Never forget the church with no name. Never forget the church with no name is found in Acts 2. Never forget that the church with no name was the very first local church in the history of the church – located in Jerusalem. Never forget that the church with no name began with over 3000 people. Never forget that among those 3000 people were men and women who, a month a half earlier, were screaming at the top of their lungs for Jesus Christ . . . to be crucified. Never forget that God looked at those same people and declared “you will belong to Me.” Never forget that the church’s identity, who we are, lies in the fact that we belong to Him because He has called us to belong to Him. I hope that when you look at a local church, when you look at what is a local church, that you never forget that the church is a group of sinful, sinful, sinful people who have been called to belong to God and these who are called to belong to God are together. These who belong to God are believers, distinguished by the fact that they are believers who are together. Do not ever forget it.
Never forget that being together is all about enjoying God and being so satisfied by Him in that enjoyment that we cannot help but enjoy each other and that this would be so contagious that we bring as many people as we can into that joy. Never forget that in accomplishing this purpose that we are to just love being together. And in loving being together we are to just love God’s Word – the teaching of God’s Word and the reading of God’s Word and the learning of God’s Word. Never forget that we are to love to share in life together and that we are to love to remember our Savior together and that we are to love to pray and that we are to love to worship and that we are to love seeing believers get baptized and that we are to love the world, we are to love people who need Jesus. Never forget those things.
I hope that elders never forget why they are elders. I hope that elders never forget to pastor. I hope that elders never forget God’s Word, to hold to it as if their eternal lives depend on it and as if your eternal life depends on it.
Looking for Elders
We are to be looking for elders. It is really interesting to look for elders in the New Testament. It is really interesting to look for those that are called to pastor local churches. We do not read of “elders” in the Christian sense until Acts 11:30. Notice the context in which we find, for the first time in the recording of church history, elders/pastors.
Turn to Acts 11:25. Barnabas and Paul are ministering in a town called Antioch and it is here that “for a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). It is just so neat that in the passage in which we first find elders in the church is also the first time that disciples – those that enjoy Jesus Christ – are called Christians. Notice what happens – it is foretold that a great famine is going to take place and it did take place at around A.D. 45-46. “Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius)” (Acts 11:27-28).
Where will this famine take place? All over the world, i.e. this is going to be a phenomenal famine and it will affect believers. So the church responds and prepares. “So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief [diakonia, another word for “deaconing”] to the brothers [and sisters] living in Judea and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:29-30). Notice we have the mentioning of the church, the first mention of elders and the mention of a man named Saul, who is also known as Paul.
At this point in the book of Acts the church is no longer constrained to the city limits of Jerusalem which is where the church began and remained up through Acts 8. Notice that the relief in Acts 11:29 is going where – to the region called Judea. There are disciples, Christians, living in Judea and Judea is bigger than just Jerusalem, it contains Jerusalem, but it is bigger than Jerusalem. The church has spread; the church in Jerusalem first seen in Acts 2 has multiplied to churches in Judea and when we come to Acts 11 we see that the church has at least multiplied up through Antioch, a good 300 miles from where it all began. The point is that not until the church multiplied beyond Jerusalem do we read of, for the very first time, the existence of elders, of pastors.
There are elders in these multiplied churches, but why? Go to Acts 11:19. “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.”
We do not read about elders until there was persecution.
The church is no longer just in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and up through Antioch because it had been scattered and it had been scattered because of persecution. As Luke is recording the birth of the church, the growth of the church, the activity of the church and the development of the church, we do not read about elders – and you must remember this and it is very important to remember – until there was persecution.
We do not read about elders until the church had been ravaged.
You must see this. See Acts 8:1, 3. Stephen, one of the first deacons selected to lead the first local church in the task of serving, described as being full of grace and power, was killed for giving the gospel to a world which needed Jesus more than it needed anything else. Now read Acts 8:1. “And Saul [the same guy we saw in Acts 11 meeting with and enjoying and teaching the church] approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Who stayed behind in Jerusalem? – The apostles, they are not going in the spread of the church. Now read Acts 8:3. “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
We do not read about elders, there is no mention of elders, until this took place, until the church with no name was persecuted. Do not forget this: we do not read about elders until the church which belonged to God and was enjoying Him and was enjoying others and wanted nothing more but to bring others into that joy, there is no mentioning about elders, until the church had been ravaged.
You have to mark the moments that church leadership really developed and see why it is so important that we develop and hold on to and treasure a simple order of leadership among us. We do not read about deacons until the needs of the saints were neglected. We do not read about pastors until the church is ravaged.
Look again at Acts 8:3. “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” I believe the King James translation says that “Saul made havoc.” Havoc and ravage are really strong words to describe the amount of energy that was being expelled to destroy the church with no name. Who was doing the ravaging? Saul was doing the ravaging! Mark this down, the word “ravaging” was a word used to describe injury, particularly the mangling by a wild beast. Who was doing the mangling of the church? The same man who several years later would speak these all important words, see Acts 20:28-31a.
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert.”
Is that not amazing! Here is Paul who at one time, before he was ever enjoying God’s salvation, hated God’s church so much that he was likened to a beast mangling its prey. And then several years later warns a group to “pay attention! Fierce wolves are licking their lips for the moment that they may devour you.”
Mark the difference between Acts 8:1-3 and Acts 20:28. In Acts 8, the strategy is to physically destroy the church so that it will become extinct. In Acts 20:28, the strategy is to spiritually destroy the church so that it will become extinct. Note the illustration that Paul gives in Acts 20:29-30. He is urging this audience to pay attention because “fierce wolves are coming,” wolves who will not spare the flock. The men he speaks of in verse 30 are the wolves of verse 29. These wolves are fierce because they “speak twisted things” (verse 30). These wolves do not spare the flock by drawing away the disciples after them (verse 30). In Acts 8, the strategy by the evil one was to physically destroy the church. In Acts 20, the strategy is to no longer to physically destroy the church, but to spiritually destroy the church with words through men.
According to Acts 20:28, who needs to pay attention? Who needs to pay attention to themselves and to the flock?
Look at Acts 20:17. “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” Who needs to pay attention? Who needs to pay attention to themselves and to the flock? The elders of the church. I want you to make three notes.
Notice the word elders. The word “elders” is the word presbuteros from which we get the word Presbyterian. And typically when you see the word “elders” in the New Testament it is this Greek word, Presbyterians. Then in verse twenty-eight these elders are said to be functioning in their church as “overseers.” This is the Greek word episkopos, which comes the word Episcopalian and this word is either translated “bishops” or “overseers.” And then also in verse twenty-eight is the word “feed.” This is the Greek word poimino, the word for “pastor.” So these men that Paul is addressing are elders who are also bishops and pastors. In other words and elder both bishops/oversees and pastors.
These elders are from the church at Ephesus. Interesting. And the greatest thing that Paul thinks to tell these Ephesian pastors, these elders as they bishop and pastor is “pay attention!” Where are these pastors from? Where is their church? Ephesus.
Acts 20:28 is the first recorded instruction to elders in the book of Acts. And what is the instruction? “Pay attention!”
We read of the first mention of elders functioning in the church back in Acts 11:30. “And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” Just from this verse alone there is not much to say as to how elders are to function. In the use of the word historically, I can tell you that elders acted as managers or acted in positions of authority. This may give us a little insight into the role of elders in the functioning of the church.
Acts 14:23 may help us a little bit more. “And when they had appointed elders in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Every New Testament church had elders and apparently every New Testament church had more than elder, but still there is not much here that tells me how they are to function. Note this: it was Paul who was making sure that every church that he came in contact with had elders. Interesting, that the one who at one time was ravaging the church was then making sure that every church had elders.
The first time that any explicit instruction is given as to the how elders are to elder, how pastors are to pastor is not found until we get to Acts 20:28. And what is that instruction? “Pay attention!” And Paul says a lot to these elders. Paul had spent three years with this church and he actually says goodbye to them twice. In Acts 20:1, Paul gathers the disciples of Ephesus, encourages them and says goodbye. Then he spends the next three plus months sailing around the general area of Ephesus, purposely trying to not return there. But in those three plus months he is constantly thinking about this church. And when his ship docks in Miletus he calls for the Ephesian pastors to come to him as soon as possible and he has one thing to say to them. In 20:19 he begins to talk to these pastors, he recalls how he served the Lord among them. He served with humility, but he never instructs these elders to pastor with humility. He served with tears, but he never tells these elders to pastor with tears. He served with trials, but he never tells these elders to pastor with trials. He never shrunk from declaring and teaching the whole counsel of God, but he never tells these elders to be sure to teaching the whole will of God. Why? Because they are going to do all those things. These men spent three years with Paul. Or Paul spent three years with these men. Who was at the receiving end of the humility and the tears and the trials and the teaching? These elders were the product of all that time that Paul invested in this Ephesian church. He was preparing them to pastor and does it not seem logical that you end up imitating the one who trained you and invested in you.
But after saying goodbye to them months prior, Paul is burdened to talk with them one more time. Now where are these men from? Ephesus.
Pastor With Just One Aim
The main imperative, the only instruction, Paul has for these men is Acts 20:28. And the instruction is “Pay Attention!” The elders of this Ephesian are to never forget how to pastor. The elders of every local church better never forget how to pastor. The Ephesian elders must pastor with just one aim. The elders of every local church must pastor with just one aim. “Pay attention!”
Are you ready for this? The Greek word for “pay attention” was a boating word. It meant “bring the ship to shore.” So, after three years with these men and after three plus months away from these men, Paul had to get back to them and had to instruct them to do just one thing and I do not think it was the first time that they heard these words. I do not think that it was the first time that they were told to “pay attention! Bring the ship to shore!”
Bring the ship to shore when it comes to you (elders).
Who is listed first when Paul says “pay careful attention?” It is a paying careful attention to you and he is talking to elders. In your pastoring, elders, bring the ship to shore. I struggled all week with this. How does a pastor in his pastoring pay careful attention to himself? John MacArthur called this ‘getting right with God.’ The elder in his pastoring must be about getting himself right with God all the time. I asked a dear friend of mine about this and he pastors a great church in Lancaster, Ohio. I asked him about how a pastor really I think pastors himself, pays close attention to himself. In thinking through it he asked some questions that I thought were super applicable. Are we personally submitting ourselves to accountability partners? Am I seeing my pastoring as a ministry not a job? Am I serving according to my giftedness or the expectations of others? Do I hold myself to the same standards that come through my teaching? Am I holding myself to the teaching? There is where I think we start to really understand how our pastors bring their own ship to shore. Perhaps, this is so important so that the pastor himself does not end up becoming the fierce wolf of Acts 20:29-30.
Where were these Ephesian elders from? Ephesus. Interesting to know that about 7 years after this scene in Acts 20, Paul writes a letter to the pastor of Ephesus. The name of the letter is 1 Timothy. Look at what Paul says to Timothy as he pastors the church in Ephesus. “Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Devote yourself to teaching. And then in verse sixteen, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” I think that both of my pastor friends are right. The pastor brings his own ship to shore by:
Getting right with God (repenting all the time) and
Getting the word in himself.
The psalmist in Psalm 51:6,12-14 put it this way: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your righteousness.”
Bring the ship to shore when it comes to you.
In your pastoring, elders, bring the church to the shore. Where were these Ephesian elders from? Ephesus. Paul wrote another letter to this Ephesian church. The letter is called the letter to the Ephesians. And in that letter Paul wrote about pastoring. And you see how essential that the pastor get his own ship to shore when it comes to getting your ship to shore. Through getting right with God and through getting the word in himself the pastor needs to bring your ship to shore by getting the word in you. See Ephesians 4:11-12. “And He [Jesus Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” The elder pastors and the he pastors through feeding and that feeding is called teaching. And look at the what this teaching accomplishes, it: equips the saints. I want you to see how this word equip is used in Scripture.
Mark 1:19. “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.”
Galatians 6:1. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
1 Thessalonians 3:10. “As we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?”
1 Peter 5:10. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
This is what the word “equip” means. It has the idea of making the nets ready for another day of fishing; it has the idea of strengthening or sustaining a wore down people; it has the idea of a sailor outfitting his boat; and it has the idea of repairing and refitting a damaged vessel.
How does the elder pastor in such a way to get your ship to shore? By teaching, a teaching that repairs and refits and mends sometimes broken people, sometimes discouraged people and sometimes disheartened people for another day of fishing.
What is the shore? Did you wonder that? What shore is the ship getting to? I think Ephesians 4:13 has the shore in view. “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” I think the shore is about enjoying the word of God and enjoying the God of the word.
Bring the ship to shore.