Teachers, lawyers, doctors, farmers, bookkeepers, and any other vocation one can think of.
That’s the limitless pool of professions from which ruling elders are drawn from for service in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It also is from this diverse and life-giving body that the 221st General Assembly (2014) is pulling from in order to discern the mind of Christ for the church, June 14–21, in Detroit.
Half of General Assembly commissioners, elected by presbyteries, are ruling elders and half are teaching elders. This shared leadership structure, mirrored at the presbytery level, is part of our basic understanding of how we govern ourselves. It signifies the high value the denomination places on both ministerial and lay leadership, a core belief dating back to John Calvin.
Ordained and equally empowered alongside teaching elders, ruling elders maintain unique roles.
The Book of Order states,
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. ... (G-2.0301)
It’s important for ruling elders to have this perspective in their personal witness and in the session as they uncover what God is calling the church to do. They vow to be part of the community that is the church.
Serving at General Assembly is a continuation of this perspective and calling, and must be seen as a wonderful opportunity to give richly to the full body. Each ruling elder coming to the 221st General Assembly (2014) should be ready to bring his or her gifts and talents to the table, ultimately widening the foundation that supports and gives form to the discernment process.
Thorough preparation is essential. Review each overture, found on PC-Biz, and study the issues in order to have a basic understanding of the business coming before the assembly. Ruling elders also need to understand the mechanics of how a debate works, and really be prepared to listen to a range of voices from across the nation, and even the world.
When ruling elders leave the 221st General Assembly (2014) I hope they take with them a sense of what the wider work of the church is, and a sense of how their congregation plays a part in that.
The Reverend Gradye Parsons serves as the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has served pastorates in Newport and Bristol, Tenn., served as executive presbyter and stated clerk for the Presbytery of Holston, and as director of operations for the Office of the General Assembly.