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Several years ago, I found myself unemployed as a father of five and looking at the daunting prospect of my church experience not translating well on resumes to more secular job opportunities. However, a friend of mine heard about a job opening at Joni and Friends, contacted his friend and through his advocacy gained me an interview that led to my eventual hiring. Without the blessing of an advocate, I am unsure where I would be today. We all have the need of an advocate, as well as opportunities to advocate on behalf of others.

Effective leadership is all about people. It is about inspiring, encouraging, and developing people to learn of their God-given purpose, to develop their God-given skills, and to influence their world for God. However, far too often, we leaders can get wrapped up in the tasks, the accomplishments, the schedules, and the strategies of leadership. When we become more about the busyness of ministry than the purpose of ministry, we lose sight on leading well.

When we become more about the busyness of ministry than the purpose of ministry, we lose sight on leading well.

Have you ever had a time when you needed somebody to go to bat for you or to stand up for you in the face of opposition? Or maybe just to encourage you when life wasn’t working out how you planned? Often, the difference in life depends upon the presence of an advocate in our lives. An advocate is defined as somebody who “pleads on someone else’s behalf.” While an advocate might not agree with everything we do, they will encourage us by standing up for us.

An advocate is defined as somebody who “pleads on someone else’s behalf.”

In the book of Acts, we are introduced to a great advocate, Barnabas. Acts 4:36 reveals that Joseph was called Barnabas by the disciples. Why? Because this name means “son of encouragement” and apparently this is what he was known for. Much of the encouragement from Barnabas took on the look of advocacy. Barnabas stepped in on Saul’s behalf upon his arrival in Jerusalem after his conversion (Acts 9:26–31) and assured the disciples that Saul had truly seen the Lord. Again, Barnabas advocated for John Mark (Acts 15:37–41), even though Mark had previously left a missionary trip and this advocacy led to a split with Paul. While I am sure this sharp disagreement could have been handled better by both Paul and Barnabas, the power of the advocate is seen clearly.

I wonder how many of us see ourselves as advocates. Do we consider ourselves to be people who stand up for and elevate those around us? Would others describe us this way? One of the signs of great leaders is whether they leave people in a better place than when they found them. While personal choices on the part of the follower obviously influence this idea, leaders must consider what they are doing to advocate for and advance people in ministry.

…leaders must consider what they are doing to advocate for and advance people in ministry.

As I look back over my ministry life, I can see clearly that God has placed me into the role of an advocate time and time again. A great deal of my ministry leadership, as a children’s pastor, youth pastor, and now serving in disability ministry, has involved advocating for those often forgotten by the church in general. While advocacy is hard work, the rewards are astounding! I have been so privileged over the years to see kids and youth that I made space for at a young age grow into great leaders, both within and outside of ministry situations. Perhaps one of my most meaningful times involved a student that I taught as a young child leading worship with her husband as a guest for my youth group. Talk about being able to enjoy the fruit of advocacy!

So, what does an advocate actually do? And what are some of the best ways to accomplish this aspect of leadership? I want to address four aspects of leadership advocacy here. While I am sure there are many more, here is my list:

1) Stand in the gap for others – sometimes we need to lead as Barnabas did when he stood up for Saul. There was no reasonable way that the disciples would take Saul at his word based upon his legacy of persecution. However, Barnabas had witnessed a radical conversion and was determined to help others see the truth of God’s miraculous intervention. Is there somebody in your circle of influence with a “checkered past” that causes others to doubt him or her? Has somebody come up short in the past, such as John Mark, but is ready to make a difference today? What other stories around you have the potential to become successes if you stand in the gap as an advocate?

2) Serve others – an advocate leader looks for ways to decrease himself and provide for the needs of others. Barnabas sold a field that he owned and presented the money to the disciples for the good of the church. A leader cannot advocate while looking out for self. What practical needs exist in the lives of those around you? What opportunities are before you to look out for others more than yourself? One note here: serving is not usually a big monumental and public display. Typically, it happens in the quiet and secret and the individual themself might not even know you did anything.

3) Shine a spotlight on others – perhaps the simplest way to advocate is to see where people already excel and point it out to others. Look for leaders who lead worship well in children’s ministry, who just organized a meals ministry for the first-time mom, or who show up every week early to clean and ensure the church building is ready for a crowd. Part of Barnabas’ advocacy was letting the disciples in Jerusalem know where Saul was already excelling, in preaching fearlessly the name of Jesus. Take moments everyday to discover the unsung heroes around you and then do what you can to point them out.

4) Stimulate others to new heights – advocate leaders look to take steps that will enable potential leaders to become who God has designed them to be. It is not just about believing in or cheering for new leaders. Advocacy involves practical steps of investment that will stimulate and encourage leaders to growth. Barnabas modeled this by taking Saul under his wing for the first missionary journey. Who can you bring under your wing for a new ministry endeavor? What practical pathway could you build to assist a new leader in their development?

Advocacy involves practical steps of investment that will stimulate and encourage leaders to growth.

Advocacy is not as much about program and tasks as it is about heart. It is the heart of a leader who looks out for others and desires to see them shine in whatever capacity God calls them to. It is one more way that we are called to emulate our Savior (1 John 2:1). May I encourage you to take some time today both to recognize the advocates who have helped you on your own journey, and to look for those around you who need some advocacy? May we all lead a little more like Barnabas every day.

Mike Dobes is Supervisor of Church Relations at Joni and Friends, a global disability ministry with headquarters in Southern California.