The church at Antioch was healthy and growing because it resourced itself with good leaders who were blessed by God. The unnamed men from Cyprus and Cyrene set the bar high by spreading the good news to the Greeks, with a great number of them believing in the Lord. Their success led the Jerusalem church to send Barnabas to the church at Antioch.
Barnabas is introduced in Acts 4:36-37 as a Levite from Cyprus. His first act of leadership is generosity: he sold a field he owned and put the money at the apostles’ feet. The next time we encounter Barnabas, he intercedes with the disciples on behalf of Saul/Paul. Because of Paul’s reputation before he encountered the Lord on the Damascus road, it wasn’t an easy task. Yet after Barnabas’ intercession, Paul “moved freely about Jerusalem, speaking boldly” (9:27). News of the church at Antioch reached the church at Jerusalem and Barnabas was sent to help. There he encouraged the church to continue their good work, but he recognized that Paul would be a great help to the young church, and he went to Tarsus to bring Paul back. They worked together for a year, teaching great numbers of people – who were called Christians first at Antioch.
Barnabas let no opportunity escape to add value to others. Probably the best example is his relationship with Paul:
- He believed in Paul before anyone else did
- He endorsed Paul’s leadership to other leaders
- He empowered Paul to reach his potential
The church at Antioch was healthy and growing because it had selfless leaders like Barnabas who saw the necessity of investing in others so that their work might be multiplied.
Evidence of resource staffing goes beyond Barnabas’ direct interaction with Paul. One of the very first marks of the health of the church at Antioch was how they treated everyone – as family. Not wanting to carry the good news to just the Jews, they went to the Greeks. The fellowship and communion they held established deep connections as if they were family. And they were, not flesh and blood, but spirit bound family. The sense of family permeated the church even beyond Antioch. When news of a famine in Judea reached the church, Agabus organized relief efforts. Why? Because they were family, and family members cannot ignore the needs of others in the family.
This commitment to family relationships in Antioch also required the concentration on nurturing and discipling new believers. The sequence of events had Barnabas and Saul teaching considerable numbers for a year, and then they were called Christians. Theses new believers who had been won to Christ from a pagan background did not resemble followers of Christ until they had been discipled for an entire year. Discipling is nothing more that parenting new believers as they grow to maturity.
Here, then, are two more characteristics of a healthy church as modeled at Antioch:
Resourceful staffing means investing time and resources into developing leaders. You must do more than believe in emerging leaders – you need to take steps to help them become the leaders they have the potential to be. It requires energy and time. If you do it right, you will have the privilege of seeing someone move up to a higher level.
Who will you be the Barnabas to in your church?