In Acts 20.17 Paul travels to Miletus, and calls all the elders of the Ephesian church to him.
And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church
There were a lot of elders in the church in Ephesus. Paul decided he wanted to separate the elders and teach them the Word – this was the first pastors and elders conference ever. In it, Paul gave some great instructions to the elders that all elders need to consider today.
According to historians, each of the elders in Ephesus would have looked after a group of Christians that met regularly in their house, they would have been appointed by the pastor of the church and put in place by the pastor. Notice: Paul didn’t go to Ephesus to address the elders, he went to Miletus. It’s 63 miles from Ephesus to Miletus, that’s not a short journey when you don’t have a Toyota and have to make the journey by foot or donkey. And Paul calls the elders.
The first amazing thing that has to be mentioned is that the elders came! Paul called the elders to make a 63 mile trip to a conference and they came. You see being an elder in a local church, hosting church in your house, is a sacred trust and requires people who love God, love God’s Word, and love the people of God. The essential quality of an elder is an attitude of humility that is prepared to travel to the elder’s conference. These weren’t people who struggled to get to the church meetings on a Sunday. These were people who knew they needed input and continual education and training to do their task. These were people who were fanatics.
If you take on the role of an elder in the local church, you have to be a bit of a fanatic. You have to be the kind of person who is willing to travel 63 miles on foot to be at the elder’s conference. Now I know a lot of people would say – of course I would travel 63 miles to hear Paul. But that’s only after 2000 years of knowing how successful his ministry was. The Ephesians saw Paul as the bloke who started the church, the travelling apostle who seems to get more attacks and more criticism than actual results. Yet, they knew he was worth travelling to hear because they were people who were spiritual fanatics. Good elders love their pastors and apostles, and they weren’t sitting around going “surely it’s easier for Paul to travel to us, rather than us all having to go to him… who does he think he is”… they were too busy thinking of the adventure of going to Miletus to hear the Word. That’s a good attitude for anyone to have, but it is essential for elders. Grumbling, selfish attitudes in elders will destroy a church. I wonder if Paul held the conference that far away just to see who would come. I think part of the reason was to get these guys away from the church to give them a rest as well as a conference, but I also reckon part of the reason was Paul was finding out where the elder’s hearts were.
When they arrived, Paul didn’t open up the Scriptures to them but rather started reminding them about his ministry and his life when he planted the church (vv. 18-19):
And when they had come to him, he said to them,
“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time,serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;
I find this a staggering opening to the conference. Paul gets in the pulpit and basically preaches on his humility and what he did for the church. To the elders – who Paul appointed. The elders would have no influence, no ministry, no life – a lot of them wouldn’t be Christians without Paul coming to Ephesus to plant the church. They would not be doing what they were doing, and through Paul’s teaching and ministry they have matured and they have become who they are.
Why would Paul then need to remind them so strenuously of his ministry among them and how he served the Lord. He goes on to tell the Ephesian elders the following:
how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is telling the elders he put in place that his ministry was good for them. (As an aside, notice when Paul planted the Ephesian church and was the pastor of the church, he taught publicly and from house to house. In other words, there was a public meeting and house meetings and Paul visited both. That’s how church should be done: a big meeting where the pastor preaches and teachers, and then the house meetings run by elders with the pastor going from meeting to meeting to encourage and support and teach. Many people today are finding the value of house meetings and ditching the big meeting – no Paul did both, the church in Jerusalem did both, and healthy church in the 21st century needs both. People who are not involved in local church in both large pastor preaching meetings AND house meetings are alien to the New Covenant). I find it amazing that Paul told the elders about his ministry – they were there, they knew it, they witnessed it. They owed their ministries to Paul planting the church. They surely didn’t need reminding of that – even after travelling 63 miles to hear it!
But they did. The elders of the church needed to be reminded that their ministries are appointed by the pastor, and that they should be reminiscent of the pastor’s ministry. They needed to be reminded that their message should be his message, that their heart should be his heart. They needed to be reminded that they need to preach repentance and faith like he preached repentance and faith. Their role as elders was to take his apostolic message and reproduce it to the people, not sit in their house and go “I’m not sure about this repentance stuff”, or “faith isn’t really necessary today”. And there are elders in churches that don’t even understand repentance and faith, and the role of elders. And Paul is taking these guys and reminding them! That is good pastoring. That is great wisdom.
If you are a pastor, take your elders away and remind them of your life and ministry. Let them know the heart of the message you preach. Take a leaf out of Paul’s book and plan a leadership conference. That’s what I am planning now – to take our elders deeper into the Word, to get them aligned better with the core values and culture of the church. Elders – not people with a title but people who are discipling people in their house on a consistent and supervised manner – are the heart of your church. Get the heart right and everything else will be right.
If you are an elder, get with the programme. Realize how much you owe your pastor and appreciate him or her. Grasp the core values of your church and give those. Make sure you know what repentance and faith are! Be ready to travel!
NEXT WEEK: what else did Paul teach the elders. Essential information you need to know!