Barnabas was such an encouragement to the early church that he was even given that nickname: “Mr. Encourager.” Of course the Hebrew way of saying that was “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36,37). Paul urges us to “Not let any unwholesome talk come out of [our] mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
So am I a Pollyanna, believing that all people are good, sweet and well-intentioned? No. I know there are false teachers out there, and selfish, prideful brethren who would wreck a church for their own gratification. I see human beings as sinners who need the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
But I also know that it’s a tough world out there. In work places and at high school, sinful people hurt and maim others for the pleasure of it. It seems to me that in the church we should find safe haven. Some things we can learn:
- In order to grow, most of us are going to make mistakes, fail, sin. Will there be brethren there who have the vision to see beyond our current failings to what we can become? We can’t just “write” brethren off when they make a mistake. What if Christ had written us off?
- When people fail or sin, they are at a crossroads. They might conclude that they are not worthy of Christ, and give up. They need a Barnabas to lift them up again at that moment!
- Have the wisdom to see in someone else an ability or talent you don’t have. Identify those with potential.
- I remember the elder who told me that for twenty-five years he dreaded the moment after worship because every time it ended someone would find him in the foyer and complain or criticize. Begin to see things through the eyes of leadership – elders, deacons and preachers. See the complexity of the decisions they make. Become a Barnabas to them.
- Being a Barnabas is more than being an empty-headed cheerleader. It requires thought, vision, insight into the way others behave, and finding ways to motivate them.
- Different people are motivated different ways. The body is made up of many parts, each with a unique and needed contribution to the whole.
- One of the greatest pleasures is to say something good about another in secret, and have him find out about it by accident. Speak well of others.
- Tell them you appreciate them. Thank them. A teenager told me once: “My father never once said, ‘I love you.’”
- Be creative. Cards. Gift certificates. Baby sitting their kids while they go out.
- Identify some particular groups of people to encourage: Send young people a card telling them what you appreciate about them. The person who teaches your kid, or grand kids’ Bible class. The preacher’s wife, the elder’s wives. Often they lose their identity because of their husband’s role. Befriend that woman. The victim of bereavement, divorce, or some other tragedy.
The church always seems to have plenty of critics; what it needs is more encouragers!