Let's look at Acts 20:25-28 as a unit. Leadership is very important. Poor leadership destroys institutions, while good leadership builds them up. In God's Kingdom, leadership is emphasized. Even the angels are organized. There are principality angels. There are ruler angels, and there are archangels. God knows that there must be authority and submission in everything.
God always ministers His Kingdom through key leaders. God dislikes ineffective leadership. In Hosea 4:9, God is not only commenting on the sins of Israel but on the sins of Israel's leaders. He says this: "Like people, like priest." In other words, "I can't expect anything out of the people that I'm not getting out of the leaders. Whatever the leaders are, the people will be.”
God says that He will punish the leaders, because they have rendered the people sinful by a failure to lead them into holy patterns. Jeremiah 5:31 says, "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so.” In other words, the people love the inadequate leadership they are getting.
In Matthew 15:14, Jesus said, "They are blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." Jesus said people will follow their leaders. Therefore, God puts a premium on leadership. God sets the standard high for adequate leadership, and if God set it high, so did Paul, because Paul was a godly man.
Paul is closing out his third missionary journey in Acts 20. He is stopped at Miletus on its way to Jerusalem, and he is hurrying to Jerusalem to get there for Pentecost and also to take an offering for the poor saints there. And while he has an opportunity he asks if the elders of the Ephesian congregation will come to Miletus that he might give them some final words.
Now, leadership in Scripture is a two-sided issue. It is an issue of great responsibility with great joy, and it is an issue of great responsibility with great potential for judgment. Good leaders are doubly blessed. Bad leaders are doubly chastised, because Luke 12:48 says, “to whom much is given, from him much will be required." And that is a principle that runs in anything that God is involved in.
For example, James 3:1 says, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” On the other hand, 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor.” So you have the double honor for the good leader and the double judgment for the poor leader. Leadership has a tremendous responsibility.
So the task of the early apostles was to appoint such leaders in each church. When I say elders, that is the same as pastors, and they are always as a plurality, never a one-man pastor. But the elders there have been trained, discipled and matured by Paul. And they had been appointed by Paul and raised up spiritually by the Holy Spirit.
Paul said in Titus 1:5, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.” So Paul is talking to men that he himself has discipled, and he gives them a charge that really is much bigger than just the scene that you see in Acts 20.
What Paul tells these people is just basic to any kind of biblical leadership in the church. If the church is the church of the New Testament of Jesus Christ, it ought to follow the biblical patterns, right? And if the church does not follow biblical patterns in leadership, it will never follow them in the congregation. Real reform in the church, real New Testament revival must come first at the level of leadership.
Now we are going to see not just a word from a man, but a word from the Holy Spirit to the church of Jesus Christ throughout history. And so we say that they are appropriate to the church today as they were the very second that Paul uttered them from his lips. They give us for all time God's perspective on the role of the pastor and elder in the church, who are one and the same.
So the church, like every other dimension of God's Kingdom manifested on earth, depends upon its leadership. We find that in Ephesians 4, God desires that the church be built up. He wants the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body. He wants unity of the faith. He wants a deep knowledge of the Son of God.
He wants the church to be matured to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. In Ephesians 4:14, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men.” He does not want the church to be loveless but like verse 15, “speaking the truth in love.” He wants the church to grow up and increase in love.
First of all, let me tell you what the church leadership is not. Number one, New Testament biblical leadership is not a political power play. You are a leader in the church rightfully when God has appointed you as such. Second, biblical leadership is not a dominant dictatorship.
In Matthew 20:25-26, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” And New Testament biblical leadership is not charismatic control either.
Matthew 20:27-28, “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave, 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The greatest leader that ever lived was a servant, and He taught us the greatest principle of leadership example. What Jesus was is what we should become.
The key to real leadership is an exemplary life. Jesus says, a true pastor is really a pastor only as long as you follow what I say and what I do. When you don't follow Jesus anymore, you are no leader. You may have the title, but you are nothing. And you are only a pastor if you are going to follow My words and when people can look at your life and see some consistency between how you live and what you say, right?
Paul was able to disciple leaders, not only by what he told them but by how he lived. Let us look at Acts 20 and read what real biblical leadership is. Now Paul closes out his instructions to the Ephesian elders, and he charged them to order their ministry after the priorities that God has set down. They were priorities that he didn't talk about only but that he did in his own life.
Remember in verses 17 to 24 Paul pointed out the four dimensions of the ministry. First he said, the ministry toward God is service to the Lord; and to the church it is teaching; toward the lost it is evangelism, and toward myself it is sacrifice. We covered that in detail. Paul, now having finished that, wants to concentrate on the church. He wants to give them the priorities for teaching the church, so that they are effective.
Look at his summary in verse 25 to 27, “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.” I have given you all the facts regarding the Kingdom of God, and that phrase is a general statement speaking of all of God's operation and God's rule. Verse 26, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.” Why? Verse 27, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.”
Now Paul says in verse 26 that he is pure from the blood of all men. Is it true that a teacher or a pastor is going to be guilty of the blood of certain people? Apparently, it is. In Ezekiel 33:8 God says, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” Ezekiel will be chastised for unfaithful ministry.
And Paul is saying here, "My hands are clean, I have been faithful to declare the whole counsel of God.” Every messenger of God has to recognize that if God has committed to him a ministry, and he doesn't fulfill it, he's going to be chastised for the failure to fulfill it. That's what James 3:1 means when he said, “Don't hurry into the teaching ministry, because there is the greater condemnation if you fail to be faithful.”
Now Paul zeroes in on teaching the church, and starting in verse 28, he says, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” You pastors primarily are responsible for the church in Ephesus. Now here are your priorities.
There is no difference in the church between a pastor and an elder or a bishop. They are all the same thing. Now Paul then is speaking to these leaders to be responsible for the direction of the church, and he gives them five keys to leadership. These are the priorities, so basic but so important.
Principle number one: Make sure you are right with God. “Take heed to yourselves." The priority begins with you. You are not ready to minister, you are not ready to endure what is involved in ministry, and you are not ready to face the responsibility of ministry unless you are right with God. This is the foundation in the ministry.
To give you some idea of how the New Testament points this out, Mark 13:9 says, “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them.” In other words, if you're not right with God, you will never be able to handle what is going to happen.
Paul expressed this in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.” That is a priority right in the middle of ministry, that is character. Then he says, "And to doctrine." That is creed. Then he says, "Continue in these things." That's conduct. Take heed to your character, your creed and your conduct. You are the key to your ministry.
Paul knew that the day that holiness ceased to be a part of his life, effectiveness also ceased. 1 Corinthians 9:27 says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” I'm only useful to God as long as I live a holy life, as I am yielded to the Holy Spirit, as there is purity in my life. God uses holy instruments.
Some pastors really tragically fall. What happened was that their relationship to God became not holy. They became unholy men, and once that happened, they were disqualified. They became a useless, dishonored vessels, and even though they maintained their redemption, because justification is a forever thing, they lost their service for Christ. Holiness is the basic commodity in all spiritual leadership.
Look at the qualifications for New Testament leaders in 1 Timothy 3:2-3, ” A pastor then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not covetous.”
1 Timothy 3:4-5, “One who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” All right, so New Testament leadership depends on the man, be a holy man. And then there is a second priority of the man in the church position of leadership is that he is to feed and lead the flock.
Verse 28 says, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock.” No favoritism, the church is seen as a flock. There is something about sheep that is characteristic of Christians: helpless and ignorant followers. That is an historic term that God has used for His people. Even Jesus in Luke 12:32 says, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Now we have a rather simple task in definition, although it's not simple in function. So we are shepherds over the flock apportioned to us. By whom? By the Holy Spirit. It is a thrill knowing that, all pastors are assigned as an under shepherd of Jesus Christ to take care of the flock. There are two responsibilities that are given, and that is to lead and to feed.
A pastor would really be there to care for, to discipline, to bandage their wounds, to exercise authority over them and to guide them in the right way. But the essence of shepherding is to feed. Because what the shepherd does most is to get the sheep to the place where they can feed. But it involves the whole concept of leading as well.
What do we mean by leading? Well, we mean ruling. "The elders that rule well are worthy of double honor." This means selecting the direction of the church. What should the flock do? Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves for they watch for your souls as they that must give account." Every pastor has to give an account to God Himself for how they cared for the flock.
This is His church. Jesus said to Peter three times, "Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs." They're not Peter's, they're not mine. They are His! The Holy Spirit added at the end of verse 28, "Which He has purchased with His own blood." The flock of God is so precious that He paid the supreme price. So I want to make sure I take care of it well, Amen? Let us pray.