Now is a time for the Ruling Elder! Presbyterian denominations face great difficulties at the local, Presbytery, and Synod (General Assembly) levels. The input of our ruling elders at every level is crucial in our presbyterian system.
As I have served through the years, I have been blessed to serve with serious and dutiful elders. The wisdom and experience of these men, along with deep spirituality, were a great encouragement to me as a pastor. These men who would work all day and then attend a meeting starting at 6 pm, often ending near midnight, dealt with difficult topics and issues. Our local session worked through many complex and divisive issues. I would not trade a single man from my session.
In the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, there was a contingency of lay leadership that banded together to help bring reformation to the church. The Alliance of Loyal Laity worked to bring back our denomination from the edge of liberalism in the last quarter of the Twentieth century. Ruling Elders are of critical importance to how our system operates.
For our system of polity to work, we have to encourage our ruling elders to be active in the life of the presbytery. At one point, our congregation was taking the majority of our session to every presbytery meeting. Every session cannot bring every elder, and we are no longer able to as well. However, this level of involvement helped our elders understand the work of the presbytery. We need to be encouraging our ruling elders to step up and help us lead, especially in difficult times.
This involvement and leadership is part of the job of the ruling elder. Someone must do the work of the Presbytery and Synod (or General Assembly). It is not trivial work. The presbytery helps shepherd and then examine seminary students for Gospel ministry. These bodies hear appeals and make policies that have a significant impact on the life of the church.
Some elders fall into the trap of seeing pastors as trained professionals and the ruling elders as amateurs. This undervaluing of the ruling elders is just plain wrong. Yes, pastors have more training, but there should be training for ruling elders too. The church should be serious about training its officers.
In the ARPC, we have had training seminars led at the denominational level. Sessions have banded together to bring in speakers to do training on various topics. Training in the theological foundations and practical implications of the office of ruling elder is essential. Trained ruling elders can fulfill the duties of their office. They understand the nature and the necessity of their role and work.
Ruling elders are not a corporate board but are spiritual shepherds. They rule over the congregation. They are Christ's servants to watch over the church and build disciples. This truth means that being an Elder is not just a meeting once a month, with a presbytery and synod meeting thrown in here and there. It is a daily and weekly work of prayer, engaging the saints, and leading in the session and higher courts of the church. The office is a high honor and great responsibility.
Would you please pray for and encourage your ruling elders? These are not amateurs but co-laborers with ministers in the church. They provide a needed perspective and voice in the working of our Presbyterian system of government.
Ruling Elders, take seriously the high calling that is yours as an Elder in Christ's Church. See the importance of your work. Make sure you are being trained for your office and engaged in the work before you. The church and higher courts need you and your involvement.