IT WAS GOOD FOR PAUL AND SILAS
You get the call. Or the dreaded email. You check your mail and the dubious letter is in it. The “We need to talk” message is received. Or it comes via text, Facebook or a direct message on Twitter. It has happened to every pastor, every church planter, everyone in ministry. Someone is leaving the church. That couple you thought would always be there isn’t going to be there anymore. The volunteer who was destined for, or even involved in, leadership is leaving your ministry. The solid folks aren’t solid any longer. Maybe they had to move for job-related reasons, maybe they are mad at you and won’t talk it out, maybe they are tired of talking it out, or maybe they are having a season of temporary insanity. Whatever, it is over. They are gone.
When people go, how do we keep going? When people leave, when good people, gifted people, our best people exit, how do we keep on going?
There is a passage in the Bible that addresses this issue:
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.—Acts 15:36-41 (NIV)
Paul and Barnabas were the first church planters. They had to be the best of friends. They were ministry partners that saw many miracles and survived almost as many setbacks. But their partnership was over.
It must have been gut-wrenching. Can you imagine the hurt that both of these men must have felt? There had to be a good amount of confusion. This was a true crisis that could’ve hamstrung the early church. I’m sure there were tears.
But they separated.
And they kept going.
How did they keep going?
There’s a phrase in this passage that I simply missed the first hundred or so times I read it. I have taught on this passage, preached on this passage, written about this passage, but I always missed this phrase:
“but Paul chose Silas and left…”—Acts 15:40 (NIV)
Paul chose Silas. Wait a minute, who is Silas? Silas had come on the scene eighteen verses earlier. Silas was mentioned with a man named Judas, also called Barsabbas. (Barsabbas means, “There’s no way we’re calling you Judas!”) They were part of the Jerusalem church, they had emerged as leaders, prophets and were chosen to be messengers to the church in Antioch.
Back to our question, how did Paul keep going even after his friend Barnabas left him? The answer is Paul chose Silas.
Paul had a Silas to fall back on. Paul had a depth-chart full of leaders to help him. When Barnabas left and Mark left, Paul chose Silas.
Here’s the point:
We always need to have a Silas ready.
If we have a Silas ready, we won’t be as devastated when someone leaves the church. Sure it will hurt. But it won’t demoralize us, it won’t stop us.
If we have a Silas ready, we won’t be so disappointed when one of our team members needs to move out of the area. We will be able to handle it as one of life’s necessary endings.
If we have a Silas ready, we can stand our ground and make the tough call—even if it means someone may leave us.
If we have a Silas ready, we can make the tough call. We can fire the person who needs to be fired. It’s been said that most churches are only one or two firings away from effectiveness. But we don’t fire anyone because we don’t have anyone ready to replace them.
If we have a Silas ready, we can leave when God tells us to leave.
If we have a Silas ready, we can see ministry reproduce rather than shrink.
If we have a Silas ready, we’ll be in a position to take advantage of opportunities for expanding ministry.
We always need to have a Silas ready.
So, how do we make sure we have a Silas or two ready?
1. Be on the lookout
Paul and Barnabas seemed to always be on the lookout for potential leaders. Barnabas found Saul and John Mark. Paul spotted Silas, and Timothy and Titus and Luke. I suspect there is a Silas in all of our lives. And a Barsabbas too. Maybe we have to look back eighteen verses in our lives, but Silas might already be there.
2. Give second chances
This is what the argument was all about. John Mark had flaked out once, but Barnabas didn’t give up. He gave John Mark a second chance—and it paid off. Paul later wrote to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”—2 Timothy 4:11 (NIV)
3. Never stop recruiting and developing
Sometimes we relax when we choose our number two person. But Paul had a number two, a number three, a number four…recruitment and development never end. I need to remind myself and the leaders around me that we’re always looking for the next leader, the next servant, the next Silas.
4. Change my perspective
Paul didn’t see his role as one of building his kingdom or even having a team that would be together forever. His goal was kingdom expansion and his role included leadership development. I need to make sure I have that same perspective.
People may leave my church. Some who I thought were on board may jump ship. Things will change. But I need to keep going, to think kingdom and to always be on the lookout for the next leader to develop.
If it was good for Paul and Silas, it’s good enough for me.