It’s happening. Dangerous elders are springing up everywhere.
Dangerous elder Myra says, “I’m not a force to be reckoned with, but a voice to be recognized.” She is hard at work in her congregation and her presbytery.
A couple who are both dangerous elders went home from last year’s General Assembly and became the tipping point for their congregation to become engaged in social justice ministries the congregation had been reluctant to do previously.
A woman who already serves as a commissioned lay pastor successfully prodded some of her fellow dangerous elders to get involved beyond the session level.
As spiritual leaders, elders become change agents of the Spirit in their own community of faith. And being change agents of the Spirit is what makes them dangerous.
As I wrote in a related article for the Outlook last year (“Dangerous Elders,” September 1, 2008 issue), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs these dangerous elders to lead in the faithful, exciting call of Christ to be God’s people in this world.
Elders have incredibly important work to do. They are entrusted to nourish the faith of their sisters and brothers in Christ, encourage the people in worship and service, equip and renew those in the congregation in God’s mission to the world, cultivate the ability to teach the Bible and lead in worship, and talk about their own faith.
In short, they are to model encouragement, mission, Bible study, prayer, and witness to the good news.
Some helpful resources are available to equip and assist elders in their various ministries. Those who attended the national elders conference as part of the Big Tent in June took home a number of great ideas and a large dose of inspiration. Among them:
• Former General Assembly Moderator Joan Gray introduced her new book, Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers.
• The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation rolled out its new Web-based resource, The Presbyterian Leader (www.presbyterianleader.com). The site offers tools and materials for anyone who has been called to be a Presbyterian leader — elders, deacons, clerks of session, trustees, and more.
But perhaps one of the most important resources in helping elders become dangerous and fulfill their call is one of the most often overlooked. It is the elders who are serving alongside each other.
Imagine what it would be like if the following were happening on a regular basis all across the denomination:
Elders John and Susan pull into the parking lot of the local coffee shop at the same time. They enter to find elders Arthur and Nancy already at the table where the four gather each Tuesday morning at 6:45 A.M. The four have been meeting for about three months, ever since they began serving together on session. Two of them are brand new elders, one is serving a second term, and the fourth has been on session for several rounds.
They have their routine down. They spend 30 minutes or so catching up with each other and where they have seen God at work in their lives. Then, they spend the next 30 minutes on their focus for the morning — nothing elaborate or fancy or formal: On the first Tuesday of the month, John leads a discussion on some aspect of mission. Each second Tuesday, Nancy focuses on worship. Third Tuesday, it’s Arthur and Bible study. Fourth Tuesday, Susan brings something about social justice. If there’s a fifth Tuesday, it’s “elder potpourri,” as they like to call it. They close out with prayer and are out the door by 8 a.m.
It happens to be the second Tuesday of September. Nancy has with her copies of last Sunday’s worship bulletin. She points out the affirmation of faith, an element that isn’t in the order of worship on a regular basis. “I’ve been thinking about what it meant to join my voice with others in the congregation as we affirmed our faith,” Nancy says, “and how that makes a difference to me as a spiritual leader. … ”
And so the four discuss what they might ponder only to themselves otherwise. Then they pray – for each other, for their families and friends, and for their congregation. They pray for their presbytery, for the PC(USA), and for the church worldwide. They pray for their community and for the troubled areas of the world. They ask God to bless their efforts and hold them safe and secure until next Tuesday. They’ll see each other twice that day, at the coffee shop and at session meeting.
The four depart having had their minds stretched, their spirits lifted, their joys and concerns shared, and their faith deepened.
As they’re heading to their cars, Arthur says, “Hey, you all will be happy to know that other folks are doing what we’re doing here. I was telling an elder friend up north about this. She has pulled together three other folks to meet weekly. They share with each other electronically because of their schedules and family responsibilities. It’s working for them.”
John, Nancy, Arthur, and Susan are pretty sure they cancel out each other at the ballot box, though they’ve never asked each other directly about that. But that doesn’t matter. What’s most important to them is their bond as brothers and sisters in Christ and their desire to be the best dangerous elders they can be for the sake of the gospel.
Questions for discussion:
If dangerous elders are “change agents,” what would you like to see the elders change in your congregation’s life?
If your church were to determine to take a new step of outreach into the community, where would you like that step to take the congregation?
Would it be impossible for you to meet regularly with a small group of church officers like John, Nancy, Arthur, and Susan are meeting? What would it take to implement that?
Gradye Parsons is stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Louisville, Ky.