Leaders, I encourage you to pay special attention to this post. As you’ll see it is specifically about leaders in the church, but I think the principles apply broadly to leadership in any venue.
So does that mean you can skip this post if you’re not a leader? Actually, this post is not just for those of you on church leadership teams; it also applies to Sunday School teachers, committee chairpersons, small group leaders, and ministry leaders. Even if you are not serving in any of those roles, I think you’ll find this post also applies to those of you who aspire to be leaders one day. To aspire to leadership is a good thing. This is for all of you! In Acts 20, starting at verse 28, Paul gives some specific instructions to the elders of the Ephesian church who had visited Paul at his request.
First, keep watch over yourselves. This is crucial. Set the example. How you live is vital. So watch over your own life first. Practice living the way of Jesus. We’re not talking 100% perfection here. Only Jesus was perfect. But Paul is saying that leaders should have a humble ability to self-reflect, to evaluate themselves, and not have an inflated or false sense of their own importance. Watch over your own life.
Then and only then, after you are living the way of Jesus, second, keep watch over the church for which the Spirit made you leaders. It is important to remember the Spirit’s role in this. We are serve at the pleasure of the Spirit. That means we leaders are followers first. Once we see ourselves as following the Spirit, we then seek to keep watch over the church. How do we do that? Paul brings up a common metaphor for his day and age: shepherds and sheep.
Be shepherds of the church, because Jesus bought the church with his own blood. Clearly he is referring to the crucifixion of Jesus, and all it entails. To our contemporary mindset, the thought of blood sacrifice can, and I think should, come across as very strange, even brutal. Suffice it to say that something powerful happened when Jesus died on the cross, and Paul is saying that of all that Jesus’ death accomplished, one important aspect was the purchase of the church.
We need to see ourselves in that light. He is our Lord. So people of the church, know this: we are owned by Jesus. Leaders of the church, it is neither your church, nor my church. It is Jesus’ church, and that is important to keep in the forefront of our minds as we lead. We should lead the church to become what he wants it to be. That means we should find out what he wants the church to be. Again, leaders are followers first. We follow the leading of the Spirit, and then we lead the church as he wishes. This is another reason why it is so vital to know the Scriptures, because a significant portion of how God wants us to lead is already written down in the Bible.
Paul goes on then, in verses 29-30 to warn the leaders about bad actors from without, and even possibly some from within, who will distort the truth, trying to draw the disciples away from what Paul taught them.
So be on guard, Paul says, remembering his three years with them, when he “never stopped warning each of them night and day with tears.” Pretty intense statement, isn’t it? I wonder if Paul is exaggerating at all. What might that have looked like? He couldn’t have been crying every day he taught them, could he?
My guess is that Paul is trying to convey the passion with which he presented the way of Jesus to them. He was sincere, he was committed. He really, really, really wanted them to learn the true way of Jesus, so they would not be enticed away by false teachers, by temptations, and the like. Paul is once again an example to us of what it should look like to approach the mission of Jesus. For Paul it was not an afterthought, it was the guiding vision of his life.
It does make me wonder, did the guy ever have fun? Did he ever relax? Maybe he was into sports, considering how often he talks about running. I don’t know. He does give the impression that he is an uber-serious dude, and always seems to have been that way. Whatever he was doing, he was all in. Once Jesus appeared to him, once Paul was convinced of the truth, he was all in for Jesus. Being all in for Jesus is the baseline expectation Jesus has for his followers.
If our lives are less than all in, what does that say about us?