How do you feel about group projects? Do they excite you, or do they frustrate you? Do you think, “These people energize me, and our connection is producing something creative and innovative,” or do you think, “These people are slowing me down. My work is suffering because of them”?
I was assigned a group project in a seminary class this spring, and it was one of most profound educational experiences I’ve ever encountered. The four of us are very different people, with unique life experiences, perspectives and abilities. I will admit that when I first learned about the group project, I felt some of what I mentioned above, wondering if it would be better if I could work alone. As the months went by, my feelings changed to deep gratefulness for the other three. It was a pleasure to work together, as I not only learned so much about our topic, but we also put together an interactive educational presentation for the rest of our class, a project I was extremely proud of. It took a lot of work, and many hours on Zoom together, discussing the topic, praying, laughing, and exchanging ideas.
As we continue our study through Acts 13, we see the Christians in Antioch utilizing some teamwork of their own. If you’d like to read for yourself, open a Bible to Acts 13, verses 1-3.
Luke writes that, “while they were worshiping and fasting,” the Spirit communicates to them. How did the Spirit speak? Luke does not say. The word used for “speak” is the standard word to describe when someone speaks in an audible voice, but because of the mention of prophets among them, and the fact that in the Bible, prophets hear and communicate the word of God, it is most likely that the Spirit spoke through one of the prophets.
The Spirit tells them first to, “Set apart for me Barnabas & Saul.”
I wonder how Barnabas and Saul reacted to this. Were they surprised? Were they excited? We obviously don’t know, but we do know that Barnabas and Saul have developed quite a ministry track record by this time. We have read about them in chapter 9, chapter 11 and the end of 12, and they seem to be quite a wonderful team. This is a wise move to send them out together. They are friends. They work well together. Barnabas is the loving encourager, and Paul is the bold teacher. Together their gifts complement well.
This reminds us that it is not wise to have lone rangers in the church. Teams are vital. Especially teams that show they work well together and have complementary gifts.
The Spirit also says that he is setting apart Barnabas and Saul for, “the work to which I have called them.” What work? We don’t know yet. That word, “work,” is a generic term for work, not referring to anything specific, but we know that the work of the Spirit is going to be in line with the mission of God’s Kingdom, which is the work of spreading the heart and love and purposes of God as we saw in Acts chapter 12:24. Weren’t Barnabas and Saul already doing that work? Yes they were, but clearly the Spirit is setting this team apart for a new reason, of which we are about to find out.
After the fasting and praying, the church placed hands on Barnabas and Saul, the typical method of commissioning someone for ministry. We continue this practice to this day when we ordain ministers, missionaries, and many others for all kinds of tasks in the Kingdom, as well as when we pray for people. It is not a magic conferring of power. Laying on of hands is a symbolic gesture saying that, “we are with you, we support you.” It is a physical act of “standing together with you.” It is not just Barnabas and Saul that are a team, but they are part of the larger team of the church. The laying on of hands reminds them that they will always be part of that team, though they are about to venture away from the home base.
The church then, sent them off. I love the brevity of that phrase. Sent them off to where, to what? We don’t know yet, but it is a sending off to pursue the mission of the Kingdom, to spread the word, which we talked about in the previous post. I have had the privilege and pleasure of experiencing this sending many times, first as a my wife and I served as missionaries in Kingston, Jamaica, and then as my congregation, Faith Church, sent teams on short-term mission trips, and also as we sent two families to full-time missionary service in recent years.
In this process of sending that we read about in Acts 13, notice that there are three parties in this venture: the Spirit of God initiating the move, the people serving as missionaries, and the church sending them out. All are vital for the mission of the Kingdom. The missionaries are Barnabas and Saul, who are following the lead of the Spirit, with one task: spread the word. The church is sending them, supporting them, and praying for them. What an amazing description of the teamwork that God establishes for the mission of his Kingdom.
This reminds me of when missionaries from our church spent their first year in Kenya. And when another missionary from our church moved to serve in another country. They had all volunteered faithfully on church committees and ministries. While we were so excited to send them out, we were also thinking about all the ways we would miss them. It would have been the same for Barnabas and Saul, two integral leaders in the church. To send them out, the church is losing a gifted teacher and a loving encourager. It took sacrifice on the part of the missionaries to go, and it was a sacrifice on the part of the church to send them. As so very often is the case, sacrifice and new roles and lessons are needed when God moves, and sometimes that is uncomfortable, but the Spirit was leading, and they were obedient.
In verses 4-5, we read that Barnabas and Saul are “sent on their way by the Holy Spirit” to Cyprus, a huge island in the Mediterranean Sea. In Acts 4, when we first met Barnabas, the author of Acts told us that Barnabas was from Cyprus, so perhaps there is some advantage to Barnabas visiting relatives. Or maybe not, as talking about religion with family can be very difficult, especially when we are telling them that we have changed our minds about the faith of our fathers. And that’s exactly what Barnabas and Saul are doing. In fact, we read that they proclaim the word of God in Jewish synagogues in various towns. These two Jews are proclaiming that Jesus is the promised Jewish messiah. How would the Jews react? To give you a hint, in the next post a major conflict erupts.
For now, I ask you to consider what teams you are a part of. Do you view yourself as part of the team that is your church family? You are a vital team member! The mission of Jesus is accomplished through teamwork. You have an important contribution to make as a team member. Your gifts, abilities and perspective are needed on the team. If you aren’t feeling part of the team, I encourage you to talk with the leaders in your church family, asking them how you can become more connected to the team!