When we think of a disciple maker in the first century, the rugged, crusading apostolic image of a Peter or a Paul forms in our minds. They were individuals who had a single vision in their heads about what they were going to think, say, or do about the expansion of Christianity and leaders who were continually finding faithful disciples who never wavered or failed. They were visionaries who charted graphs of church growth with bearish, Dow Jones-like lines that routinely climbed at a 45-degree angle upward.

 

And yet there was Barnabas. Oh, he had his successful stint with Paul in Asia Minor on the first of the missionary journeys given Paul's name (Acts 13:4-14:26). But the travel highlights of that journey do not provide a look at the most memorable part of Barnabas's character which determined how he saw people, especially people who had failed or who needed a second chance in life.

 

It was Barnabas who believed in the man Saul, who later took the name Paul, after a life of persecuting Christians.  None of the Christians wanted to sign him up for their fellowship group (Acts 9:26).  Who knows, he could have been a double agent who was infiltrating their fellowship to pinpoint their location for an SS squad. 

 

But Barnabas, on the basis of Saul's narrative about what had happened to him on the Damascus road, stood by Saul and spoke up for him (Acts 9:27). For the persecutor, for the enemy, for one who needed a second chance. 

 

Later Paul forgot the lesson about giving somebody a second chance when he barred John Mark from the Second Missionary Journey because of the younger disciple's failure to finish the first. But there came Barnabas again, stepping up for the underdog, and he took John Mark under his wing, believing that John Mark still had much to give (Acts 15:36-41).

 

Had Barnabas not taken on the cause of the one needing to at least be given a chance, regardless of what had gone before, we wouldn't have most of the New Testament epistles, or the Gospel of Mark, or spread of the gospel across the known world of the first century.

 

A Needed Skill

 

The character trait of "encouraging the discouraged" could possibly be the most needed people skill for a Christian disciple maker in the 21st century.

 

Maybe it was for people living in New Testament times, also, because it all didn't go well for the first century Christians, who worked with a variety of people as they watched over the growth of their movement. 

 

Every new believer didn't flower into rich, mature fruit. Every mission trip didn't go well - there were beatings, floggings, imprisonments, other tortures. Every church didn't demonstrate harmony, growth, and a first-rate love for one another and for Christ. (The New Testament epistles talk of lethargy, immoral behavior, splits, gossip, and a creeping coldness of heart.)