Following Christ involves denying ourselves to follow Him. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me (Luke 9:23 NASB1995). This verse is crucial for Christian leaders to heed. Barnabas’ years in ministry possessed a heart intent on following Jesus. This goal was accomplished using Jesus’ style of leadership—servant leadership.
Barnabas was born and raised on the island of Cyprus. His training and upbringing stemmed from him being a Levite of Jewish descent. His name occurs twenty-three times in the Book of Acts and five times in the letters that the Apostle Paul wrote. Before Jesus’ disciples called him Barnabas, Acts 4:36 says he was called Joseph (Joses) which means “Son of Encouragement.” Luke interprets Barnabas into the Greek words huios paraclete’s, which may well be translated as “son of encouragement,” “son of comfort,” or “Son of Exhortation.” Some say it could mean “son of a prophet,” but then doubts are cast why Luke calls him the “Son of Encouragement.” Some scholars question why Paul calls him the “son of encouragement in Acts.
Barnabas’ central timeline includes selling property and giving the profits to the Jerusalem church, meeting and introducing Paul to the church in Jerusalem, being commissioned to travel to Syrian Antioch to evaluate what was happening with the preaching and Christianity there, leading the first missionary journey with Paul, set out on a missionary journey with his cousin John Mark, and an instrumental leader in Cyprus, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
Barnabas’ Qualities, Strengths, and Weaknesses
Throughout the Book of Acts, one sees qualities of generosity, encouragement, leadership, loyalty, friendship, consistency in being a team player, and a love for God. His focus on the mission God had prepared for him is evident through his words and actions.
Godly character and behavior remained pivotal throughout Barnabas’ life. His strong personality was built by his love and dedication to his salvation and call upon his life. Due to this, Barnabas naturally had multiple strengths.
- Big-hearted: When Barnabas sold his land to give to the early Christian community, that behavior was rare then. Could it be that this was one of the first relief work missions that one sees from the New Testament?
- Persuasive: In Jerusalem, Barnabas received a cool reception because the disciples could not believe that Paul had changed from a persecutor to a follower of Jesus. Barnabas persuaded them, and they eventually thought he was a disciple of Christ.
- Loyal: Barnabas was faithful to John Mark when he abandoned his work on the first missionary journey. He did not allow the disagreement when Paul refused to have John Mark participate in the second missionary journey to affect their relationship. Due to the encouragement of Barnabas, vital contributions from both Paul and Mark have been made to the Christian faith and the New Testament.
- Exceptional evangelist: Many souls were saved as he traveled from city to city, church to church
- Discerning: Barnabas discerned that Paul’s character had been transformed from a sinner to a believer in Jesus Christ.
- Humble: Barnabas followed wherever he was needed. He did not show one-upmanship or comparison to other people as he lived his life.
- Filled with the Holy Spirit: Barnabas would not have been able to minister as he did without the Holy Spirit leading and guiding him.
- Encourager: As an encourager, he could keep the peace with Paul through a lasting friendship and encourage those he met along his life journey.
Few weaknesses are evident in the Bible. However, one weakness found was hypocrisy. One can only assume that if one backslides and is not living for the Lord, the Holy Spirit’s evidence in their life would wane. It is unknown if Barnabas experienced a dip in his spiritual life, but there is no evidence in the Bible of any other faults. Regarding hypocrisy, Paul accused Peter and others (including Barnabas) of being hypocrites because they separated themselves and feared the circumcision party. Paul mentions that “even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:13). Not knowing the heart of Barnabas on this matter, this weakness may or may not be accurate since we should never judge others primarily based on the word of only one person and this one incident.
Principles and Issues on Leadership
Many secular scholars over the years have tried to conceptualize and define leadership. Peter G. Northouse defines leadership: “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” While that is a helpful definition, Jesus’ life and lifestyle would be more appropriate if one were to look for the Biblical description and qualities a leader should possess. C. Gene Wilkes discusses seven servant leadership principles. These principles are seen in one degree or another in Barnabas.
- Jesus humbled himself and allowed God to exalt him.
- Jesus followed his Father’s will rather than seek a position
- Jesus defined greatness as being a servant and being first as becoming a slave.
- Jesus risked serving others because he trusted that he was God’s Son
- Jesus left his place at the head table to serve the needs of others
- Jesus shared responsibility and authority with those he called to lead
- Jesus built a team to carry out a worldwide vision.
Critical Analysis: Barnabas’ Servant Leadership Qualities
Barnabas’ leadership qualities are detected in various locations in the Bible that closely mimic the same leadership model Jesus portrayed.
- Barnabas’ humility and generosity are recognized in Acts 4:37 where he sold a tract of his land, brought the money, and laid it at the apostle’s feet to be appropriated as needed in the Jerusalem church.
- Barnabas’ belief that people can change for the good is noted in Acts 9:26-27 when the disciples were afraid of Paul. Barnabas described to the apostles that he had talked to Paul and that he had spoken out boldly for Jesus.
- In Acts 15:35, Barnabas is regarded as a leader proclaiming the word of the Lord. His leadership is also seen in his involvement with the Council of Jerusalem. It was there that Paul and Barnabas were given “the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles” to proclaim God’s message of salvation (Gal. 2:9).
- Barnabas continued in Jesus’ footsteps by being a risk taker. When Paul would not allow John Mark to accompany him on his second missionary journey, he took John Mark under his wing, and they proceeded to proclaim the Lord to the world, even though John Mark deserted them on the first missionary journey.
- Serving others through his preaching, teaching, and mentoring was everyday behavior for Barnabas. In Acts 13:42-43, the people in the synagogue begged Paul and Barnabas to continue to speak to them. Both these men served the Lord by encouraging them to continue in the grace of God.
- Barnabas loved God and recognized God’s authority over his life. In Jesus on Leadership, Wilkes says, “Barnabas’s relationship to God helped him see past the fear of others and come alongside Paul who would ultimately take the message of Jesus to all people groups.” Last, Barnabas did build a close-knit team by mentoring Paul and John Mark. However, he also left the mark of Jesus upon all the churches and cities he traveled sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Synthesis: How Barnabas’ Leadership is Applied to Ministry Settings
Studying the life of Barnabas brings many principles that one can bring to a servant leadership style. Values arising from these principles may be valuable to any believer—those working in a secular or Christian environment.
Like Barnabas did, striving, desiring, and working toward a life of holiness is essential to one’s spiritual growth and ability to lead. His lifestyle was built on character, integrity, and submission to the Lord. His determination steered him to possess and retain God’s heart. He lived and served as Jesus did, and Jesus’ influence led him to behave and interact lovingly with others. Standing up for what is right and acknowledging God as our strength in our ministries creates a life that others will want to emulate. Honesty and honest work are vital, as well. Leading like Christ and behaving like Christ is how ministry workers should behave and lead. Just as Barnabas served people, so must those in ministry. However, how is that done? Author and Pastor C. G. Wilkes says, “Servant and leader stand together as a model for those entrusted with the well-being of a group. Leaders who follow the example and teachings of Jesus will lead first as servants.” My personal goal for ministry leadership lines up with Wilkes’s beliefs, and that is to pray for humility, patience, a desire to put others before me, take risks, and equip others well.
Believers are all sinners—even Barnabas. The Apostle Paul writes a summation verse that encompasses how we can live in our fallen nature.
Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14).
Pressing on toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus is a worthy goal. When that goal is in the forefront of a believer’s mind, as it was with Barnabas, servant leadership will follow.
Legend says this Barnabas died a martyr’s death at Salamis in AD 61. He is remembered as being possibly one of the seventy mentioned in Luke 10:1 and the traditional founder of the Cypriot Church. Most would agree with Norman Blackaby and Wilkes that, Barnabas’ leadership, and character “made a lasting difference in the lives of millions because he demonstrated the heart of God.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we see Barnabas relating to others, let me have the same qualities as he had. I want to be more generous. I want to encourage others and be loyal to my friends and family. Help me, Jesus to continue to have a love for all things of God and to put others before myself. You are a good God and I love You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Books by Patti Greene
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This article may not be reproduced except for written permission from the author. For the full annotated paper and bibliography, please get in touch with me through the comment section of this article. [This paper was written for a college academic research class by Patti Greene.]
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Note: All linked Bible verses come from the NASB1995 version.
“Barnabas.” in Lexham Bible Dictionary. Logos Bible Software, accessed June 2, 2022. www.logos.com.
Brooks, James. “Barnabas.” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. revised ed. edited by Chad Brand, Eric Mitchell, and Holman Reference Editorial Staff.
Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2015.
Barnabas. (2002). In R. Brownrigg, Who’s who in the New Testament, Routledge (2nd ed.). Routledge. Credo Reference:
Blackaby Norman and Gene Wilkes. Character: The Pulse of a Disciple’s Heart. Birmingham: New Hope, 2012.
Cross, Frank and Elizabeth Livingstone, ed. “Barnabas.” Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. accessed June 2, 2022.
Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory & Practice. 9th ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2022.
Wilkes, C. Gene. Jesus on Leadership: Timeless Wisdom on Servant Leadership. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 1998.
Zodhiates, Spiros. ed. Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible: Key Insights into God’s Word, New