Study 7: Distrust in the Church

Find the text of Study 7: Distrust in the Church below. If you have questions or would like to discuss this study, you can email us at or send us a message (anonymously, if you’d like) through the website here.

Read Acts 15:36-40 (NIV below).

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.

Paul and Barnabas have been partners in ministry for quite a while at this point. Now they come to such a sharp disagreement that they part ways. And the sharp disagreement isn’t over a theological issue – it’s over whether to trust another person, another Christian, another partner of theirs in ministry. This must have caused hurt to all three parties, if not others in the church, too. 

The same issues of trust can cause hurt in the church today in many ways. Some may have lost trust in church members or church leaders; some may have been hurt that people in the church didn’t trust them; some may disagree over who deserves a second chance to be trusted; many may have left the church because of these issues and never gone back.

Do you know anyone who has been hurt by distrust in the church? Are there situations in the church in which it’s appropriate to give someone who has broken trust a second chance? Is there a different standard here for leaders in the church?

Paul and Barnabas are going to visit churches they started, and Barnabas wants to take John Mark along. Paul doesn’t want to take John Mark because he “deserted them” on an earlier trip, so Paul doesn’t trust John Mark. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time we’ve read about Barnabas vouching for someone to other people in the church, and in fact it’s not the first time he’s vouched for one of these specific people. Paul, who was also called Saul, persecuted Christians before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. When Paul came to Jerusalem to try to join the disciples, they didn’t trust him. It was Barnabas who brought Paul to the disciples and testified to them on his behalf (Acts 9:27).

How do you think you would have felt about the John Mark situation if you were Paul? How do you think you would have felt if you were Barnabas? How do you think you would have felt if you were John Mark? Which one of these three do you identify with the most?

The issue at hand here is whether to trust John Mark. It may be easy to say that Paul should have given John Mark a second chance since he himself had received such a second chance before, but the situations may not have been all that similar. There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened when John Mark left them on the earlier journey, and about what had happened (or not happened) since then that would have caused Barnabas to trust John Mark or Paul not to trust him.

What makes you trust people? What makes you distrust people? In what situations are you willing to give someone a second (or third, or fourth) chance?

There can be all kinds of people we encounter whom we don’t trust, but many times we don’t have any real personal connection to them, and sometimes we may not even know their name or anything about them. This story of distrust in Acts stings because of the closeness of those involved. These were not strangers or mere acquaintances; these were fellow workers in ministry who lived, traveled and ate together. There’s even the possibility that these are family members – many believe that “Mark, the cousin of Barnabas” mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (4:10) is the same John Mark from Acts, and that John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. People in close relationship may have a lot of trust for each other, but they also may have been close enough to see reasons not to trust each other.

Do you expect to be able to trust your family more than others? Why or why not? Do you expect to be able to trust those in church more than others? Why or why not?

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