Acts 20: Christian Leadership


As his third missionary journey was winding down, Paul knew that two things: he needed to get to Jerusalem, and it wasn’t going to go well for him there at all. Convinced that he would be imprisoned and perhaps even killed after arriving there, the apostle took measures on his way to touch base with as many of the churches he had seen started as possible.

The first such visit was at Troas, where the missionary team stayed seven days to encourage the believers. The last night there, wanting to make sure that he had told them everything they needed to know, Paul spoke through the night with last minute instructions and encouragement. The night was made interesting when a young man named Eutychus fell asleep during the message and tumbled from a third-story window to his death below. Fortunately, God revived him, and the message continued. Those who sleep through messages, be warned!

A number of other visits are alluded to, but then in verse 17, having avoided Ephesus so as not to be delayed by the many friends Paul had there, the team came to Miletus, and the apostle sent for just the leaders of the Ephesian church to meet him there. When they arrived, he sat them down and gave them, too, some last minute instructions. It is interesting to note that this message was delivered to the elders – that is, the lay leaders of the congregation – not the superstar pastor of the church, and I believe that it is that fact which makes the things he had to say to them essential for anyone who would be a church leader, even today.

Essentially, Paul told the Ephesian elders three things. The first was that they had seen his lifestyle and, by extension, should do likewise. Paul mentions a number of specific points about his life among the Ephesian church. He served the Lord first and foremost. The people sitting in the pews, as important as they were, came a distant second. Also, he served the Lord with humility and tears. In other words, he didn’t put his spiritual authority on parade, and he didn’t remain aloof and remote. Rather, he was never afraid to get his hands dirty and get personally, emotionally involved in the lives of the believers there. He never hesitated to preach whatever would be helpful, even if it wasn’t exactly popular, and he called everyone to repentance and faith. And he was obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, regardless of all else. Truly, all of these things, church leaders must duplicate today!

The second thing Paul told the Ephesian elders was summed up in verse 28: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” In other words, they were to take care of and provide leadership for the church under their care. But there are a number of details that Paul is sure to flesh out, including the style of leadership that they are to use. Rather than being cowboys who drive a congregation by fear and chastisement, they are to “be shepherds” of God’s church. In other words, it’s God’s church; not theirs. And they are to lead by calling people to follow, setting the pace and gently encouraging others to join us. Why? Because there will be people who come, even from within the ranks of the church (and even the leadership), to steal disciples away.

And the third thing that Paul did was commission them to serve those who are spiritually and otherwise weaker than they, just as he did them. This meant that they were not to get jealous of people who had more money than they because the spiritual treasure which they had was far greater than any financial treasure. And it meant that they should take great pains to not be a burden on anyone else. Then, boiling it down, he exhorted, “By this kind of hard work we must help the weak.” Make no mistake. Ministry and leadership is not about what we can milk from others. It’s hard work and service to others.

Today, as you go about your day, ask yourself if you’re realizing all of these things in your life because even if you don’t have the official title of a leader, leadership is really only influencing others. Are you being the leader God (and Paul) have called you to be?


  • (1) I think there is significance to the opening of the chapter, “When the uproar had ended.” Again, we see that Paul and co. did not flee in the midst of the resistance at Ephesus, but they waited until everything was settled down. The danger was gone, and they were able to wrap things up in an orderly fashion.
  • (7) With such little time, it is understandable that Paul wanted to instill as much as he possibly could to the people of Troas.
  • (9) I think it interesting that Luke does not in any way criticize Eutychus for falling asleep. In fact, he rather explains it away as the result of Paul’s long-windedness.
  • (12) What a miracle! And I bet Eutychus never fell asleep during a sermon again!
  • (17-38) Suspecting that this would be his last chance to impart anything to the Ephesians, Paul called for the elders of that church only to come to Miletus to meet with him. He wanted to challenge the leadership of the church specifically. His message to them can be broken down into three main points.
    • You have seen my lifestyle (18-27).
    • Take care of yourselves and the church you lead (28-31).
    • Continue the work that I started, in the manner I started it (32-35).
  • (18-27) Paul presents his own life as an example for the Ephesian leaders, declaring that he has done what he was supposed to do and implying that they should follow his example and do likewise. Specifically, he says that his primary objective was to serve the Lord, and he did so with humility and passion (tears) despite a number of plots against him. He proclaimed the word of God regardless of its popularity, teaching them everything they would need to know. He was forthright with everyone about the need to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. And, ultimately, he was obedient, even though he knew that his obedience would lead to more hardship and even death.
  • (28-31) Paul presents a mandate to the Ephesian leaders, that they should guard themselves and the entire flock under them as shepherds who lead by calling people to follow rather than cowboys who drive by fear and pain. He warns them that there would be many challenges in the form of people who would lead the flock astray and destroy their faith, and many of these would come from within the flock (and even the leadership) itself.
  • (32-35) In challenging the leaders of Ephesus to go and do likewise, Paul reminds them of the power of God and His word, and then reiterates what that should mean in their lives by explaining what it meant in his. Namely, he never coveted. He worked to take care of himself and his own needs so no one else would have to. And he did it all so he could share the message of Jesus Christ to help those who were weaker in any way than him.
  • (36-37) Before they parted ways, they prayed together, wept, embraced, and kissed. These were not just acquaintances. They were not just co-workers. They were dear friends. Such is supposed to be the fellowship which we have in the church!

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