Will you be a ruling elder?

W-4.0404 i. (1)—Will you be a faithful ruling elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture, and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

Learning what it means to be a ruling elder is like learning to walk or to bake: one really learns by doing. Full understanding of the role of ruling elders often happens while serving. A person might have an idea of the responsibilities of a ruling elder by having been a member of a congregation, watching other people serve in this capacity, or by reading a description of the role in the Book of Order, but it is really along the way, living into the ordination vows and serving on the session and other councils, that a ruling elder is formed.

Since ruling elders are called to particular functions, it is important to understand fully what those functions are. A ruling elder is defined in the following way:

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 share 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 fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. Ruling elders, together with ministers of the Word and Sacrament, 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. When elected by the congregation, they shall serve faithfully as members of the session. When elected as commissioners to higher councils, ruling elders participate and vote with the same authority as ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and they are eligible for any office. (BOO, G-2.0301)

Remember…… You were elected to this position because you have demonstrated wisdom, maturity of faith, leadership, and compassion in spirit. The call to serve as a ruling elder is a call to shared ministry. Ruling elders and ministers of Word and Sacrament participate equally.It is important to remember three points: (1) a ruling elder has been elected because the person has demonstrated wisdom, maturity of faith, leadership, and compassion in spirit. These are the core of the invitation to serve and are present in all kinds of people, regardless of origin, age, race, profession, disabilities, geography, gender, orientation, education, or background. What a powerful message of God’s call to all! Whomever God calls, God empowers. (2) The call is to serve in a shared ministry. Ruling elders are not meant to live into this calling alone, nor are ministers of Word and Sacrament. Discernment, leadership of the congregation, discipline, and other responsibilities are meant to be done prayerfully, intentionally, and collectively. And (3) ruling elders and ministers of Word and Sacrament vote and participate equally in the governance of the councils. This is one of the beauties of our Presbyterian structure: parity (or equality) in governance.

The first eight constitutional questions in W-4.0404 are the same for all those who are ordained, installed, and commissioned. Though these are personal vows, they are expressed and lived in the collective. We all respond affirmatively to these vows, and, in doing so, we all share in the responsibility to fulfill them for the benefit of the world, beginning with our own faith community, and to the glory of God.

For Reflection and Discussion:

In order to serve the people of God, session members need to be able to work and serve effectively together, knowing and trusting each other, and learning to appreciate the particular calling each one has, with their own gifts and skills, to serve in this council.

What are some ways the session can encourage community and trust-building among its members?

How can the session foster healthy relationships and safe, productive working environments?