Acts 20:17-38 is one of my favourite leadership passages in the New Testament. The apostle Paul with his team of foundation-layer church planters stops at Miletus (the coast) and sends word to Ephesus for the elders of that church to meet him. The Ephesian church receives a lot of ink in the pages of the New Testament. Here in Acts 20, in 1 & 2 Timothy where this younger leader has been left to work beside the elders, Ephesians – directed to the church body and lastly Revelation 2 where the head of the church communicates through the apostle John strong words of admonition.
The TERMS – In this narrative we have Paul (a foundation layer – according to Ephesians 2:20) dialoguing with elders. All of these gifted leaders (Ephesians 4:11-16) are Christ’s gift to the church. The apostles (& prophets) lay the Scriptural foundation by penning letters, God-breathed letters, which establish the church’s doctrine and practice. The evangelists and pastor-teachers equip the saints to share the faith and to be built up in edifying ministry.
A helpful clarification pointed out to me a number of years ago by another of Christ’s gifts to the body, notes that the office is that of an ELDER. The ELDER’s task is to SHEPHERD/PASTOR and OVERSEE the flock. It is decidingly confusing when we use “pastor” as a title, likewise “bishop” as if it were a rank or position to be held.
The TASK of these elders revolves around their “being” and “doing.” Leaders are to “be” humble, diligent, sacrificial and marked (as Christ was) by giving NOT receiving. Paul cites his own example before these leaders as a guideline. Leaders in their “doing” are a) to teach (both publicly and privately), (to Jews & non-Jews), b) to proclaim the gospel calling those who hear to repent and believe. Some times teaching, other times preaching, they never run out of material as they declare the whole counsel of God. The priority of self-oversight must not be neglected as they oversee the flock of God. These TASKS are not for novices!
The TEARS & TRIALS of all leaders (whether apostles or elders or other Christ-gifted men) is evident through this text. The beach at Miletus is tear-stained and the text gives evidence of huge emotion. I’m not sure in our leadership training we include this truth. Perhaps an appropriate graduation gift would be a tractor trailer load of kleenex, since many tears await.
In studying this text again this week I was blessed and challenged. Had I the gift of being an artist, I would delightfully paint the scene in Acts 20, there on the tear-stained beach as Paul bids these elders good-bye. They shall meet again but not until God wipes all tears from their eyes and they stand face-to-face in the presence of the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13) of the sheep, the Good Shepherd (John 10), the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5) whom they have served in vital ministry.