas, our ordinary example, is that he was unselfish, faithful, generous, and an encourager.
In this man, we see discipleship in a simple form. It wasn't a planned out program. It flowed out of his life in a natural way.
[bctt tweet="Discipleship should flow out of our life in a natural way"]
A simple example of discipleship
Barnabas, first known as Joseph, is only mentioned five times in Acts, but each time is significant.
A stand up guy
After Saul, later known as the apostle Paul, converts from Judaism to the new Christian faith, Barnabas is right by his side. We pick up this story in Acts 9:26-30. Saul, who had once been an enemy of the faith, now proclaimed the Christian faith.
When Saul (Paul) tried to join in fellowship with the church in Jerusalem, they were still afraid of him. So Barnabas stepped up. He stood up for Saul and spoke on his behalf before the apostles, so Saul was accepted into fellowship.
Barnabas was a stand up guy, as we might say today.
Someone you can trust
The church began to expand into other territories, often without proven leaders. They sprung up from the life example and testimony of new believers. In Antioch of Syria, many non-Jewish people became believers.
When news of non-Jewish believers reached Jerusalem, the leaders sent someone they trusted to check this out. Who was that? They sent Barnabas (Acts 11:20-26).
When Barnabas saw the work of God's grace among the people, he encouraged them to continue in their new-found faith. He also saw this was the ministry God had called Saul (Paul) to do (Acts 9:15-16). So Barnabas brought Saul from his home in Tarsus, and the church was discipled by these two partners in the gospel.
This is Barnabas' testimony—
Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and full of faith. (Acts 11:24 NCV)
A true leader
As a leader among leaders, Barnabas was sent out on a mission with Saul (Paul), in Acts 13:1-3. This is the first intentional sending out of missionaries by the church, the daughter church of Jerusalem.
This mission resulted in many conversions of faith and several churches being planted. Barnabas was a humble partner with Paul, he didn't need to be the primary leader. He was the one who encouraged Paul to step into the ministry God called him to do.
A man of integrity
One test of character is how we handle opposition. When faced with a situation that could compromise us, how do we respond? Barnabas shows integrity of character in Acts 15:36-40.
On the first mission, Barnabas and Paul took the young man John Mark to assist them. But when things got rough, John Mark left them for home (Acts 13:5, 13).
When these partners in ministry were set to go out on their second mission, they argued. About what? Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark with them, but Paul did not. They ended up going in separate directions.
I've heard people say Barnabas was wrong, which was proven by his name never being mentioned in Acts again. But Barnabas wanted to give a young man a second chance.
I'm glad he did. I'm thankful for those who've given me second chances. In the end, Paul was glad Barnabas stood up to him and insisted on including John Mark in the ministry. [see Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Philemon 24]
Our take away
What do we learn from the life of Barnabas—the son of encouragement?
First, he was known as an encourager. This became his identity. That's not a bad identity to have. Wouldn't you like to be known for being an encourager of people? I would.
I've had and have several people in my life who are encouragers, both in word and deed. Sometimes people need more than encouraging words. They need acts of encouragement that flow out of our life example.
Barnabas shows us integrity of character in many ways
Barnabas stood up for Saul, but also stood up to Paul. How? When he stood up for Saul (Paul) before the apostles, and when he took John Mark under his arm to mentor him.
You could say that we have Barnabas to thank for the epistles Paul wrote, and for the Gospel of Mark. Why? Because Barnabas believed in Jesus and saw Jesus in others, and he encouraged them in their faith. This is simple discipleship.
Do you see how these qualities see, in Barnabas' life don't require a special education or skill-set? They flowed out of his character—who he had become as a follower of Jesus.
Barnabas made disciples who followed him in the same way Barnabas followed Jesus. It's a simple pattern—be who you are as you trust in Jesus each day, and share it with others.