Elder Training

A series of lessons to help you become a better servant of Christ as a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Learn about being a Ruling Elder and serving on Session with:

  • Jaclyn Beeler, Ruling Elder and Administrator, Presbytery East TN

  • Lina Robinson Hart, Parish Associate, Rivermont

  • Il Sun (PK) Kim, Pastor, Korean Church of Knoxville

  • Gloria Mencer, Minister

  • Gradye Parsons, Honorably Retired Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, Parish Associate, Westminster Presbyterian Church

  • James McTyre, Stated Clerk, PET


Welcome to Elder Training! To be ordained as a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a high calling. It’s a calling to listen to the Holy Spirit, to study God’s written word, and to follow Jesus Christ in service.

Elder Training is intended to stretch your knowledge and your faith. It’s also intended to be kinda joyful. So, relax. You’ve got this.

What You’ll Need

You’ll need a Bible for each Training Workshop. Most PC(USA) churches use the NRSV, New Revised Standard Version, but they’re all holy. You can buy or download one from the links provided. (Many Presbyterians like the XL print version.) The online apps work pretty well, too.

You can download the Presbyterian Book of Order and Book of Confessions – the two halves of our church’s constitution. You can also purchase a print version. Be warned: they’re Presbyterian – thick, orderly, and not always the most exciting. But they contain a wealth of theology, faith, practices, and history. We’ll take a look at some of the highlights. You don’t need to read them cover to cover, although you certainly are free to do so.


First, a few questions. Questions for you and questions about you. It’s good to have questions. Presbyterians like questions. We’re willing to take the questions and wrestle with the answers.

Read through the section of the Leader and Student Guide on Pages 5-10. Discuss the questions. What do the answers tell you about each other and about yourself?

This is part of a video from the PCUSA’s Confirmation curriculum, “Big God, Big Questions.” It features Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, the current Stated Clerk of the PCUSA. Watch the video, and think about how you would answer the questions at the end.

For more information on the work of the Office of the General Assembly, click below, or visit him on the PCUSA’s website: http://oga.pcusa.org/section/stated-clerk/stated-clerk/

In the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order, find and read sections F-1.01–F-1.02, The Mission of the Church.

What do these statements tell you about the way our church came to be? What foundations shaped our denomination as part of the ministry of Christ?

The Structure of PCUSA Ministry

Watch the video for The Structure of PCUSA Ministry. In the Leader and Student Guide read pages 11-26. Discuss the questions.

In the PCUSA Book of Confessions read the introductions and the content of the:

Are these creeds familiar to you? What about them is troubling? Reassuring?

The Ministry of ALL Members

What spiritual gifts do you see in your congregation? How do the members of your local church say, “Jesus is Lord?”

Read The Ministry of ALL Members, pages 27-38 in the Leader and Student Guide. Read through the section and watch the video. Did you know so much is required of ALL members?

Read the introduction and content of the confession, A Brief Statement of Faith. How does this differ from the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds? Are there parts of the confession that are confusing? Reassuring?

The Ministry of Ruling Elders

Exodus 18:13-27

The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’

Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’

So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves. Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went off to his own country.

Do YOU have what it takes to be a Ruling Elder, serving on Session? Your congregation believes you do. They’ve elected you to service and to leadership. What DOES it take?

Watch the video about the qualities of a Ruling Elder. The speaker is Rev. Gradye Parsons, former Stated Clerk of the PCUSA and now Parish Associate at Westminster Church in Knoxville, TN.

Do you think you have what it takes?

Read pages 39-58 in the Leader and Student Guide, The Ministry of Ruling Elders. Watch the video and share in discussion.

The Ministry of the Session

Proverbs 15:22

Without counsel, plans go wrong,
but with many advisers they succeed.

Find and read Section G-02, The Session, in the Presbyterian Book of Order. What did you find that the Session is responsible for doing? Were there surprises?

Who has been the most valued adviser in your life?

Are you an organizer? Are you an agent of chaos? Do you like having rules to follow? Do you prefer breaking the rules?

In the Leader and Student Guide, read The Ministry of the Session, pages 59-75 and watch the video. What questions do you have about the Session? How do you feel about becoming a session member?


Once again, read through the Constitutional Questions of ordination for Ruling Elders.

Think of how these questions might sound if they were a prayer.

We’re all imperfect. We’re all learning. We’re sinners and yet we’re also saints. We push and pull against faith and duty. We continue, as did Jacob, to wrestle with God. We may not get our hips out of joint, but we call can get our “noses out of joint” over matters both trivial and vital.

Together, ask God’s help, that the example of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit might help you remember and fulfill these questions of ordination. Remember, you’re ordained to serve, not perfection. You’re ordained to obedience, not command. Christ is and will always be the Head of the Church. But we are called to be his hands, feet, hearts and voice to a world in need of his ministry.

W-4.0404: Constitutional Questions

The moderator of the council of those to be ordained, installed, or commissioned shall ask them to face the body of membership and to answer the following questions:

  1. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
  2. Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
  3. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
  4. Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?
  5. Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?
  6. Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?
  7. Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?
  8. Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?


You’ve made it through this example of Elder Training. Do you feel ready to serve on the Session of your church? What more do you need to know?

You have what it takes. Sometimes it takes some experience to come to believe it. Through the church, the Body of Christ, your qualities of faith and leadership have been witnessed by others in your congregation. Trust them. Trust the Holy Spirit.

Go, and serve.