Click here for General Assembly coverage

2011- BIG TENT: Everything but the paycheck. Being an elder is a ‘perpetual calling’

Indianapolis (PNS) Being an elder isn’t a task or a project. It’s “a perpetual calling that becomes our identity.”

“In fact, some of my very best friends are elders ― really,” Laura Mendenhall, a part-time pastor and philanthropic adviser for the Texas Presbyterian Foundation, told the National Elders Conference July 1 during the Big Tent event in Indianapolis.

But it’s a calling that shouldn’t involve “haggling the same budget over and over or begging someone every summer to lead the youth group,” Mendenhall, the former president of Columbia Theological Seminary, said. “If that’s all it is, I’d rather not, thank you.”

Committee work shouldn’t define elders’ work, she told a luncheon crowd of about 90 elders. When she asked them why they agreed to serve, elders shouted out higher callings: “because of the great cloud of witness that went before me” and “I just wanted to update my church.”

She urged elders to hold each other accountable, and to give pastors perspective on whether they’re meeting people’s expectations, including, she noted with a laugh, delivering “a stellar sermon every week, youth who flock to hear you, children who grow up to be Eagle Scouts and homecoming queens because of you.”

All that responsibility, but no paycheck, alas.

But “just because you’re not paid doesn’t mean you’re not accountable,” she said.

“Don’t think for a minute God is not still using us,” she concluded. “Take a risk for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you lead, we will follow you.”

Mike Ferguson, a member of United Presbyterian Church in Lone Tree, Iowa, and a reporter for the Muscatine Journal, is covering the National Elders Conference at Big Tent for PNS.