If we a) take Luke’s account of Barnabas more-or-less at face value and b) accept the traditional identification of John Mark with both the Mark who was Peter’s translator / interpreter and the Mark whom Paul speaks favourably of in Colossians and Philemon, then Barnabas has some claim to being the man who made the New Testament what it is today.
When all the apostles seemed convinced that Paul’s conversion was a sham to bait a trap to catch Christians, Barnabas shows the courage and trust to reach out and bring Paul in to the apostles circle. What would have happened if Barnabas had not been the man to see the potential in this most dubious convert? Would Paul have ended up founding a sect divorced from the apostolic church, or simply never have got going in his ministry? Without Barnabas, would we have had Paul’s letters?
Then, when Paul saw no point in giving Mark the second chance he himself had received, Barnabas insisted on seeing the young man’s potential. If Barnabas had not invested time in Mark, and been prepared to fall out with Paul over it, would Mark have persisted in ministry? And if he had not, would he ever have taken down Peter’s memoirs and invented the gospel genre (or sub-genre)? And if Mark had not first written a gospel, would others have followed, or at least shaped their Jesus narratives in the way that they did?
“What if” history is of course hopelessly speculative, but for standing first by Paul, and later by Mark, Barnabas has a good claim to being the man who made their ministries what they later became, and so stands indirectly behind the production of the greater part of the New Testament.
That’s the ministry of encouragement for you: truly humble in promoting the ministry of others, and truly generous in seeing the potential more dominant leaders might miss.
So on Barnabas’ feast day, it seems appropriate to look out for people who need encouraging, and ask him to pray for all those who follow in his steps with a much needed ministry of seeing the potential in others and fostering it.