Becoming a ruling elder in the PC(USA) begins much earlier than the phone call from the nominating committee. Through a myriad of ways, God has been and is working to bring us to that place where we have no choice but to say “yes, here am I, send me.”
The first three constitutional questions asked of every person being ordained and installed reflects this. “Ground Zero” is our relationship with Jesus Christ, and our ministry is shaped, not just by our understanding of God’s Word in Scripture, but the profound influence of our personal journeys of faith in coming to know the Lordship and Saviorhood of Christ.
Each of us is a product of an amazing God-With-Us journey and we bring that to the table when meeting together as the session. We often underestimate all of the people and experiences that have brought us so uniquely into our expression of faith. Likewise, we overlook how God has been intimately and lovingly shaping our faith long before becoming a ruling elder. One of the most significant activities elders can engage in together is writing and sharing their personal statements of faith. Doing so provides the insight, understanding, and appreciation of how God has been at work moving each of us to the moment when we accepted a call to serve our Lord and congregation as a spiritual leader. God has a wonderful sense of humor and timing, bringing together for God’s own purposes men and women, who at other times might not necessarily have chosen to work together, onto the session. There, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, all those phenomenal experiences are melded together, providing the capability to nurture, guide, and direct the people of God in fulfilling God’s design.
Many of us don’t consider ourselves storytellers, or for that matter, having a story worth telling, but nothing could be further from the truth. We carry within our hearts and souls compelling stories, and it is in the telling of these stories and describing where, when, and how we came to know Jesus that we establish the platform from which we engage in the experience of being a ruling elder. Sharing our faith stories allows us to realize that as similar sounding as they all might be, each story is unique and provides the lens for appreciating the perspective each person brings to their service. In sharing our stories, we develop an appreciation for diversity and how God is able to work through the likes of us.
Some ruling elders grew up in traditions other than Presbyterian or Reformed. Others didn’t come to know Jesus until they were in college, got married, or were in the foxhole. Some grew up in the church, had perfect attendance at Sunday school, went through confirmation, but didn’t really understand their faith or develop a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ until much later. When ruling elders gather together, it is a spiritual collage from which the Spirit creates a picture of unity.
By writing our faith statements and telling our stories, we begin to understand others better, appreciate them, and find ways to work together as brothers and sisters. Spiritual journeys do not respect boundaries. Age or gender doesn’t matter anymore than where you live, grew up, or went to school. Telling our stories helps us appreciate how the Holy Spirit works to enlarge our understanding and open us up to the deeper, more meaningful expressions of the gospel.
The Reverend Richard Johnson has been a PC(USA) pastor for forty-two years. Fifteen years ago he developed a curriculum for training ruling elders, which has been used for the past six years in training events throughout Great Rivers Presbytery. Recently the curriculum was expanded to include the unique ministry of deacons.