In Acts 20 we have a very informative scenario about leadership. Paul is in the midst of his 3rd missionary journey and stops in Asia Minor to gather and meet with the Ephesian elders. These are the current leaders of the Ephesian house church movement. Paul had spent more time in Ephesus than any other city on his journeys-these people were dear to him. Paul does not know when he will see these leaders again and he wants to remind them of some key principles. We can learn something too as we eavesdrop on the setting.
Today we will only look at verses 17-21. In the days ahead we will glean more from this passage. First we have to take a look back at Acts 19 to grasp the full picture of what Paul experienced in Ephesus. Paul had stirred up a riot in Ephesus. The problem was that this city had a reputation throughout the known world for its temple to Artemis. Artemis was the Greek fertility goddess, among other things-and very popular. Idolatry was rampant and there was a lot of money to be made in the idol and offering business. But as people started coming to faith in Christ and setting their idols aside business headed into a steep decline. The main charge brought against Paul was that he had stated , “gods made with human hands are not gods.” While this seems rather intuitive-it isn’t-then or now. So the people (mainly those profiting off idolatry) were enraged and sought to discredit and harm Paul. Yet in the midst of all of this the church had not only been birthed in this town-but leaders had been raised up and the church was vibrant and growing. What can we learn?
Paul knew that there were still some who were trying to discredit him falsely and this could cause these current leaders to shrink back in fear. So in v. 18 he says, “you yourselves know how I lived among you . . .” He reminds these leaders that they had first hand knowledge of how Paul lived and ministered among them. Paul could make this claim because he was an authentic leader. He was not a distant leader. His testimony was his very real leadership life lived out in front of them. Paul goes on to say in v.19 “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials . . .” Part of Paul’s authenticity was his honesty and vulnerability. These are critical elements of humility. Paul did not pretend to be something that he wasn’t. And he entered into his audience’s reality. Finally, in this first small section, Paul says, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.” Leaders, if they are going to lead by example, cannot shrink back from that which is core-in communication or in action. For Paul this meant openly proclaiming Jesus Christ in the midst of an openly idolatrous city as the one true God worthy of total devotion. There is no way this message was popular-but it was true and it was effective-and people’s lives were changed. Lives were changed so much so that the idolatry business was taking a huge financial hit. A friend recently defined leadership to me this way: a leader is a person who has an agenda for change and followers. That was Paul. He had an eternal cause and it cost him dearly at times. But people not only heard the gospel from Paul they saw the gospel in Paul-and they followed.
Here are four principles so far from this episode in Acts 20:
1. There were those who wanted to discredit Paul-and there will be those who will want to discredit you. Your imperfect life of grace and authenticity will silence your critics.
2. The task of leadership includes a very real presence among your followers-the distant leader is hard to follow.
3. The task of leadership has humility and authenticity at it’s core.
4. The task of a Christ-centered leader is committed through their leadership to declaring the whole gospel-for believers and unbelievers alike.
In a few days-part 2. A presto!