I read Paul’s farewell exhortation to the leaders of the church in Ephesus in Acts 20 this morning. As it happens, we have a leaders’ meeting this evening at which I’m handing over some leadership to others so it felt timely. Here are six things I want to highlight with my leaders …
1. Both feed and guard the flock (28-31)
What do leaders do? ‘Guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock.’ (28) Leaders do the positive work of feeding, teaching and instructing the flock. But they also do a negative work of guarding and watching over the flock – warning, rebuking, correcting. And it’s this element that Paul seems to emphasis. Perhaps because we have a tendency to shrink back from confrontation …
2. Never shrink back (20, 26-27)
‘I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear.’ (20) Don’t make it your aim to be loved. You often hear stories of leaders who are deeply loved by their flock. That’s a wonderful thing when it happens, but it’s a dangerous aim because you may shrink from telling people what they need to hear. More often than not, those leaders who are now so loved have come through periods of conflict when their message was opposed. Your aim is to ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’
3. Trust grace (21, 24, 32)
‘I entrust you to God and this message of his grace’ (32). Of course we preach grace. But in reality we often find it hard to entrust people to grace. We want to hedge them around, to protect them, to steer them. From good motives, we can add layers of obligation that become legalism. Paul’s message is ‘the wonderful grace of God’ (24) and so his only ‘obligations’ are ‘the necessity of repenting of sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus’. (21) [For an attempt to show how we are sanctified by faith and repentance alone and therefore a pointer to a faith-based approach to pastoral care see my book, You Can Change.]
4. Guard yourselves (28)
‘Guard yourselves and God’s people’ (28). The first three points are about our ministry. The second three are about our own lives. We are to guard God’s flock. But first we are to guard ourselves. Never let the busyness of ministering to other keep from ministering to your own heart. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously said: ‘The greatest need of my congregation is my own personal holiness.’
5. Sacrifice (24, 33-35)
‘My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling other the Good News about the wonderful grace of God’ (24). The only life worth living is a life spent serving Jesus because Jesus is the only thing worth living for (Matthew 13:44). Verses 33-35 and striking. Paul works to suply his own needs. And then he works some more so he can help those in need.
6. Shed tears (19, 31)
‘I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears’ (19). ‘Remember the three years I was with you – my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you’ (31). I am convinced that tears are a good sign of authentic ministry. Do we love your flock so much that we weep for them? Let’s ask God to open our hearts and give us a love for people.