Dear James,

I received your letter last week Thursday. I would have written back sooner, but it seems the good Lord preferred that I spend the last few days in our local hospital. It all started with some stomach pains and nausea on Friday, not long after my breakfast with Pastor Sam. When it did not subside by noon, I drove myself to urgent care and was subsequently taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital, where I remained for four days. Pastor Sam visited me; God bless his soul. He was quite concerned it was the breakfast that got me. I told him they ruled out food poisoning, so it must have been the company! We had a good laugh, which seemed to help (Prov. 17:22). Anyway, after four days at Mercy it is nice to be home. I have a follow-up next week with my regular doctor.

I am glad you found some help in my last letter on the importance of the relationship of a ruling elder and his wife. When the Lord gives an elder a wife, He gives him much needed help (Gen. 2:18). You asked me if there are other relationships which are crucial to the effective ministry of a ruling elder. That is a very good question. If you do not mind, I would like to start with that relationship which is so obvious that it is often ignored. What I am speaking of is the immensely important relationship of a ruling elder with the pastor.

Our Lord Jesus Christ took great pains to promote a spirit of unity and love among his apostles. Whenever he found them disputing, he immediately set them aright: once by means of a little child (Luke 9:47) and once by means of a lesson about service (Luke 22:25). Maybe his most memorable lesson was when he took a towel and washed their feet, telling them, “You also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Your relationship with the pastor must be marked by and maintained by this servant attitude of the heart. This is very important.

James, allow me to speak very plainly to you here. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that within the congregation no relationship will predict the overall health, growth, and maturity of the flock as this relationship between the pastor and his ruling elder(s). It is foundational. This relationship has often been the special target of Satan’s most forceful attacks upon the church. He knows that a house divided cannot stand (Matt. 12:25). Therefore, in the language which Paul used in Romans 12:18, “so far as it depends on you,” ensure the protection and nourishment of this relationship with your pastor.

To drive this point home a bit more clearly, allow me to give you three reasons why this relationship with your pastor must maintain a very high priority for you as a ruling elder. First, the pastoral ministry, conscientiously and earnestly practiced, is subject to more discouragements, disappointments, and depression than almost any other work. Your pastor will know spiritually dark days and often cry with Paul, “who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). He will often, like his master, be a man of sorrows. It was Spurgeon’s experience that “those who are honored of their Lord in public have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil.”[1] A good ruling elder will have his finger on the pulse of his pastor’s state of mind, and this can only be done by fostering a friendship with him.

Second, allow me to remind you of the obvious fact that your pastor is just a man, with the same nature as you and me (James 5:17). Charles Bridges (1794–1869) helpfully reminds pastors (and elders!), “Were we angels by nature as well as by office, the difficulty would be of little account.”[2] But pastors are not angels. And like all men they need friendship, encouragement, recreation, refreshment, and rest. I knew an elder once who told me he never complimented his pastor’s preaching, fearful that it would go to his head. I felt bad for that elder, but worse for his pastor. Pastors are people too. They bleed. They bruise. Encourage your pastor regularly and foster a relationship with him that provides frequent opportunity for healing words (Prov. 16:24).

Third, and finally, you will need a strong bond of affection and trust to provide, from time to time, some needed mutual correction. Remember what the preacher said, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). A friend! Note that carefully. A loving and faithful elder is in the best position to share with the pastor observations about his ministry or preaching that may promote its effectiveness. The art of doing so in a way that builds up, rather than breaks down, can only be cultivated in the context of a sincere friendship.

Allow me to close with some practical advice. First, make the matter of your relationship with the pastor a subject of frequent prayer. Ask God for this, and for his help in protecting and fostering it. Second, spend some time with your pastor in which the subjects of conversation are mostly not about church, ministry, or the flock. Find out what interests him and learn enough about it to connect over it. Finally, the best way to encourage your pastor is to keep becoming more Christ-like every day.

Your soul’s well-wisher,
An Older Elder


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Minister's Fainting Fits,” in Lectures to My Students (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 169.

[2] Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry: With an Inquiry into the Causes of Its Inefficiency (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 14.

Ordained Servant Online, June/July, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: June–July 2023


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The Voice of the Good Shepherd: God’s Medium: Tongues of Fire, Chapter 5 [1]

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 5

Secular Insight on Happiness: A Review Article

Muddying the Baptismal Waters? A Review Article

The Holy Spirit by Robert Letham


Sonnet LXXII

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