Last week we discussed the four type of people who will absolutely wreck your church: the heretic, the showboat, the complainer, and the matador (the matador, for those who are wondering, are the ones who shout “ole!” as the issues of the church pass them by).
Though different in the way they attack the church, they are nonetheless unified in their central goal of establishing self above others, and in turn, above God. This makes them, if for no other reason, dangerous to keep around completely unchecked.
Instead of looking at the ones who destroy a congregation, this week I want us to look at some of the people that help to grow a congregation, whether physically or spiritually (and hopefully both).
Contrarily to the destroyers, these are people who often will lower themselves to the point of anonymity in order to better serve the church. With a few exceptions, they are hardly ever noticeable, serving in the shadows and during off-Church service hours to keep things running.
These are the people you want hanging around. These are also the people you want to cultivate amongst your current members, many of whom are very eager to help, but may not know exactly how to best utilize their talents.
These are the type of people that Paul spoke to 2000 years ago, when he remarked to the young evangelist Timothy, “Fulfill your ministry.”
I never had a nickname, but if I did, it would probably be something related to Taco Bell. I’m a big fan of their chemically-based concoctions known as “tacos,” so to best describe who I am, “Taco Bell” would suit me just fine.
Barnabas had a much more prestigious nickname: “son of encouragement,” which is actually what Barnabas translates into (Acts 4:36). The Apostles called him this not because he had it printed up on his business card, but because they observed his nature and chose the name accordingly.
Though a lot of things have been shared about Barnabas over the years, such as his long-suffering nature with John Mark, his cousin in the flesh (Col. 4:10) who Paul wanted to separate himself from (Acts 15:36-41), or his trustworthiness in handling the contribution for the saints of Judea (Acts 11:27-30), but the one that gets often overlooked is in his endorsement of Paul.
Acts 9 details the conversion story of the Pharisee formerly known as Saul, who sees the light on the road to Damascus and is converted by Ananias as he is baptized for the forgiveness of sins. After publicly proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, Paul is then hunted down by the Jews and only saved because of the intervention of the disciples in Jerusalem who sent him to Tarsus, his hometown.
It was there that Paul stays for a while, as Acts 10 and 11 both then move to Peter’s story with Cornelius, the first gentile convert. Right before Acts 11 closes out, however, we run into Paul again, who is still in Tarsus (for whatever reason), and is recruited by Barnabas to return with him to Antioch.
Barnabas puts a lot on the line to ally himself with Paul; not only is his reputation at stake, but his life and the lives of countless other Christians as well. Regardless, Barnabas throws all of that to the wind in order to bring Paul to the people he needed the most.
How would the story of Acts – and the early church, for that matter – have changed were it not for the actions of Barnabas? What if he had let his fear and worries prohibit him from doing what he strongly believed to be right?
All of us as Christians, at some point in our lives, are indebted to a Barnabas that went out of their way to teach us the Gospel, and moreover, to a Barnabas that helped us along the path.
Where would we have been were it not for those influences in our lives? Where would the church be today without self-sacrificing Barnabas’ that put others before themselves?
These people never get the praise they deserve, and even if they did, they wouldn’t want it. For them, seeing other people shine is enough glory. What a blessing they are to any congregation.
While there are definitely people that will be able to move mountains with their words, the church also needs those who can move them by their deeds. Not deeds that are necessarily of faith, but people that are simply in motion. People that are motivated, diligent, and always on the lookout for something to do.
After the Babylonian exile, there were a lot of tasks that needed to be completed before business could return to Jerusalem like normal. Homes needed to be rebuilt, the Temple had to be restored, and, last but not least, the wall surrounding the city needed to be restored.
If Nehemiah had had an army of stone-workers and carpenters handy, the task of rebuilding the city walls would not have been such an undertaking. Unfortunately for him, all he had was a group of exiles who simply “had a mind to work” (Neh. 4:6).
A cursory glance at Nehemiah 3 looks like a simple laundry list of builders, compiled of dozens of names that we don’t know and can’t pronounce. But a closer examination will reveal some interesting facts.
For one, the type of people that worked on the wall is not at all who would be expected. Instead of stone-workers and carpenters, the people who performed the backbreaking labor were perfumers, goldsmiths (Neh. 3:8), and even priests (Neh. 3:1). No one was exempt from putting their hand to the proverbial plow.
Furthermore, a group know as the Tekoites are mentioned twice: once in Nehemiah 3:5 as making repairs near the Fish Gate (despite their nobles not supporting the work), and again in Nehemiah 3:27 on the great projecting tower and the wall of Ophel.
All of these people went above and beyond the simple task of rebuilding the wall to look for ways that they could be of further service. For them, the task of the whole was their task, and no amount of Sanballats and Tobiahs could stop them.
A church full of people willing to put their experience and status to the side and perform double-duty without being asked is worth more than its weight in gold, as Nehemiah discovered.
For whatever reason, heretics get bored with the status quo, and, in search of greener pastures, begin to strike out on their own in a desperate attempt to find something new and exciting to hang their hat out. 100% of the time, what they find is a field of false doctrine that has already been plowed before, albeit by someone else (Eccl. 1:9).
The adventurer is cut from a similar strand of cloth, with the one monumental difference being their established standard: the adventurer does not leave the Word of God, for any reason. All of their activities and adventures stem from that singular root.
They do, however, leave their comfort zone.
Adventurers thrive in new environments, whether that means in a physically different place than they have been before, or in a new task that they had not previously embarked on, such as the office of a deacon or bishop, or public worship service.
Truthfully, almost every single person that we read about in Scripture as a “hero/heroine of the faith” was an adventurer at some point in their life. Whether it was Abraham leaving Ur for Canaan, or Rahab leaving Jericho for Israel, or the Apostles ditching their nets to follow the Messiah, being a child of God necessitates change in some form or another.
The difference between workers and adventurers is the field that they participate in. Workers are always willing to lead singing, visit people, and teach their friends, while adventurers are always thinking of new ways to reach the lost, new ways to connect with others, and a host of other activities – all Scripturally based, of course.
Where workers provide momentum, the adventurers provide the initial blast to get moving. If an adventurer decides to dip his toes into the world of online evangelism, he will need a host of workers that provide support. He gets it going, they keep it going.
Adventurers are powerful everywhere, but perhaps nowhere more so than in congregation that have reached a plateau in their growth, or have already started their free-fall. Adventurers breathe new life into a congregation, and kickstart them in a direction that will get the other members moving.
Not everyone is an able-bodied worker, adventurer, or encourager (at least on the surface), but everyone can, and should, be an example. Dorcas, a woman who not only holds the coolest name in all of Scripture, but who was also a fantastic example to all, fits this mold perfectly.
By all accounts, Dorcas should never have been immortalized in Scripture. She didn’t heal anyone, didn’t teach anyone, and didn’t really go anywhere (at least that we know of), but nevertheless, her example was evident to all when Peter and company arrived on the scene in Acts 9.
The first time we read about her is at her funeral, when people spilled out of the house she was sick in to show Peter all the things that she had made for others. The text even mentions that she was “abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did” (Acts 9:36). If that’s not an endorsement of her character, I don’t know what is.
Dorcas may or may not have thought much of her deeds among the saints, but the zealousness of those she impacted gave credence to her status among people. They may not remember much about what she said, but they will never forget what they did for her.
To quote Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
We struggle with knowing what to do and what to say, but encouragement isn’t necessarily constrained by words and actions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as showing up early for services despite the fact that your body has been ravaged by the chemo from the stage four ovarian cancer you’re currently undergoing. Or reading the Bible at your desk during lunch. Or sending a card because you care.
We exalt larger shows of humanity because we think that what impresses us also impresses God. Not only does this cast a superficial shadow over His majesty, but it also equates our view of the world with God’s.
David was revered because of his heart, not his stature. The widow’s mites were glorified because of their cost to her, not because of their street value. And the examples that you can set for others will be judged based on the dedication of your soul, not by the amount of applause you receive.
The most beautiful thing about examples in local congregations is that the one performing them may never realize the impact they make on others, until 20 years later, that young man walks up to them and relates how a minute detail from 1996 has always stayed with them.
And in that moment, it won’t matter whether or not anyone, including yourself, remembers it. The only thing that matters is that your character and the habits you developed in times of trial and success, have helped another person endure their own trials and successes.
That’s a feeling that no amount of public applause could ever top.