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COMMITTEE ON CHRISTIAN EDUCATION FEATURE

Encouraging Our Elders

Stephen Tracey

A well-known TV advertisement asks, “What’s in your wallet?” Let’s change the question. What’s in your podcast app? Apparently the top three podcasts in the United States are The Joe Rogan Experience, Crime Junkie, and The Daily.[1] A little politics, humor, crime, and news seem to be the staple diet. The Ruling Elder podcast, produced by the Committee on Christian Education, may not cover the same topics as the top three, but it is a modest attempt at edifying and encouraging our ruling elders. Of course, one does not have to be a ruling elder to listen. Maybe the podcast will help others to continue to pray for, and encourage, their elders.

Walking Closely with Christ’s Sheep

Ruling elders, as servants of the Great Shepherd, are to care for his flock. The Scriptures say, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This is no small task. It conjures up visions of cheerful sheep munching on verdant vistas and skipping along oil paintings to cheerful tunes, yet it is part of spiritual warfare. It carries with it great privileges and also great responsibilities. It is a privilege to walk closely with Christ’s sheep. There are times it can be discouraging.

The Scriptures recognize this task can become heartbreaking. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). Keeping watch over souls is joyful work, yet elders must give an account to the Lord Jesus, and this may not be without some grief.

A Year of Episodes

At the time of writing, the Ruling Elder podcast, which is available at repod.opc.org or wherever you listen to podcasts, has completed almost a year of episodes. Topics covered have varied from teaching Sunday school to protecting children, from disability to deacons, from confessional standards to autism.

The current average is about five hundred downloads per month. Obviously, the longer an episode is available online, the more often it is downloaded. The first episode, with the warm-hearted Craig Troxel, has almost twelve hundred downloads.

The Committee on Christian Education has sought to encourage elders (and deacons) for many years through the publication of Ordained Servant. This publication is not obsolete; it is just as lively as ever. The Ruling Elder podcast is not meant to replace it. A glance at the most recent edition shows its timely relevance with an excellent installment to the series Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder. Letter No. 7 is titled “Discouragement and the Ruling Elder.”  The author, a remaining-anonymous-older-elder, acknowledges that “Shepherding can be mentally and spiritually exhausting.”[2] To this he adds the problem of loneliness and also the danger of losing “sight of God’s love for us in Christ.” In providing a podcast for ruling elders, we are seeking to supplement the work of Ordained Servant and to draw attention to the excellent resources already available to office-bearers. Each podcast seeks to provide references and suggestions for further reading.

Ordained Servant recently celebrated its thirtieth year of publication. Reflecting on that, the current editor, Rev. Gregory Reynolds, wrote “Grace in Winter: Reflections on Ordained Servant at Thirty.” Here is his conclusion:

Why did I title this article “Grace in Winter”? It is the title of Faith Cook’s book which puts several of Samuel Rutherford’s (1600–1661) choice and eloquent letters into verse, (Grace in Winter: Rutherford in Verse [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989]). Rutherford said, “Grace grows best in winter.” This little book meant a great deal to me during a difficult time in my ministry in 1989 and after. Each church officer encounters suffering and difficulty in the lives of those to whom he ministers and also experiences this himself in his own life and ministry. In a sense all of life in a fallen world is in the season of winter in desperate need of the light and warmth of the gospel. It is my constant hope that in a small way Ordained Servant helps to alleviate the wintry conditions with which we all deal from day to day and provide a path forward through the snow.[3]

While there are wintry conditions, we thank God that we also see signs of spring. There is new life. There is joy. There are souls being added to the kingdom, and there are diligent and humble ruling elders busy in their edifying work, encouraging and helping God’s precious people. Ruling elders form the backbone of presbyterian churches. (And not just presbyterian churches—other denominations also know the blessing of elders). Often they are men who grew up in the congregation they serve, are deeply rooted in the local community, and serve in one place longer than most ministers. They are spiritual men, called and equipped by the Great Shepherd, and they put their hands and hearts to serving and helping the people.

Godly elders also put their knees to the work by giving themselves to prayer. We thank God for these precious servants and their families. May God’s grace enable each one to continue to be an example to the flock. Here is the promise to faithful elders: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). So, as Horatius Bonar said, “Go, labor on: spend and be spent, your joy to do the Father’s will.”

The author is pastor of Lakeview OPC in Rockport, Maine.

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[1] “The top 50 podcasts in the U.S. Q2, 2023,” August 2, 2023, in Featured, Media Research, Podcast Research, Podcasts by Edison Research.

[2] “Discouragement and the Ruling Elder: Letter No. 7, Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder.” Ordained Servant Online, August–September 2023.

[3] Gregory E. Reynolds, “Grace in Winter: Reflections on Ordained Servant at Thirty.” Ordained Servant Online, January 2022.

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