Leadership for Pastor Henry
Our text today could be approached in a variety of ways. It will be more profitable for us to focus on the prominent theme of leadership in this chapter.
This discourse has three parts: (a) a review of Paul’s past three-year’s ministry in Ephesus (20:18-21), (b) a description of the present situation (vv. 22-27), and (c) the future responsibilities of the Ephesian elders (vv. 28-35).
The Leadership Issue in Acts of the Apostles
The subject of leadership comes up several times in the book of Acts. For example, we have the seven deacons who were appointed at Jerusalem. When a potential problem arose over a ministry to care for the widows in that first congregation, the apostles wisely challenged the church to seek out some leaders who could see that the job got done. The apostles already had a ministry, didn’t think they had to be in charge of everything, and were willing to share leadership with others.
Here is Luke’s record of what happened:
"So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word’" (Acts 6:2‑4).
There are three basic qualifications that should be in everyone’s job description that leads worship, teaches Sunday school, greets visitors, or is a church leader.
First, he or she must have a good reputation within the believing community and before outsiders "Choose seven . . . who are known . . .").
Second, that person must be "full of the Spirit" and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in his or her daily behavior.
And, third, a leader must be "full of . . . wisdom."
This qualification has less to do with education and quoting Bible verses than with godly insight about how to apply the truth to real‑life situations and how to treat people with respect. These are fundamental principles to leadership in the kingdom of God. Those of us who exercise leadership in the church in any setting must hold one another accountable to these three things.
This text brings us back to the subject of leadership in a very direct way. It is counsel to a specific order of church leaders and about their work. Before looking at that counsel, let’s think about the broader issue of being a spiritual leader.
Who Is a "Leader"?
Definition: “A leader is someone going somewhere who is able to share such a compelling vision of the destination that others are persuaded to go there too.”
This definition is important enough that I want us to work with it briefly before going to the issues Paul raised with the shepherds of the church at Ephesus. Did you hear the definition carefully? It offers two significant insights.
1. "A leader is someone going somewhere . . ." There are lots of confused and aimless people in this world. Lives are being wasted because those people have not discovered the reason God put them on Planet Earth.
2. “…who is able to share such a compelling vision…
The world doesn’t have a great quantity of people who know who they are and where they are going. Most people live such short‑sighted existences that they go berserk if they lose their money, lose their looks, lose their car, lose their health - as if any or all of those things were the meaning of their lives. And that’s why they come undone when they lose them.
But people of God who live 20,40,70, or 90 years of life here with the long‑term outlook of eternity and for the sake of holiness to the Lord do keep their aim and wits.
Anybody that clear about life’s meaning can say with Paul:
Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (NIV)
Anybody that clear about their reason for being in the world is capable of leading because they know where they are going.
What did Paul say on this same subject - in jail and about to die for his faith at Rome - in the last epistle he wrote?
2 Timothy 1:12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (NIV)
Anybody that clear about himself will get a following, for the world wants to see someone who is walking with a confident stride.
Definition: "A leader is someone going somewhere who is able to share such a compelling vision of the destination that others are persuaded to go there too."
The person who lives with a clear confidence in God’s love will have people tagging along behind just to smell the sweet aroma of such a life.
Then they will begin to duplicate it in specific ways. Finally they will discover that the person’s secret is not self‑contained, and they will embrace the cross, accept eternal life, and have a reason for their own existence in the world.
Now that they know where they are going, and are “…able to share such a compelling vision…they begin to lead others. Then those lead others . . . Well, you get the point. The process duplicates itself until the Lord comes back.
Paul’s Charge to Leaders
Paul was rushing to get to Jerusalem before the Feast of Pentecost, so he
Acts 20:16 . . . sailed past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. (NIV)
He loved and was loved by so many in Ephesus that he knew he could not keep his schedule and go there. Yet he did want one final contact with the church with which he had invested three years of his life. So he sent a messenger from Miletus to Ephesus - about thirty‑five miles away - to ask the church’s elders to come to him. It wasn’t simply that he wanted to see them for a social visit.
He wanted to encourage them in their role as church leaders, overseers, models, and protectors. He wanted to lead them through a short "leadership seminar" before leaving the region for Jerusalem.
First, Paul admonished them to feed the church with sound and consistent teaching of the gospel.
Acts 20:21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (NIV)
Churches don’t need leaders with personal agendas, hobbyhorses, or imbalance in their theology. They need leaders who feed a "balanced diet" from the Word of God that will produce growth and maturity among the hearers.
Second, he solemnly charged them to guard the flock of God’s people under their pastoral oversight. He warned of "savage wolves" that would come in and try to subvert the work of God among them (Acts 20:28‑29).
Acts 20:28-29 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
Third, Paul urged the elders from Ephesus to model unselfish service among their fellow‑believers. "In everything I did," he reminded them, "I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: It is more blessed to give than to receive’" (Acts 20:35).
Although the world’s model is different, the Christian leadership model says that people can lead only to the degree they are willing to serve others. Servant leadership is the only kind of leadership there is or can be in the kingdom of God.
Fourth, Paul surely left no doubt in the minds of these men that it was their duty to replace themselves in the Ephesians’ church. These men did not constitute a "closed club" within the church. Their leadership was not to be exercised by making decisions behind locked doors but by modeling and mentoring others in the habits of Christ.
Buildings deteriorate, programs lose effectiveness, and circumstances change needs. But investing in the spiritual growth and development of other believers is always the right things for leaders to do. Paul would later write this to Timothy:
"The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach other" (2 Tim. 2:2).
Good leaders are always training others to take their place in leadership.
1. True leaders entrust others with responsibility and the right to make decisions.
2. They multiply their effectiveness by spotting and training others who can be leaders.
3. They don’t feel threatened by people who have even greater ability than them.
4. They affirm and nurture those people for the sake of the kingdom.
5. They understand that "a leader’s first duty is to train more leaders."
In your home, your workplace, or in this church, be someone who is going somewhere and whose confident stride is in a direction that will inspire others to go along with you. Walk in the light. Travel the highway of holiness.
I can guarantee that others will want to walk with you.
No home, workplace, or church can rise above the spiritual level of its leaders. That is the way things are because God has arranged it so. It is his plan to accomplish his kingdom through human leadership. The Holy Spirit ministers his spiritual gifts to people through people.
A little church-yard in France where a beautiful statue of Jesus with outstretched arms once stood. During World War II, a bomb struck nearby and broke the statue to pieces. When the fighting had passed the village, members of the little church set about to find the pieces of the statue and to reconstruct it.
As they patiently set about their task, even the scars seemed to add to its beauty in their eyes. But, to their dismay, the fragile hands had been pulverized. "A Christ without hands is no Christ at all!" someone said sadly.
Indeed, we want Christ’s tender, ministering hands outstretched to us! So someone suggested that they try to get a new statue. Then another person in the group came up with the idea that prevailed. He suggested that a brass plaque be attached to the statue’s base that would read: "I have no hands but yours." Years later someone saw that statue and its inscription and wrote these lines:
I have no hands but your hands to do my work today.
I have no feet but your feet to lead men on the way.
I have no tongues but your tongue to tell men how I died.
I have no help but your help to bring men to God’s side.
So clear your own head on this point, and resolve to follow God’s leadership.
Get your personal bearings. Know where you are headed.
Carry through in your personal devotion to the Lord.
Be his hands, feet, and tongue to bring people to God’s side.
That is God’s plan, and you have become part of his purpose in the world.
Notes on Acts 20: 13-35
The discourse at Miletus (20:13-38).
20:13-15. Evidently Paul remained in Troas longer than he originally planned (v. 7). To compensate for the delay he sent the rest of the party on ahead. The journey across land from Troas to Assos is much shorter than by sea. By this arrangement Paul was able to stay a bit longer in Troas. They sailed from Assos to Mitylene . . . Chios . . . Samos and Miletus. The voyage to the last three stops took one day each.
20:16-17. Paul avoided a stop in Ephesus because he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. He knew it would take far too long to say good-bye to his many friends in Ephesus. Miletus was some 30 miles by land south of Ephesus, so he sent for the Ephesian church’s elders to come there. Evidently his ship had a layover of several days in the port of Miletus.
20:18. Here begins another “sample sermon” of Paul (cf. 13:16-41; 14:15-17; 17:22-31), this one given to Christian leaders, men he loved deeply. This discourse has three parts: (a) a review of Paul’s past three-year’s ministry in Ephesus (20:18-21), (b) a description of the present situation (vv. 22-27), and (c) the future responsibilities of the Ephesian elders (vv. 28-35).
20:19. In Ephesus, as elsewhere, the Jews had plotted against Paul, though the riot recorded in Acts 19 emphasizes opposition from Gentiles. Here Luke referred to the plots by the Jews, but he did not detail them (cf. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:30-32; 16:9; 2 Cor. 1:8-10).
20:20. Paul’s ministry from house to house (cf. 2:46) is contrasted with his public ministry and probably refers to house churches. If so, each elder was possibly the overseer of a house church. Paul both preached and taught.
20:21. In the Greek the words repentance and faith are joined together by one article. This may imply that these two words stress two aspects of trust in Christ (cf. 2:38). When a person places his faith in Christ, he is then turning from (repenting of) his former unbelief. This is the same message for both Jews and Greeks (i.e., Gentiles; cf. 19:10; Gal. 3:28).
20:22. Here Paul began to describe present circumstances (vv. 22-27). The NIV words, compelled by the Spirit, are literally, “bound in the Spirit” (dedemenos . . . toµ pneumati). Probably this refers to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the apostle’s life (cf. Luke 2:27; 4:1; Acts 8:29; 10:19; 11:12; 16:6-7). Paul’s reason for going to Jerusalem, though not stated, evidently was to take the offering from churches to the poor saints in Jerusalem (24:17; cf. comments on 21:12-14).
20:23. Already Paul had been warned by the Holy Spirit—that is, evidently by people with the Spirit-given gift of prophecy—that prison and hardships awaited him in Jerusalem. He anticipated troubles in Jerusalem when he wrote Romans 15:30-31. Yet he was determined to go there (cf. Acts 19:21; 20:16).
20:24-25. When these verses are read together, it becomes clear that the preaching of the kingdom and the gospel of God’s grace are related. God’s work of grace enables believing Gentiles to have both the privilege of salvation and of entering the Lord’s millennial reign.
Because of the warning to Paul (v. 23) he concluded that the Ephesian elders would not see him again. The NIV translation, none of you, is a bit strong. The Greek refers to “all” of them (as a group) not seeing Paul again (lit., “all of you [as a group] will never see me again”). He did not say no one of them would see him again (cf. the pl. verb in v. 38). His ambition was to finish the race, which later he said he did (2 Tim. 4:7).
20:26-27. In conformity with Ezekiel 33:1-6, Paul declared himself to be innocent of the blood of all men in Ephesus (cf. comments on Acts 18:6). He preached to “all men” (cf. “all the Jews and Greeks . . . in the province of Asia,” 19:10). And the content of His preaching was all of God’s will (bouleµn, “purpose, plan”; cf. 2:23; 4:28; 13:36; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17). Interestingly Paul used several words in referring to his role in communicating the gospel: (a) “preach” (Acts 20:20) and proclaim (v. 27), both from anangelloµ (“proclaim, announce”); (b) “taught” (from didaskoµ, “teach,” v. 20); (c) “declared” (v. 21) and “testifying” (v. 24), both from diamartyromai (“solemnly bear witness to”); (d) declare (martyromai, “testify,” v. 26).
20:28-35. In verses 28-35 Paul turned to the future responsibilities of the elders in Ephesus. First, they were to guard (prosechete, “attend to” in the sense of taking care of) themselves and all the flock. Significantly before they could provide for the flock they had to care for their own spiritual well-being.
Here the elders are described as overseers (episkopous, from the verb episkopeoµ, “to look for, to care for”). The term “elders” has primarily Jewish antecedents and stresses the dignity of the office, whereas “overseers” is mainly Greek in its derivation and emphasizes the responsibility of the office, namely, “to look after” others.
The value of the flock, over which the elders were to be shepherds (poimainein, pres. tense infinitive; cf. 1 Peter 5:2), is underscored by Paul’s calling it the church of God (i.e., the church that is owned by God) and by his referring to its purchase (cf. Ps. 74:2) by His own blood. Nowhere does the Bible speak of the blood of God the Father. The Greek here can read “by the blood of His own,” that is, His own Son. The Greek word for bought means “acquired, obtained.”