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By Stephany Jackson and Tammy Wiens | Presbyterians Today Magazine - March 2008

The call to serve as elder is a call to serve the spiritual as well as administrative needs of God’s people. It’s a call to build up the body of Christ, which means much more than planning for building repairs or making budget adjustments. It means ensuring that the members of the body have the opportunity to be engaged in the type of ministry and mission that will help them achieve spiritual maturity.

Elders are called to be spiritual leaders, strengthening and nurturing the faith and life of the congregation committed to their charge. In the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elders are instructed to engage members in the mission of the church and to provide opportunities for evangelism, pastoral care, worship, education and stewardship (Book of Order, G-10.0100). Consider the spiritual vitality that might blossom within congregations if elders would give as much time and attention to providing models for discipleship and evangelism as they give to governance and discipline.

In the first five books of the Bible elders are always mentioned in connection with Moses. In Exodus 3:16–18 God directs Moses to “assemble the elders” and lay out a plan that would free the Israelites after years of bondage. Numbers 11 says elders were chosen after Moses complained to God that he needed help leading the people. The role of the elder takes various forms throughout the Old Testament. Elders are responsible for carrying out legislative and administrative functions. They also are responsible for leading the community by teaching and living out models of obedience to the law (see Exodus 19:7–8; Deuteronomy 27:1, 31:9, 32:7).

In the New Testament, God calls to leadership wise, dedicated and mature persons of faith. All members of Christ’s body, the church, are endowed with unique gifts for the purpose of service. “Elder” can refer to one who shares in corporate leadership for a cluster of Christian assemblies or churches (see Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1–2), or to one who has leadership over a particular congregation (see Titus 1:5–7). The term does not so much confer a title as describe a function or role in the community.

Ephesians 4:11–13 lists some of the ministries to which church leaders are called: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (see also 1 Corinthians 12:27–31). All of these ministries exist for the purpose of equipping the saints, members of the congregation, for Christ’s mission. When people joyfully engage in the work of ministry, the body of Christ is strengthened and the church matures to take on the character of Christ.

A Presbyterian asset

Elders are called to exercise leadership, government and discipline (Book of Order, G-60302). In the Presbyterian Church congregations share a common polity that ensures due process when disputes arise, and promotes equality for all persons. It provides a way of living together in which the concerns and suggestions of all members are taken seriously. It also helps assure members that finances are managed responsibly and mission is carried out faithfully.

This form of government is one of our denomination’s assets. It can even serve as an evangelistic strength, attracting people who have become discouraged by poorly managed religious institutions or independent congregations.

One of the questions that elders are asked before they are ordained is, “Will you be a faithful elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture and service?” The mission that Christ has set before elders requires a constant process of dying to the old self and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Only when elders engage in transformation in their own lives, can they lead others through the process.

This is not something anyone can do on his or her own. All church leaders need the love and support received through regularly engaging in spiritual practices with others. When elders take care of their own spiritual well-being, they are better equipped to model the type of spiritual growth and maturity that will inspire and enable other members of the congregation.

It’s Greek to me: A Glossary

In the New Testament

Both of the following terms are used interchangeably to refer to “elders”:
presbuteros — Greek word for elder, from which we derive the English word presbyter

In the PC(USA)

The role of elder has its roots in the early church, but various church traditions have come to define the role in different ways. The following terms are used in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and some other churches in the Reformed tradition:

  • elders - elected members who are ordained to serve as the governing body (session) of a particular congregation
  • presbyters - both elders and ministers together
  • presbytery - a group of congregations in one geographic region
  • ruling elders - members of a church session
  • teaching elders - ministers


The office of deacon as set forth in Scripture is one of sympathy, witness, and service after the example of Jesus Christ. Persons of spiritual character, honest repute, of exemplary lives, brotherly and sisterly love, warm sympathies and sound judgment should be chosen for this office. (see 1 Timothy 3:8–13)

It is the duty of deacons, first of all, to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress both within and beyond the community of faith. They shall assume such other duties as may be delegated to them from time to time by the session, such as leading the people in worship through prayers of intercession, reading the Scriptures, presenting the gifts of the people, and assisting with the Lord’s Supper. (Book of Order, G-6.0401–02)

Deacon Ministry at Desert Palms

Helping to create a friendly beacon of hope and light to the Desert Palms community through sympathy, witness and service is what the Deacons are all about. Through our committees, Communion, Congregational Life, and Care and Support, each deacon has an assignment for service. The Deacon Care Program is the primary focus of each of the deacons at Desert Palms; to provide opportunities for sharing joys and concerns, and to provide hope and care when needs arise, deacons are involved almost daily with parishioner’ concerns. When asked what they enjoy most about serving as a deacon, most deacons say that getting to know people on their deacon care list is the best part.

By Sherry Blackman | Presbyterians Today - May 1, 2020

Since the early church, the office of deacon has been an integral part of ministry, with men and women called to care for the needs of the faith community. In the Book of Acts, Stephen was among the first of seven deacons appointed by the elders to alleviate the burgeoning care of widows and orphans. With the appointment of these deacons — which comes from the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant” — the elders were then able to focus on preaching and teaching. (See Acts 6:1–6)

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