Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
I love being around Alan. Alan is a big guy, tall and built like a lineman for the Patriots. Whenever he sees me, he comes over and wraps me up in a giant bear hug. When the hug is over, he keeps one arm wrapped around my shoulder and says, “It’s so good to see you, Bryon. I love hearing about the things you’re doing around here to help out.” Alan is the most encouraging person I’ve met in a decade. He makes me feel good about being me. Somehow, I like myself better when I’m around Alan.
In the verse above, Luke, the author of the book these verses are quoted from, purposely introduces Barnabas into the narrative for his readers by translating his name for us; Barnabas means “son of consolation.” In Acts 4, Luke tells us Barnabas is a son of encouragement. Alan comes to mind. Who has God placed in your life that reminds you of Barnabas or Alan?
God places men like Barnabas and Alan in local congregations everywhere because we need those guys in our lives. The church of Jesus Christ grows guys like them. They make church safe.
There’s safety in church community. This is the safest place to be when you’re a Christian, whether you’re new to church or you’ve been around church life for decades. Community is safe, holy, the setting God designed for you to grow in. Community is what will sustain you.
Your church community is not perfect or friction-free – I’m not delusional – but it is the God-designed environment for people to grow in. The people of God are part of one another the way fingers are part of the hand. When the hand functions properly, there is no limit to what the hand can do. But if your finger becomes separated from your hand, you’re maimed; dismembered. Severed fingers are bio-waste.
It’s easy to make a list of reasons not to be in church, but, if you’re a Christian looking for clarity in your call, your local church is where God is going to make your calling clear. It’s easy to make a list of why the church in your community isn’t a group you want to be a part of, but the one item you’ll never be able to put on that list is “God wants me to do Christianity on my own.”
I like the list Luke made:
The list is simple. It’s a list of men with gifts. While I don’t have space here to write a bio for each guy (I’d encourage you to take the time to study the characteristics of the men on the list), I want to point out that Luke isn’t listing problems in a church, he’s making a list of men with gifts.
Then there’s a shorter list:
In the scene Luke describes, these two on the short list are selected for a very specific calling to a very specific gospel task. It was in this church community setting where they were prepared for this task.
Barnabas is generous, he loves the Word of God, he’s a natural minister, diplomatic when conflict strains relationships. If you read other things Luke writes about Barnabas, he’s described as a good man, strong in faith and full of the Holy Spirit. He’s not the guy any group would want to lose or send out. Barnabas is the guy you want to keep.
Likewise, Saul – AKA Paul – according to scholars is one of the most brilliant minds of his time. Another asset you wouldn’t want to give away.
Paul and Barnabas were included on a list of prophets and teachers. They loved the Word of God. They loved people. The men they served in community with did too. These are non-negotiable characteristic of anyone called to take the gospel to the nations. They are best developed – you’re not born with them – in a church community. It’s the best way for you to “be known.” This is where your calling as a Christian is discovered, defined, and nourished.
According to Luke, their regular devotional life involved fasting and prayer. They developed this practice to ensure clear, unified leading from the Holy Spirit. If there was ever something to emulate in these men, it’s regular prayer and fasting starting now; today. Many people want to wait until they think they’ve discovered their calling to start doing this. But if your calling is to the mission field, you can’t wait to get to a foreign country to get your devotional life up and running. You’ll be eaten alive. Church community is the safest place to develop an ear that hears, recognizes, and listens to the Holy Spirit before you’re sent out to take on your task.
Prayer and fasting should not be a habit you hope to develop in the future. These are as essential today as food, water, and oxygen. You wouldn’t deprive yourself (or anyone else) of these today. Church community is where these are liberally available and shared. If you’re called as a missionary, you want to have a lifeline to your own church community and to guys like Alan.