The Ruling Elder (The final installment in a three part series on the ordained offices of the Presbyterian Church)

Today our discussion turns to the office of what is currently identified as Teaching Elder.  In fact this is a return to language used earlier in the church.  The office of Teaching Elder is the ordained office most commonly called Pastor, but also may be known as Minister of Word and Sacrament, Chaplain, Reverend, Preacher and sometimes with the Preschool kids, “Chapel Man.”  The fact of the matter is that the Teaching Elder, like Deacons and Ruling Elders, are set apart for certain ministries.  We have these diverse titles because the role of a Teaching Elder is unique to the gifts of the person and the needs of the ministry context they serve.  The Book of Order puts forth this rather flowery and perhaps confusing description:

Teaching elders (also called ministers of the Word and Sacrament) shall in all things be committed to teaching the faith and equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph.4:12). They may serve in a variety of ministries, as authorized by the presbytery. When they serve as preachers and teachers of the Word, they shall preach and teach the faith of the church, so that the people are shaped by the pattern of the gospel and strengthened for witness and service. When they serve at font and table, they shall interpret the mysteries of grace and lift the people’s vision toward the hope of God’s new creation. When they serve as pastors, they shall support the people in the disciplines of the faith amid the struggles of daily life. When they serve as presbyters, they shall participate in the responsibilities of governance, seeking always to discern the mind of Christ and to build up Christ’s body through devotion, debate, and decision.  Book of Order G-2.0501

Rather than talk about the varied forms of ministry Teaching Elders engage in throughout the world, I thought I would share some of the ways I embody this office at Christ Presbyterian Church.  You will notice that I very rarely use the term Reverend. This term comes to us from Latin through a great deal of time and tradition.  I don’t like the title that much because at it’s heart it means, “[one who is] to be respected/must be respected.”  As one who believes that the Priesthood of All Believers is a critical part of our tradition, I don’t believe that anyone should be put on a level where they must be respected by virtue of their office.  After all, I have known plenty of so called Reverends that were far from deserving respect. 

I prefer the term Pastor beca

use I believe that it best sums up what I do.  Now, Pastor has a Latin root I can live with, “Shepherd.”  In fact I look at every day and every individual ministry I do in my vocation through the eyes and with the heart of a shepherd.  I am to care for, lead, protect, instruct, seek after and correct the flock known as the congregation.  As such I have many roles, some that are very practical and some that are highly spiritual.

On the practical side, you will find me making sure that the physical property of the congregation is well cared for and welcoming.  I am also charged with overseeing most of the daily administration of congregational life.  This means that while we have individuals who are responsible for given tasks like paying the bills, I try to make sure this is done well and on schedule.  Also as a solo-pastor I have oversight of our staff.  As the only full-time employee, I have a unique challenge to ensure that our staff and volunteers are working together to achieve our mission.

On the spiritual side, I am charged with what most folks see as what a Pastor does.  Everything from preparing worship to counseling members.  In our system at Christ Presbyterian Church I have the tough challenge of being like a conductor of a symphony.  We have many ministries and many individuals involved in leading them.  Along with the Ruling Elders, I work to ensure that not only are things getting done, but that they are being a spiritual blessing to the world and in harmony. As the Pastor, I am given the unique charge to help the congregation and it’s members discern their sacred calling.  This of course can only be done with a life that is immersed in prayer and study.  Any good Pastor knows that taking time to pray and consider Scripture is the foundation of healthy and holy ministry.  Thus, it is also part of my role to pray as an individual as well as lead others in prayer.

I could frankly go on for pages on what a Pastor is called to do.  In the end I think the term itself lends us the best guidance for what I and all Pastors should do.  A Pastor should shepherd those he or she is called to serve, to follow the one true and trustworthy shepherd, Jesus Christ.  I pray that this is how you experience my ministry among you.

  • Please pray for our Nominating Taskforce that they may discern whom God is calling to serve as Ruling Elders and Deacons for our congregation.
  • Please pray for those who are being called by God to this special expression of their Baptismal calling.
  • Please pray for those currently serving as Deacons, may they be filled with God’s Spirit.