Dear James,

Job said, “My days are swifter than a runner” (Job 9:25). I feel much the same. My good doctor tells me that my race is almost over. I thanked him for the good news. If a pauper knew he would awake a prince, why should he fear falling asleep? Teach me, Lord, to number my days! Your letters have been a singular blessing and encouragement to my soul. What little I have learned about serving faithfully as a ruling elder in Christ’s church I am humbly willing to pass on.

You asked about any advice I might have for working as part of a session. This is a vitally important topic. When it comes to the effectiveness of working as part of the session, nothing is so important as to take up God’s call to collectively lead the people of God. Leadership is now, and always has been, the great need of the hour. Far too little has been written about this. Shepherds must lead! “He leads my beside still waters . . . He leads me in paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:2–3). The call to serve the Lord as a ruling elder is a call to serve God’s people by leadership. I am convinced now more than ever before that what the church needs is a generation of humble, holy, God-fearing, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled elders to rise up and lead the flock.

What is a leader? Office, title, position, rank, authority—none of these make you a leader. One thing, and one thing only, makes you a leader, James, and that is willing followers. When people are willing to follow you through good times and bad times by the very force of your godly example, commitment to Christ and Scripture, courage, faith, and love, then, and only then, is a leader is born. The church needs sessions who are willing to lead. God will surely raise them up. But you, and the session, must be ready to answer that call. As a session, humbly and sincerely ask yourselves this question: Are we leading, or are we simply showing up? Scripture and church history are replete with examples of great leadership. Such were the likes of Moses, David, Nehemiah, and Paul. Such were the likes of Luther, Calvin, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Machen, and Sproul. Such was preeminently our Lord and savior Jesus Christ himself. You and your session may never be called to leadership of that scope or scale, but the effectiveness of your service still hangs on your commitment to lead. I believe J. Oswald Sanders was right when he said that “churches grow in every way when they are guided by strong, spiritual leaders with the touch of the supernatural radiating in their service.”[1]

Sessions, in my experience, fall short in leadership by one of two extremes. They may abuse their authority by an unholy tyranny on the one hand, or by simply abdicating all efforts at leadership on the other. Of the two, I fear effortless, lazy leadership is far more common today. Leadership takes work. And it is only when leaders lead that you will find a people who are willing to rise up and serve as well (Judges 5:2). No wonder Paul prodded “the one who leads” in Romans 12:8 to do so “with zeal.”

Zeal can be exhausting; and for that reason, many elders and sessions take the softer road of leading to nowhere but the status quo. “Pace yourself,” is their motto. While some wisdom may be found in that advice, I fear that sessions today are too often pacing themselves to death. Leadership has always been hard work, and spiritual leadership the hardest of all. Mark my words, the church has rarely grown except by the godly leadership of tired men.

God’s leaders have also been men of vision, courage, and action. Prophets in the Old Testament were called “seers.” The elder in leadership needs to be a seer too. He must not look upon the church merely as she is, but as the glorious bride of Jesus being prepared for that majestic return of her groom. The ruling elder who sees the church this way, and is doing something about it, is truly leading the people of God. “Vision leads to venture, and history is on the side of venturesome faith.”[2]

James, maybe one of the most common causes of failed leadership is when ruling elders simply expect that the pastor do all the leading himself. Yes, there are times when the Lord grants the pastor remarkable gifts of leadership. He, working hard to develop these gifts, becomes a great source of encouragement, growth, and service to the church. But sometimes this has not been the case. The leadership skills of the pastor may be undeveloped. Therefore, every member of the session must work at leadership, stirring one another up to the task.

Allow me to close this letter with a plea to lead the flock of our Lord as an example of sacrificial, service-focused, Christian living. That is the type of leadership our churches need most of all (1 Pet. 5:3). And the more that your life reflects the humility, beauty, and holiness of Christ, the better your leadership will be (1 Cor. 11:1). He leads the best, who follows Jesus the best.

Your soul’s well-wisher,

An Older Elder


[1] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 18.

[2] Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 57.

Ordained Servant Online, November, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: November 2023

The Martha Complex

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