Encouraging an Encouraging Culture
ecently I attended my first football game at Qwest Field to watch the Seattle Seahawks squeak by the St. Louis Rams. It was a thriller that had Josh Brown nailing a 38-yard field goal with nine seconds left. (I like to think it was my raucous cheering that lifted the Seahawks to victory that day.)
Having heard a lot about the stadium, I was anxious to experience it for myself. Allegedly, Paul Allen, the owner of the Seahawks, hired the best architects around and asked them to design the noisiest stadium in the world. They did a fine job. It was deafening. In fact, there have been accusations against the Seahawks that the noise is artificially enhanced.
Referencing a game against the New York Giants, Foxnews.com reports:
New York had an astounding 11 false-start penalties. Giants’ players said the flags were because of Qwest Field's earsplitting noise.
Opponents committed 24 false starts during last season at Qwest, more than in any other NFL stadium. Arizona had four more in Seattle's home-opener win…..
“It was very loud, but it has that reputation,” Coughlin said of the Seattle's crowd. “The crowd gets into the game and they use the crowd well.”1
In football it’s called “the twelfth man” because it’s like having an extra player on the home team. In running it’s called the Bislett Effect.
The name comes from Bislett Stadium in Oslo, Norway, a place where 62 track-and-field records have been broken over the years. No other venue in the world comes close to boasting of such a record.
Quoted in Runner’s World (November 2003), the famed British runner Steve Cram said, “If you can’t run well at Bislett, you can’t run well anywhere.”
So what’s the secret of Bislett?
In a word, it’s the crowd. The track is narrow, with only six lanes, and the grandstand is so steep that the fans are practically on top of you. “The sound of 21,000 screaming maniacs rakes your reflexes,” says runner Kenny Moore, “forcing you to keep your rhythm, the crowd’s rhythm, for one more stretch, one more turn. The frenzied fans keep you going.”2
In football it’s the twelfth man. In running it’s the Bislett Effect. In the church it’s the Barnabas Culture. In every case, the environments are ripe for miracles.
The name, Barnabas Culture, comes from Joseph, an active participant in the early Christian church. However, we don’t know him by his name; we remember his nickname, Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement,” or simply “The Encourager.”
Just as the twelfth man spurs on the home team in football, and the Bislett Effect brings out the best in runners, so the Barnabas Culture creates a climate where church members flourish in supernatural ways. So what does the Barnabas Culture look like?
A Culture of Generosity
First, the Barnabas culture is one of generosity. We see this characteristic in Barnabas when we first meet him in Acts 4:36-37. “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.”
As a Levite, you would expect Barnabas to serve in the temple at Jerusalem. After all, he was a Jew from the tribe of Levi. Because he was from Cyprus, however, Barnabas was a “Hellenist.” Hellenists were Jews born overseas, thus they were treated as defiled Gentiles.
In Acts 6 we get a snapshot of the hostility between native-born Israelites and the Hellenists. No doubt Barnabas was ostracized by the Jewish community. Thus you might expect him to hold a grudge, but there is no hint of a sour spirit in Barnabas. Instead he sees a need in the church and does something about it. He liquidates some real estate and puts “the money at the apostles’ feet.” In other words, he has confidence in the church leadership and he donates the money with no strings attached. “Generosity with strings is not generosity;” quips Marya Mannes, “It is a deal.”3 In the case of Barnabas we see genuine generosity.
So it is in the Barnabas Culture. Everyone is generous with their time and talents and money. It makes for a great place to be.
A Culture of the Acceptance
The second characteristic of the Barnabas culture is that it is marked by a spirit of acceptance. The next time we see Barnabas is in Acts 9. Saul (later named Paul) has been a terrorist to Christians. He’s been “…breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples” (Acts 9:1).
Then Saul meets Jesus. And everything changes. Suddenly Saul wants to join the disciples in Jerusalem! But the followers of Jesus are afraid of Saul. It would be like Osama Bin Laden applying to work for the Transportation Security Administration. Why would the disciples trust Saul?
Nobody wanted to mess with Saul. That is, nobody but Barnabas. Barnabas was willing to take a risk on Saul. He believed the best about Saul and the Bible records, “So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28).
Think about the impact Paul has had on Christendom. Besides Christ, Paul is arguably the most influential voice of faith throughout the centuries. But what would have happened to Paul if not for Barnabas? Chances are we’d know nothing about this great theologian who has so forcefully advanced the cause of Christ.
In Acts 11 we find Barnabas showing the same acceptance to all Gentiles. When members were squawking about keeping the church undefiled, Barnabas was posting the sign, “Everyone is welcome… Absolutely everyone!”
Jerry Cook offers this challenge to the church today:
The church should state, “We’re going to love and accept people, and if you don’t want to love people, you’re in the wrong place. Because this church is going to love people.”Unreserved acceptance of people should be a habit with us. There’s no other way to get close enough to people to help them at the level of their deepest needs. When we cultivate the habit of accepting people, they open up to us, they like us, they trust us instinctively.