For some strange reason, my favorite Bible character has long been Barnabas. The poor guy doesn’t get much attention in Sunday school classes or sermons. At first glance, he’s remarkably second fiddle—a mere role-player in a cast of superstars. And even then, he’s not long for the storyline, exiting halfway through the book of Acts after a testy exchange with the Apostle Paul over staffing priorities for an upcoming mission’s trip.
But when it comes to finding and empowering people for ministry, Barnabas had no equal.
I can make an argument (at least from the human perspective) that without his contribution and nose for finding, training, and developing leaders, there would be no Apostle Paul, no book of Romans or any of Paul’s other New Testament letters, no Gentile Christians, and no gospel of Mark. That’s quite a legacy for someone who gets so little love from theological pundits and preachers.
After years of mulling on the life of Barnabas, as well as extensive writing and speaking on the subject of leadership, I’ve come to the conclusion that those who are most successful at building teams (be they lay-leadership teams or a top-quality paid staff) inevitably share with Barnabas the five traits that make up what I call The Barnabas Factor. At the same time, those who habitually bemoan a lack of volunteers, low morale, and a chronically high turnover rate tend to lack these same five traits.
So what are these powerful traits that made Barnabas so different? And what can we do to build them into our own life and ministry? Here’s a brief look at each one.
1) A SPIRIT AND PATTERN OF FINANCIAL GENEROSITY
The first thing we learn when Barnabas bursts onto the scene in Acts 4 is that he had recently sold a field and given the money away to help others. It seems that this wasn’t an isolated act. You see, Barnabas wasn’t his real name. It was a nickname. It meant Son of Encouragement. His given name was Joseph. But apparently, when you start selling your stuff to help out others, word gets around.
It’s no accident that Barnabas is introduced by a story highlighting his generosity. It’s an important window into his character and heart. It’s also a key trait found among those who excel at finding and empowering others.
Why is a spirit and pattern of generosity so important? It’s because stingy people tend to be threatened people. They protect and hoard. And it’s not just their possessions that they won’t let go of; they also hold tightly onto their prestige, power, and preferences. It’s as if they see prestige, power, and success as a zero-sum game. If someone else gains, they lose. So they won’t let anyone else win.
Stinginess of heart, if it’s allowed to remain, always sabotages healthy building. On one hand, it will cause us to reject anyone who we fear might potentially crowd into our space or fly higher than we’ve flown. On the other hand, it will cause others (especially those with strong leadership potential) to bail out at the first opportunity. No one wants to work with or for a selfish pig.
One of the most powerful tools (if not the most powerful tool) for breaking the stranglehold of a selfish and stingy heart is the discipline of generosity. It puts our treasures and priorities in the right place, and it helps keep them there.
Frankly, if I’m unwilling to share my temporal riches with those in need, there’s not much chance I’ll share my true riches—and according to Jesus, there’s not much chance he’ll trust me with them anyway.
That’s why I always tell pastors and leaders that the first step to building a great team of volunteers or staff is not found in developing better people skills (as important as this is); it’s found in developing a heart of generosity. Once that’s in place, everything else flows much easier.
2) QUICKNESS TO FORGIVE
The second thing that strikes me about Barnabas is his readiness to forgive. The next time he shows up in the book of Acts, he’s sponsoring and supporting the ministry of a former arch enemy.
It’s no stretch to assume that Paul had previously jailed and persecuted some of Barnabas’ close friends. He clearly collaborated in the death of Stephen. That’s a lot to get over. Yet, Barnabas was willing to look past what Paul had done to see what God was doing. It allowed him to see potential where everyone else only saw past sins. What God forgave, Barnabas forgave—quickly. (By the way, I know that Paul was called Saul in the early parts of Acts, but I’m using his more commonly known name throughout for the sake of clarity.)