|a Pastor's Worst Nightmare: Lessons from Acts 20.|
As a faithful shepherd Paul hit the ground the running when the Spirit led him to Ephesus. "From the first day" (Acts 20:18a; Col. 1:29) he shed "blood, sweat, and tears" for the sake of Christ and for the "edification of the church." For the sake of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), Paul was willing to "suffer hardship as good Christian soldier (2 Tim. 2:1-3; Acts 20:19, 23). As a Word-dominated preacher, Paul "did not shrink from declaring ANYTHING that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20). Paul did all of these things as a steward realizing that he would give an account one day to Christ for all of these pastoral functions (Acts 20:24; Heb. 13:17; 1 Cor. 3).
Having faithfully served the church at Ephesus Paul could say that "he was innocent of the blood of all men." In other words, he had taught them, discipled them, and cared for them in such a way that his conscience was clear and his hands were clean as he prepared to sail into new ministry waters.
In verses 27-38 Paul expresses what could be described as "a Pastor's worst nightmare." Having given his all to advance the cause of Christ by establishing a strong, Word-dominated church presence in Ephesus Paul feared what might happen after he left them. Compromise and mission drift is a major concern of every minister of the gospel who is led to retire or transition to a new ministry setting.
The very worst scenario of them all would be for "a wolf in sheep's clothing" to creep into the church (under the banner of grace- see Jude 3-4f). Paul was given a prophetic revelation about "savage wolves" that would get into the sheep pen within the congregation in Ephesus, "not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:28-29). The church is often most venerable from attacks within... "and for AMONG YOUR OWN SELVES men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."
As a watchmen at the gates Paul WARNS the lay leaders at Ephesus before leaving them. The future health and continued maturation of the congregation, in large measure, hinged upon their willingness to heed Paul's cautions and to imitate his faithful pastoral example.
A Pastor's worst nightmare today is that the church he cared for (for so many years or decades) would slowly drift away from a biblical philosophy of ministry, would abandon meaty, Text-driven exposition, and/or not have the necessary discernment to reject half-truths; (such as the "social gospel," hyper-grace sanctification, church-growth theory, etc). The past two thousands have born witness that it is fair easier for a church (or seminary) to go astray then it is to stay on course.
In healthy situations, (Lead) Pastors will start strong and end well. In other words, they will help the lay leaders and congregation hire their replacement (note these two articles here and here). The gospel baton should be passed from one minister to his ministry successor (see 2 Timothy). I am so thankful that this took place at Lake Country Bible Church, wherein Pastor Sal carefully vetted me, before endorsing me as "the pastoral candidate." This pattern only makes (wise) sense for who better knows the needs of the community and the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation then the one who invested his heart and soul in the life of the local church? A ten year tenure for example, represents over 26,000 hours of ministry. It would have been foolish and arrogant for the lay leaders in Ephesus to not heed the parting words of wisdom and specific cautions that Paul lay before them in Acts 20. Such folly would be a Pastor's worst nightmare!