Not a Board of Directors

By Matt Fender | December 13, 2021

While on a trip to another city some years ago, I had a conversation in which a PCA Ruling Elder told me that he thought one of his spiritual gifts was “serving on boards.”  It was clear both from the remainder of our conversation and from the way his particular church conducted its affairs, that he viewed his Ruling Elder office as just another board membership.  I fear this view is all too common, especially in larger churches where church staff shoulder much of the work.

Ruling elders are not board members.  The church is not run by a board of directors.  The PCA constitution embraces a two-office view:  we have deacons, and we have elders.  Elders govern the church jointly, sitting in the courts of the church, primarily on church sessions. It is patently unbiblical – and therefore fraught with peril – for elders to disconnect their governing function from the equally important functions of teaching and shepherding.

Rather than thinking of your ruling elders as board members, it is more accurate to think of them holding a status equal to associate pastors.  The Book of Church Order (BCO) certainly emphasizes the spiritual nature and the full scope of the office:

This office is one of dignity and usefulness. The man who fills it has in Scripture different titles expressive of his various duties. As he has the oversight of the flock of Christ, he is termed bishop or pastor. As it is his duty to be spiritually fruitful, dignified, and prudent,, an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, he is termed presbyter or elder. As he expounds the Word, and by sound doctrine both exhorts and convinces the gainsayer, he is termed teacher. These titles do not indicate different grades of office, but all describe one and the same office.  BCO 8-1 (2021 Revision).  Note that this section applies to both ruling and teaching elders.


Elders being of one class of office, ruling elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as teaching elders. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their own aptness to teach the Bible and should improve every opportunity of doing so.  BCO 8-9 (2021 Revision).

I realize I am probably “preaching to the choir” to some extent, based on the likely readers of this blog.  But if you are a Ruling Elder and most of what you do in that role involves going to session meetings, you might want to reexamine how you view your responsibilities.  All of us should encourage our Ruling Elders to embrace the full scope of their office.  The work of the Ruling Elder includes shepherding God’s people, teaching when opportunities present themselves, and governing the church at the local, regional, and national levels.

Not every Ruling Elder needs to attend presbytery and General Assembly every time, but if your church is not sending its full allotment of Ruling Elders to those courts, then you should encourage your elders to step up and fulfill their duties.  If your Ruling Elders are not regularly teaching, then you should encourage them to do so.  Similarly, pastoral care should not fall entirely or even mostly on the Teaching Elders.

The office of Elder is a gift Christ has given to His church. Those who bear that office should embrace its full scope for the good of the brethren with whose care they are charged, and for the glory of God.

Matt Fender is a PCA Ruling Elder serving on the session of All Saints Presbyterian Church in Richmond, VA.

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