Profiles in Character: A Look at Shepherding and Spiritual Leadership III

[This is a brief small group/Bible class series that parallels the sermons of Dean Barham at Woodmont Hills Family of God in Nashville, TN, for the month of July 2009. You may listen to Dean’s lessons here.]

A Shepherd Model

Acts 20:17-38

Paul had spent several years in Ephesus ministering among God’s people in that city. As he travels toward Jerusalem he calls the elders of the church at Ephesus to Miletus to remind them, encourage them and charge them.

He encouraged them by his presence. He wanted to say “goodbye” as he believed that he would not see them again. His presence was a final encouraging stroke which brought forward all their memories. Those memories would serve to guide them in how they served the church at Ephesus.

He reminded them how he conducted himself while among them. The leaders of the church in Ephesus had leadership modeled for them by Paul’s own ministry in the city. His litany of tasks, the variety of his presence and his attitude and motives are rehearsed for the sake of shaping how these elders would themselves lead the church. Paul served with…

  • humility though chosen by God
  • courage through many trials
  • publicly and privately (“house to house”)
  • powerful witness to the grace of God
  • proclamation of the kingdom of God
  • protecting believers from deceivers
  • caring for the poor
  • working with his own hands

Paul’s ministry among them was bold and confident, but tender and embracing. He taught the whole counsel of God while at the same time developing a relationship with these leaders soaked in loving tears.

He charged the elders at the church to pay careful attention to the flock, the church of God. In particular, they are to oversee (to have care over) the church as bishops and to pastor the flock as shepherds. They have a task to perform and the language of Paul’s charge carries the seed ideas of their function.

  1. Elders—mature leadership that have wisdom for discernment and to mentor others (as “elders” in Israel did).
  2. Pastors—to lead the flock as God’s shepherd among his people for protection, provision and maturation.
  3. Bishops—to be the presence (visitation) of God among the people as leaders who bear responsibility for the spiritual condition of the church.

Paul left Ephesus in the hands of these leaders. He rehearsed his own ministry among them as a model for them to follow.

But Paul does not believe he leaves these elders totally alone. Rather, they were appointed by the Holy Spirit whose presence still lives within the community and in their lives. The Holy Spirit led the church to select these leaders. God, like in Israel, raises up leaders among his people.

Though this does not mean that particular elders have the Spirit’s permanent sanction (even Jesus chose Judas!), the presence of the Spirit in the process gives the people of God confidence in their collection decision, under the Word of God and out of love, to trust its decision and trust that God will use it to his glory. Thus, when a church selects its leaders in harmony with the Word of God and out of sincere desire to glorify the Father, we may say that the Holy Spirit led the community to select these leaders.

At Woodmont, we trust that God is present among us to select the leaders he wants through a prayer-drenched and Word-soaked process. The Holy Spirit makes leaders; we don’t make them.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does Paul want these Ephesian elders to learn from his example in Ephesus?
  2. Given the totality of this farewell speech, how would you describe the function of elders within a church?
  3. Why do you think Paul ends his discussion on money, working and giving? What is it about the function of elder that makes this a particular concern or issue? How does Paul address this problem?
  4.  How does our recognition that the Holy Spirit appoints elders highlight the seriousness of their responsibility and our attitudes toward them?
  5. What in this text do you think Woodmont Hills need to hear this week?

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