Jess, Tom, and Lois
Barnabas: Son of Encouragement
Acts 4:36; 9:27; 15:36-39
You have just moved into a new community or are beginning to attend a new church. You are the stranger in the midst of others who have know each other for years. Your loneliness sometimes feels like a sharp pain that slices through your midsection. At other times you might feel like a social nerd in the presence of a room overflowing with social butterflies.
Some people have such an extrovert personality that they enter into new situations and new relationships with the tenacity and zeal of a bulldog or the skill and finesse of a ballerina. Others hang in the shadows and hope for someone else to make the first move, to rescue them from their loneliness. But most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes. We too want, and even look for someone who will be our lead blocker, our advance scout, our “son or daughter of encouragement” who will help us enter into the new community smoothly.
Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement,” was never the leading protagonist in the gospel story. He was not the “Star of the Show” or the one who gained fame, notoriety and recognition, but if it had not been for him, perhaps an infamous man named Saul would never have been received by the fledgling church which he had tried fiercely to destroy.
After Saul’s Damascus Road encounter with the One he had persecuted so righteously, Barnabas came to Saul whose name became Paul, took him into his welcoming arms and introduced him to his friends, the first apostles of our Lord Jesus.
Jess, Tom and Lois were my guides into their respective congregations in Volga, SD, Endicott, WA and Everson, WA. Each took me by the hand and we drove through the cornfields of South Dakota, the wheat and barley fields of the Palouse in Southeast Washington and the country roads of Whatcom County in Northwest Washington. They showed me, as their new pastor, where people lived and introduced me to them. They shared the histories of people, church and locality. They learned my history and got to know me.
Jess was the oldest of the three and, in spite of health challenges, he weekly helped me get to know people. Tom was the busiest with many responsibilities in the community and at his work and in the church and yet he became my “Father figure” and was always present to give me a helping hand. Lois was the most intuitive and one of the best listeners I had ever known. She was willing and able to ask important, penetrating questions that gave me the freedom to share myself deeply.
The Apostle Paul spoke of his spiritual son Timothy by saying, “I have no one like him…” (Philippians 2:20). I say the same of Lois. On numerous occasions during Sunday morning worship, I watched Lois leave the pew where she was comfortably sitting and locate herself next to a new visitor. This “Daughter of Encouragement” was always vigilant and available.
But something has happened since I left my last parish (Remember this was written while in Mexico in 2008-2009). In two congregations, both in Mexico, but I believe it would be no different in the United States (as I type this in 2018, I have found it to be true also in the U.S.), I have not had the personal guide to relationships, the “personal letter of reference” that has opened up new and inviting relationships. I have often said that people are not looking for friendly churches, but rather friends. The lack of friendliness will instantly drive visitors away, but friendliness alone will not keep new people consistently connected to a church. Friendships will!
Why is it that pastors are often given the privilege of having a Barnabas, a Son or a Daughter of Encouragement, who will help introduce the new pastor to others, but lay people, new visitors are expected to find their own way through the tangled web of congregational relationships? Why is it that established churches often think (or at least act) as if worship is the only thing for which people are searching?
People long for, are often starving for mutual, encouraging relationships and one would hope that people in the church could be the oasis for those life-giving friendships.