“I’m just an elder.”

Have you heard someone say that? Have you said it yourself? Maybe in response to being asked to lead worship, or preach, or visit someone in the hospital?

“No,” you reply, “I couldn’t do that. I’m just an elder. Those are things the pastor does.”

Our Presbyterian polity doesn’t recognize the statement, “I’m just an elder.” In our polity, ruling elders and teaching elders (also known as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament) share equally in the governance and spiritual leadership of the church. Our calls to ministry encompass different functions and tasks, but we are called equally to ministry and to leadership in the church.

For too long the ministry of ruling elder has been diminished, equated with serving on a non-profit board of directors. Yes, the session does perform tasks like hiring nursery attendants and deciding whether the amount of insurance coverage is adequate. But that is not the primary task of the session or of the ruling elders who serve on it.  

Ruling elders have the awesome task of measuring our community of faith’s fidelity to the Word of God. As the proposed new Form of Government puts it, “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” (G-2.0301).

There’s no “just” anywhere in that sentence.

Being a ruling elder is not easy. But we are not in this alone. Others are there to guide us as we seek to carry out our high calling.

From June 30–July 2, Presbyterians will gather in Indianapolis for the “Big Tent.” A significant component of the Big Tent will be the Elders Conference – a chance for all of us who are ruling elders to come together, share common thoughts and concerns, learn how to be better ruling elders, and, not least, to discover the “top ten things elders need to know.” Really, how can you stay away?

Go to: www.pcusa.org/bigtent to register. I look forward to seeing with you there!