Leroy Barber is a walking, talking ignition switch. In a little over two decades of ministry, he’s started and led more than a dozen successful organizations, including churches, ministries, community programs, and local businesses. Recently, he helped found The Voices Project, a network geared toward training, promoting, and supporting leaders of color, and he serves as director of the recently-launched HopeMob, “the world’s first platform dedicated to resourcing leaders and communities of color.” The kicker? Even with such a full plate, he continues to pastor at Portland’s Imago Dei Community Eastside.
Barber knows the limits of his calling, though. He’s a starter, a leader, and a risk-taker, but he also knows that his work as an entrepreneur ends in handing his creations over to others to steward. He plants big seeds. Others reap full harvests. But he prefers it that way. According to him, that focus on the long haul, the deferred reward, has been a part of his faith from early on:
I had a wonderful discipleship experience at church. The person who actually discipled my wife and I, he changed our lives. You don’t know what those mean until, like, ten or fifteen years later, and you go, “Oh my gosh, this person built this thing in me 15 years ago that’s just coming out.” And I think that’s the beauty of what that process really means, and I think it’s probably who I am now. I can build something, I can start something, I can be a part of something. It may not blossom for ten years; but that’s all right.
And it might not even know it itself. Like, being a pastor, working with young adults as I did for a long time with Mission Year, and being with people when they were 18 and 19 and 20, just out of college—they didn’t know very much. They were knuckleheads, most of them. But now, here we are 17, 18 years in, and those people are blossoming, based on some decision they made 15 years ago to do this year of service, and it’s changed the trajectory and their life forever.
I can’t remember when I wasn’t a leader, but I can remember when I didn’t know it. Looking back, you can see these things. The person who discipled me . . . would always ask me what I thought: “Hey Leroy, what do you think? Give me your insight into this Scripture. How does this fit into the kingdom? How does this fit into the bigger picture of the world?” Every week, going through this, going through this, not knowing what that was doing inside of me. It was him saying, “You’re valuable, man. You’ve got something to say, you’ve got something to give.”
On this week’s episode of the The Calling, join CT managing editor Richard Clark as he chats with Barber about his entrepreneurial calling, the weirdness of Portland, and how the church can be a voice for the marginalized in the public square.
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The Calling is produced by Richard Clark and Cray Allred.
Theme music by Lee Rosevere, used under Creative Commons 4.0.