In the PCA, we have two types of elders who all share the same office and serve together on Session: ruling elders, who are volunteer laymen, and teaching elders, who are pastors. As a teaching elder, I want to use this space to write about our ruling elders. It’s my goal to help you appreciate them and be intentional about finding ways to express your love for them. (Incidentally, no one asked me to write this article, and there is not a specific situation I am responding to, so don’t be tempted to read between the lines. I happened to read a similar article a few months ago, and it inspired me to pass on these thoughts.)
We are privileged to be served by seven ruling elders currently active on our Session: Lee Augsburger, John Chung, John Gregory, Mo Hanna, Steve Hoogerhyde, Peter Hwang, and Don Thampy. One of these men is retired, while the rest work full-time outside of the church. They are charged to provide oversight of the flock, live as examples to the flock, govern the church, teach the Word of God, shepherd people, care for those in need, share the gospel with the lost, pray with and for people, and more. Our ruling elders lead prayer meetings, disciple men, teach the Bible, fill the pulpit, pursue people struggling with sin, exercise church discipline, make strategic decisions, and generally answer questions where “the buck stops here.” And they do all of this as volunteers and while serving in other ministry areas such as worship, youth, missions, and men’s or children’s ministries. Every one of them (along with Pastor Peter and I) would tell you that there is always more ministry and more needs than we can actually personally address, and things can fall through the cracks. Not everyone always agrees with Session’s decisions (perhaps due to legitimate differences of opinion, but I suspect in large part because they don’t have access to all the same information or understand all the factors that Session is considering), but I am thankful to God for the godliness, wisdom, shepherding hearts, and fruitful ministry of these men that God has provided for our church.
Here are a few ways to care for your ruling elders who invest so much of their time for the church:
- Treat your ruling elders with grace and charity. While some needs may be urgent, remember that these men are volunteers, and most work 40 or 50 hours at their day jobs. Sometimes they are swamped with work or family concerns of their own, in addition to the concerns of the church. One of the qualifications for elder is that they “manage their own households well” (1 Tim. 3:4), so we need to allow these men the freedom to care for their own families in addition to the church family. Also, give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they are seeking the Lord’s will. I have been privileged to serve alongside most of these men for over four years now, and I can testify to the thoughtfulness, prayer, and godliness that is expressed whenever they are considering a decision or seeking to shepherd someone who is struggling. They don’t always see things the same way as me or Pastor Peter or even with one another, but the camaraderie, respectfulness, and collective wisdom is encouraging to witness.
- Pray for your ruling elders. They do not serve for reward or recognition (1 Pet. 5:1-3). Most of their work goes unnoticed by most people. Late-night meetings are just one of the ways they invest themselves in the care of souls for which they will give an account to the Chief Shepherd (Heb. 13:17). Pray that God would sustain them, encourage them, guide them, and bear fruit through them. Pray for their wives and children as these men sacrifice time with family to serve others. Pray for ever-increasing faith and faithfulness, love for Jesus, spiritual growth, and equipping for ministry. Pray for wisdom to make God-honoring decisions and to lead well. Pray for humility to recognize their own sin and shortcomings and rest in the cross and their identity in Christ.
- Do what you can to make their ministry a joy and not a burden. I mentioned earlier that Heb. 13:17 indicates that elders will give an account to Jesus for how they served. In light of that, the rest of the verse encourages the congregation to: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” What will make their ministry a joy? Not merely submitting to them, but pursuing Jesus with them. Investing yourself in the mission of the kingdom. Loving the Word of God and prayer and fellowship. Exercising your gifts. Avoiding needless controversies and prosecuting personal preferences. In short, pursuing Christ and his gospel mission alongside them for the glory of God.
I thank God for these men and their camaraderie in gospel ministry. I hope you do, too.
Steve Sage is the Pastor of Discipleship at GRC.