The Ruling Elder & Church Leadership
The Church's Air-Traffic Controllers

Photo Description: TE George Sayour and RE Mel Duncan discuss church administration on “The Presbyterian & Reformed Churchmen” podcast

The following post is part of our ‘The Work of the PCA Elder’ series. For the first post in the series, please click here.

It is a hallmark of Presbyterianism to value and apply the Scriptural adage that “all things are to be done decent and in order.”  While the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 14:40 concerns corporate worship, the principle therein is taught and applied throughout the Scriptures. It was Joseph’s administration, empowered by the Lord, that saved the world from famine. A struggling-to-keep-up Moses was instructed by his father-in-law to appoint men under him to guide and judge the people. In 1 Timothy, one of the qualifications for an Elder is that he must manage his household well, “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5). The same word for manage in 1 Timothy 3 is used in Romans 12:8 to refer to one with the gift of leadership.

Our God is a God of order, who brings order out of chaos and then charges man to further order His creation in the commission to “be fruitful and multiple to fill and subdue the earth.” Churches should therefore be orderly places which clear away the obstacles to facilitate the mandate to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

It is no surprise therefore, that how things are handled and communicated often determines whether there is peace and unity in a church or there is discouragement and disharmony. Much frustration abounds if people do not know to whom to go for various inquiries. There are times when one group does something and another undoes it, not due to malice, but due to a failure to communicate and coordinate. When leadership mishandles the disciplining of a member, it can cause much hurt. Ministries may vie, and in some cases compete, for resources. Ministry committees can often act in silos without viewing how their work affects other activities, or how their work fits with the overall vision for the church set by the elders.

These issues are not new, present-day phenomena. However, there are unique realities of our cultural context that have complicated and exacerbated these issues. Consider just the following two:

1. Decreasing Volunteer Bases & Time Commitments from People

In our highly individualistic societies, people are spending less time serving in the church and more time shuttling their kids to sports and other extra-curricular activities or pursuing business ventures and other time-consuming personal activities. The same percentage of people dedicating 5, 10, and 20 hours per week to service in the church is not there. This means that churches are now forced to find creative and cost-effective ways to host events, run programs, and even take care of their facilities where in the past those things were often directed and managed by committed volunteers.

2. These are “Just More Complex” Times

I can already hear the objections to this claim. However, it is an indisputable fact that today there is more administrative complexity requiring technical expertise. Though we enjoy many modern conveniences, who can deny that there are modern devices, tools, and compliance requirements calling for specialized knowledge to configure and implement effectively? There are Internet, Wi-Fi, routers, firewalls, audio-visual needs in church classrooms (and worship halls), websites, online giving, electronic RSVP for events, increased protections and legal requirements in childcare, a higher standard for cleaning and safety in nurseries, background checks, human resource requirements, information technology support and needs, online accounts, employee credit cards, and the list goes on and on. More complexity in these areas requires more administrative giftings and experience among church leaders.

It is these factors which have caused churches to hire specialized administrative staff to handle what used to be covered by volunteers under the guidance of ordained Elders and Deacons. Now, we thank God for the competent and dedicated individuals and teams that comprise our church staff, but without proper direction and oversight from ordained men, a whole new set of problems can arise.

The question is, who specifically should provide that direction and oversight? Certainly, the senior or solo pastor often takes the lead on staff oversight under the authority of the Session. However, pastors are not always gifted in the area of personnel management. Even more urgently, pastors do not typically have the time to speak into all the minutia of various administrative decisions that have to be made on a daily basis, such as what to do when the Internet goes down, how to resolve a scheduling conflict over which group is going to use what classroom, how to evaluate and/or support an outside group using church space, how to adapt ministries to a facility need or concern, and again the list could go on and on.

For this reason, many churches have hired Church Administrators, Executive Pastors, or Executive Directors to serve as “air traffic controllers” as Mel Duncan (Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville)  describes it, or as a “full-time Ruling Elder Deacon” as Rick Hutton (All Saints Reformed Presbyterian Church of Richmond)  summarized the position. Both Mel and Rick are Ruling Elders whose administrative gifts were recognized by their Sessions who then hired them to serve as full-time Church Administrators. Similarly, I too was a Ruling Elder when my church in Florida brought me on staff to fill such a role. I have since been called to pastoral ministry as a Teaching Elder, and I have had the privilege of serving as an executive pastor at two different churches. I have seen first-hand the help that such a position can be to a session and a church.

However, not every church can afford a full-time staff member to serve in this capacity. What then?  I think the common thread between Mel, Rick, and myself has been that – in many ways – we were serving in this administrative role in many ways as Ruling Elders on sessions before ever coming on staff. In other words, Ruling Elders with gifts and experience in administration need to step up and help in this regard, even before regular compensation in the form of a paycheck is involved. Even now as a Senior Pastor on a pastoral staff of three and with a total of ten employees at Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian Church, I am so grateful for a Session with elders who are willing to go with me to meetings I have with staff members in order to reinforce and own the direction we give our staff. However capable I may be to carry out the administration needs of the church, I am grateful for Ruling Elders who will play “air traffic controller” on many issues that require coordination and collaboration. I am likewise grateful for men on the Diaconate who serve that role with regard to mercy ministries, stewardship, property renovations, and other things under their purview.

In closing, let us remember therefore – to the best of our abilities in our callings – to “do all things decently and in order” so that church life and operations are not a hindrance, but rather a support to the apostolic mission in Paul’s Spirit-inspired words: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). In all our activities of leadership and administration, let us always remember the holy dictum: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

Editor’s Note: For more insights and best practices in PCA Church Administration, watch this discussion between GRN Executive Director RE Mel Duncan and GRN General Council Member Pastor George Sayour on “The Presbyterian & Reformed Churchmen” podcast: