Paul has great love for the church founded at Ephesus, but he cannot be there to make sure it continues as founded. He must leave.
This is the life of the missionary. They begin a good work in Christ, and for Christ, but then they must turn it over to others for the work to continue.
The fear in this process is those the work is turned over to will conform it to their own image rather than, (as may have been presumed in this case,) the image of Paul.
But that is NOT the case, as Paul teaches here. The Church must always be in the image of Christ, not the men called to oversee the Church.
Sometimes when the leader is of such strong influence – as Paul was – those who are charged with following the man in leadership when he is no longer present will seek to emulate the man. This is normal human behavior, especially in the realm of the relationship between a mentor and his followers.
Paul teaches the Ephesian elders – and us – he was not his own man when he was in their midst and they must not be either. Church leaders must be in the image of Christ and no man.
If anyone is in Christ, he is new creation. He is a purchased man. The greatness of serving Christ is serving in Christ. To emulate any man, no matter who that man may be, is to strive to be what you can never be. This is especially true for those following a man perceived by all to be a great man, such as Paul.
Paul informs them he was not himself as he founded the church at Ephesus, and they must not be themselves either. His life meant nothing to himself, and your life must be of no value either. This, in truth, is the life of the servant. The one who serves his master and does what his master says no matter the consequence. “This,” Paul would say, “was my life among you. It was never my own.”
If the Church of Jesus Christ is to be continued in the absence of a previous leader as it had been in the presence of that leader, then the new leadership must learn of Christ to be themselves IN Christ and no man. Every individual leader brings himself to the equation. The personalities of the individuals involved may change the look and feel of the place, but the essence will remain the same.
The key is never to seek to emulate ANY man. Always, always, always seek only to emulate Christ, and only by the power of Christ. This is Christian Leadership training 101.