In Acts 13:2 we read this fascinating account: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”” (NIV 1984) We know from the previous chapters that Barnabas had gone to Tarsus, recruited Paul to come back with him to Antioch, and there, for a year or more, they discipled new believers.
Now, the Holy Spirit is setting them apart for a new initiative, to take the gospel to the Gentile peoples of the surrounding provinces of the Roman Empire. It was natural that Barnabas would be the leader of the enterprise, given his maturity, history with Paul as his mentor, and his experience.
But something interesting happened on their first journey. Having left Cyprus, they landed on the shore of modern-day Turkey. Their John Mark leaves the missionary band and from here forward the order of leadership is reversed. Now the team is referred to as Paul and Barnabas, not the previous order. Paul has now surpassed his mentor in authority and influence.
Later Paul and Barnabas once again tried to team up for a second journey, but could not agree on whether to take John Mark with them. Certainly, Barnabas, being a relative of John Mark, had the personal development of his nephew in mind when he selected him. And he was successful in the end, for Paul later refers to John Mark as being “helpful to me for my ministry.” (see 2 Timothy 4:11) But, at this time, they disagreed and split – Paul taking Silas with him instead.
Paul’s separation and surpassing of Barnabas was now complete. He had outgrown his mentor and now was well-established as a Kingdom leader in his own right. He was leading his own team and initiative and God’s hand was clearly on him, using him to advance the gospel among peoples who had not heard.
Mentors are often surpassed by their protégés in influence and impact. In fact, it should be an objective for all mentors and coaches that those we help far outstrip and surpass us. Our attitude should be that of John the Baptist who was losing influence and people to Jesus. When John’s disciples noted that “… everyone is going to him,” John replied with a humble recognition of Jesus’ future as well as his own, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30 NIV 1984)
For some who find their significance in being the leader, the development of a mentee can be seen as a threat and they find it hard to platform this ‘young Turk,’ knowing that the spotlight is now moving away from them to another. Rather than being threatened, we should rejoice in this reality.
Who can you shine the spotlight on today, taking it off of yourself and placing it squarely on one who you know has a future more than you? Can you do this with a good attitude and in true sincerity?