Shepherd’s Care: Stepping Into the Stream

The last words of a person are considered especially important.  Books have been published containing the “famous last words” of people.  For some weeks to come, we are going to focus on Acts 20:28, which are part of Paul’s last words to the Ephesian elders.  In Paul’s case, he knew it would be the last time he would be with them, so we can reasonably imagine he prayerfully and carefully determined what he wanted to say to these leaders who were charged to carry on the ministry he had begun among them.  This was Paul’s valedictory address, and it spans Acts 20:17-38, and there are many insights in the larger message.  But, as we will see, there is more than enough for us in the single verse: Acts 20:28—“Keep watch over yourselves and over 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.”

For today, I only want to note that in focusing on this verse we are stepping into the stream of Christian tradition with respect to the self-care of clergy.  I discovered this after I had found Paul’s words in the Bible.  I found that Richard Baxter used Acts 20:28 to organize his classic work, The Reformed Pastor. Somewhere along the way, I hope you will read it.  The title does not refer to Reformed theology as such, but rather to the re-formation of pastors whom Baxter saw as becoming needlessly de-formed by their ministries.

As Jeannie and I have provided “ministry to ministers” and their families, we have discovered that the issue is really about re-formation.  Most of us know what to do, but like the young pastor I wrote about earlier, we lose the will to do it.  We face a crisis of spirit more than a crisis of skill.  We return to the Risen Christ not ill-equipped, but simply “weary in well-doing.”  It was very encouraging for me to realize that Paul’s words established a biblical paradigm for the re-formation and renewal of spiritual leaders.  We will step into the stream of this passage and allow it to re-form us, as leaders have done for twenty centuries.

In doing so, we remember that Oswald Chambers offered a similar message when he wrote, “The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.” (My Utmost for His Highest, January 18th).  Before you leave today’s blog, read Acts 20:28 out loud against the backdrop of Chambers’ statement—-remembering that you have permission from God to “take heed to yourself..”  There is no virtue in trying to lead people to a God whom you have ceased to know.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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