The Ruling Elder & the Ministry of the Word

Written by C. Fredric Marcinak |
Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Ruling elders, support your ministers, guard your ministers, pray for your ministers. Seek out those who are called to preach and encourage them. And protect God’s people from those who would lead them astray. In so doing, you will ensure that the preaching of the Word of God remains the Word of God.

The confession penned by Sixteenth Century Swiss Reformer Heinrich Bullinger famously proclaims: “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” For those of us trained on principles of “Sola Scriptura” and the attendant doctrines of inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy, Bullinger’s statement is striking. But this high view of the preaching of God’s Word was embraced by Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers. Bryan Chapell makes the point in more modern terms when he writes, “We do not merely speak about Jesus to his people; we speak as Jesus speaks to His people.” The point is clear: the expounding of His Word is the primary means God uses to speak to the hearts of men—to convert the lost, to sanctify believers.

I am thankful for those faithful preachers who week in and week out labor to speak as God’s mouthpiece to His people. Of course, as a ruling elder, I am not called to preach. But all elders—teaching and ruling—are equally responsible for the right preaching of the Word. Indeed, we know that we will one day give account for how we handle this weighty responsibility. So, how can ruling elders ensure that the Word if faithfully preached?

Encouraging the Fruitful Ministry of the Word in the Church

There are at least three ways that ruling elders are to encourage a fruitful ministry of the Word in the church. These are all positive, or explicitly constructive, aspects of a ruling elder’s ministry in relation to the public reading and preaching of the Word.


First, ruling elders are to take the lead whenever a church needs to conduct a search for a new pastor. It is the session that calls the congregational meeting at which a search committee is elected. Frequently, a congregation will appoint its session to serve as the search committee (BCO 20-2), but even if a group of people other than the session is elected to a search committee, ruling elders have a critically important role to play. The session must clearly communicate to the search committee the central place of the ministry of the Word in the local church and the high biblical standards that exist for any prospective candidates to the ministry. At the end of a search process, it is the session that calls the congregational meeting at which the search committee presents its recommended candidate to the congregation.

Pastoral searches should not be frequent occurrences in the normal life of a healthy and stable church. However, there is another sense by which ruling elders should take the lead in searching for future pastors. It is incumbent upon ruling elders to think intentionally and seriously about the ministry potential and prospects of men in the church who show potential for future gospel ministry. More than anyone else in the church, ruling elders should be energized to develop the next generation of gospel ministers.

In shepherding the families of our church over the years, I have noticed a pattern: when a young man loves the Lord and shows some aptitude for serving in the church, people start to say he should be a deacon. Now, deacons are vitally important and I am thankful for those men called to that office. But ruling elders should work with men to help define their sense of call—what is the nature of the call? What is the nature of the spiritual gifts? If the man is more clearly gifted for the ministry of Word and prayer, the elders should explore those gifts and, if warranted, encourage the man to pursue his call to the ministry. We should regularly search for those called to the ministry and encourage them in that direction—with the expectation that God will raise up ministers for his church.

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