Be a Barnabas, Pastor a Paul

The Lord sent Ananias to lay hands on Saul —could there have been a worse candidate for Christian missionary service? Ananias obeyed, prayed and appointed Saul to apostolic work in Eurasia. Immediately, the converted Paul set out on mission (without raising support!) and encountered life-threatening resistance. He had to be evacuated.

Who was this lone ranger? The Church certainly had their suspicions.

How would Paul have found his “sweet spot” in ministry without Barnabas coming alongside, endorsing and encouraging him into his place in Christ’s Body and mission to the world? Christ had called him, the Holy Spirit had filled him, the Scriptures had taught him, but God used Barnabas to mentor and position him into the fullness of his destiny.

As we have been an “Ananias organization” appointing missionaries to go disciple nations in today’s world, we have seen too many start out only to fizzle, flatline or fail completely. A survey revealed many of our long-term missionaries also were dry, distracted or dislodged from their “sweet spot”. Surely this was not what Lord of the harvest (nor we) intended.

As I went to serve in Nepal, I was matched with a mentor, a seasoned missionary who offered a wealth of knowledge and advice. I treasured his input. But as I look back, I was on my own for spiritual growth. Our view of mentoring came from a western framework: a personal source of specific knowledge, skills, and strategies. Matters of the heart weren’t touched.

I would have benefitted from a fuller, more holistic view of mentoring. Instead, I developed as a “smart” and productive missionary lacking attention to my inner world. My spiritual disciplines shriveled as did my ability to hear God’s voice and sense His presence. My life displayed very little grace. I really needed a spiritual father or shepherd of the soul who would come alongside and relationally guide my formation as a Christlike ambassador of the Gospel.

Meanwhile, I mentored Nepali leaders in ministry knowledge and skill development without nurturing their spiritual vitality. One later told me the main thing I imparted was a “strong work ethic.”  This was a hard truth: my lofty words rang empty when my life spoke salvation by works, when I labored from my own strength rather than the overflow of love, grace and the beauty of God in my soul.

Another Nepali leader saw my insistence on imparting grand abstract ideals and said, “Brother, all ministry here flows out of relationship.”  I was taken back by that as well. Relationship was my weakest link. What was I doing here in a relational Asian context?

Slowly, I realized Eastern culture disciples studied the whole life of their rabbi or guru. If I wanted to impart any subject, I had to embody it holistically — and Jesus was my model in this. He used a rabbinical style of training in which disciples learned how to live like the teacher, not just think like him.

UWM invited me to engage a spiritual mentor and transformational processes that integrated mind and heart. Over time, I grew intimate with my Lord again and His word re-evangelized my heart with grace and beauty. When I returned to visit my national partners still laboring in ministry with dry and desolate hearts they said, “Ron, you’re different!” Apparently I now embodied the Gospel and evidenced a deep friendship with Jesus that attracted their curiosity.

I invited them to retreat with me for 24 hours, to reconnect and abide in the Vine (John 15).  Tears were flowing as they encountered Jesus in ways their hearts had desired for years. “Ron, no missionary ever ministered to our hearts like this,” they said. “It was always big ideas, tactics and mission strategies. This is what we’ve lacked!”

The renewal retreats were just beginning points, invitations to sojourn together on a long journey of increasing intimacy with Christ. We meet monthly for one-on-one conversations and prayer times, listening and discerning God’s presence, word and work in our lives. Instead of being the “answer man” I come alongside these brothers –sometimes from a few steps farther on the journey with Christ — to prayerfully listen and open a space for the Holy Spirit to impart wisdom, clarification, amplification or encouragement specific to them.  I see a vitality in their lives, families, teams, partners and churches as they reveal —not just teach —grace, truth, and God’s glory.

As an organization, we’re observing an increasing felt need among our Western coworkers and partners for spiritual mentoring as well. The Holy Spirit is reiterating what He instructed the church of Antioch in Acts 13: appoint Barnabas and Paul combinations. Match spiritual mentors like Barnabas to come alongside passionate world changers like Paul types so their lives, ministries and message embody the Gospel, reveal Christ in full glory and sustain fruitfulness long-term.

By: Ron K, Serving in Hungary and Asia