Who was Barnabas?

Acts 11:19-26 New International Version (NIV)

The Church in Antioch

st Barnabas and St Paul19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Who was Barnabas?

Barnabas is first mentioned in this passage, but who was he and where did he come from?
He was born of Jewish parents, and was from Cyprus.  He was known as Joseph but when he joined the apostles they gave him a new name Barnabas means “one who encourages”.  The disciples must has seen this in him.
He was a Levite and a cousin of John Mark.  Barnabas owned a field in Cyprus, which he sold and gave to the apostles for sharing with those who were in financial need.
Barnabas was well respected in the church of Antioch, and became an early church leader. 
He must have been extremely charismatic because he brought many people to faith. 
He encouraged and supported new believers, the apostles didn’t trust Paul and they were afraid of him, as he persecuted and killed Christians.  But Barnabas assured the apostles that he was genuine, and he told the apostles that he preached the Gospel in Damascus. 
Without Barnabas Paul might not have been accepted by the apostles.
Barnabas saw God’s potential in people.  Perhaps like our diocesan vocations advisors do today.  
Barnabas took Paul under his wing, he taught and mentored him
Barnabas is filled with the Holy Spirit, he is known for his encouragement of new Christians, the word encouragement translated is usually the same word for the ‘Holy Spirit’ or ‘comforter’ or ‘one called alongside to help’.  Today, many people are discouraged – maybe we need more encouragers in our churches and in our parishes. 
Barnabas worked with Paul and they were sent out on their first mission from the church in Antioch, they were to go and preach the good news of the Gospel in Galatia.
Nobody is perfect and Paul and Barnabas fell out over the fact that Barnabas gave John Mark a second chance. John Mark abandoned them on a mission but because Barnabas had a spirit of encouragement, he gave him another chance.  Paul didn’t like this and it was at this time that they parted company, Barnabas taking John Mark to Cyprus, and Paul going with Silas to Syria and Cilicia.
Barnabas helped both John Mark and Paul by working with them to reach their full potential in God.    
Barnabas is a person who helps people find a second chance – he helps them rebuild their faith..  Just as he helped John Mark and Paul. Where ever Barnabas went he brought many people to faith, and worked with new Christians encouraging them to grow towards God.
So, what was Barnabas like? Generous, an encourager, a mediator, a missionary, a good man who loved God and lived out his faith.
It is thought that Barnabas was stoned to death because he was so successful in bring people to faith. 
The day we remember him June 11th.
All of us at some point need someone to encourage us, in our lives and in our faith.  Who do we have as our encourager?
As Christians who do we encourage?
Maybe today we ought to use Barnabas’ example and encourage the children in our groups by thinking of the individual children and how we can praise them. 
For example: certificates – John Thank you for all you do in helping clearing away every week.
Elizabeth – thank you for helping the younger children.
Penny – thank you for attending every session. 
You could also use an encouragement game.  Where the children have to sit in a circle and think about the person next to them what they are good at and say Thank you God for John’s humour.  (Get the children to think about the inside of the children, not how they look) If you have shy children you could do it with post-it notes, put all the names of the children into a bowl ask the children to pick out a name, then ask the children to write on them as above and then put it on their desk.
At the end of the session end with ‘John May God bless you and keep you’  rather than just a group prayer.  This will help the children feel appreciated and special. 
Or give out stickers..

May God bless you in your ministry. 
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About Michelle Bailey

Reverend Michelle Bailey is the Rural Officer for the Bishop of Brecon and Swansea  She previously worked in Children's Ministry and was ordained in the Church of England. Her blog includes ideas on presenting concepts of faith to young children to the age of eleven and furthering faith development in an educational context. Michelle currently lives in Wales and is also developing a rural ministry blog.
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