On Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey, Mark had left prematurely, and now at the beginning of their second journey a dispute arises between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas would like to bring Mark with them, but Paul disagrees. He feels that since Mark had previously abandoned them, that for this next journey Mark should stay home.
I have heard many a sermon where Barnabas is praised for his commitment to Mark, and Paul is blasted for his harshness. Mark later becomes successful in ministry, being the writer of the Gospel of Mark, and is later called on by Paul himself to come and minister with him. It is assumed that Barnabas was right and Paul was wrong. Barnabas’ name is translated as “the Son of Encouragement” and so it is further assumed that the key to training, mentoring, apprenticeship is encouragement. There are plenty of passages that confirm that encouragement is an important part of training.
The problem with this interpretation, besides it being speculative, is that the ministry of Mark from here on out is not defined by his relationship with Barnabas. It is only his relationship with Paul that is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4 and in Philemon 1. Paul was clearly not barring Mark from all future ministries, saying he wanted nothing to do with Mark ever again. All we know is that for this one journey Paul wanted to make a stand that Mark needed to get serious about his calling. We don’t know anything about Barnabas or what happened after they split paths with Paul. What we know is that from this point on Paul and Mark are seen in ministry together, but Barnabas is not heard from again. Encouragement is important, but it is just as likely, and in truth fits more with the text, that the determining factor in Mark’s turn around was the fact that Paul made a tough stand by refusing to take Mark along on the next journey.
The possibility of failing a course can be just as motivating as the possibility of getting an “A” in the course. Besides that, different things motivate different people, and different situations require different methods. Grading standards are an important part of a formal education. At the very least a person needs to know whether they failing or passing, if they are on the right track or just not getting it. Sometimes a student needs a little kick in the pants to get serious about their calling. Sometime they need an encouraging word. If you are planning on taking the step out to train someone, especially an apprenticeship, both of these need to be addressed.
Instead of Mark, Paul brings Silas with him and it is clear throughout the next three chapters that Paul is training Silas. Not just Silas, but one verse later at the beginning of chapter 16, Timothy comes on the scene. He is young, but Paul immediately senses a calling in him. Timothy lives in the area Paul is ministering in. This is a key to apprenticeship; train someone that you find when ministering. Timothy has a Jewish mother and a Greek father, similar to Paul. His mother and grandmother are mentioned later in 2 Timothy, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” Timothy was also encouraged by Paul in 1 Timothy to, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” It would seem that beginning with his grandmother and mother and then continuing with Paul, the training of Timothy had begun at a very young age.
I was surprised when John Perkins shared with me and my friend that, when he trains someone for ministry, he begins when they enter elementary school. We often think of Sunday School or Children’s church as a sort of formal education. It wasn’t long ago that classrooms in churches were designed for kids that resembled their classroom at school. We wanted to make the statement that a formal education at church was just as important as the formal education that you received in school. To be truthful this is actually much of the same motivation behind the idea of seminary. We feel that pastors should have the same type of formal education as a medical doctor. Forgetting that the hardest part of becoming a doctor is not the formal education part, it is the apprenticeship or residency that draws the incredibly long hours. For a medical doctor the residency is just as important if not more important than the formal education, but the hands on training is often the part that we leave out in the training of a pastor.
Going back to the idea of formal education for children in the church, the result of this trend was that as children grew older, they often came to resent the church. We had hoped that this formal education would instill holiness and prepare them for ministry, but it ended up doing the exact opposite. Today most of my children’s friends arrive at school early, and then they stay in an after-school program until 6-7pm. They either have a single parent or both parents work. They come home, take an hour nap, eat dinner at 8pm or 9pm, and then stay up until 11pm so that they have time with their family. Then on Sundays when they come to church we want them to spend another 1-3 hours in a classroom receiving a formal education in the Bible. Our obsession with formal education is completely out of control. We need to consider other models, other more relationship-oriented models. Sunday School as a classroom was not exactly what John Perkins had in mind. He was taking about hanging out with the kids in an informal setting, just talking about life. Developing a friendship with them early on so that when he saw them on the street corner, he had earned the right to be able to talk with them. We need to invest in people, particularly when they are young. Not just telling them what to do, but actually involving them in the ministry and leadership of the church and the community.
When my girls were in kindergarten and first grade, they had friends going through hard times. Parents getting divorced, parents or siblings dying, parent’s going to jail—tough things. They talked about this stuff at recess. My daughters didn’t know what to do. They cried with them, prayed with them. Later they would talk to us about it. That’s real ministry and real mentorship, happening at a young age. My children often had a deeper ministry than I did as a pastor. The truth is, much of my ministry has ended up starting with a ministry of my kids'. All too often children are the most marginalized and neglected group in the community and the church, but these are the people often that people that God has chosen to work with.
This same concept is seen in the last lesson with Paul. It brings us to Titus—actually Titus, Timothy, and Silas. What we see is that Paul was constantly sending one of them to a church, or leaving one behind to expand the ministry. They did the same types of things and were in many cases completely interchangeable. The line between apprentice and teacher was not so clearly drawn that the students were simply hearing of Paul’s ministry. They had ministries of their own, and they worked together as a team. This same thing is true of Jesus, after three years of apprenticeship he tells his disciples in John, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you."
Titus, Timothy, Silas, and Mark will always recognize the mentorship of Paul, just as all the disciples will always recognize the leadership of Jesus. But what Jesus was saying, and what Paul is making clear, is that apprenticeship is not about lording over someone. It is really about lifelong partnerships in ministry and in the community. Even the teaching style expresses this difference. One time a lawyer came up to test Jesus and asked “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” Jesus didn’t give an answer from on high. He asked and listened to what the man thought. He engaged the man in a conversation. This is the type of pedagogy that we need to pursue, one that doesn’t see age or other differences but sees people as friends – friends that are working and learning together.