In Acts 20, we’re given a real treasure in Scripture: a pastor’s conference with the Apostle Paul. What pastor wouldn’t want in on that?! Paul had been on three missionary journeys preaching the Gospel about the known world and spent a chunk of his time in Ephesus. Now, before taking the brave trip to Jerusalem into the heart of Jewish opposition, the Apostle calls for a local pastor send off. As with any goodbye, this one was emotional indeed. Aware that he may never see them again, Paul calls these Ephesian elders to reflect on the model of his life and ministry and warns of false teachers on the horizon. He charges them to “be alert” and to “care for the flock of God.”
What we learn from this precious chapter are vital principles for faithfulness in ministry. These principles are nothing new and are no magic formula. They just lay out what any faithful pastor/elder should aim for in ministry.
HOW WE MUST SERVE THE LORD
- With all humility
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility…” -vv. 18b-19a
Humility requires a lot of work in ministry. We have a position with a title and people want to compliment us on our sermons, but if pride creeps in we’ll harm and not help others. Nobody likes a pastor with a swollen head. I once heard a pastor use a convicting illustration on pride in ministry. He said that when we’re glory thieves, we’re like an officiant at a wedding trying to get the bride to look at us when we should be getting her to look at the Bridegroom. May we remember where we came from and what we are without Him.
- With endurance
“…and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews”- v. 19b
Nobody told me ministry would be easy, but I never thought it would be this hard either. Yet none of us should be surprised when we know seasons of discouragement and drought. We must learn with Paul to endure the tears of seeing people leave the Lord and leap in bed with the devil. And when our ministry faces enemies, may we cling ever more to our ever faithful Friend.
- With godliness
“…I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.” -v. 33
Peter called us to be examples to the flock and this starts with our holiness. We must keep the fire burning in our private devotions and live with battle readiness. Only then will we be able to continually offer live coals from the fire week after relentless week. If we are not vigilant to kill our sins, we’ll slowly become talking heads with shriveled hearts for God.
- With hard work
“…You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…” -vv. 34-35a
The work of a pastor is demanding in many ways and you must balance many arenas of life. Then well-meaning sheep often have their own various sets of expectations also. A pastor must be hard at work in the study, on his knees, counseling, visiting the sick and shut-in, discipling, planning, equipping and training new leaders, etc. The office of the pastor is not fit for the lazy. May we learn from Paul to, “not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Romans 12:11).
HOW WE MUST PREACH THE WORD
“I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable…I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” -v. 20a and v. 27
This doesn’t mean that every time we preach we shouldn’t leave anything on the cutting room floor (that only exhausts our people). We are to be exhaustive in scope of God’s Word. We shouldn’t simply preach genres of the Word that we’re comfortable preaching. We must give the people the full diet of God’s Word: law, history, poetry/wisdom, prophecy, gospels, Acts, epistles, apocalyptic. We also shouldn’t get stuck for years and years in one series, neglecting the other portions of Scripture. I have learned to appreciate Mark Dever’s approach to preach sermon series that don’t extend beyond thirteen weeks and to preach with a high altitude (whole chapter sermons/book level sermons) and low altitude (passage, verse, phrase).
- Publicly and privately
“…teaching you in public and from house to house” -v. 20b
We must devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13), but never neglect to nail it down with private exhortations too. Sometimes a word of Scripture spoken eye to eye and heart to heart can have a more direct and lasting effect on a person’s life than a whole year of public preaching. Brothers, let us be going house to house with our people for this.
“Testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…to testify to the gospel of the grace of God…I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom” -v. 21, v. 24b, and v. 25b
We must never neglect the Gospel in our preaching. The lost need it to be saved and the saved need it to grow. We’ve all sat through sermons from other men who missed the Gospel and felt they missed the entire point of it all. We must remember to give them the person and work of Christ from every text.
“I did not cease night or day…” -v. 31b
Many pastors are ready to call it quits on Mondays. We must neglect this fearful and foolish desire to count our success by what we see. Let us learn from Paul and our deceased faithful brothers to not give up till Christ calls us home.
“…to admonish every one with tears” -v. 31c
When we find ourselves becoming preaching machines with no emotion or feeling, it is time to get away and be refreshed. Dull and stoic preaching that merely informs the brain must be banished from our ministry. Of course, we must be rigorous and theologically precise, but we need not be drab or cold about so great a Savior. This tenderness can often return as we pray faithfully for the sheep and get to know them better.
HOW WE MUST LEAD THE FLOCK
- Aiming for the goal
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus…” -v. 24a
We live in an age of towering preachers whose ministries have spanned the globe and impacted thousands and can be greatly tempted to be someone well known. May we learn with Paul to not account our lives as precious to us. May we learn from Jesus to lose our lives for his sake, for only then will we ever find it (Mt. 16:25).
- Paying careful attention
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock…to care for the church of God…from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert.” -v. 28 and vv. 30-31a
We must seek to know our own soul well and know the souls of those under our care also. Strengths, weaknesses, challenges, victories. We must not let the sheep wander far and we must look for the wolves of false teachers that prey on the flock and lure them from the good pasture.
- Praying for God’s people
“And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.” -v. 36
It was fitting that Paul prayed with the Ephesian elders after these words. He was a man constantly praying for the churches. All one needs to do is record all the times in the New Testament where he mentions praying constantly to realize the priority he placed on it. As the old Scottish saying goes, “No prayer, no blessing. Little prayer, little blessing. Much prayer, much blessing.” We must pray with and for the people to whom we preach and among whom we minister. Otherwise, our ministries will only be carried out in the power of the flesh and not the Spirit.
May we all implement these principles so that we can become more faithful pastors and elders.