Barnabas and Leadership
In his writings, Greenleaf discusses the need for a better approach to leadership, one that puts first, serving others. Additionally, Greenleaf stated, the difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served (Spears, 2005, p. 2). Moreover, Stone et al. (2003) stated that the Servant-Leadership theory emphasizes the importance of appreciating and valuing people, listening, mentoring or teaching, and empowering followers (p. 4). Along with this, Anderson (2008) stated Greenleaf’s mantra for what a servant-leader “The servant-leader is servant first.... It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first…” (p. 8).
Through Greenleaf’s words on Servant-Leadership, we see the living manifestation of them in biblical characters. In his book on the biblical theology of leadership, Howell (2003) defines for the readera the genesis for servant-leadership as defined in the Old Testament and New Testament definition of servant and slave. Accordingly, Howell shapes this leadership theory on several Old Testament figures, as well as on several New Testament personalities. While there are many figures in both the Old and New Testaments who demonstrate servant-leadership elements and dynamics, Joseph the Levite, also known as Barnabas “son of encouragement” encapsulates servant-leadership to the core of his being.
Son of Encouragement
When Jesus addressed the two brothers James and John as they sought to obtain authority and leadership in Jesus kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28, New International Version), Jesus told them in essence, that seeking authority and leadership positions in His kingdom have no place. Instead, Jesus told the two brothers that the standard or the culture of kingdom living is that of a servant. From its inception, early church leaders were instructed and lived out this cultural modus operandi and form of leadership ascendancy.
In addition to this, Read-Heimerdinger (1998) with regards to Barnabas, stated how Acts demonstrated the high esteem with which Barnabas was regarded by the early church in both Jerusalem and Antioch, and how he played a leading role among the first Christians (p. 40). However, Barnabas did not seek out or intend to carry such esteem for himself, as seen in his example of the spirit of generosity in the sacrificial gift of the proceeds from the sale of a field he owned, and in stark contrast to the pretentious actions of Ananias and Sapphira (Howell, 2003, p. 230). Additionally, Read-Heimerdinger (1998) suggested that Barnabas’ role in the community of the disciples as that of comforter or encourager, and who had already gained the reputation for being righteous (p. 51). The biblical text clearly shows that Barnabas demonstrated some key servant-leadership elements such of appreciating and valuing people, listening, mentoring or teaching, and empowering followers.
Character of Second Chances
Consequently, Howell (2003) describes two incidences that capture the very essence of Barnabas the servant-leader. He shows how Barnabas demonstrates his selfless character by leaving his promising work in Antioch, where he was the recognized leader, to undertake a difficult pioneering work in Cyprus and Galatia (p. 233). This is also seen in the restoration of the failed brother John Mark. In the end, Barnabas’ policy of giving a young man a second chance produced salutary results both in his life and in the churches, a legacy that Paul acknowledges (p. 236).
Anderson, J., (2008). The Writings of Robert Greenleaf: An interpretive analysis and the future of servant-leadership. Servant Leadership Research Roundtable, NA, 8.
Read-Heimerdinger, J., (1998). Barnabas in Acts: A study of his role in the text of codex Bezae. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 72, 22-66.
Spears, L., (2005). The understanding and practice of servant- leadership. Servant Leadership Research Roundtable. NA, 2.
Stone, A., Russell, R., & Patterson, K., (2003). Transformational versus servant leadership: A difference in leader focus. Servant Leadership Research Roundtable, NA, 1-10.