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Acts #76 (chapter 20:25-28)
The Book of Acts
A Charge to New Testament Church Leaders #1
Acts 20:25-28
 
Let's look at Acts 20 for our Bible study this evening.
 
verses 25-28
 
It's fairly obvious what's on Paul's mind when you read these verses. He has gathered the church leaders from Ephesus together for one last training conference and he wants to talk to them about how to be effective church leaders.
 
Paul is closing out his missionary journey. He is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a love offering that has been collected by the Gentile churches. He stops at Miletus, about 30 miles from Ephesus, and asks if these elders or the pastors of the Ephesian congregation will come to Miletus so he can spend a little time with them.
 
And what really jumps off the page to me is that Paul spent three years in Ephesus. He must have covered all this information while he was there. But it is so important that the church have effective leaders that he takes this last opportunity to share his heart with them.
 
And what we have from verse 17 through 38 of this chapter is the information that Paul shared about effective church leadership.
 
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And I think it is important to keep in mind as we study this section, this is not must a word from a man to some people in history, but a word from the Holy Spirit to the church of Jesus Christ throughout history. They are more than just historical facts. They are appropriate for the church today because they give us God's perspective on the role of the pastor and the elder in the church.
 
Now keep in mind, Paul shared his perspective on the ministry first. He talked about his relationship to God, the church, the lost and himself. That's the personal side of the ministry. That's the big picture.
 
Then, beginning in verse 28, he zeroes in on the teaching ministry and shares some specifics in regard to that, and we'll get to that in a moment.
 
But before he gets into that, there's the little section of the four verses I read to you a moment ago that I want to concentrate on tonight.
 
In verse 25, Paul makes this somber statement. He is leaving and they will probably never see each other again on earth. He has shared his life and heart with them, poured into them the truth of God, but the time has come for him to leave.
 
verse 26
 
  1. has a clear conscience. has done what God sent him to do. has served God, taught the church and evangelized the lost at the expense of himself and nobody can accuse him of being unfaithful. Why?
 
verse 27
Now from this reflection on the general ministry, he zeroes in on the one responsibility of teaching. Why does he zero in on that one? Remember, he is talking to church leaders and they will have the responsibility of teaching the church.
 
And I'm just of the conviction if we properly teach the word of God and students properly apply the word of God, all of the other relationships we discussed will fall into place.
 
We are to be servants of God and evangelists to the lost and we are to present ourselves as living, holy sacrifices, but eh only way we know that is because the Word of God tells us those things. So effective teaching is really the catalyst for all the other Christian behaviors and responsibilities.
 
So in the time he has left with them, Paul talks to them about their responsibility to teach the church and he shares five priorities for effective leaders. I think we'll have time to cover two of them tonight and we'll get the others next time.
 
#1: Make sure you are right with God.
 
verse 28
 
The priority begins with you. Take heed unto yourselves. You're not ready to minister. You're not ready to endure what is involved in ministry. You're not ready to face the responsibility of ministry unless you're right with God. This is a basic ingredient in the ministry.
 
 
Paul said of himself in 1 Corinthians 9,"I run that I may obtain the crown." You know, they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. "I run that I may obtain." He says, "I fight not as one who shadow boxes, not as one who beats the air."
 
And he says, "All the time I do this, I beat my body to bring it into subjection lest myself, in my own preaching, I should become a castaway."
 
In other words, the one thing Paul knew was that the day that holiness ceased to be a part of his life, effectiveness also ceased. That's 1 Corinthians 9:27. 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.
 
And unfortunately, we've all witnessed the heartbreak of a moral failure in the life of a preacher. Some guys are so active and appear to be so successful and effective, and then suddenly, it all collapses. How does that happen? Someone didn't "take heed" to himself.
 
While everything else was being taken care of, the personal relationship with God was ignored. And when we are not close to God, there is an opportunity for unrighteousness to enter the picture and when the holiness is gone, we become disqualified.
 
Holiness is the basic commodity in all leadership. It isn't your tremendous charisma. It isn't your powerful, forceful, dramatic, dynamic leadership. It isn't the fact that you've pulled off the right political moves to get where you are.
That doesn't qualify you to be a leader. What does is your own holiness in the call of God. Effective leadership begins there. New Testament leadership always begins with our personal relationship with God.
 
The second priority of effective leadership is to
 
#2 feed and lead the flock
 
verse 28b
 
After your own spiritual care, then comes the care of the flock. Unfortunately, some people put the care of the flock in front of their own lives, and that approach is destined for either, failure or burnout or frustration.
 
I've come to understand that my greatest obligation as your pastor is make sure my life is right before God, then carry out the other responsibilities I have, beginning with my wife and family, and then the flock God has entrusted to my care.
 
And notice, the responsibility is to the flock. I like the fact that Paul identifies the church as a flock. There's something about sheep that's characteristic of Christians. We're just this little group of helpless, ignorant, stupid followers. It's not to endearing or edifying. But that's been an historic term that God has used for His people.
 
Throughout the Old Testament, God referred to His people as God's flock, his sheep and so forth.
 
 
 
And then Jesus came along and called His disciples His "little flock." John referred to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Hebrews refers to Him as the Great Shepherd.
 
So we are a flock under the great, good Shepherd. And notice, these leaders, the church's under shepherds are to take heed to "all the flock. That means no favoritism. Everyone is important to God and deserves to be cared for
 
But it's even more specific than that. We know we the church is the flock of God, but the care for the flock is apportioned out to local shepherds in local areas. We've got a little flock that is part of that larger flock right here.
 
God takes the whole flock, divides it up into smaller flocks and then He selects under shepherds and places them in the care of those apportioned flocks. Now that's really what I am and what Jimmy is. We are just under shepherds caring for God's flock.
 
And notice, verse 28 says it is the Holy Spirit Who makes those appointments.
 
And I will tell as one of those Holy Spirit appointed under shepherds, it is both and exciting as well as frightening thing to think about the responsibility that carries with it.
 
That means that somewhere back in eternity past, when God was laying out the whole sovereign plan for the church, He said, "Now, about 1985, that Tolbert kid from Dillard will be ready, and We're going to stick him in with that Rubottom flock, and later he'll move to Duncan and then on to Ardmore."
It is a fantastic thing to realize that before the world began every pastor and minister was planned into the whole scheme of things! You can't believe the thrill of knowing that you have been assigned as an under shepherd of Jesus Christ to take care of the flock by the Holy Spirit Himself!
 
Now you'll notice there are two responsibilities that are given to the under shepherd with the flock by the Holy Spirit. He is to lead and he is to feed.
 
We are described as overseers and shepherds. Let's talk about those.
 
First, overseers are leaders and leading is important. Now some think of overseers as rulers. Elsewhere we are told about elders that rule. Ruling or overseeing has to do primarily with leading which means selecting the direction of the church. The sheep didn't decide which field they'd go to next. The sheep didn't decide where they'd build the fold. The sheep just followed the Shepherd.
 
God has committed the leadership of the church into the hands of the elders and the pastors. The shepherd rules and leads, and the flock is in subjection. We're not leading by dictating and dominating and lording it over you, but as examples.
 
And Hebrews 13:17, reminds us to "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves." And remember, all of that is happening under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He places the overseers where they need to be. He instructs us through God's Word as to how all of that operates and there is a beautiful blessing that comes when that is done as God designed.
Paul also told those elders to "shepherd the flock of God" and the word translated "shepherd" is a word that means to do all that shepherding or being pastor involved. It's more than just the simple act of feeding. To pastor would be to care for, to discipline, to bind up their wounds, to exercise authority over them, to guide them in the right pass.
 
But consistent with what Paul has already said and modeled, the heart of shepherding is to feed, because what the shepherd does most is to get the sheep to the place where they can feed. And so the heart of this is feeding.
 
Now just to give you an illustration of the importance of feeding in relation to everything the pastor does, remember the conversation Jesus had with Peter in John 21 about feeding the sheep.
 
Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him, and three times Peter confirms that he likes Him a lot. And in response, three times Jesus says, either "feed My lambs or feed my sheep".
 
Now in the Greek, Jesus uses two different words that are translated "feed" in the English. ONe of those words, He uses twice and one He uses only once.
 
The first time and the last time, he uses a word that just means to feed sheep. The middle time he uses the word we have here in Acts 20 which means to pastor or shepherd, do all that is needed.
 
So what's the point?
 
 
Well, if two out of the three times, Jesus just says, "Feed my sheep", then that lets me know what the priority is. Jesus expected Peter to primarily feed His sheep. He included other responsibilities also, but the primary responsibility is feeding.
 
And by the way, if it isn't an awesome enough responsibility to be taking care of a group of sheep, notices Paul also says, "Keep in mind this flock belongs to God!
 
We as both sheep and shepherds need to come in mind this isn't your flock or my flock, this is God's flock. It is God's church. I must never forget, I'm caring for His property. Jesus said to Peter three times, "Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs." They're not Peter's. They're His!
 
And as if that was not motivation enough, Paul then adds at the end of verse 28, this church of God was
"purchased with His own blood."
 
That tells me that the flock of God is so precious that He paid the supreme price, and if it's that precious to Him, it ought to be that precious to me! If God would go to the extent of doing that, I want to make sure I take care of it.
 
God Himself in the form of the Son shed His blood for the purpose of the church. Could I dare treat this church, which He bought with His own blood, in any less of a sense than would be appropriate for the price He paid? Could I treat the church as nothing? Could I use the church? Could I manipulate the church? Could I take advantage of the church?
 
Could I starve the church? Could I fail to teach the whole counsel of the church when this is what He wants, and this is what price He paid to gain the church and gave it to my care, and I should be unfaithful? It's a precious flock. You're a precious commodity. You cost a precious price. I better treat you as precious as you are.
 
After all, Christ loved the church, gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it, purify it, present it as a glorious church without spot, without wrinkle, without blemish.
 
And I, as the under shepherd ought to have the same attitude that the Great Shepherd has. If the Lord wants some day to present the church to Himself without spot and without blemish, that's what I want, too. And in order to make that happen, I'm going to have to feed the flock the truths of God and lead the flock in the paths of righteousness.
 
Well, those are the first two basics, the priority of being right with God myself and feeding and leading the flock so that one day, the flock will be presented to the Savior as pure as He desires it to be.
 
There are three more to come and we'll see those soon.
 
Let's pray.
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