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Heirs of Barnabas

Weekly Devotional for Preachers
Heirs of Barnabas
Image: Cyndi Monaghan / Getty

My Dear Shepherds,

Pastor Appreciation Month is upon us. I always tried to keep my expectations low, not because my congregations didn’t appreciate me, but because most of them didn’t know October is when they’re supposed to wrap up their gratitude and stick a bow on it. But whether yours does or not, this is my opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate you. I love pastors. I love talking about preaching, telling stories, and hearing about the work of God in their congregations. I’m deeply honored when you read what I write.

One thing I especially appreciate is that every good pastor encourages the people of God. Barnabas, “the Son of Encouragement,” is our poster boy, our pastoral forefather. Here was a guy who sold his property so that poorer believers would have enough. (Maybe that explains why his pastoral heirs tend to be “under-resourced.”) He dared to befriend the newly-redeemed Saul and to vouch for him to the gun-shy church. Descendants of Barnabas like to gamble on grace.

The “Encouragement” in his nickname is parakleseos, literally “called alongside.” That’s the Greek word that throws its big ol’ arms around a lot of English words—comforter, advocate, helper, encourager, exhorter, and “kicker in the pants” (it’s in the footnote). It is the very essence of Jesus’ incarnation and is the Holy Spirit’s working title.

When persecution scattered the Jerusalem believers, those who landed in Antioch, 300 miles to the north, shared the gospel with other Jews as well as with Greeks. “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). So, Barnabas was dispatched to pastor that infant flock because nothing would be more important than a pastor who was born to encourage God’s people.

When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. (Acts 11:23)

Imagine Barnabas’s arrival: big smile, gentle eyes, hearty laugh, hugs. As he heard one salvation story after another he rejoiced, and his joy was infectious. That’s part of the encourager’s gift. He looked into the faces of those Greek believers who didn’t know Genesis from Jonah, how marriage came to be, or what the Ten Commandments are, and yet here they were, alive with the Holy Spirit!

That verse could describe so many pastors. We draw strength from seeing God’s grace at work. It fuels our ministry of encouragement. Barnabas came into a church teeming with grace stories. But we don’t usually see sweeping spiritual changes or a harvest of new believers because most of the time God’s grace comes slowly, almost secretly, the way a garden grows. Pastors smile like gardeners in May.

Like Barnabas, you and I live to “encourage them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Christian encouragement doesn’t just dispense atta-boys or bear hugs. Christian encouragers help believers stay close to Jesus. That’s what the Bible word encourage means, after all. I admire you pastors who orient your people, week after week, to the Word of God and to the compass points of the gospel. You watch for their progress and care about their souls. You are not simply making friends with them. You are their good shepherds.

Without you, think of the dangers they’d face alone and ill-prepared. You show them Jesus, not only in Scripture but in the way you embody him as a friend and shepherd. You encourage them, in the richest sense of the word. Thank you.

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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