A few days ago I was musing on the training and continuing education (or lack thereof) of ruling elders in Presbyterian churches. This has been a continuing reflection of mine to try to figure out how to better equip ruling elders for not just their administrative duties but their polity and spiritual shepherding duties as well. Being a good elder is not easy and takes work.
It is always worthwhile for ruling elders to be reading their branch’s confessional standards on a regular basis, and to be familiar with their polity documents (The Code, Book of Forms, Book of Church Order, Book of Order). But there is a need for resources to fill in between those documents and to help understand their context.
For a broad overview of Presbyterianism for not just ruling elders but members as well, my church, and others I know, have used Donald McKim’s Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers with good response. For theological background I have enjoyed the “Armchair Theologians” series of books on religious figures like Augustine, Calvin and Barth. These are easy reads that give a good overview of each individual’s life and theological thought (which are usually linked). I could see that academic theologians might have problems with the details, or lack of details in the books. And for some the illustrations might be a problem either because it always represents God as the stereotype man with the flowing beard, or because it portrays God at all in violation of the Second Commandment. And the PC(USA) has a low-cost set of studies at ThePresbyterianLeader.com that are designed for leadership training and discussion of current hot topics. I can not tell you anything further about these because I have not purchased any yet but I have seen good reviews from others in the PC(USA).
But that is a perfect lead-in to a brand new resource that is both comprehensive and free for download…
A big thanks to the Presbyterian Church in Canada for putting together Equipping Elders. (And to Colin Carmichael, the Associate Secretary for Communications, for bringing it to my attention.) This 194 page resource is available as either the free download or for 20$CAN from the PCC Book Room. for a 3-hole punch loose-leaf version to put in a binder. And what surprised me is how “platform independent” this is; it is very much about being a ruling elder and some, but not much, is directly tied to the PCC.
Probably what impressed me the most about this resource was how comprehensive it is – how much useful material is in one place. It addresses important topics that ruling elders need to know to be good shepherds of their flocks: Congregational care and home visitations along with suggested prayers for praying for members’ needs on those visits. Understanding the implications of different sized congregations. Why membership matters. Stewardship. And, relevant to this post, why and how elders need to keep on learning themselves. The book says:
Ordination to ruling eldership in The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a lifelong commitment to a call to ministry in and with the church. Whether serving as term elders, experiencing periods as inactive elders, or attending session meetings monthly for 20 years, all elders are always elders.
This ordination for life means that elders have responsibility for developing their skills, learning more about their ministry and growing in the faith. Elders need to be lifelong learners. Lifelong learning assumes that we all continue to learn new things over the years, whether this is through formal training, reading, discussions with others, experience, or picking up new information and ideas from a variety of sources.
Check it out, and if you know of any similar resource that puts that much practical information for ruling elders in one place, at any price, please let me know.