Acts 20.28-30



1.   When you find Acts 20.28-30, please stand for the reading of God’s Word:

28     Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

29     For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30     Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.


2.   Paul spent about three years in Ephesus, planting and strengthening that assembly.  Years later, after he has raised a special offering from among the Macedonian congregations, and is transporting those funds to the starving saints in Jerusalem and Judea, he arranges to meet the Ephesian elders en route, those preachers he has left in charge in the congregation at Ephesus.

3.   Paul will never see those men again.  Though he will write them an inspired letter from Roman imprisonment, he will never again pray with them, he will never again see them face to face, he will never again embrace them, he will never again shed tears of sorrow and of joy with them, this side of heaven.  These are among his last words to them.

4.   Allow me, during this exposition time, to bring you in your imagination into my shoes, into my role in life and ministry, into the arena in which I serve God.  For I serve where those Ephesian elders Paul spoke to served.  What Paul told them applies to me.  What he warned them about is a warning to me, also.

5.   If you seek to better understand your pastor, listen carefully to what Paul said 2000 years ago to men much like me.



This phrase, “take heed,” translates the Greek verb prosecw, which has to do with being concerned about, being in a state of alert, paying close attention to.[1]  What were the Ephesian elders, what am I, what should every pastor, “take heed” to?

1B.    First, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves”

1C.   One famous commentator describes this as a call to self-examination.[2]  I am persuaded that on this point he is on target.

2C.   It was Socrates who is quoted as saying, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”[3]  Though I am not sure I would go as far as that famous pagan philosopher from Athens, it must be admitted that God’s desire for every person, not excepting any preacher, is to examine his life carefully, thoroughly, cautiously.

3C.   I will admit to you that I have feet of clay.  For that reason it is most necessary for me to examine myself and to constantly scrutinize my ministry.  This admonition from Paul is one I take very seriously.

2B.    As well, “take heed . . . to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers”

1C.   If the Greek word prosecw is to be understood as referring to a preacher’s self-examination in this verse, then it should also be understood to refer to his examination of the flock he has been appointed by the Holy Spirit to oversee, since I am to “take heed” of myself and also “take heed” of “all the flock.”  Your spiritual health is very much my concern.

2C.   Please notice, at this point, that an assembly is described here as a flock.  You people are part of a flock of God’s sheep, if you are a converted member.  Notice also that preachers are assigned flocks to oversee.  I am, then, an under shepherd over this flock, with Jesus being the Chief Shepherd over all the flocks, over all the congregations.[4]

3C.   And as I have no business providing any kind of spiritual oversight to any congregation other than this one, so no preacher other than me has any business even attempting to provide any spiritual oversight to this congregation.  I shepherd my flock and leave other flocks to be shepherded by other pastors.

4C.   As well, I am directed to “feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”  What an assertion of Christ’s deity this verse gives us, since only Jesus, the godhead’s second person, became a man with blood to shed on Calvary’s cross.  As well, my friends, notice that it is I who have been called to feed you.  Not someone on Christian radio.  Not someone on Christian television.  Not someone who writes contemporary Christian books.  Not some buddy or pal at work who fancies himself a Bible teacher.

5C.   Yet there are those who have not been set over this assembly to oversee you and to feed you who are delighted to adjust your moral compass, who are thrilled to get money from you, who seek to teach and instruct and guide you, ignoring and slighting and denigrating the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God by their actions.

6C.   Who are these men?  They are those who seek to do what I do while not being me, who seek to do what I do while not being the pastor of this church, who would grasp to fulfill their ambition of what the Spirit of God gave to me without me seeking it . . . the pastorate of this church.



29     For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30     Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.


So, there were two things Paul knew, either because God had revealed it to him, or because he was a student of human depravity and sinfulness, who anticipated what wicked men would do if they got the chance.

1B.    First, Paul predicted that there will be outsiders coming in.

1C.   Grievous wolves have only one thing on their minds when they come into a flock of sheep, to feed their appetites at the expense of the sheep.  They do not come in to learn from me or to be converted to Christ by me.  They come in to correct me, to add to what I say, to make their own comments on my instructions and sermons, and to otherwise undermine my efforts.

2C.   In Paul’s day they would come into the midst of a congregation and teach false doctrine, creating confusion, and ripping a congregation apart.  And, of course, that approach to being a grievous wolf still continues.

3C.   But there has risen up a species of grievous wolves who are a bit more sophisticated than we saw in olden times, who have discovered that being parasites, enabling them to suck the life blood from the sheep over time, produces greater benefit for them than does destroying you quickly and consuming your flesh.

4C.   Let me give you one example of this:  The missionary who solicits and quietly takes money from church members without the pastor knowing about it.  Such parasitism is, of course, blatantly unethical.  When Ramzi Khammar received a check from someone recently he immediately made the pastor aware that one of his members gave a gift without first placing it in the church coffers.  Why did Ramzi do this?  He did this because he is a man of God, because he is ethical, because he believes in praying to God to provide for his support to come in through churches like ours.  But ethical missionaries are very rare.  So, know this:  Someone who receives gifts from you without informing me about those gifts, thereby hindering my oversight of this church, is simply unethical.

2B.    As well as outsiders coming in, there are insiders going out, verse 30.

“Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”


1C.   Look at this word “perverse.”  This word does not necessarily refer to wildly unorthodox teachings.  Such a person who rises up from within the assembly would not get away with bizarre teachings in a well taught congregation.  What this person does, instead, is distort a bit, for this word means “to turn aside, to twist.”[5]

2C.   The goal to be accomplished by this fellow who comes from within the congregation?  To secure a followship that he is not entitled to.  To get people to like him and to listen to him. To usurp a position in the lives of some people that the Holy Spirit has not granted him, since he was not appointed by the Spirit of God to a position of oversight in the assembly.

3C.   So, he may question the pastor’s doctrine.  He may misrepresent the pastor’s position.  Whatever he does, he will work the gullible and naive and will tend to shy away from a full airing out of the truth, because a full airing out of the truth runs the risk of exposing his distortions, his twisting of things, his “speaking perverse things.”



1.   My friends, nothing has changed in 2000 years.  There are still grievous wolves who enter in, and there are still those who rise up from within and try to get church members to follow them.

2.   Human nature has not changed one iota in two millennia.  Only technology has changed, enabling such men as Paul refers to to make use of the postal service, the telephone, the Internet, the radio, and the television to accomplish from a distance what had to be accomplished face to face in times past.

3.   And lest you be completely naive, let me remind you that such men will always have winsome personalities, will always generate an aura of sincerity.  You see, to live with themselves some of them have to first convince themselves, before they convince you, that what they are doing is God’s will.  But others are just slick shysters, working the corrupted system of religion that prevails in these last days.

4.   I am reminded of the junior congressman from a southern state who approached his state’s senior senator, asking the honorable gentleman how he, so great a statesman, rose to such stature in his state and in the nation’s capital.  The senator, pleased with the young congressman’s admiration, said, “Son, the real key to my many years of success is sincerity.  Boy, when you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

5.   Therefore, do not be so foolish, and do not be so naive, as to presume that you have the discernment to distinguish between the right man and the wrong man, between the good man and the evil man, on the basis of some appearance of sincerity. 

6.   Do you not think the grievous wolves are sincere?  Do you not think the Korah who rises up to challenge the Moses is not sincere?  Don’t you think Absalom honestly felt he was more qualified to rule than David?  You cannot discern the rightness or wrongness of a man’s actions by attempting to evaluate his sincerity.

7.   Sincerity goes to a man’s motives, and we are no judges of men’s motives.  How, then, can you judge and evaluate a preacher’s actions?  Use this passage which is before us.

8.   Is he from outside?  Then he has no business whatsoever even attempting to in any way influence anyone in this congregation.  Is he from inside?  If he is not the pastor he has no business whatsoever even attempting to in any way influence anyone in this congregation.  Therefore, you should restrict yourself as an audience to me and those men that I place before you.

9.   Now, Gary Isenberger, comes to lead us as we sing before this morning’s sermon.



1.   Last week I was with students from our Christian school at a large gathering of Christian school students across the country from here.  We were hosted by a well known parachurch ministry.

2.   My fear that the entire event would end up being a large recruiting event was confirmed the first night we were there.

3.   My friends, I would not presume to question their motives.  I am quite sure they are very sincere in their efforts.  After all, they didn’t invent this corrupt system that passes for Christianity, they just work the system as it exists, as do others.

4.   But I think anyone is wrong to approach children in an attempt to persuade them to do something like that without first obtaining permission from their parents, their school principals, and their pastors.  Since when did attendance at a student event imply permission to recruit those students?

4.   This effort, however, is not unique.  I remember receiving a telephone call some years back from a Bible college, asking me if I would recommend one of my church kids to that school.  I replied that not only would I not recommend enrolling that student in the school, I was actively opposed to her enrolling there.  Of course, they accepted her almost immediately, completely disregarding the wishes of the pastor. 

5.   Such is probably standard practice in most Bible colleges these days as they struggle for survival and do whatever they can to increase their enrollments.  In fact, I am convinced that these kinds of things are not at all unusual in Christian circles these days.  I know of another Bible college that accepted as a student a young lady I know whose mother and father, both members of an independent Baptist church near here, did not want her to attend there.  So, I ask, Is there no ethical standard that preachers live up to anymore?

6.   Then there is the well known Los Angeles area man whose start in the pastorate came at the expense of a church he used to serve in, from which he recruited hundreds of members who had once been in his youth group.  As well, I know that hundreds of church members were siphoned out of a nearby independent Baptist church and into his congregation over the years.  I will not allow church members to come in here that way, so why does he allow it?  I think it’s just plain wrong.

7.   But, again, it is not unusual in these last days.  One mega church back east, I have been told, started as a split off of another church.  People, these things are sadly all part of a pattern that exists in the dog eat dog world of contemporary Christianity, where parachurch ministries and even pastors are little more than predators, the larger preying on the smaller, and where even new churches get their start and grow by taking members from existing congregations.

8.   Though I have given you a glimpse of this sad state of affairs by way of introduction, allow me to develop this sermon by showing you how Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders has come to pass in spades in our day, with the most so-called “successful” ministries in America operating in a fashion terrifyingly similar to those Paul warned us about.

9.   In Acts 20.29-30, Paul warned about those who would come in from without and about those who would rise up from within, both wreaking havoc on the congregation, not sparing the flock.  But with today’s technology predatory preachers, in all sincerity I am sure, have adopted a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” philosophy by literally swooping down on members of other churches to foster their own “ministry’s” growth, sucking the life’s blood out of smaller churches to enable the growth of the larger churches.  They do this because little real evangelism is taking place these days.

10. So, for the next few minutes, I would like to review with you what is currently happening in contemporary Christianity, and what those who claim they are being blessed by God are actually doing to secure those so-called blessings.  The things that I will relate to you are all fruits of modern day decisionism.  Keep in mind that some of the practices I will condemn are practices I have either engaged in myself in the past or have come perilously close to engaging in in the past.

11. But wrong is wrong, and sin is sin, no matter who commits it.  My only consolations are that, #1, I have never knowingly subverted a pastor’s ministry, and, #2, I am profoundly grateful to God for illuminating my understanding about these awful practices.  But I am not confident that my own understanding is sufficient to guarantee that I am not now engaged in practices that I may learn to condemn in the future.  My feet are made of clay.

12. There are three basic practices characteristic of predatory preachers:



1B.    There used to be a day when Baptist churches made use of what is called “the church letter.”  It was a letter whereby a church member, on those rare occasions when it was required, could request that his church issue a letter of dismissal that enabled him to join another Baptist church.  Without “the church letter” no Baptist could become a member of another Baptist church, because in those days pastors were honorable men who did not steal sheep, because they did not want to come close to fitting the description of grievous wolves in Acts 20.28-30.  Sadly, contemporary pastors have no such ethical concerns, by and large.

2B.    It is so bad these days that when a fellow not too far from here resigned as the pastor of a church, a nearby independent Baptist pastor obtained the membership list of that church and began to systematically visit each church family, in an attempt to entice members to stop attending their church and to start going to the church he pastors.  “What’s wrong with that?”  Had that unethical fellow succeeded he would have destroyed that other church.  As it stands, that church may already have been mortally wounded by such pastoral thievery.

3B.    Christian colleges from all over the United States contact church kids they know are graduating from high school, attempting to persuade them to attend their college.  But to attend their college the church kids have to leave their church and attend somewhere else.  How is that different from what Paul describes in Acts 20.30?  “Oh, but our intentions are good, pastor,” the college administrator will say.  But the apostle Paul makes no comments about intentions, only about deeds.  No one has any business attempting to persuade someone to leave his good, gospel preaching, Baptist church to go somewhere else . . . for any reason.

4B.    When he was alive, and pastors would complain about one pastor luring another’s members away (and I am talking about from one gospel preaching Baptist church to another, now), a well known pastor would say, in typical Darwinian fashion, “If you lost him it’s only because you didn’t really have him.”  That tripe sounds good, but it fails to take into account the lack of discernment and judgment that is typical of the spiritually immature.  Such a Christian has nothing to fear from a pastor who is truly ethical and has a godly concern for all sheep, even those not in his own flock.  But very few pastors are ethical these days.

5B.    One reason the predatory pastor is so eager to receive transfers from other churches, and seeks sheep from another pastor’s flock, is because he considers himself to be superior to other pastors.  Transfers, after all, are flattering.  Another reason is because he seeks the growth of his “ministry” whether God truly blesses or not, using means not sanctioned by Scripture to increase the size of his “flock.”  Such pastors will oftentimes boast about the families that join his church.  But is transfer growth really growth that comes from God blessing?  I don’t think so.



1B.    I am a preparationist.  I am convinced that the Spirit of God must prepare the heart of a sinner before he will be converted to Jesus Christ.  For many years I was of the opinion, despite my own conversion experience, that any sinner could at any time come from where he was to Jesus Christ.  I no longer believe that.  I am convinced that, though it takes a longer time with some and a shorter time with others, and that in some instances it can occur very quickly, a sinner cannot come to Christ unbidden by the Father[6], and the Father will not summon the sinner to Christ without first preparing his heart through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

2B.    With that said, here is how a predatory preacher will steal a prospect:  When someone comes to our church who thinks he is a Christian, when he is actually an unsaved religionist who practices the false religion of evangelical, southern California Christianity, it very frequently requires that he listen to a number of strong sermons before he begins to doubt his counterfeit salvation and begins to recognize that he is, indeed, lost.  The greatest time of danger for that lost man is from the time he realizes that he is lost until such a time that he recognizes that some simple prayer of asking Jesus into his heart will not result in real conversion.  The reason this is such a dangerous time for him is because he may be invited by an acquaintance to a church whose pastor is a predatory preacher, and who is more interested in getting a tither into his congregation than in seeing a poor sinner truly converted.  So, rather than respecting another shepherd’s ministry of guiding that sinner to Christ for genuine conversion, the predatory preacher will seek to lead the sinner in a quick prayer (even though his heart is as yet unprepared by the Spirit of God) so he can claim him as his own convert, then quickly baptize him into the membership of the church he pastors.

3B.    This has happened to us with some variations any number of times.  The last time was an Hispanic grandmother who had attended here for a quite some time.  She claimed to be converted, but had some doubts that would surface from time to time.  A proud woman, when I would move toward the likelihood that she was lost in private conversation she would change the subject or dismiss what I was saying, even though she would experience some conviction when I preached.  I am sure her difficulty lie in the fact that she had professed to be a Christian for many years and had exercised some spiritual leadership with other members of her family.  But she was certainly lost.  And when she visited another church she was treated by the other pastor as a spiritual giant and decided to join.  I called the pastor and informed him that this woman was not converted, but he accepted her as a church member anyway . . . stealing a prospect.

4B.    Perhaps more examples would be interesting to listen to, but stealing prospects is so very common among predatory pastors that no further examples are needed.  When a lost man or woman is attending a gospel preaching church they need to be left alone by other pastors, so they won’t be confused, so they won’t be distracted, so nothing will hinder them from coming to Jesus Christ.  Yet is this not the very nature of a radio or television ministry?  When was the last time you heard a radio or television preacher encourage faithfulness to a local church, or reliance upon a nearby pastor?  Yet is this not the will of God for a person’s life?  And will it not help a lost man or woman to find a gospel preaching church, and to faithfully attend such a church in the hopes that they will soon find Christ?

5B.    Why would a pastor engage in such a practice as I have mentioned?  Two reasons, I think:  First, he has little understanding of the dynamics of real conversion, therefore he doesn’t realize how his actions interfere with the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Second, he has a low view of conversion, oftentimes imagining that anyone who exhibits religious inclinations is a Christian, and being unable to discern between the righteous and the wicked.  Whatever the reasons, the practice of stealing prospects, though not as common as stealing other church’s members, is tragically too common in these last days.



1B.    When one Midwestern pastor started a Bible college, he did so with a huge gift from the school’s cofounder, who was a member of another church.  Why did the other guy not give to the cause of Christ through the church he was a member of?  Was it to have a college named after him?

2B.    One famous parachurch ministry leader once said that some 3 billion dollars had been donated to them, with the most recent gift being 10.55 million recently donated by a man in Oklahoma City to buy a huge piece of adjacent property.  Why did the guy in Oklahoma City not give that money to the church he belonged to?  Will we see the guy’s name on a prominent building in a year or two?

3B.    Parachurch ministries and predatory preachers have succeeded in convincing people that it is a wonderful thing to give huge amounts of money, not to the church you belong to, but to some big mega-ministry that will build an edifice with your name on it.  But I have always wondered about that kind of thinking.  Is that New Testament giving?  And do you honestly think the money that is sent to the so-called mega-ministries will have anything close to the impact for Christ that the same amount of money would have when given to the cause of Christ through a person’s local church?  I don’t think so.

4B.    But it isn’t because predatory preachers waste money or spend it inefficiently that I am opposed to such practices.  It is because predatory preachers function as spiritual parasites, sucking resources from the churches God put those resources into.  They solicit money from members of other churches, oftentimes siphoning off money that is desperately needed at home, not caring that God puts the money where He wants the money put.

5B.    I remember one guy once telling a group of preachers about a woman who died and left 3 ½ million dollars to his church, even though she was the member of another large church in another state.  He told the preachers that he called the woman’s pastor to tell him she had left the money to his church, explaining that she had done so because she felt his ministry could more easily dispose of her holdings when she died.  When her pastor protested, saying that he could have disposed of her assets just as easily, the fellow said, “But you didn’t tell her you could.  I did.”

6B.    Folks, I think what that woman did, probably in all innocence, was wrong.  It was an error in judgment.  She bought into the propaganda advanced by predatory preachers, and those small fry pastors who admire predatory preachers, that claims Christians are right to give what they want to whomsoever they want, so long as they put their tithes into their local church.  Well, I am of the opinion that such thinking is wrong-headed, for several reasons:  First, such thinking entices people to establish their own private ministries and missions that are not under the oversight of their pastors.  But pastors are supposed to oversee.  It’s God’s plan for pastors to oversee.  Second, such thinking exposes people to predatory preachers of various sizes and reaches who, once the predators discover such a person as a source of revenue, will say anything and will do anything to keep the money flowing.



1.   Predatory preachers.  Parachurch ministries.  Paul warned us about them.  Some come from outside the church, while others come from inside the church.  And technology enables the really clever ones to attack a congregation from within as well as without.

2.   How do you recognize the multitudinous predatory preachers that threaten you personally, as well as this church?  It’s really very simple.  Any preacher who seeks to influence in any way Christians who are not members of his own church or who are not prospective converts of his own ministry are predatory preachers. Tragically, many predatory preachers, perhaps even the ones I have mentioned, don’t really recognize that their ministerial practice is unscriptural.  They think they are doing God’s will, but they are no.

3.   Predatory preachers and parachurch ministries engage in activities that remove members from our churches, remove prospects from our churches, and remove money from our churches.  Regardless of their sincerity, and regardless of how many people like them, if they engage in such activities they are of the kind Paul warned the Ephesians about.

4.   All across America there are small churches that reached someone for Christ, who was then persuaded to join a bigger church.  But if that person, and others like him, had stayed put that church would have grown.  As well, there are churches across America whose members erroneously buy into some notion that giving outside their church is somehow spiritual, when in actuality it only feeds predatory preachers and stunts the growth of their church.

5.   My prayer is that our members will resist any persuasion that they move to another church, will work to persuade prospects to stay here, and will refuse any urge to place offerings anywhere but in our church’s offering baskets.

6.   Why so?  Two reasons:  First, to do otherwise is unscriptural.  Second, to do otherwise weakens this church’s ministry of seeking to reach the lost for Christ.

[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 879-880.

[2] See footnote on Acts 20.28 in John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1672.

[3] http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/0/A3CDA16B7152950980256A8A00310BA5/ on May 31, 2003

[4] First Peter 5.4

[5] Fritz Reinecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 318.

[6] John 6.44

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