To the pastors of Ephesus…know your sheep


Sunday 07/31/22

Message – To the pastors of Ephesus…know your sheep

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To the pastors of Ephesus…know your sheep

Acts 20:1-31,

“(1) After the disturbance had ended, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left to go to Macedonia.  

(2)  After he had gone through those regions and spoken many words of encouragement to the believers there, he came to Greece,  (3)  where he stayed for three months. Because the Jews had made a plot against him as he was intending to sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.”

Now relevant to what we are covering today in this passage is what we think Paul was doing when he offered these “words of encouragement to the Believers“. 

Were these words of self affirmation, words which encouraged them to have a better self image, were they words encouraging them that their faith in Christ would pay off in their family life and at work by making them more happy and financially comfortable? 

If it had been a modern preacher it would have been! 

What was Paul’s encouragement about? 

Well as we keep reading and even as we reflect on things we’ve already read we know what he was encouraging them regarding was faithfulness in the Kingdom. 

How to live lives of self-sacrifice and love and commitment to Christ and Devotion to the furtherance of his kingdom even in the midst of severe and even violent persecution to hold on and not Cast Away their confidence, their hope or lose their faith.

Acts 20…

“(4)  Paul was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, and Timothy, as well as Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.  

(5)  These had gone on ahead and were waiting for us in Troas.  (6)  We sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and within five days we came to the others in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.  

(7)  On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul began to speak to the people, and because he intended to leave the next day, he extended his message until midnight. 

*Message = teaching & instruction

(8)  (Now there were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.)  (9)  A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, was sinking into a deep sleep while Paul continued to speak for a long time. 

Fast asleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead.  

(10)  But Paul went down, threw himself on the young man, put his arms around him, and said, “Do not be distressed, for he is still alive!”  

(11)  Then Paul went back upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he talked with them a long time, until dawn. Then he left.  

(12)  They took the boy home alive and were greatly comforted.  

(13)  We went on ahead to the ship and put out to sea for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for he had arranged it this way. He himself was intending to go there by land.  (14)  When he met us in Assos, we took him aboard and went to Mitylene.  

(15)  We set sail from there, and on the following day we arrived off Chios. The next day we approached Samos, and the day after that we arrived at Miletus.  (16)  For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so as not to spend time in the province of Asia, for he was hurrying to arrive in Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.  

(17)  From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, telling the elders of the church to come to him.  

(18)  When they arrived, he said to them, “You yourselves know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I set foot in the province of Asia,  (19)  serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, and with the trials that happened to me because of the plots of the Jews.  

(20)  You know that I did not hold back from proclaiming to you anything that would be helpful, and from teaching you publicly and from house to house,  (21)  testifying to both Jews and Greeks ABOUT repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.  (22)  And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen to me there,  (23)  except that the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.  

(24)  But I do not consider my life worth anything to myself, so that I may finish my task and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.”

What kind of testimony was that? Well Titus tells us…

Titus 2…

” 1  But as for you, communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching. 2  Older men are to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. 

3  Older women likewise are to exhibit behavior fitting for those who are holy, not slandering, not slaves to excessive drinking, but teaching what is good.  4  In this way they will train the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5  to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited. 

6  Encourage younger men likewise to be self-controlled, 7  showing yourself to be an example of good works in every way. 

In your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8  and a sound message that cannot be criticized, so that any opponent will be at a loss, because he has nothing evil to say about us.  

9  Slaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything, to do what is wanted and not talk back,  10  not pilfering, but showing all good faith, in order to bring credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything.  

11  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.  12  It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,  13  as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14  He gave Himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people who are truly His, who are eager to do good.  15  So communicate these things with the sort of exhortation or rebuke that carries full authority. Don’t let anyone look down on you.”

Acts 20…

(25)  “And now I know that none of you among whom I went around proclaiming the kingdom will see me again.  

(26)  Therefore I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of you all.  (27)  For I did not hold back from announcing to you the whole purpose of God.  

(28)  Watch out for yourselves and for ALL THE FLOCK of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that He obtained with the blood of His Own Son.  

(29)  I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing THE flock.  (30)  Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them.  

(31)  Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears.  (32)  And now I entrust you to God and to the message of His grace

This message IS ABLE to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  

(33)  I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing.  

(34)  You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me.  

(35)  By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  

This is one of the best windows into the early local assemblies we have. 

The Ephesian church, regardless of their initial deep contrition and devotion, was still a deeply troubled church both on the outside and the inside.

If you remember, Paul probably first came to Ephesus in 52 AD, staying with them 3 years teaching and preaching and not failing to tell them all the counsel of God. He left in 55 AD. (though these dates may be 53-56AD)

Paul’s visit with its elders was about 4 years later in 59 AD.

Paul’s letter to this church was anywhere from 2 to 4 year later still in 61-63 AD and contained some of the most exalted and profound teachings of Christian doctrine to be found anywhere in the Bible. 

He had to encourage them in terms of personal purity and to not be deceived into the lie that one can continue unrepentant in their former sins and be a citizen of God’s Kingdom.

Paul later felt the need to send Timothy to them which is where Timothy was when he received the letter we call 1 Timothy which was written about 2-4 years later (65-67 AD).

Finally a message or letter was given them in the book of Revelation by Jesus Himself

Revelation is most reliably dated to around 96 AD. Nearly 30 years after Timothy’s stay with them.

It appears that this good church listened to their rebukes, encouragement and teachings from Paul and Timothy, but became SO diligent about not veering off to the right of the left that they lost sight of WHY! 

They had forsaken their first love!

Back to when Paul first visited them… during his 3 year stay in Ephesus he had spent a LOT of time with these people, teaching, warning and maturing them in Christ. Though the passage does not say so, it is clear that Paul was instrumental in establishing elders in this church before he left.

As we discovered some years ago, elders in the New Testament were one of several names given to who we call Pastors. They were not some type of proto-pastor or group of people who patrolled the sheep in the physical absence of  their founding Apostle until they died and then real pastors took over. No – there is absolutely ZERO evidence for such nonsense and MUCH against it.

Here Paul called elders overseers and said that their job is to shepherd or pastor the sheep. 

The early church had little need or tolerance for “titles”. Any prefixive descriptions of people – like apostle, prophet or teacher were purely descriptive and NOT titles of prestige or honor. In fact, Paul was never called Apostle Paul by anyone in the new testament, They simply called him Paul. Paul himself would refer to his role in a particular church in his letters, saying Paul, called to BE AN apostle by the will of God…etc.  

In fact he was never called Paul THE apostle either as if he was the only one, it was always Paul AN apostle – as being one of many.

At any rate, elders were pastors – that is clear. 

Their job in the body was to lead, feed, protect and equip the saints for the work of the kingdom. Some of which we see outlined in this chapter.

Acts 20:28-31,

“(28)  Watch out for yourselves and for ALL THE flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that He obtained with the blood of His Own Son.  

(29)  I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing THE flock.  (30)  Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them.  

(31)  Therefore be alert

Some in the letter he later wrote to the Ephesians 6 years later in 62AD

Eph. 4:11-16,

“(11) And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  (12)  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,  (13)  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.  (14)  So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.  (15)  But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.  (16)  From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body builds itself up in love.”

…and also from Peter.1Peter 5:1-4,

“(1) So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you:  (2)  Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly.  (3)  And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock.  (4)  Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away.”

In the letter Paul wrote to Timothy, he outlines the qualifications of an elder. This makes the position, purpose, function and requirements of an elder or Pastor  more clearly defined than ANY OTHER SINGLE POSITION in the entire New Testament! 

The reason for this is because they were the shepherds of the sheep. They were THE ones Jesus, by the Spirit, had placed in the position of stewardship over His Own flock He purchased with His Own blood! 

These men HAD to be qualified!

Ephesus was a metropolis of approximately 48 square miles, having upwards of 300,000 citizens at its height.

For comparison consider that Bradenton is less than 18 square miles and has about 57,000 residents.

So Ephesus was a little less than 3 times larger than Bradenton with nearly 6 times the population. 

So in a city this large there were several pastors, but not like we have several pastors in cities today. These pastors were not divided into factions, and denominations and cliches with buildings and resources which belonged to that single pastor and his assembly alone. 

Such a thought would have seemed impossible in the early days of the church. Outlandish and utterly pagan!!

Though each city had its own elders/pastors – they all worked together as one local body which met in various locations throughout the city. 

Many…MANY of the local assemblies in the early church met in homes, some in large homes, some in buildings and in Acts 19 we read that here in Ephesus they used a lecture hall as well. 

The church was practical and pragmatic in terms of how it was structured. There were ALWAYS more than one elder in a city church and they all worked together with level and equal authority, often meeting from house to house – with different elders presiding over any one meeting. The idea was not to “own your own pastor” but to be truly shepherded by men who were called and well equipped to lead, feed, warn, protect and equip the saints. 

As Hebrews 13:17 says,

“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” 

Teri and I were just talking the other day and this topic came up. 

You all know that I truly have problems with large and institutionalized churches. 

The elephant in the room which serves as a primary example of one is Bayside Community church

It isn’t that I take exception with their doctrine. Truth be told, I know little of it, but those I trust have reported good things about their teaching in general – even the covering of some more difficult subjects. 

However, it is NOT a place where you can know and be known by your Pastors.  The Pastors (and I mean genuine pastors, not those with honorary titles) are to know ALL THE FLOCK. THis is simply impossible when a church gets too large.

It is from patrons of this mega-campus church (and probably others) that I have had requests to marry, baptize and counsel people. They are actual members of this church. They have the goofy blue swirl bumper sticker on their cars and everything. 

Why did they not go see their own pastors?

You know, and I am honestly not kidding you, I have asked some of them if they have ever even met their pastor and they said no. Why would perfect strangers feel more free to approach me, a pastor of a small home church rather than one of severl dozen pastors of their own church for something like a wedding, baptism or counseling?

In order to fulfill the role and functions of a Pastor you MUST know the sheep. 

  • You must be able to call them by name. 
  • You must be familiar with them, their ways, weaknesses, tendencies and struggles. 

Otherwise, at best you are a teacher not a pastor and at worst you are presenting yourself as something you are not and therefore, steering the sheep of Christ towards pastures which are not pastures at all.


Hi my name is Mark and though I am opposed to titles, I am currently the only Pastor (shepherd/elder) serving our assembly right now.

I have been Pastoring in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years now, though never quite like I am today.

Early in 2009 the Lord revealed to me that the way we had structured our assembly (church) was not scriptural in that it was out of sync with what Paul modeled for us in the New Testament. In truth, I (like many pastors I am sure) never even gave this fundamental issue of church structure the first thought. I had always assumed that church structure was largely the same everywhere and had been so from the beginning. While I knew Paul had some very stringent things to say about the local assembly of believers, the point of our gatherings together and who may or may not lead, I never even considered studying these issues but assumed we were all pretty much doing it in numbers right?! Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong!

So needless to say, my discovery that we had been doing it wrong for nearly two decades was a bit of a shock to me! Now, this "revelation" did not come about all at once but over the course of a few weeks. We were a traditional single pastor led congregation. It was a top-bottom model of ministry which is in part biblical, but not in the form of a monarchy.

The needed change did not come into focus until following 9 very intense months of study and discussions with those who were leaders in our church at the time.

We now understand and believe that the Bible teaches co-leadership with equal authority in each local assembly. Having multiple shepherds with God's heart and equal authority protects both Shepherds and sheep. Equal accountability keeps authority and doctrine in check. Multiple shepherds also provide teaching with various styles and giftings with leadership skills which are both different and complementary.

For a while we had two co-pastors (elders) (myself and one other man) who led the church with equal authority, but different giftings. We both taught in our own ways and styles, and our leadership skills were quite different, but complimentary. We were in complete submission to each other and worked side-by-side in the labor of shepherding the flock.

Our other Pastor has since moved on to other ministry which has left us with just myself. While we currently only have one Pastor/Elder, it is our desire that God, in His faithfulness and timing, may bring us more as we grow in maturity and even in numbers.

As to my home, I have been married since 1995 to my wonderful wife Terissa Woodson who is my closest friend and most trusted ally.

As far as my education goes, I grew up in a Christian home, but questioned everything I was ever taught.

I graduated from Bible college in 1990 and continued to question everything I was ever taught (I do not mention my college in order to avoid being labeled).

Perhaps my greatest preparation for ministry has been life and ministry itself. To quote an author I have come to enjoy namely Fredrick Buechner in his writing entitled, Now and Then, "If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that He speaks to us largely through what happens to us...if we keep our hearts open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear Him, He is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, His word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling." ~ Fredrick Buechner

Well that is about all there is of interest to tell you about me.

I hope our ministry here is a blessing to you and your family. I also hope that it is only a supplement to a local church where you are committed to other believers in a community of grace.

~God Bless!