New school years always present challenges and opportunities. School administration is tasked with ensuring that every class is staffed for a successful learning environment. Disciple-making leaders, whether pastoral workers or volunteer Sunday School leaders, face similar challenges when it comes to leading and planting new groups. However, challenges in ministry are also great opportunities for discipleship.
New groups need new leaders. Recruiting and training these leaders may seem daunting at times, but the mission to make disciples calls us to this task. If we look at Acts, Barnabas gives us a great example of what it looks like to make disciples of new ministry leaders.
How did Barnabas make disciples? His method was to encourage, equip and engage.
Encourage: In Acts 4:32-37 we get our first glimpse of Barnabas, whose real name was Joseph. He was so authentic in his relationship with the Holy Spirit that he was given the name “Barnabas,” meaning “son of encouragement.” Let that sink in for a moment. His life was so encouraging to others that they simply called him by a name that reflected it. If our friends did that today, what name would they give us?
Barnabas encouraged others by attending to the needs in their lives, but he also spoke truth to those whom God had called to lead. In Acts 9:26-31 Saul goes to Jerusalem after meeting Jesus on the way to Damascus. The other disciples are skeptical of his intentions, but Barnabas speaks up and sees the Lord move. His encouragement helps calm the group and establish Saul as the new leader. Imagine how the New Testament would have been different if that hadn’t happened!
As leaders, we need to take time to see how God is working around us and who He is preparing to lead. Look for the spiritual gifts of the members of your group. Many will know that the Holy Ghost is calling them to serve, but they may just be waiting for a word of encouragement from us.
Equip: Barnabas also equipped leaders while making disciples. In Acts 11:19-26 the gospel comes to Antioch and a church begins there. When Barnabas arrives to see this new church, he encourages the leaders. Over the next year, Barnabas meets with them and helps equip them for the ministry. He even goes and brings Saul to help him with it – and help him learn more about leadership.
Spending time with new and potential leaders is critical to equipping them for ministry, yet this can be part of the discipleship process that we struggle with the most. Our world is fast-moving and always looking for what is next. Like Barnabas, we need to take the time to show new teachers how to study for a lesson, to show directors what it means to lead a group, or to walk with other leaders in specific areas of ministry like outreach or fellowship. In our lives we now make time for what is important to us. Equipping new leaders is important.
Engage: Eventually, Barnabas helped the leaders get involved. His encouragement and equipping of the leaders in Antioch led to their dedication to ministry to the point where they were called “Christians” from outside the church (Acts 11:26). Just a few chapters later in Acts 13:1-12 we see Barnabas and Saul (now using his Greek name Paul) preaching the gospel in Cyprus. As they begin to talk, Paul takes the lead. From this point in Acts the focus remains primarily on Paul and his leadership.
Sunday School and small group leaders can help recruit new leaders in a variety of ways, but asking them to serve with you is incredibly effective. For example, a Sunday school teacher may schedule Sundays throughout the year to provide opportunity for someone learning to teach, or they may conduct the class together.
In order for churches to make disciples through Sunday School or small groups, leaders must make disciples of new leaders. Barnabas’ way was to encourage, equip, and engage those whom God had called to lead. As we journey into this new year, let’s be like Barnabas.