What aspirations do the pastors you know have for your church? For many pastors in the western world, their goals for their congregations can seem very biblical, spiritual, and beneficial. Some pastors aim for their congregation to simply be experts on the Bible. Some of them strive for their people to be able to understand the condition and dynamics of their society, governments, and media. Others seek to motivate their people to be the most zealous evangelists possible. Still others attempt to teach and lead their hearers to be as joyful as possible. But all of these objectives fall far short of those set forth as essential for pastors in the New Testament. So, let’s look at an overview of the objectives that New Testament elders should have for their people.

The Elders’ Aspirations for Their Flock

What are elders supposed to be aiming at for their assembly? For any qualified elder, the goals that they desire their people to reach should be those things for which they pray every day. Paul the apostle gives us many model prayer requests that he prayed in his prayers for the assemblies under his care, and they serve as key models for the objectives that elders today should be striving after. Paul sums up the great end goal for all these desires for his congregations in his service description found in his letter to the Colossians:

“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” (Col. 1:28)

So, why did Paul serve as a preacher, counselor, and teacher? So that he would be able to “present every man [and woman] complete in Christ”. To whom did he want to present those he taught? To God the Father, of course. So, Paul’s leadership objective for all those under his personal care had the end in view – the end of his followers’ lives. Paul saw his purpose in teaching as ultimately being to enable his disciples to become complete, or spiritually mature, by the end of their earthly lives. And this should be the purpose of all elders for their assembly.

Increasing Love

But, in Paul’s prayers for three assemblies, he outlines the essential qualities that Christians must possess in order to become mature in Christ. The first main quality that Paul prays for is increasing love. He describes the nature and effects of this love in his letter to the Philippians:

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ . . .” (Php. 1:9-10)

This is quite a unique prayer in the New Testament, and yet it’s so very essential to understand and apply to the prayers and goals of elders. Notice that the root of all that Paul describes in terms of the Philippians’ understanding and righteousness is increasing love. Love is the supernatural source of all other Christlike virtues.

But what will this abounding love produce in the Philippians? First, it will produce “knowledge and all discernment” (v. 9). That is, the more the Philippians love God and their neighbor, the more they will know and discern about how to serve both the Lord, and their fellow man. Why? Because the more they devote themselves to the glory of God, and the good of their neighbor, the more they’ll think about how to promote those two things. And this will cause them to “approve” those things, which Paul calls what’s “excellent”, or best (v. 10). The second thing that their increasing love will produce will be their “sincerity” and “blamelessness”, or purity, and lack of glaring sin (v. 10). This will result directly from their approval of what’s best to think and do, since they’ll be able to know God more, and to discern between competing options what’s best for them to do. So, here we see that Paul’s aspirations for the Philippians was their increasing love, discernment of what’s best, and their resulting purity from glaring sins.

Paul specifically declares love to be the goal of his instruction as an apostle in his first letter to Timothy, where he explains,

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Ti. 1:5)

In context, Paul has just explained why he wanted Timothy in the city of Ephesus. It was primarily to warn professing Christians to abstain from teaching “strange doctrines” (v. 3), and from paying attention to “myths and endless genealogies” (v. 4). However, as the letter goes on to describe, Timothy’s responsibilities for “instructing” pertained to far more than just these issues of false teaching. Hence, when Paul speaks of “our instruction”, or the instruction of Paul and Timothy, he’s implying that this instruction is an essential part of their entire teaching services as overseers. Therefore, we can apply this goal to all the services of elders, especially since it aligns with Paul’s desire for the Philippian assembly.

This goal of apostolic, or Christian, instruction is love that comes from three things. First, it comes from a “pure heart”, much like the purity of being that was the purpose of Paul’s prayers for the Philippians. Second, this love issues from “a good conscience”, or a blameless conscience that is unaware of any unconfessed sin in one’s life. Finally, this love is produced by a “sincere faith”, or a genuine, and unhypocritical faith in the Lord Jesus. Such characteristics should be sought after and encouraged in the lives of all an elder’s people.

Increasing Knowledge

The second virtue that Paul describes as his prayer in two others of his most important letters is knowledge, which, as we saw, was the direct fruit of increasing love. The first aspect of this knowledge sought after by Paul is knowledge of God’s blessings for His children. He gives a concise description of this knowledge in his letter to the Ephesians. He prays that,

“. . . the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (Eph. 1:18-19a)

Again, there are three elements of this knowledge. First, Paul prays that the Ephesians will know the hope that they have from being called by God. Second, he wants them to know the glory that they possess in their inheritance from God in their lives, as God’s sons. Finally, he seeks for their knowledge of God’s incomprehensible power toward them. If they know these things that God has given to them, then they’ll be able to look forward to their perfect future, look up to the glory that they possess from heaven, and look within themselves to see the power that God is manifesting within, and through, them.

But Paul prayed for a second aspect of knowledge for the assembly at Colossae, which he details in his letter to them in these words,

“. . . we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God . . .” (Col. 1:9-10)

Whereas Paul’s prayer requests for the Ephesians concerned their knowledge of their possessions in Christ as children of God, these prayer requests center on the Colossians’ knowledge of God’s purpose for their lives on earth. Also different from his prayers for the Ephesians is his desire that the Colossians be filled, or consumed, with this knowledge. Here, the knowledge he describes is their knowledge of God’s “will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9). This is actually just a different way to speak of the same things he prayed for in regards for the Philippians. There, he wanted them to have knowledge and discernment to approve the best things. Here, he wants his audience to have the wisdom and understanding to know God’s will for them, which is the best plan for them.

But just like his prayer for the Philippians, so here Paul makes known the results of the Colossians’ wisdom and understanding. First, he sums it up by saying that from understanding God’s will, they’ll “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (v. 10). What does he mean by this? He means that their everyday lives, or lifestyles, will look appropriate for the character of the One who rules them as their Lord. In other words, they’ll reflect the character of the Lord, since they’re obeying Him, in order to be like Him. The second way that Paul pictures the results of their filling of God’s will is in two specific areas of their lives. The first aspect of their lives that will display their worthiness of walking is their “bearing [of] fruit in every good work”. What Paul means by “fruit” is defined by “every good work”. So, the fruit they’ll bear as a result of being controlled by wisdom and understanding will be every kind of good work, or deed. Finally, their worthy walk will also consist in “increasing in the knowledge of God”. Paul doesn’t only mean knowledge about God from Scripture and God’s Word, but also knowledge of God in the experience of the Colossians. Therefore, the more they do God’s will through wisdom and understanding of His will, the more they’ll experience God’s work in and through them, as they live lives of goodness and usefulness.

Paul’s Aspirations for the Ephesian Assembly

In chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul provides a comprehensive set of instructions for achieving most of the other foundational goals that all elders should have for their flock. These goals are humility, unity, maturity, and utility.


In verses 1-3, he begins by encouraging humility with this call:

“Therefore I . . . implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

To begin, just as in his prayer requests for the Colossians, here he urges this assembly to “walk in a manner worthy” of their calling. And what is their calling? The call of God that came to them through the gospel, and by the Spirit’s power, to grant them faith in Christ, and to make them one with Him, so that they enjoy every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). Most importantly, their calling has made them children of God, and brethren of Christ. Since God has made them as such, they ought now to walk in a way that’s worthy of such an exalted status and condition.

But what is the first virtue that they must practice to walk worthy of their calling? “All humility” (v. 2). The word “humility”, or “lowliness”, simply means viewing yourself as you truly are, requiring you to see that you’re no more important than anyone else. Instead, it leads you to seeing everyone around you as more important than you, which is what Paul teaches in Philippians 2. And what will this humility motivate you to display? Paul goes on to say that humble Christians will live with “gentleness, with patience, [and be] showing tolerance for one another in love” (v. 2). First, a humble assembly of Christians will show just enough strength toward one another to communicate the necessary truth by being gentle. Second, they will be patient with one another by enduring annoyances, failures, mistakes, and even sins that either offend or harm them. This doesn’t mean they’ll overlook sins, but that they won’t hold it against one another, and will work with each other to help their brother or sister to improve their behavior. Finally, such patience will require a Christian community to “tolerate”, or “put up with”, one another “in love”. That is, out of love for one another, they will, again, be able to suffer from their brethren’s failures, mistakes, annoying eccentricities, and weaknesses, without retaliating in anger or self-pity.

Finally, an assembly’s humility will enable them to preserve unity. Note this truth well: the unity of a body of believers can’t be created, but must be recognized, and protected. That’s what Paul makes clear when he tells the Ephesians to be walking humbly by “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). What is the direct way that they’ll be able to guard this unity that comes from the Spirit? By being at “peace” with one another, through humility, gentleness, patience, and love.

Increasing Unity

The second objective that Paul describes in Ephesians 4 is an assembly’s increase in unity through all the members’ proper service. He lays this out in verses 11-13a, in which he articulates the proper functioning of the teachers of the assembly, and then the service of the rest of them:

“And He [Christ] gave some . . . evangelists, and some as pastors [shepherds] and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . .”

At the outset of our examination of this text, we must recognize that Paul is here speaking of the universal body of Christ on earth, since he begins with Christ giving the “apostles” and “prophets;” then moves to all of these teachers equipping the general term “saints;” next referring to the building up of the whole “body of Christ;” and finally ends with “we all” reaching “the unity”. Despite the universal scope of this grand design for the unity and growth of Christ’s body, it still can be applied to local assemblies of Christ. And since this is how Christ’s body on earth mainly manifests itself, this passage must be applied to individual assemblies.

Since we’re looking for how this passage shows us the increased unity that ought to be pursued by elders, let us first emphasize that the work that starts this whole process is the teaching of “pastors and teachers”, or shepherd-teachers. Their teaching should be aimed at “the equipping of the saints for the work of service,” so that Christ’s body is “built up”. Just as we saw in Paul’s prayer requests for the Philippians and Colossians, the goal of Christian leaders for their assembly should be their fruitfulness “in every good work” of service. And it’s their example and teaching that is the direct way in which they’ll enable and encourage their flock to serve.

The result of the saints’ “work of service” will be “the building up of the body of Christ”, which mainly refers to Christians’ growth in spiritual maturity, as they help one another to learn to become more like Jesus. And what is the goal of the growth and strengthening of Christ’s community? Paul says that the ultimate purpose for this is the body’s “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (v. 13). Although it seems clear that Paul is speaking here of an ultimate unity, since he goes on to describe the body’s resulting condition as “a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ,” yet this should be the aspiration of every assembly.

So what does Paul mean by “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God”? First, since Paul has already used the word, “faith”, in verse 5, which immediately precedes this verse in the same context, it only makes sense that he’s using “the faith” in the same sense that he uses it there. In verse 5, along with several other unifying realities, he says that the people of God have “one faith”. This can’t mean “one belief”, since we clearly have more than one, so it can either mean our one set of beliefs, or our one primary object of faith. Since Paul is listing the essentials that all Christians have in common, I take this “faith” to be referring to the faith of “the gospel”, meaning the message describing who God is, and what He’s accomplishing for the benefit of mankind through Jesus. Thus, when Paul uses the phrase, “the unity of the faith”, in verse 13, I believe it makes sense to understand him as saying “the unity of the message about Jesus, the Son of God”.

But if we already have unity regarding our beliefs about who Jesus is, and what He’s done, why does Paul say that this is a goal that hasn’t yet been reached? Because there are always measures of faith, according to the measure of knowledge and understanding that one has about Jesus. That’s the sense here. Although all believers already believe the same message about Jesus, not all believers understand and know the same facets, details, and implications of this gospel. But the goal of every assembly should be that all the members will eventually be united in all they believe about the Lord.

Yet there’s a second aspect to this unity that Paul describes, and it’s that the body will continue to be built up until we “attain to the unity . . . of the knowledge of the Son of God”. Now, whereas the faith that we’re striving for is belief in truths, this knowledge that all believers should seek to have is knowledge of the truth – the Son of God. That is, the objective of the body’s teaching, leading, and service, should be a unity of knowing Jesus as the divine and most important Son of God. Again, this isn’t knowledge about Jesus, but knowledge of Him. To put it another way, the body of Christ should continue to serve one another until they all know and experience Jesus in all His divine fullness, so they see Him for all that He is as God’s unique Son and Image.

In Paul’s next purpose for Christ’s assembly, we’ll see how this unity of faith and knowledge will display itself in God’s people.


The word that sums up the picture that Paul paints to convey the ultimate unity of Christ’s body is “maturity”. He says that, when Christ’s body attains to this unity, they’ll come “to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (v. 13). In other words, once Christ’s people reach the perfection of their unity, they’ll reflect “the fullness of Christ” by putting all of His character on display in their character, and in their love for one another.

Paul pictures this maturity in terms of what it will exclude, and then in terms of how it will be exuded, in verses 14-15 of this passage:

“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ . . .”

Here, we see that the first result of the body’s maturity will be their conviction and stability in their beliefs. The tense and construction of the Greek translated “we are no longer to be children” literally conveys the statement that “we will no longer bechildren” (v. 14). So, Paul’s not giving an instruction, but stating the condition of the body once unity and maturity have been reached. And that condition is that the assembly will no longer be thrown about by “doctrine” which comes from “the trickery of men”, and “craftiness in deceitful scheming” (v. 14). Therefore, the fully united and mature body will no longer be misled, deceived, or confused, by false teaching.

On the contrary, Paul goes on to say that united and mature assemblies will “speak the truth in love,” so that they “grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head” (v. 15). This is what he meant when he said that the united body will manifest “the fullness of Christ”. The community of Christ will then reflect every characteristic of who Christ is in His perfect humanity, since its members will reflect in every way possible what He’s like.


The final characteristic that Paul highlights in this narration of the unity, maturity, and growth of Christ’s body is the utility, or service, of its members. He begins to emphasize this trait of a mature assembly of Christ in verse 15, and then hammers it home in verse 16:

“. . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

To repeat, a united and mature assembly, which is resisting false teaching and claims, will speak “the truth in love” to one another. This doesn’t mean, as is so often thought, that Christians are to speak the truth in a loving, or gentle, tone, but that their truth-speaking is to be motivated and guided by love for their brethren in Christ. And this is the primary way in which we will “grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head”.

However, I should point out that “speaking the truth” isn’t a literal rendering of what Paul writes. He actually uses the verb form of the Greek word for “truth”, and literally says “truthing”, or “being truthful”. So he’s not only talking about speaking, but also of reflecting the truth toward one another.

In the final verse of this passage, Paul makes clear that every member of the united and mature body will be doing “the work of service” that builds them up. This is because he says that “the whole body” is “fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” (v. 16). And, from Christ’s power and instructions, it’s this work of every part of the body that “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love”.

In sum, Paul teaches in this vivid and beautiful description of Christ’s body that Christ’s, and every faithful elder’s, goals for their flock is their humility, perfect unity in faith and knowledge, resulting maturity in Christlikeness, and their utility in loving service of other believers.


It should go without saying that every group of elders overseeing an assembly should strive to lead their people to becoming witnesses for the Lord, and disciple-makers. But it’s so important, that some of the Scriptural instructions and purposes for Christ’s body on earth regarding evangelism and discipleship must be looked at. Of course, we begin with the Lord’s mission for His apostles, which was handed down to us to carry out:

“’Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” (Mt. 28:19-20)

There are two elements of this commission that all elders should seek to instill in their people. First, it’s the act of “making disciples”, or of turning people into disciples of Jesus. How is this to be done? By preaching and speaking the gospel of Jesus, of course. And much accompanies this. It’s not just that the gospel is a message with magic words, and people will believe it no matter when, where, or how you present it to them. Christians must know many things about sharing the gospel, including (1) what it essentially says, (2) what it basically implies about all its subject matter, (3) what it basically demands of unbelievers, (4) how it can best be presented in their personal contexts, and (5) what should be done based on an unbeliever’s response to it. All of these things should be at least taught, if not modeled, by elders over an assembly. The second activity that should be encouraged and developed in a congregation is that of “teaching them [disciples] to observe all that I commanded you” (v. 20). This is the teaching of those who are disciples, and it shouldn’t be confined only to elders. As we saw in Ephesians 4, all believers are responsible to “speak the truth” to one another, and this includes teaching. Further, the Lord’s instruction is not “teach them what to obey”, but to “teach them to obey all that I commanded”. So, He’s not merely speaking of formal teaching of Scripture, but also of “reproof, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). And such speaking will also include warning and encouragement, which ought to mostly come from non-elders.

In other words, the responsibility of showing and telling people how to follow the Lord isn’t restricted to church leaders, but is the responsibility of all believers who are able. Elders should be striving to teach the flock to not simply know Scripture and its truths, but also to practice it, and to pass it on to others. Put simply, elders must be working toward helping all their people become disciple-makers.

The apostle Peter magnificently sums up the mission of Christ’s people in 1 Peter 2:9, declaring,

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light . . .”

Thus, if an assembly of believers is actually acting as if chosen; serving as priests; living pure lives together; and reflecting God’s glory in Jesus, then they will naturally proclaim the Lord’s “excellencies”, or “praises”. This will manifest itself in both the preaching of the gospel, and in Christlike example. The result will be, until the return of the Lord, that He will continue to use His priests to call sinners “out of darkness into His marvelous light” from “all the nations”.

Your Assembly’s Goals

Now that we’ve seen an overview of the apostles’ objectives for the Christian communities under your care, how do the objectives that your assembly match up? Is your leadership team pursuing increasing love between the brethren? Are they helping to impart and cultivate increasing knowledge of God, His blessings, and His will for Christians? Are they modeling and encouraging humility of mind in the congregation, so that the members are gentle, patient, forbearing, and peaceable? Are they preserving and promoting increased unity of faith in Scripture, and of the knowledge of Jesus? Are they teaching, and developing, spiritual maturity? Are they stirring up zeal for serving and helping others, even through truth-telling? Finally, are they urging and demonstrating the necessity vital importance of making disciples through witnessing, teaching, and mentoring?

If your leaders are falling short of making progress in reaching these goals, then what are you doing to help them? How are you doing in your own sphere of influence to strive after the purposes of the Lord for His people? What do you need to do in order to become more loving; to have more personal knowledge of the Lord and His will; to think humbly about yourself more often; to promote the unity of your brethren in Christ; to work toward becoming more like Jesus; to be more diligent in serving others; and in witnessing and being a godly example toward your brethren?

Let us all seek to set our minds on the Lord’s purposes for His people, and help the whole family of God work toward fulfilling them.