Originally created 04/28/01

Barnabas was a role model for advocacy

We all need an advocate.

We all need someone who knows us, believes in us and trusts us enough to reassure another that we will do what we say we will do. The more our advocate believes that we can "walk on water," the better off we are.

In our formative years, we are fortunate if we have parents who fulfill this advocacy role for us. Later on, we can consider ourselves further blessed by God if other adults open doors of opportunity for us, especially in our chosen career.

Those who enter the ministry, like those in other professions, have to accept the fact that placements in local congregations and other posts are largely based on whom the minister knows rather than on qualifications. This does not remove God from the process. Successful matches of church professionals and congregations are in keeping with God's will. Matches that turn out bad for the clergy and congregation are the result of human error and are obviously not in accordance with God's will.

An advocate may simply call or write a friend, saying, "Along with other applicants for the position you are seeking to fill, I would strongly encourage you to take time to interview X. This person just might be who you need."

This simply opens a door of opportunity. The friend seeking the job still has to sell himself and make the most of the interview.

The advocacy role is just as important in school. A student who wants to break away from friendships that are destructive and develop new friends needs an advocate. The advocate can introduce him to others and include him in more wholesome activities.

Unfortunately, students can be insensitive to peers who want to break out of old patterns of behavior. They place permanent labels on these students, not unlike those in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Barnabas served as an advocate for Saul (Paul), which underscores the biblical mandate for our doing the same. Barnabas means "son of encouragement," which highlights what can happen when we serve this role. What Barnabas did was not easy. It would be similar to your going to a notorious criminal who had become a Christian and inviting him to your Sunday school. You would wonder if he had sincerely accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, especially if his bodyguards were still with him.

Of course, God was working behind the scenes to make sure that Saul the persecutor became Paul the preacher to the Gentiles. Barnabas enhanced the process. This side of heaven, we will never know how much Barnabas was a source of encouragement for Saul as he became Paul, Christianity's first theologian. The world has not been the same since.

Dr. Gene Norris is a Presbyterian minister who serves as a family therapist.


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