Paul & Barnabas

This Bible study is good to use after the concept of win/win solutions has been introduced.  In Acts 15.36-41 Paul and Barnabas get into a conflict about whether to take John  Mark on their next missionary journey.  Mark had left the team early on the first missionary journey for a reason we are not told about in Acts.

Begin with a 10-minute Bible study on the passage.  Divide the participants into two sides (there can be multiple groups on each side, each group having between 5 and 8 participants to foster good discussion).  One side will be the Paul side, the other the Barnabas side.  They are each to study the passage from the perspective of Paul or Barnabas.  They are to especially note the concerns each brings to the conflict, the needs they have and what makes this concern so important to them.  They can use what is in the text, things they might know from other parts of the Bible, and their own human empathy.

P&B 3After 10 minutes ask for two volunteers, one from the Paul side and one from the Barnabas side (male or female) to role play the conflict.  Interview them about their upcoming missionary journey, beginning with Paul and then asking for Barnabas’ response.  Go back and forth until the conflict is presented, often with some emotion and humor.  Then stop the role play to see if there is a win/win solution.




Pass out “Steps Toward Win-Win Solutions” taken from Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  This will be the template for trying to help Paul and Barnabas find a win/win solution.

P&B 2First, start by identifying needs and interests.  Too often in conflicts we start by staking out our positions, which leads to win/lose situations:  If Mark goes Barnabas wins, and Paul loses; if Mark doesn’t go Paul wins, and Barnabas loses.  Elicit from the group:  What are Paul’s needs and interests?  Doing the mission, having dependable help, etc.  What are Barnabas’ needs and interests?  Also doing the mission, developing young leaders, not letting failure be the last word, helping a relative.

Second, brainstorm to develop options to meet the indentified needs and interests.  Explain brainstorming, especially the rule never judge an idea–all ideas are okay to include on the brainstorm list as even a seemingly “bad” idea might sparks someone else’s creative “outside the box” idea.  Brainstorm possible ideas:  Praying, going to one city on a trial run then evaluation, cancel the mission, talk to Mark, take a team of 4 (Paul, Barnabas, Mark, and Silas), make job descriptions, do two teams of two (Paul & Silas one way, Barnabas & Mark another), etc.

In practicing brainstorming watch out for judgments (“Paul shouldn’t be so critical”)–caution people that we aren’t judging ideas or people, rather the goal is to find win/win solutions.  Also if participants get stuck in general, spiritual ideas (“pray more”), push them on what a solution might look like.  Some groups don’t brainstorm well.  If that happens, pause and use the Paper Clip Brainstorm and/or the Outside the Box tools elsewhere in our toolbox.  In situations of great oppression you can refer to Steve Biko’s (click here for his bio) quote:  “The greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”  Brainstorming is an activity that values the ideas of everyone’s mind and stimulates our thinking, so it can be a liberation activity in some contexts.  Free your minds!

Third, establish objective criteria for a solution.  We have to judge the ideas at some point, and this is where we set the standard or measuring stick by which we judge.  We do that by referring back to the needs and interests, remembering we want to find a win/win solution, something where Paul can win and Barnabas can win.  So we might come up with these criteria:  That the mission goes forward, that the team has dependable help, and that young leaders are developed.

Fourth, work with the brainstorm list to develop the BEST solution.  Combine ideas, and let further ideas emerge as you stir it together.  Perhaps you come up with something like have a time of focused prayer and talk to Mark, then develop job solutions, set up a trial in the first city followed by evaluation, add another to the team (Silas).  You could have one team of 4 or two teams of 2–both would meet the criteria with these other ideas included.  Two teams of 2 would cover more ground in the same time, so the solution might be to do exactly what they did in the text, but with a positive relationship and many other components to the solution added in.  A win/win solution!

P&B 1There is an interesting postscript to the story in 2 Timothy 4.11 where Paul asks Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry.”  Both Mark and Paul evidently changed along the way.  Barnabas’ mentoring of Mark worked, turning a failure into a useful Christian leader who eventually wrote one of our gospels.




DSC02151If you are in a non-Christian group or a mixed religious group you may not want to use the Paul & Barnabas story to understand the Steps to Win/Win Solutions.  Instead you can set up a conflict with an orange.  If two people fight over the orange, the orange will be destroyed–lose/lose!  So go to needs and interests–why do you need the orange.  Perhaps one is thirsty needing the juice, or hungry.  Perhaps the other has a guest coming and wants to make an orange cake using the peel for a sharp citrus flavor.  Then brainstorm and follow the rest of the process.