By Mike Dawson
Interim Pastor, Santa Fe Baptist Church, Santa Fe
Since “retirement” I’ve given away many of my books, but I’ve retained some that are especially precious to me. One I’ve kept is Parting Shots, written by the late Landrum Leavell II, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president, 1975-1994, and the father of current TBC President David Leavell. Parting Shots is a compilation of Dr. Leavell’s messages challenging seminary students at graduation. I love the brief, pointed, practical Bible messages and the title! “Parting shots” could also describe our focal passage, Acts 20:22-35, the final exhortations of the Apostle Paul to leaders of the Ephesian church during his third and last missionary journey. Read verse 28 carefully. Five words from that verse summarize the entire passage:
“Heed.” Paul tells these church leaders to “take heed to yourselves.” His previous words in verses 22-27 remind them how he modeled that exhortation. Although heading to Jerusalem without knowing his future except for more chains and tribulations, his only concern was to finish joyfully strong. He wanted to leave a legacy (of his years as pastor in Ephesus) of having faithfully proclaimed the gospel, the whole counsel of God, without any blood on his hands. He implies that as leaders they were to do likewise.
“Need.” The Ephesian leaders should also take heed to “all the flock.” Church people are like a flock of sheep, needing guidance and direction. In fact, Paul tells the leaders that after he leaves, “savage wolves will come in … not sparing the flock” (verse 29). Now, as then, demonic forces are snarling all around God’s sheepfold, and church leaders must protect the needy flock through prayer and the Word.
“Lead.” Paul tells them that “the Holy Spirit” has put them in the place of leadership as “overseers.” Leaders must lead in the power of God’s Spirit. I often pray for the Spirit to “F.U.E.L.” us servants of God: Fill, Use, Empower, Lead us. In verse 30, Paul speaks of people within the congregation rising up “speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” It takes Holy Spirit power for overseers to lead out and prevent false teaching … and church splits!
“Feed.” The Ephesian leaders were to “shepherd the church of God.” Jesus spoke often of Himself as the Shepherd of the sheep (John 10). After His crucifixion and resurrection, He reminded His disciple Peter to “feed My sheep” (John 21), and later Peter himself exhorted church overseers to “shepherd the flock of God” (I Peter 5:2). In Acts 20:31, Paul reminds these leaders that he hadn’t kept back anything from them: “I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” Like Jesus, our Good Shepherd, a good pastor-shepherd feeds the hungry, thirsty sheep with the Word of Life and “waters” them with his tears!
“Bleed.” Paul concludes Acts 20:28 with the truth that Jesus “purchased with His own blood” His flock, the church. Our example in servant-leadership is always our Lord Jesus, going to the cross: “Jesus paid it ALL, ALL to Him we owe!” The Apostle wraps up his final message to the Ephesian leaders with a prayer and a testimony (vv. 32-35). His prayer commends them to God, and his testimony of selfless service as their pastor is summed up in the words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” When we bleed, we bless!