Every healthy and growing spiritual leader needs three specific types of relationships in their lives. We need a “Paul” who will mentor us, a “Barnabas” who will encourage and challenge us, and a “Timothy” into whom we are investing as a mentor or spiritual leader. 

In last week’s episode 115 we discussed the importance of a mentor relationship and some ideas on how to engage a mentor. This week we progress to “part 2” as we discuss embracing the “encouragers” in our lives. 

Continue Reading for the Article / Episode Notes…

Three Vital Relationships Every Leader Must Have: A Friend to Walk With You

Acts chapter four contains the first mention of Barnabas in scripture. During the early days of the church, members of the Christian community supported one another sufficiently so that all had what they needed. Those who had houses or land would, from time to time, sell their property and bring the proceeds to the apostles for distribution to those having need.  Barnabas, who’s very name means “Son of Encouragement”, sold a field, brought the proceeds, and laid them at the apostle’s feet. In this introductory act, Barnabas showed support for the community of Christ-followers and encouraged other to act in kind. Barnabas is an example of encouragement and generosity and is an antithesis to the self-serving example of Ananias and Sapphira.

A “Barnabas” Makes an Investment in Knowing Your Heart

Later, after Saul’s (Paul’s) conversion, the Christ-followers were fearful of this recently converted persecutor of Christians. Acts chapter 9, verses 26 and 27, show Barnabas’ reaction to this new believer when it is stated, “When he came to Jerusalem, he (Saul) tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul (Paul) on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” (NIV). Barnabas’ act of support and friendship opened the door for Saul’s acceptance by the church, thus beginning Saul’s growth as a disciple. 

A “Barnabas” Encourages the Heart

In Acts 11 the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch to investigate Peter’s report of gentiles having believed upon Christ. Acts 11.23-24 states, “When he (Barnabas) arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (NIV). Barnabas then went to Tarsus to look for Saul and bring him back to the people of Antioch, thus introducing Saul (Paul) to his calling as the apostle to the gentiles. 

A “Barnabas” Will Celebrate Your Growth

For the next few chapters the friendship and collegial relationship between Barnabas and Saul is evident. Frequent references to “Barnabas and Saul” shift in Acts chapter 13 to “Paul and Barnabas”. Barnabas was a friend and an encourager to Paul. They were co-laborers, yet the relationship remains strong even when the emphasis shifts from “Barnabas and Saul” to “Paul and Barnabas”. It was not Barnabas’ aim to self-serve, but to be a blessing and a friend. Even at the inception of their relationship, Barnabas was lifting Paul and encouraging his potential rather than seeking to assure a place of superiority for himself. 

A “Barnabas” Loves you Enough to Challenge You,

Sadly, a rift developed between Paul and Barnabas in a disagreement over John Mark traveling with them. Paul was unwilling to make further investment in the young man because he abandoned them on a previous missionary journey. Barnabas took the stance of grace giver and wanted to give Mark another chance to prove himself. This rift illustrates that it is sometimes a challenge for strong leaders to maintain long-term relationships with peers, yet those relationships are vital. The nurture of a relationship is sometimes for a season. We need many relationships on our journey, and while we must never see relationships as disposable, we do have to understand that the focus of relationships do shift over time. Only a few relationships maintain an intimate closeness over the course of a lifetime of shifting circumstances. 

Every leader needs a Barnabas. 

  • We need someone to believe in us when many other do not and to see something in us that we may not even see in ourselves. 
  • We need a friend to bring a perspective to us that we cannot see ourselves, and is trusted and close enough that we do not suspect their motives. 
  • We need a friend who, for our own good, will introduce us into situations we would have never discovered on our own. 
  • We need a friend (friends) who will rejoice when God elevates us in prominence above them, and we need to be such a friend. 
  • And, yes, we need a friend who will hold us accountable and challenge us when their perspective reads a wrong in our lives, even to the point of jeopardizing the friendship for our own good and for all involved. We want friends of character and integrity, but when that integrity challenges us it stings; may we embrace the strength of good friends. 

Who Fulfills the “Barnabas” Role in Your Life?

Who are the “Barnabases” in your life? To whom are you accountable? To whom have you given the authority in your life to speak into your life “friend to friend”? Who believes in you and encourages you when you are discouraged? A leader’s spouse fulfills many of these roles, but leaders need someone with a different commitment and a different perspective to bring the nurture, encouragement, and correction of “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27.17). 

Practically Speaking… How Might You Find a “Barnabas”?

  • Make an investment in lifetime relationships. Be observant to recognize the potential in a relationship and then make an investment. 
  • Keep in mind, you may not find one single person to do all of these things in your life. Like we discussed last week regarding mentors, sometimes it is a chorus of people speaking into your life. 
  • Start with a small affinity group, and see which relationships develop. I often think of the group of pastors I met with in my early 30s. We were from various backgrounds and denominations, but we made ourselves accountable to each other, and for that season, with excellence, they fulfilled the role of “Barnabas” in my life.
  • We connect in “larger” small groups and then naturally narrow down into more intimate relationships. 


Every spiritual leader needs these three relationships: A mentor to speak into your life, a friend to encourage and challenge you, and those we love and lead who we are helping grow and develop in their life and leadership. 

Most of us only have a few intimate friends over the course of our lives, and we must value and appreciate them, and be thankful for them. There are many other peers and friends who speak into our lives along the way. We’ve got to be observant both practically and spiritually to recognize when a divine relationship is forming and nurture and embrace that relationship. Most of the relationships in our lives are just for a season, some of them are for a lifetime. Engage the “Barnabas” friendships, seek them out, yield to them when you know it’s right… it is for your growth, your safety, your accountability, and for the fulfillment of your calling. 

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