After Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch for a while teaching and preaching the word of the Lord (15.35), Paul expressed desire to return to visit the church communities he had helped to start (15.36). Caring about the people, Paul didn’t want to simply plant a church and disappear but to see how they are. Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. Paul had reservations (v.38, cf. 13.13) and we read that
“They had a sharp disagreement, so that they parted company. Barnabas took along Mark and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and set out, commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers and sisters. He passed through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
(Acts 15.39-41, NET)
The sharp disagreement could have been coloured by Barnabas’ behaviour in Galatians 2.13 or could simply have centred around Mark’s exit in Acts 13.13. So who was at fault, who was wrong in this sharp disagreement? Luke doesn’t say and there is no way to know for sure. We do know, however, when two friends and ministry partners like Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement that leads to a parting of company, that both parties are likely to have acted in a less-than excellent and Spirit filled manner.
Is it ok then to disagree and part company with ministry partners? Honestly, it depends.
If the manner of parting is positive, if both parties agree, if both have arrived at the same decision to the glory of God and the benefit of the people being served, then sure. Men are sent out many times in Scripture (15.22 for example) and in our modern day on ministry matters that separate them from previous company.
If the split comes after a sharp disagreement where both parties are at fault, then we cannot honestly say that the parting is positive. Jesus spoke about getting right with people before coming to worship God (Matthew 5.23-24) and can we say, from what we read here, that Paul and Barnabas did that?
We do know that later on Paul and Mark evidently reconciled (Colossians 4.10, 2 Timothy 4.11) but how we wish we had the transcript of how and when. If you are considering a new direction for your ministry, whatever that might be, then talk to those involved first. Pray together, seek the Lord together, and move forward together, even if that is in different directions.