Sermon series: Transformational Church

  1. A Winning Witness - Acts 4

  2. The Priority of Praying Together - Acts 6

  3. Dare to Fail - Acts 13, 15

  4. Sharing Christ with a Christless Culture - Acts 17

Scriptures: Acts 13:13; 15:36-40

The road to success often passes through several pit stops of failure. But a temporary failure does not have to bring our journey to an end. God delights in exalting the humble (Matthew 23:12, James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:5-6). When families work together, God uses their combined gifts and talents to bring success out of what might have been a failure. The story of Barnabas and John Mark is briefly told in the New Testament. But their relationship gives us insight into how families can serve God by working together.


Failure is usually a major component of success. Those of us fortunate enough to have family members who love and support us in times of trouble are blessed. God has placed us in our natural, blended, adopted, or extended families so that we can be stronger and more effective ministers for Him.

John Mark was a young man who experienced a humiliating failure early in his ministry. He left for the mission field with Paul and company and failed to finish the task. Evidently, when the going got tough, he quit and went back home. Later, although he would later tell the Romans that, “God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29), Paul was not willing to give John Mark a second chance. Fortunately for John Mark, he had a faithful relative who did not give up on him when he stumbled. Barnabas, a man well known for his ability to consol and encourage, refused to allow his nephew to remain a casualty of his past. Together, Barnabas and John Mark were used by God to multiply the mission efforts of the early church.

I. The need for a clear call from God (13:13)

Baptists like to talk about “a call from God.” We are referring to that certain sense that God Himself has invited, or indeed commanded, us to take some action or to assume some responsibility. We typically use this term only when referring to full-time ministries such as those of pastors and missionaries. But God has called each of us, and all of us, to some ministry responsibility. To be effective church members, we must understand and accept that God Himself has called us too, even though we are not full-time ministers.

A. Ministry is tough

John Mark found out that ministry was not easy. On the mission field, it can sometimes be physically tough; but it is emotionally hard no matter where you are ministering. Jesus told His disciples that they should count the costs of following Him (Luke 14:27-33).

A missionary serving on the Caribbean Island nation of Barbados received a lot of teasing for “suffering for Jesus” on a beautiful tropical island. He acknowledged that the beaches were great and the food was delicious. But he maintained that he and his family were not on permanent vacation as some people thought. When he began to describe to his teasers what missionary life was really like, they began to rethink their assumptions. “We often don’t have electricity or running water,” said the missionary. He added, “My children don’t have a Sunday School class to attend. We also miss the great restaurants and shopping centers common in the United States. We miss our family back home too.” When his teasers asked him what kept him serving on an island in spite of these and other difficulties, he simply responded, “The call of God keeps us there.”

As believers, we too must count the costs of being Jesus’ disciples. What has the Lord invited or commanded you to do in His kingdom work? Do you sense His call upon your life? What is your place in God’s kingdom? Any work for God comes with both blessings and hardships. In the end, only the clear call of God will keep you there.

B. Ministry is a privilege

No one has an inherent “right” to minister for God. We must earn the right to be used of God by faithfulness and obedience to His word. We must also be willing to do the ministry God’s way and not according to our own desires. Jesus once said to a man who wanted to follow Him on his own terms, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

When we serve God, we are not doing Him a favor. On the contrary, He is doing us a favor! John Mark found his early efforts for God to be more difficult that he had first thought. Perhaps he turned back because of physical hardships he hadn’t expected. Maybe he found mission work too emotionally draining. We are not specifically told why John Mark deserted his post. But his experience is a signal to us that we should never attempt to serve God until we have counted the costs and until we have received a clear call from God.

II. We can’t live on yesterday’s accomplishments (15:36-38)

After John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, they went on to register great successes. They took the Gospel to places with names like Antioch of Pisidia, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium. They boldly preached the Good News of Jesus Christ and many believed and were saved. Acts 13:49 says, “So the message of the Lord spread through the whole region.”

But with their success came opposition. Some of the religious leaders became jealous and tried to run them out of town. They even stoned Paul and left him for dead. But Barnabas and Paul went right on preaching and teaching. When they finally returned to their home church in Antioch, they had glorious reports to give. But the work was still not finished. Not by a long shot.

A. Everyone is needed (15:36)

Paul was undoubtedly the greatest missionary the church has ever produced. His abilities, insights, teachings, and sacrifices have motivated untold millions to give their all for the Gospel. But he did not initiate the world’s first church planting movement all by himself. He had many helpers and supporters. His first missionary endeavor was shared with Barnabas. His later journeys would include partnerships with men like Silas, Timothy, and many others. Eventually, Paul would even ask for the help of John Mark (see Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24).

Baptists recognize the need for cooperation in ministry. We are a family - God’s family. We need each other. We must work together to accomplish the Great Commission assignment of Matthew 28. No individual has every one of the talents, gifts, and opportunities to do it all. That is why God calls all believers to ministry and that is why He calls each believer to some specific task suited especially to that person’s talents, gifts, background, personality and opportunities.

B. Everyone is invited (15:37-38)

Does God use failures? Absolutely! In fact, it could be argued that no man or woman is really prepared to serve God until they have failed in the pursuit of success without Him. God’s invitation to salvation is for everyone and His invitation for service is, likewise, for every believer.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your past failure(s) mean that you are disqualified to serve God. It is true that even though God offers forgiveness for every sin, we still must live with the consequences of our past actions. That sometimes means we cannot serve God in some role or position. But that limitation should not discourage us or humiliate us anymore than Paul was discouraged by his history of persecution of the early church. God convicted him, forgave him, saved him, called him, and used him mightily!

John Mark’s early failure was a flaw, but it was not fatal. He lived to serve again. Barnabas recognized that his nephew had not shown his best colors when he deserted the work at first. Although Paul was not as trusting of John Mark, Barnabas still had faith in him. Thank God for faithful family and friends who have faith in us when we fail! God’s invitation to serve is really His command to serve and it is valid for every believer, regardless of his past.

III. It takes all kinds (15:39-40)

A friend once said to me, “It takes all kinds of people to make the world go ‘round… and they’re all here.” That quip may help explain why no two people can ever seem to agree on everything. It also helps us to understand that God’s kingdom is made up of people as diverse and as opinionated as is every other segment of society. We come from all kinds of backgrounds and we come with all kinds of expectations.

The early church was no different. In Acts chapter two, we read that the first believers came from all over the Mediterranean world with their diverse customs and languages. The Gospel is the great equalizer between diverse peoples with diverse ideas and viewpoints. And, in the context of equality, diversity is a positive thing. John Mark did not have to be like Barnabas and Barnabas did not have to be like Paul and Paul did not have to be like Peter to be used by God. God used all of them, in different ways. Actually, it was the very diversity of these men that prompted the rapid spread of the Gospel.

Today, when we read about the first recorded breakup among the missionaries, we cringe and see it as a setback in cooperation and a breakdown of harmony. We are tempted to take sides. But God’s word offers neither explanation nor blame. We are simply told that the missionaries disagreed and went their separate ways.

A. More than one method

Paul was a driven, educated, trained, and zealous “mover and shaker.” He was relentless in his approach to ministry. His ministry reflected his personality. As a result, he accomplished more than perhaps any of his contemporaries or followers. But his was not the only valid method of serving God. Barnabas was more laid back and thoughtful. His name meant “son of consolation.” Barnabas’ methods reflected his personality too. Therefore, God used Barnabas to save the ministry of a young man who might otherwise have been devastated because of his own failure and because of Paul’s rejection.

Remember that everyone does not have to be just like you to be effective in ministry. They may have a different focus and methodology. They may not share your particular calling and they may not share your excitement for a particular task, just as you may not share their excitement for their work. Not everyone can preach a bold, compassionate, convicting, biblically sound sermon every Sunday. Many people would not even be interested in trying. That is not their calling. Likewise, not every preacher can minister to all the widows and orphans in the church. Nor can the pastor witness to all the lost in your community. The kingdom work of the church is a shared responsibility. We don’t all have the same gifts and abilities, so God has assigned us to specific ministry tasks based upon our own personal set of ministry skills. A successful, Bible centered, ministry-oriented church is one that can truly say, “It takes all kinds… and they’re all here.”

B. Only one message

Although there may be many legitimate methods of ministry work, there is only one legitimate message. Paul told the Corinthian believers, “For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Later, he added, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). On another occasion, Paul warned the Galatian churches, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him!” (Gal 1:8).

Let us make sure that our work for God is centered in the word of God. Our goal is to preach Jesus, crucified and resurrected. I remember the day I preached my very first sermon. I had never stood in the pulpit before. The pastor had told me that when I entered the pulpit for the first time I would see something that I should remember for the rest of my ministry life. With white knuckles I stood with shaky knees and laid my open Bible on the sacred desk. Stenciled in large letters on the pulpit was the reminder: “Remember, It’s Jesus Only!” I have never forgotten.


God has called each and every believer to a specific ministry task. Kingdom work is tough but it is a privilege we should not take lightly. We should remember that God does not hold our past failures against us after we confess them and receive his forgiveness. Some of His most successful laborers are people, like John Mark, who have known failure and who have triumphed over it by faith.

God uses anyone, including former failures. The church is God’s family and we must support each other in the work, even though we may use various methods to accomplish the task of world evangelization. Each believer has a unique set of talents and gifts, as well as a distinctive personality. God calls us to perform tasks for Him that are good matches for our unique abilities. We are free to employ different methodologies in God’s work but we are not free to change the message.


Great Work is Often Preceded by Great Failures and Hurts

Many well known Baptist pastors have faced great failure before going on to do great things for God. Sometimes the failure involves a personal setback or a family tragedy. God seems to bless those who respond to crisis with humility and faith. Reading biographies of history’s great men and women is one good way to realize that success often comes after a measure of failure. Another way to make real the fact that hardships and successes often go together is to read Paul’s own personal testimony recorded in 2 Corinthians 11:24-31.

Additional sermon starter

Worshipful Work (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Sometimes we feel like slaves at work. Although that evil institution has been outlawed for almost 150 years in the United States, the necessity to labor has not ended. When Adam sinned against God, he was sentenced to a life of struggle just to survive. But work is not evil, or even bad, in and of itself. Work is in reality one of God’s gifts to mankind. For those of us who choose to view our work in the context of God’s plan, it can become one of life’s joys. We can actually worship God through our work.

Ken Blackwood is a career missionary serving in Mérida, Venezuela. Married to Alison, they have three children. Together they serve on the Andean Agriculture Team, sponsored by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.