Paul’s Model of Ministry Acts 20:17-38

If you are sick you go to a doctor. If your spaniel is sick you go to the vet. If you need legal advice you ask a solicitor. For pensions and investments you go to a financial advisor. But what do you go to see a minister about? What’s a Christian minister really for? Some unkind person said that a minister is six days invisible and the seventh day incomprehensible1 But what should a minister be doing?

The Bible Society lists 14 possible activities associated with the work of a minister. Teaching; leading worship; evangelism; visiting; counselling; administration; team leading; training; community involvement; leading and guiding the congregation; personal development and study; denominational and ecumenical responsibilities; enabling people; and “sacramental and priestly responsibilities”. Curiously, that list misses out prayer and vision building and crisis management. And they didn’t bother to mention safeguarding, health and safety, charity law and data protection.

The way in which each minister uses his or her time will depend on his or her own gifts, training and experience, as well as the gifts and skills of the leaders who share in the work of the church and the particular needs of the church at the time. But ideally a minister’s life should be shaped by what the Bible says ministers are for. And as an example and a pattern for Christian ministry from the apostle Paul’s own example and from the instructions he gives to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus here in Acts 20. In time Timothy would take responsibility for leading that church, and we can also learn from what Paul taught Timothy about ministry.
Ministry is all about teaching

20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Ministry is all about TEACHING!! Proclaiming the gospel and calling people to repentance. In this short passage Paul gives examples of his teaching which include preaching the gospel, giving testimony, proclaiming the Kingdom, expounding the whole will of God and protecting the flock from evil and heresy. This teaching can happen with crowds in public preaching in church and in other contexts as well, school assemblies, open air events, today even through radio and television and across the internet. But Paul also was teaching FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE.

We find the same phrase in Acts 5 describing the apostles’ ministry too.
Acts 5:42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
Not just in public in the temple courts, but from house to house. In small gatherings like home groups, or even one-to-one. Visiting people in their houses has always been a part of pastoral ministry. But it has always been a part of the TEACHING ministry of the church. It was revived in the seventeenth century by the puritan preacher and minister Richard Baxter. In his book “The Reformed Pastor” he recommended that ministers should visit their congregation in their homes to teach them the faith through catechisms and prayers and recitation of scripture. He was into teaching the faith by making disciples one-to-one.

27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

Will you notice how these tasks of ministry are focused on God. “The whole will of God.” “The church of God.” The whole word of God for the whole flock of God! The minister is not the centre of attention – God is. I admit to being troubled by some of today’s celebrity ministers. People follow them because they are popular and successful without stopping to ask whether what those ministers are preaching is true or right. God should be the centre of attention – not the minister.

Then an important part of the minister’s duty is to


28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

Keeping watch is not about dropping in to see if people are feeling alright. It is making sure that they don’t stray from the truth and follow false teachings. And keeping watch is about making sure that people don’t fall into sin.
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Most Christians don’t really want anybody “keeping watch” over them in those kinds of ways nowadays. Most Christians resist the idea that they are in any way accountable to anybody in the church keeping an eye on them and on their progress in the Christian faith. This may be to do with the much greater privacy we experience nowadays in the anonymity of city life compared to the shared lives in tiny villages centuries ago where everybody knew everybody else’s business. But the sad truth is that in most churches Ministers and Elders can’t begin“keep watch” over the flock because the flock won’t let them! One of the greatest sadnesses in ministry is occasionally seeing Christians make big mistakes in their lives because they didn’t think to ask for advice about big decisions, or ignored the advice they were given.

Paul gave these instructions to his apprentice Timothy, who went on to lead this important church in Ephesus.

1 Tiomothy 4:12 … set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

That is ministry in Paul’s eyes – it’s all about the gospel, preaching and teaching the Word and keeping watch over the flock so that no sheep go astray.

Paul spells out in Ephesians 4 how ministry works
Eph 4:11 It was (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
… speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Can I just point out that there are only four areas of ministry, not five in Paul’s list. He does not say “pastors and teachers” as if those are two separate roles of person. The word “and” does not appear there. The Greek phrase is “teaching shepherds”, those who pastor the flock BY TEACHING them.

There are not specific jobs which Apostles and Prophets and Evangelists and Pastor-Teachers do. Their job is to stir up and encourage the whole church to do what God calls every one of us to do. It is not the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers who do the works of service, but every member of the church. Loving each other. Witnessing for Christ. Serving in the church. Pastoral care. These are things EVERY MEMBER of the church should be doing. The job of ministers is to support, equip, encourage and enable. And they do this fundamentally by teaching. As a result 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ministry is about teaching and it’s about keeping watch. And then also


There is no other area of life which is less about skills or knowledge or experience and more about character!
25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

In this passage Paul mentions several elements of his own ministry. Love. Integrity. Humility. Hard Work. Prayer. Faith. And of course, the work of the Holy Spirit. And underlying all of these, the character of the minister. Robert Murray McCheyne wrote to a new minister: “In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God” Some people think being a minister is a job just like any other. Other people have a very starry-eyed view of how wonderful it must be to devote your life to the Lord’s service. In fact it is a job like NO other, except possibly the calling of being a missionary!! It is very hard to think of another job where skills are so much less important and character is so vital. So Paul spells out to Timothy the qualifications for being an overseer or a minister.

1 Timothy 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In passing, you can see there that the only actual skills Paul expects the minister to have are to be able to teach and also to be able to manage their own family (whatever that means). Everything else is about character. Paul goes on to talk about the requirements for being a deacon and again they are all about character and holiness. Remember how in Acts 6 the first Deacons were chosen because they were “seven men among you known to be full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”

Ministry is about teaching and keeping watch. It’s all about Character

AND THEN ALSO It’s all about commitment

Paul was completely dedicated and committed to his calling, however tough things got.
18 … “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

Paul was so committed because he really cared about his flocks. He was passionate about the Christians he had brought to faith and the churches he had planted

31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul is defending his ministry and he lists all the many ways in which he has suffered. Imprisonment, floggings and beatings and stonings and risk of death. Shipwrecks and danger on every side. Hunger and thirst and sleepless nights. Labour and toil. Paul’s life was full of examples of his dedication and commitment.

And then he adds this: 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Paul really cared about his churches. Ministry is all about commitment; enthusiasm; caring. It’s about fearless preaching, sacrifice, hard work, helping the weak, generosity and keeping a clean conscience. It’s about keeping watch over the flock and teaching the whole Word of God to the whole flock of God. And although that inspiring and challenging model is most relevant for Ministers and Missionaries and Deacons and Home Group leaders and Christians who are working with children and young people, it’s an example for every Christian. Keeping watch over each other and taking care of each other, being committed to Jesus and to the church. And for all of us that all comes from holiness and purity of character.

But at the end of the day every minister knows that it isn’t what ministers do, but what God does, that counts. It’s all about God! Ministers are only channels for the activity of the Holy Spirit. So that’s why Paul ends like this, which is the prayer of every minister for their own church.

32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

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