What is an elder?

There is a distinct and peculiar prominence of the elder in Presbyterian churches, which take their very name from the biblical Greek word translated as elder: presbyteros. In 1964, immediately after the admission of women to the eldership, the Church of Scotland stated that "The office of elder is one of the spiritual offices of the Church of Scotland and is concerned with the oversight and pastoral work of a congregation." That simple, neat and accurate formula is a good way to begin the story of a complex, occasionally controversial, history and theology underpinning the ministry of eldership in the Church of Scotland.

Resources highlight

Learn Eldership is a key training resource produced by the Church of Scotland on eldership. Based on the declaration and affirmation that every elder takes, this invaluable resource provides new and existing elders with a diverse range of articles by leading figures in the Church of Scotland. The 36 topics covered include pastoral care, reformed theology, making hospital visits, understanding the role of the Bible in the Church of Scotland, public worship and sacraments. Each topic includes an article, questions for discussion, suggestions for further reading and a ‘why not try…?’ suggestion for deepening your engagement with the topic.
Other significant resources include:

Affirmation of an elder

Do you believe the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith;
Do you promise
To seek the unity and peace of the church;
To uphold its doctrine, worship, Government and discipline;
And to take your due part in the administration of its affairs?
[Common Order, p337]

A prayer for elders

Grant them the gift of your Holy Spirit,

that their hearts may be set on fire with love for you

and those committed to their care.

Make them pure in heart as those who have the mind of Christ.

Give them vision to discern your purposes for the church

and the world you love.

Keep them faithful to the end in all their service,

that when the chief shepherd appears,

they may receive glory,

a crown that never fades.

Book of Common Order of the Church of Scotland, St Andrew Press 1994, pp.338-339

Elder as trustee

The Kirk Session has legal obligations and elders as office bearers take the role of trustees. Elders should seek to understand what expectations there are on them as office bearers and trustees.

Constitutions of the Church of Scotland

There are a number of different constitutions that operate in the Church of Scotland. Understanding the constitution that is in operation is essential for understanding the remit and scope of the Kirk Session and other groups such as Congregational Board.

Recent work on eldership

The Eldership Working Group (EWG) has a remit to: ‘look at patterns and models of Eldership currently in use across the Church today and to bring to the attention of the General Assembly ways in which these could be shared, reflected upon and, in some cases, adapted to encourage appropriate practice in our changing contexts’.

Towards the end of 2013 the EWG completed a large scale consultation, on the eldership, engaging all kirk sessions in the process. Findings from that consultation shaped the development of Learn Eldership which was launched in the autumn of 2014. Documents associated with consultation process are provided below:

Subsequent to that the EWG brought proposals to the General Assembly of 2016 with proposals for developing the eldership.

Downloadable documents