Throughout the highest joys of laboring alongside fellow believers in gospel work and the deepest pains of relational strain and conflict, the Lord preserves his people and accomplishes his sovereign purposes. He may bring resolution to disagreements and restored relationships in this life—as with Paul and Mark—or he may wait until the life to come to right every wrong, dry every tear, heal every pain, and mend every heart, when we’ll be forever with the Lord who makes all things new (Rev. 21:3–5).
Every seasoned pastor and organizational leader experiences significant conflicts and disagreements with fellow staff members, elders, or ministry colleagues. There are various reasons for such disputes: theological convictions, ministry strategies and priorities, leadership styles, communication gaps, perspectives about partnerships, and more.
While many conflicts can be resolved to preserve and strengthen ministry partnerships, disagreements often prompt coworkers to part ways.
Acts 15:36–41 recounts the end of the early church’s important and fruitful missionary partnership between Barnabas and Paul: “There arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (vv. 39–40).
Reflecting on this text can provide lessons for leaders today who face challenging conflicts in ministry.
1. Ministry partnerships are vital for the advance of the gospel and the growth of the church.
The book of Acts presents ministry partnerships as normative in local church and mission contexts to promote the church’s health and the gospel’s spread.
When “a great many people were added to the Lord” in Antioch, Barnabas recognized he needed a trusted coworker to teach these new disciples, so he went searching for Saul to join him in teaching (Acts 11:24–26). The biblical account presents Barnabas’s decision to partner with Saul in a favorable light, highlighting Barnabas’s godly character and the longevity and fruitfulness of their ministry in Antioch.
The Antiochian church sent multiple leaders to bring relief to the saints in Judea (vv. 29–30), and the apostles and elders in Jerusalem carefully selected a delegation to deliver an important letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia (15:22–29). The plan to send Judas and Silas from the Jerusalem church alongside Paul and Barnabas signaled the church’s consensus in the decision at the Jerusalem council (“having come to one accord,” v. 25) and promoted the church’s encouragement, strengthening, and peace (vv. 30–34).
Later, Paul was willing to set sail for Athens while leaving behind Timothy and Silas on urgent ministry business in Macedonia, with the expectation his trusted colleagues would join him as soon as possible (17:14–15; 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:1–10).
Many pastors, missionaries, seminary professors, and other ministers would testify to the crucial importance of partnership with others involved in gospel work. Robust friendships are often forged as believers labor side by side in the fires of ministry, and such relationships provide needed encouragement and promote greater effectiveness than solo ministry efforts.
2. Disagreements and disappointments are inevitable in ministry partnerships.
Paul and Barnabas parted ways after a sharp disagreement, and many other notable ministry partnerships throughout history have ended in similar fashion.
Disagreements about doctrinal convictions, theological vision, or ministry strategy may lead coworkers to part ways.