New school years always present challenges and opportunities. School administrators face the task of making sure every class is staffed for a successful learning environment. Leaders in discipleship ministry, either pastoral staff or volunteer Sunday School directors, face similar challenges in leading and creating new groups. Challenges in ministry, however, are also great opportunities for discipleship.

New groups require new leaders. Recruiting and training these leaders may seem daunting at times, but the mission of making disciples calls us to this task. If we look to the book of Acts, Barnabas sets a great example for us in what it looks like to disciple new ministry leaders.

How did Barnabas make disciples? His method was to encourage, equip and engage.

Encourage: In Acts 4:32-37, we get our first glimpse at Barnabas, who was actually named Joseph. He was so authentic in his relationship with the Holy Spirit that he is given the name “Barnabas,” which means “Son of Encouragement.” Let that sink in for a moment. His life was so encouraging to others that they simply called him by a name that reflected that. If our friends did this today, what name would they give us?

Barnabas encouraged others by taking care of needs in their lives, but he also spoke truth to those God was calling to lead. In Acts 9:26-31, Saul goes to Jerusalem after he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. The other disciples are skeptical of his intentions, but Barnabas speaks up and sees how the Lord is moving. His encouragement helps settle the group and establish Saul as a new leader. Imagine how the New Testament might have been different if that had not happened!

As leaders, we must take time to see how God is working around us and whom He is preparing as a new leader. Look for the spiritual gifts of those in your group. Many will know that the Holy Spirit is calling them to serve, but they may just be waiting for us to speak a word of encouragement to them.

Equip: Barnabas also equipped leaders as he discipled. In Acts 11:19-26, the Gospel comes to Antioch, and a church begins there. When Barnabas arrives to see this new church, he encourages those in leadership. Over the next year, Barnabas meets with them and helps equip them for ministry. He even goes and brings Saul to help him do this—helping Saul learn more about leading along the way.

Spending time with new and potential leaders is vital for equipping them for ministry, and yet this can be part of the discipleship process where we most struggle. Our world is fast-paced and always looking for the next thing to do. As Barnabas did, we must make time to show new teachers how to study for a lesson, show directors what it means to shepherd a group or walk with other leaders in specific ministry areas like outreach or fellowship. In our lives right now, we make time for what matters to us. Equipping new leaders matters.

Engage: Finally, Barnabas helped leaders to engage. His encouragement and equipping of the leaders in Antioch led to them to engage in ministry so much that they were given the name “Christians” by those outside the church (Acts 11:26). Just a few chapters later in Acts 13:1-12, we see Barnabas and Saul (now using his Greek name Paul) preaching the Gospel in Cyprus. As they begin to engage in conversations, Paul takes the lead. From this point forward in Acts, the focus primarily remains on Paul and his leadership.

Leaders in Sunday School and small groups can help engage new leaders in a variety of ways, but asking them to serve alongside you is incredibly effective. For example, a Sunday School teacher can plan Sundays throughout the year to give opportunities for someone learning to teach, or they lead the lesson together.

For churches to make disciples through Sunday School or small groups, leaders must disciple new leaders. The way of Barnabas was to encourage, equip and engage those God had called to lead. As we journey into this new year, let’s be like Barnabas.