Memorable, indeed, was the apostle Paul’s meeting with the elders from the church in Ephesus. At Paul’s bidding, those men came to meet him in Miletus, where he gave them a moving message that included reminders, instructions, and warnings (Acts 20:17-38).
A portion of what Paul told them on that occasion was connected with their responsibility as leaders of the church: “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” (Acts 20:28).
From Paul’s parting plea to the pastors from Ephesus, we learn a bunch about the kind of leadership needed in the church in every generation. From Paul’s words, we see that godly leaders are men who:
1. Lead by example – Paul charged them, “take heed to yourselves.” People tend to follow what they see in their leaders. Sheep follow their shepherds. It is important that God’s sheep see a pattern of good works in godly leaders (Titus 2:7). An overseer is expected to live his life in such a way that he is “blameless” (Titus 1:7).
2. Accept responsibility – Remember, Paul was talking to “the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17), but when he was speaking to them, he calls them “overseers” (20:28). An “overseer” (“ἐπίσκοπος/ episkopos”) is defined as “a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian or superintendent”[Thayer, word no. 1985]. An elder is described as “a steward of God” (Titus 1:7), and as such, he is accountable to God for how he conducts his personal life, but also for how he shoulders his share of the load in leading and overseeing a local congregation.Church leadership is not for the faint at heart!
3. Observe what is going on and what needs to go on – Not only do these men monitor carefully their own conduct, but they must “take heed . . . to all the flock” as well. They have to keep open eyes and open ears, being in tune with what is going on. That takes effort on their part to be connected to the lives of the members. Remember, they are supposed to take heed to “all” the flock – every single Christian under their watch is important to them and is deserving of the leaders’ greatest efforts.
4. Take action – What action does Paul charge these men to take? They are to “watch” (20:31), and they are to “shepherd/feed/tend the flock” (20:28). They are not passive, but rather assertive in doing their job. Those who try to lead without taking action will find themselves without a following (which means that they are not really leading at all).
5. Care about others – Those people whom they shepherd are “the church of God” – that is the overseers’ spiritual family (1 Timothy 3:15), and family cares about family. That is why leaders in the church are prepared to do what Paul did with the saints: “. . . we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:11).
6. Understand how serious their duty is – They do not simply take care of and shepherd “something.” That which they oversee and shepherd is God’s church, “which He purchased with His own blood.” No people in the whole world have a more important job than the leaders of God’s blood-bought church. It is not a task for little boys, immature adults, or new converts.
7. Care about the future of the church – Paul warned them, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock,” (20:29) and some from among the leadership would be in the forefront of such spiritual troubles. Godly leaders want the church to be strong, even after they are no longer around to lead it. They take steps to groom and prepare others to lead in the future (2 Timothy 2:2). Jesus did that, too (Mark 3:13-15).
8. Understand the importance of being forewarned of danger – Again, Paul clearly told them about coming disasters (20:29-31). While it is not healthy or fruitful to sit around and think only negative thoughts about what might happen in the coming days or years, leaders who “watch” and keep themselves abreast of what is going on in the world and in the church are in a better position to help the church stay faithful and avoid pitfalls. As the old saying goes, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
9. Serve others – True, the word “serve” is not found in Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders, but the concept is there. Church leaders take heed to the flock, they watch, and they shepherd the flock. To do that effectively, they must have the heart of a servant, wanting what is best for God’s people. Jesus came to serve (Mark 10:45), and that is what He wants to see in the leaders of His church.
The church is blessed greatly when it has the kind of leaders described in Acts 20:28. In many ways, a local congregation’s strength depends on the strength of its leaders. The church needs more than just leaders. It needs godly leaders, men whose first commitment in life is to the Lord and His Cause.
— Roger D. Campbell