18 Aug Thread #123: What To Pay Attention To
I think you’re going to enjoy today’s topic. I love technology and I get really excited about the advances that are being made in driverless car technology. Google already has cars driving hundreds of thousands of miles in the United States with no driver. Maybe this didn’t matter before but with the invasion of cell phone and social media use, it just seems like more and more drivers are cruising thousands of pounds of automobile at other people at high speed while staring down into their phone texting or playing games. To be a safe pilot you have to pay attention. Your eyes have to be on the most important thing. Everyone is depending upon our diligence just to out all the distractions and keep the main thing in focus.This lesson is about something like that related to spiritual leaders and the kinds of things they need to be paying close attention to.
This lesson is about something like that. The apostle Paul is leaving the region of Asia minor and he calls for meeting everyone in spiritual leadership. His talks center on outlining the things that the leaders need to pay attention to now that he’s leaving.
Let’s jump right in. Today’s passage is taken from a beautifully emotional farewell speech in Acts chapter 20. We covered the first 21 verses in our last Thread, episode 122. To set the stage: Paul has had to leave the most successful Ministry he ever launched. He is now about to board the ship 30 miles away from the city of Ephesus and he calls for the spiritual elders of the churches there to come and see him one last time. These brothers are very close. They share a deep bond forged by enduring many trials together. They are also united by their genuine love and concern for God’s people. These are true shepherds.
Paul reminds them of the message he has been preaching in verse 21 which is repentance toward God and faith in the work of Jesus Christ. This is the two-fisted gospel and it is powerful in spiritual war. We talked about that last time.
V.22 Paul gets vulnerable and transparent with them. He tells them that there is a sense of impending danger hanging over him and that he continues to receive, v23, personal prophecies as he moves from house to house to teach and worship with the Christians in Asia. These prophecies continue to reinforce that he will be arrested and will go through much tribulation.
V.24 Paul feels that he cannot avoid his destiny without being disobedient to God. (Sometimes you just have to face a storm and go through it, especially if you feel certain that God has called you to it). Paul feels compelled to go to Jerusalem and then on to Rome where he believes he will finish his race with joy as he gets the opportunity to preach the gospel there.
V.26 Paul declares to this group that he is innocent of the blood of anyone in Ephesus who faces judgment after their death. He feels that possessing the gospel message, after having been transformed by the work of Jesus, places us under an obligation before God to share this good news with others before their life is over and they stand before Him. And so he says, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” In other words “I told you the truth to your face whether it made me popular or not. I have fulfilled my duty as a man who knows the gospel.”
Then Paul tells them that they will never see his face again. I’m sure everyone began to weep. (V 38 tells us that this was an extremely emotional meeting.)
Paul turns the ministry over to these men and with it a list of things to pay attention to. Let’s look at this list:
1. Verse 28 Pay attention to yourself. It’s so crucial that spiritual leaders have the habit of taking their own spiritual blood pressure. We have to be the most self-aware people in the body of Christ or we will allow our unresolved personal stuff to become mixed in with our ministry and pollute the purity of our service to the Lord and to His people. The number one thing is to pay attention to their own condition before attempting take care of others. It is so important that we do not neglect ourselves as we endeavor to take care of other people. There is always the possibility of becoming the proverbial starving baker who bakes bread for others but doesn’t take the time to eat any of it himself.
It’s so easy to get a Superman syndrome; so easy to feel that you are indispensable and that people can’t do life without you so you always have to be on call. It’s so easy to feel that you are somehow superior to others; that you don’t need as much sleep as a normal person; that you are just naturally more spiritual, even without seasons of prayer and a daily pattern of time alone with God. I’ve seen pastors who carry pagers and rush away from family meals every time the thing goes off as though they were firemen or paramedics. Our ministry is the care of souls and that ministry requires that the caregiver have a quiet spirit that is able to discern. Discernment is so important in the ministry. You can’t discern things while you’re rushing around in a state of emergency or when you are living in perpetual exhaustion because you didn’t set boundaries. We all need to take care of ourselves and to do so first so that we can care for God’s people effectively.
2. V.28 Paul extends the care of yourself to include care of the others in the circle of leadership with you. You are not the only leader. Your leadership circle must be pure in its motive and tight in relationships. It has to be a deep bond shared among you based on your shared experience with Jesus. He is the center of our fellowship, the hub that holds the wheel together. The center of our relationship is not each other in the church: we are so different even within the church. The one thing we all have in common is that our sins have been forgiven and we have been transformed by Jesus and have been adopted into God’s family. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a multitude of spiritual leaders to care for even a house church. Paul says to take care of the circle.
3. V.28 Pay attention to the flock. Calculate its value to God. The church belongs to God. He paid for it by the blood of Jesus. We must value God’s people the way He values them.
In v.28 Paul reminds them that they are people with a personal calling by the Holy Spirit. They are not self-made and they are not bosses. They are in the ministry because the Holy Spirit has made them shepherds. The exact verse says “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to shepherd the Church of God which he purchased with His own blood.”
I think the word overseer is a little unfortunate in the modern context as a translation. This is not a factory image. It is more like a lifeguard, or a parent. Also, not just a trainer. The Greek word is “episkopos”. It means the ones who see the big picture and take care of the entire process.
Shepherding people has so many different elements to it:
- Feeding with God’s word
- The Care of their souls
- Connecting them to each other
- Protection: sheep are easy targets
- Helping them build their own skills and competence in ministry
This is such a wonderful way to spend your life! It is a precious life’s calling. Sherry and I have lived our entire lives caring for God’s people. It changes you. It changes the way you see people and causes you to focus on building others up rather than on yourself and your problems –
You You You: All the things you want.
The others-centered life leads to an others-centered family and now you have a whole house full of people who serve others and that makes for a very happy family. Whether you go into the ministry as a vocation or just serve the Lord in any way that He makes available to you, I hope that you will seek Him for a calling to be someone who builds big people. I can promise that you will be satisfied with your life if you do this.