I’m just emerging from a very difficult year and some months of adjustment. I joined a ministry in August, 2007, in a vaguely defined role that wasn’t really wanted or appreciated by those who it was created to serve. It was really important that my role not be forced upon them, because the organization was/is making a genuine effort to empower our field offices. They had to want what I had to offer. Unfortunately, they made it clear that I had little to nothing that would benefit them.
I moved my family overseas to get closer to my customers, but that didn’t convince them to call on me. I visited all our field offices with my team members several times to build relationships, but the phone didn’t ring. I made lists of the things we could do to help their ministries, but they weren’t interested. It was a very humbling, frustrating, confidence-shaking experience.
But then a change happened organizationally, and I began reporting to a new boss. One of the first things he did was take me on trips with him to visit each of the offices. In meetings, he would give me pieces to present. In discussions, he would hold his opinion until after I had a chance to give mine. When I finally found something that a field office wanted that I was able to deliver, he gave me the freedom to follow-through even though it wasn’t specifically part of my role. At conferences, he let me lead most of the sessions. Before long, I had more requests for my services than I was able to fulfill.
What happened? As I’ve tried to unpack the transition over the past few months, I’m reminded of Barnabas from the Bible. His real name is Joseph, but he was such an encourager that the apostles named him Barnabas (“Son of Encouragement”). In Acts 4, we learn that he sold a field he owned and brought all the money to the apostles’ to help them with meeting the needs of the growing Church. This was a man that almost everyone had to have liked.
In Acts 9, we hear about Saul’s (Paul’s) miraculous conversion. After the scales of blindness dropped from his eyes, Paul began to preach in Damascus, but it wasn’t long before the Jews in that town wanted to kill him for what he was saying about Jesus. Paul left and went to Jerusalem, but no one wanted him there, either, because he had persecuted the Christians so vigorously before his conversion. Because of his reputation, they doubted that he could be a genuine follower of Christ.
Then Barnabas did something unexpected. He vouched for Paul. He brought Paul before the apostles and introduced him. He told Paul’s story and showed through his actions that he believed it. Barnabas had trust and credibility with the apostles and other believers, and he lent some of it to Paul. Everyone knew Barnabas’ character, so if he was willing to put his trust into Paul, Paul must be trustworthy.
This is exactly what my new boss did for me. I had no trust deposits in the emotional bank accounts of the field leadership, so my boss gave me his on credit until I could earn my own. I became trustworthy by association with him, and it opened closed doors so that I could show what I could do.
I’ve since learned that this is hugely important in Asian cultures, but I think it happens in other groups, too. No one will talk to the new kid at school until one of the popular people sits down with him at lunch. The new couple can’t seem to fit in at the church until a trusted member invites them to come to a potluck. The new guy at the office is given the cold shoulder until one of the long-timers takes him around to make introductions.
Are you a Barnabas? Are you already accepted in a group and notice someone new that’s struggling to join the ranks? Reach out to him or her. It’s terribly lonely being a “Saul of Tarsus.” Don’t you remember what it was like when you were new? …that terrible feeling of un-acceptance? It’s unkind to leave someone shivering in the cold outside the warmth of your group. Be bold! Have courage, and introduce yourself! Take a risk! Welcome them into the fold. You’ve got credibility to spare, and they could use some. By giving what you can afford to lose, you might be just the catalyst that a “Saul of Tarsus” needs to become the “Saint Paul” that God intends for him to be.