It’s good to be back, friends! I’m still working on the project I started during my blogging break. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.
When we left Paul, back in Do the Work Well, he was sitting with the elders of the church in Ephesus, urgently encouraging them because he knew he would never see them again (Acts 20). This chapter seems like Paul’s version of Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17).
Paul’s boat was about to leave, so he had to talk quickly and directly. The beginning and end of his conversation could have been for any believers in Ephesus and beyond. But tucked into the middle of this passage, Paul gives some very personal, prophetic advice to those specific leaders who sat before him. The principles, however, apply to leaders in local churches across time and around the world, from preschool Sunday School teachers to lead pastors of megachurches. These principles are more fundamental than leadership styles or personal preferences. They get down to essentials. Let’s take a look.
Keep watch / Pay careful attention / Be on guard (v. 28) – over yourselves
The elders were not immune to temptation or deception. In order to be good overseers/elders/pastors, they had to first guard themselves.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. –Proverbs 4:23
Above all else – first thing
Guard your heart – not someone else’s
Everything we do begins there in our hearts.
Before a commercial airplane takes off, we all hear and watch the airline safety instructions, and they tell us to put on our own oxygen masks before helping someone else. We can’t hold our breath long enough to assist others and still help ourselves, so it’s not selfish to take care of our own breathing first. In the same way, the church leader must prioritize his/her own spiritual walk and integrity above and before everyone else’s. After we’re connected to the Breath of Life, we can help others do the same.
There’s an undercurrent of accountability in Paul’s words as well: Keep watch over each other. This leadership team could help each other stay on the right path and focused on truth.
Can we submit to God’s standards in our lives? Can we seek and receive accountability to stay righteous? Let’s take one more step toward God-centered lives!
Be shepherds (v. 28) of the flock
When we know we’re grounded in the Word and we have safeguards in place to protect our own spiritual walks (that is, our hearts), we can look outward—to those in our care.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way… –Isaiah 53:6
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. –John 10:11
Our model is Jesus, the Good Shepherd. What do shepherds do?
- Protect sheep from predators
- Lead sheep toward sustenance (water and food)
- Care for wounded and sick sheep
- Keep all the sheep together
We won’t get into all these today, although it’s tempting. In this passage, Paul focuses on the protective aspect of shepherding, related to “keep watch.” We protect those who follow us by keeping the main thing in focus: Jesus’ sacrificial sacrifice for our redemption, “which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Can we constantly lay this perspective before our “flocks”? Let’s keep the Gospel at the center of our relationships and conversations!
Be on your guard (v. 31) against internal threats
Paul knew the Ephesian church would be ravaged both from within and without (Acts 20:29-30). We don’t have that same clarity, but similar things are likely to happen in our day.
We want to think threats to the church come from outside and that they will be clearly evil, but that’s rarely the case. People rise up within the church and mislead weak believers. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s accidental. As leaders, however, we must guard the hearts of believers, testing every teaching (our own included!) against the truth of Scripture.
Side Note: The completed New Testament is one big advantage we have over the 1st-century Ephesian elders. They had the Holy Spirit plus Paul’s example and everything he had taught them, but they didn’t have a compiled and printed set of resources they could consult when they needed to ascertain truth. Count that as a blessing for us!
Do you know what those you guard are reading, watching, and listening to? Do you know what paths their thoughts are taking? Let’s engage in meaningful conversations about important things!
Remember (v. 31) what you’ve learned
Paul spent the better part of three years in Ephesus. He had plenty of time to warn these leaders of what was coming. But it wasn’t only the warnings he wanted them to remember. They had watched him live and work for those same three years. During that time, he had taught many things and modeled others, specifically (Acts 20:33-35):
- don’t covet,
- supply your own needs,
- help the weak.
Of all the things Paul modeled, I wonder why he mentioned these three things at this time. They must have been particularly relevant for the Ephesian situation.
Again, the Holy Spirit and printed Scriptures help us remember what’s come before, but like these elders had Paul, we have the influence of godly people in our own lives.
What recurring lessons have you received from other leaders, either through their teaching or modeling? Let’s hold onto and reproduce these important truths!
As he spoke to the Ephesian elders there in Miletus, Paul’s message was urgent and his time was limited. He pled with them to lead well, and as a result, he left us four awesome principles for our own positions of leadership.
4 Pleas for Today’s Church Leaders, from preschool teacher to main pastor. Those we lead count on us to lead well, and Paul outlines for how to do it. My #leadership is #NotAboutMe.Tweet
We are all leaders. Even if we don’t hold a title or position in the church, there are certainly people who watch and follow us. So let me ask that last reflection question again: What recurring lesson has God taught you through another leader? You will bless us all if your share it briefly in the comments below!