Acts 20 records the last words of Paul to the Elders at Ephesus.
Paul, compelled by an urgency to get to Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost, avoided the delay of stopping by Asia.
From Miletus, Paul having sent [some person or communication] to Ephesus to call to himself the Ekklesia elders.
When they arrived, he said, “You know how from the first day I arrived in Asia, I was with you the entire time, serving the Lord with all humility, with tears and trials that happened from the plots of the Jews.
I did not retreat from declaring and training you publicly and from Oikos to Oikos all that is profitable, solemn testimony of repentance and faith in God in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, behold! By the Spirit, I am under obligation to go to Jerusalem, not knowing what I will encounter except what Holy Spirit thoroughly testifies in every region, that chains and tribulations await.
On no account do I make life precious to myself to finish my course and fulfill the ministry that I received from the Lord–I thoroughly witnessed the Gospel of God’s grace.
Now, behold! I know you will not see your face anymore. You among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom.
Because of these things, I testify to you that I am innocent of the blood of all.
I have not retreated from declaring to you the entire intended purpose of God.
Focus upon yourselves and the entirety of God’s flock over which Holy Spirit has set you as shepherds, God’s Ekklesia which He purchased with His own blood.
After my departure, I know that vicious wolves will come in among the group, not sparing the flock of which you are both part and overseers.
From among you yourselves, men will rise to speak things completely opposite and in contradiction to what I have declared to drag away disciples to themselves.
So, stay awake! Remember that I have not ceased giving reasoned warning and counsel to each of you with tears, night and day, in the last three years.
Paul had been training the elders to elder for three years, night and day. They had been in intense personal preparation with him.
Paul did not set them over the Asian Ekklesia. Holy Spirit did. Paul recognized that. Paul trained them because He recognized that. Paul commissioned them to function because he recognized that.
Yes, notice that Paul did not say that these elders were only overseeing Ephesus. Luke says the communication went to Ephesus that called the elders to Miletus, but the regional apostolic Kingdom Center was his home base for all of Asia.
The preparation occurred in the Kingdom Center. The oversight may well have been regional.
Paul does not say he is turning things over to them as a founding apostle.
Paul says he needs to have a meeting with them because he is never coming back. Paul says this clearly by contrasting his “been here night and day, living with you, doing my assigned leadership, preaching the kingdom. Now, I’m not going to be doing that anymore. You are.”
If we see these elders as the fivefold leaders, Paul prepared apostles, prophets, teachers, evangels, and shepherds.
The Sheep, Wolf, and Shepherd Metaphor
Of course, you hear the metaphor of sheep, wolves, and shepherds. Paul uses the metaphor for God’s Ekklesia in the kingdom he preached because he identifies the wolves.
Paul defined wolves as those leaders among the elders or coming into the kingdom culture who were vicious enough to drag sheep away to become their disciples. To identify a wolf, an elder observes a behavior.
If the leader continues to preach, train, and lead by Paul’s apostolic culture training, he is not a wolf. When a leader comes in or rises from among the elders who speaks something opposite with the motivation to contradict Paul and apostolic Didache, motivating sheep to follow him as their leader, he is a wolf.
Paul was clear that the shepherds did not have their own ekklesiae. They were overseers of God’s Ekklesia. None of the jargon of contemporary church-growthism or churchism appears in Luke’s narrative. None of the leadership models of modern churchism appear in Paul’s presuppositions or conclusions about kingdom leaders.
Elders here include the idea that Paul shared with Titus: “ordain elders in every polis.” Nothing in this narrative provides for elders to run over an apostle, but Paul seems to say that apostles among them will function as apostles. That is, he does not assume that they will have no apostle after his departure.
He addresses them all as elders without discussion of their functions because the meeting is about Paul. This meeting is part of Luke’s narrative of Paul, not a debate of kingdom leadership apparent to them all because of Paul’s training, Holy Spirit’s assigning, and their present eldering.
Yes, they did not start functioning as elders at this meeting. They had been doing so for months and years depending upon when each elder joined the training and function. They were experts and experienced by night and day immersion in the kingdom leadership roles.
Paul says, “I have been dealing with the wolves because I have been leading the elders. Now, you will be doing that. Some of you may become wolfish when I’m not here to deal with your demanding desires to have your own disciples. The other elders will confront you.”
Paul says, “I have been the one training you for oversight. Now, you will do oversight without my oversight.”
Paul says, “I have trained you by preaching the kingdom, the apostolic Didache of how to live in kingdom culture, and function as overseers. Please do it. Don’t allow anyone to contradict the apostolic order established as kingdom culture.”
The Ephesians Epistle
The book of Ephesians isn’t written only to the Ephesian Ekklesia. To say Paul addressed it to them, in particular, isn’t even entirely accurate because we have the Ephesian copy of the general epistle. Paul intended believers everywhere to read it.
The Ephesian Epistle is of particular importance because it addresses the kingdom leadership dynamics. Perhaps we can see that Paul developed these conclusions by inspiration and applying those revelations to the Ephesian elders.