Sermon Text: Lessons on leadership from the church at Ephesus.

This morning, I’m going to tell the story of the church at Ephesus, and as we go through, we are going to be looking for lessons that we can learn about church leadership. The reason for doing this, is that as I have mentioned we are going to be suggesting a modification to our model of leadership and I want to share some of the Biblical basis for that change.

Four things you need to know about Ephesus

  1. Ephesus was a Major city. We are told that it was the fourth largest city in the Roman world.
  2. It was a centre for trade.
  3. It was a cosmopolitan city. There were people from all over the world, including a large Jewish community
  4. It was Religiously significant, dominated by the temple of Artemis (Diana KJV)

In about AD 50 Paul visits Ephesus for the first time with Aquilla and Priscilla. He is on his second missionary journey. You can read about this in Acts 18:18-21. Paul goes into the synagogue and reasons with them but will not stay for a protracted visit. He leaves but Aquilla and Priscilla remain in Ephesus. At this stage there is no mention of any converts.

Some time later Apollos arrives in Ephesus. (Acts 18:24-28) He knows some of the gospel but not all of it, and Aquilla and Priscilla correct him, but he goes off to Achaia.

Then comes one to the key moments in the life of the church at Ephesus When Paul arrives in about AD53 and begins a ministry in the church of Ephesus that lasted about two years. I’m going to read and account of that to you. Acts 19:1-10

  • Paul arrives in Ephesus and finds a small group of disciples (v1) but needs to correct a defective baptism (v 3)
  • The church in Ephesus is now properly established. There are a small group of 12 men (v7)
  • Paul’s three month ministry in the synagogue comes to an end (v9) in the face of opposition and Paul hires premises for the growing church. (v9)
  • Paul exercises a two year ministry with remarkable impact. (v10)
  • The ministry described (vs11-20) has the characteristics of revival with considerable power evident, and considerable growth.
  • The economic impact of the growth of the church, brings to an end the population’s tolerance of the work. (v23-29)
  • The controversy eventually leads to Paul’s departure (20:1) but he had already been intending to leave (v21).

Now we need to make an assumption in order to make sense of the next waypoint in the church at Ephesus. Paul now goes off on his third missionary journey, and he is leaving a two year old, large and vibrant church.

This is the assumption: During his ministry in Ephesus, Paul selected and trained a group of ‘elders’ to oversee the church in Ephesus in his absence. You might say it’s a big guess, but here are my reasons for thinking that it was so.

  • It was Paul’s normal practice to appoint elders in the churches that he founded before he came to Ephesus. Act 14:23 “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
  • This was probably because there were Elders in the church at Jerusalem. Act 15:2 “And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.”
  • The elders in Jerusalem shared in decision making with the Apostles. Act 15:6 “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.”
  • We know there were elders in the church at Ephesus about a year and a half later when Paul met with them on his way to Rome.

I’d like you to turn to Acts 20, and I’m going to read from verse 17 to the end of the chapter. I think this is quite a moving passage. Here Paul is saying goodbye to friends that he has made in the church at Ephesus, and they know that in this life they will not see one another again.

I want to draw your attention to Acts 20:28-35, where Paul charges the elders of the church at Ephesus with certain responsibilities. As we hear him speaking to the elders, so I think we can learn some principles about church leadership for ourselves. But here is my first point. Spiritual leadership matters. As you read these verses thay have an urgency of tone. The task that Paul is giving to these elders is an important task.

Those entrusted with leadership of Jesus’ church must pay careful attention to themselves. Don’t you think that it’s remarkable that Paul starts his address here? One of the things that we will see a number of times today is that for leaders, character matters.

The leaders are to pay careful attention to the flock of which you are “overseers” One of the things that I notice here is that shepherding the flock matters (GK episkopos) v27 You are to watch over the church. What for? Why? Well Paul goes on.Their role is to shepherd the flock (GK poimainō) the word having the sense of tend or feed. As a shepherd cares for the flock so these elders are to care for the flock of God. They are to ensure that God’s flock is fed, this being the literal meaning of the word. And as we see in a moment they are to see that the flock is protected from wild animals.

Paul warns that “fierce wolves” will come in and will not spare the flock. The implication being that damage will be done. Paul anticipates that some of those in the church, possibly even some of those who are being addressed will be “speaking twisted things” which will be attractive and will “draw away disciples after them.” With these words we are able to better understand the nature of the “fierce wolves” against which Paul warns. He anticipates that their ravages are principally doctrinal in nature. So elders are to protect the church from the ravages of false doctrine. This is so likely says Paul and so the elders are commanded to be alert. I see here that truth matters

Paul commends them to God and to his word which is able to build them up. We have said that character matters, now I want you to see that spirituality matters These leaders must be people of the word or they will not be able to resist the ravages of the wolves.

Having spoken to the Elders, Paul continues his journey to Jerusalem and then on to Rome.

The next point at which we know something about what is going on in the church at Ephesus is when Paul writes them a letter in about AD60. Now I don’t have time to read you the whole of the letter to the Ephesians, but what is interesting is that if you read the letter you will see that Paul’s fears for the church were not without foundation. In fact I would suggest that you can sense that there is trouble brewing in the Church at Ephesus.

I want to draw your attention to Ephesians 4:11-14. Now the emphasis in Ephesians is on the role of the leaders that God has given to the church. Here we see that the ministry of the church matters. Verse11 says that the role of the apostles prophets evangelists, pastors and teachers is to prepare the church, God’s people, for works of service.

In verse 13, we see that as theses leaders exercise their ministry, the church should be built up so that there is unity, because unity matters. The problems in the church that jeopardized their unity were probably partly down to disagreement on doctrinal issues, and as we read on we see that truth (still) matters. In verse 14 it is expected that the outcome of the ministry of these leaders will involve doctrinal maturity and stability.

The thing that concerns me as I think about the church in Ephesus, is how a church that has seen God’s blessing in remarkable ways can begin to have real issues. This is now perhaps five years since Paul had concluded his ministry in Ephesus and already there are signs of problems.

Now finally I want you to turn with me to 1 Timothy. Paul probably wrote to Timothy in about AD 64 from prison. Timothy has been left in Ephesus perhaps because Paul anticipated trouble in the church. Now there are real problems with the church in Ephesus. The main issues that the letter addresses are the teaching of false doctrine and strange practices. (See 1:3-7, 1:19, 4:1-5, 6:2-5)

In the light of these pressures Timothy is to appoint leaders of character and to set an example to the flock (4:11-16):

Turn with me to chapter 3, and we will read verses 1-7. Here, Paul eager to deal with the problems in the Ephesian church tells Timothy the kind of people that are suitable to serve as overseers. (I think this is the same as elders.) The majority of the list concerns the character of prospective candidates, because character (still) matters.

Paul is not only concerned with character, but he knows how important that is. He also insists that elders are able to teach. Alongside character, competence matters.

Finally I want to suggest to you from this passage that the testing of character matters. If leaders are to demonstrate certain character traits and competencies then it is vital that there be some process of testing where any candidate for this kind of leadership is evaluated in the light of those requirements.

So there you have it, nine things that matter when we think about leadership in the church.

  1. Spiritual Leadership Matters
  2. Character Matters
  3. Shepherding the flock Matters
  4. Truth Matters
  5. Spirituality Matters
  6. The ministry of the church matters
  7. Unity Matters
  8. Competence Matters
  9. Testing Matters
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