We are Presbyterian. The term Presbyterian comes from the Greek term “presbuteros” which is commonly translated as elder. In the New Testament, Jesus’ commission was to make disciples and his instruction was to then gather them into churches that would meet for worship and be led by elders: men of godly character who feel called to be in spiritual leadership and are qualified to be in spiritual leadership. Paul, in his letters to Timothy and Titus gives us the qualifications for such men and as a church we look for such men, train such men, and then members of the church affirm a man’s calling to the office of elder by a vote.
We have a number of such elders in our church and we believe the Bible teaches that though women have the same value and dignity as made in God’s image and the same gifts related to spiritual leadership, because 1) the pattern in scripture is that God regards husbands as having spiritual leadership and greater accountability in their families, and 2) the qualifications for elders in the family of God in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are only for men, therefore when the family of God is gathered for corporate worship, they should be called to do so and spiritually led in so doing by Biblically qualified and elected men.
This is not a slight or a devaluing of women. Just as when we consider that the Trinity is one God in three persons, equal in glory, dignity and honor in their being, but different in their roles (the Father sends, the Son dies and rises, the Spirit indwells), similarly, men and women are equal in value and dignity but different in their roles in the Family of God including when they gather for worship. So this is not a slight. This is a recognition that God’s word governs God’s worship and that in corporate worship men have, by divine design, different roles than women and that elders are men who are called to lead the church.
We have a number of elders in our church and at any given time there are a group of them on what’s called the active “session,” which means “those who sit down.” Session is the group of elders that meets monthly to pray, to discuss, to plan and to make decisions about how best to fulfill the Great Commandment and Great Commission as a church. Men elected to the office of elder serve a few year term on the session, after which time they can take a break from the session meetings, for a season, or be re-elected to serve on active session. After serving two consecutive terms we require session members to take a least one year off before they can be eligible to be re-elected to active session. We use the term 'inactive' elders, not to indicate that the men no longer care or are called to serve the flock of God, but to indicate who is and isn’t in the session meetings.
So, our church has a number of elders, some of whom meet monthly in session meetings, all of whom are men gifted, qualified, and committed to serving, discipling, and protecting the flock of God here at EP. There are some elements of being elder led that are common to all churches in our denomination, and some practical outworking’s of that which are unique EPC.
In terms of common elements, the elders of the church and the session in particular, which is led by the senior pastor, are focused on the spiritual care of the congregation. They are especially committed therefore to praying for the church and the community. They are the ones who call the people of God and community to worship. They are the ones who oversee the spiritual food being served, the content preached and taught and studied during worship, in Sunday schools and small groups. They are the ones who set the priorities for ministry and approve a budget that fits those priorities. They are also the ones, active session in particular, that lovingly pursue members if they stray from Christ. This could be something as casual as a phone call to check-in on someone we haven’t seen in a while, or as formal as church discipline.
Church discipline is a normal part of a healthy church. You see it presumed in much of the New Testament and clearly taught in Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5 & 6 and in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. In Paul’s letters we see that it was the regular practice of Paul to remove people from the church who publicly proclaimed Christ but either taught things contrary to Scripture and refused to be corrected or lived contrary to scripture and refused to repent. In cases like these, where there is a significant public or private sin made known, the session comes alongside the member to help them see their sin, turn from it and be restored. If they refuse to listen or repent, the session begins a formal discipline process, warning them and pleading with them to repent and calling them to meet together with the session. If they repeatedly refuse to meet with session or to turn from their sin, the session, in accordance with, and out of obedience to Scripture, declares the member to be excommunicated. Even then, the motive is love and the hope is that by removing someone from the “communion” of the church they would repent and be restored to the Lord and his people. This is common for the elders in any PCA church.
In terms of our church in particular, the elders exercise care by being on call and by making routine calls to pray for those who live in their general area. If you join our church you will be part of a Community “Group” based on where you live and will receive a list of the elders closest to you (your Community “Team”). These are the men we urge you to reach out to for any kind of spiritual help or prayer. Our elders also exercise care by calling you to feed on God’s word in corporate worship and by encouraging you to avail yourselves of the many ways to grow spiritually here. In Acts 6, when deacons are created, they are created to help tend to physical needs so that the spiritual leadership can focus “on the Word of God and prayer.” This is the primary ministry of our elders. Once a year, the elders and deacons in your area will call the entire Community Group together to build friendships and encourage fellowship.