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Message to Church Elders

Acts 20:28 (ESV) … “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

This begins the final section of Paul’s message to the elders of Ephesus. The verbs have changed from the declarative (I did, we did) to the imperative (Go do!). There are basically three charges: (1) “Keep watch”; (2) “Be shepherds”; and (3) “Be on your guard” (20:31 niv). In this verse, Paul outlines the philosophy of the ministry that pastors and church leaders should follow.

The first charge was to “keep watch”—first over themselves and then over all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Although Paul had likely chosen and trained most of them, the operative force behind everything had been the Holy Spirit. The flock was the church of God, an entity that God had bought (literally, “acquired, obtained”) with his own blood, shed by Christ on the cross.

Those who lead God’s people must keep a careful watch over themselves and the flock. This was important. The leadership (elders, pastors, deacons) would be the first line of attack from the enemy (the “wolves” mentioned in the next verse). Before the flock could be protected, the shepherds must protect themselves!

These leaders were to “be shepherds.” They were to guide, direct, protect, feed, and help the flock to grow into its full potential (see Psalm 23; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:1–4). In the early years of the church, there was no real distinction between the three terms for pastor: elder (presbuteros), a bishop or overseer (episkopos), or a shepherd or pastor (poimen)—the distinctions occurred later in church history. These leaders of the Ephesian church are described in this one passage as elders (20:17; see also 14:23), bishops (20:28), and shepherds (that is, pastors—20:28).[1]

[1] Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). Acts (pp. 349–350). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.

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