The Ruling Elder (Part one of a three part series on the ordained offices of the Presbyterian Church)

ordination_50521_web   Each year our congregation goes through the discernment process of selecting leaders for our congregation. The nominating taskforce is working to recommend a slate of officers to the Session for the next class of Elders and Deacons. This is perhaps one of the most anxiety ridden times of the year. The nominating taskforce is concerned with not only getting the people to fill spots, but perhaps more importantly, the right people to answer God’s calling. Today, I will discuss the specific calling to be a Ruling Elder.
    A few years ago, Christ Presbyterian Church made a conscious effort to be more fully open to the leading and discernment of the Spirit in this process. In the past, like most congregations, our congregation would approach the selection of Elders by trying to find people who were going to be Elders for specific areas of our ministry. Examples of this would have been an Elder for Finance or Christian Education. In this model, the ability to fulfill a specific role would often trump the spiritual calling to such a leadership role. I’m sure that you have experienced in you life those who are at the top of their field for their ability, but once given leadership, fall apart.
Our congregation has moved to looking at the calling from God on the individuals in our community through the lens of the more general qualifications. This really doesn’t make the task easier. In fact, if we take serious what the Scriptures and the Book of Order say about Elders, we may decide that no one is qualified. Here is the definition of a Ruling Elder:

G-2.0301 Ruling Elder Defined

As there were in Old Testament times elders for the government of the people, so the New Testament church provided persons with particular gifts to sharing in discernment of God’s Spirit and governance of God’s people. Accordingly, congregations should elect persons of wisdom and maturity of faith, having demonstrated skills in leadership and being compassionate in spirit. Ruling elders are so named not because they “lord it over” the congregation (Matt. 20:25), but because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fi

delity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. Ruling elders, together with teaching elders, exercise leadership, government, spiritual discernment, and discipline and have responsibilities for the life of a congregation as well as the whole church, including ecumenical relationships.

  Did you catch some of the heavy words in that section? In particular, “persons of wisdom and maturity of faith, having demonstrated skills in leadership and being compassionate in spirit.” Most people when asked if they view themselves in such a way would say, no way I’m not qualified in such a way. This is one reason why, when we talk about the calling process in the church, we say officers are “Called by God, through the voice of the congregation.” It is the outside voice of the congregation, in this case the Nominating Taskforce, that discerns our qualifications. I for one, never viewed myself in such a “lofty” way, yet my home congregation called me to be an Elder and later helped to call me into ministry as a Teaching Elder.
    You may very well get an unexpected call from someone from the Nominating Taskforce. I want to challenge you to consider your response to this call with prayerful discernment. My experience after working with Sessions for almost 24 years, says that no one around the table truly feels like they are qualified to be an Elder. Perhaps we need to be reminded that, “God does not call the qualified, God qualifies the called.” I also know that being an Elder in the church has not always been a blessing in peoples lives. You may have heard stories of being burned out and long meetings of arguing over money. While I can’t guarantee this won’t happen, I will promise that I am committed to making Elder’s time on Session a time of spiritual growth and blessing. I have been extremely proud of the Session of Christ Presbyterian over the years I have been it’s moderator. We have grown from being a management board to a spiritual board who study, pray and discern God’s will for our congregation together.

  • Please pray for our Nominating Taskforce that they may discern whom God is calling to serve as Ruling Elders 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 on our Session, may they be filled with God’s Spirit.