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Being good stewards of God’s grace

Nearly 500 people register for first Leader Formation webinar of 2022

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Church members shake hands and greet one another during the passing of the peace in this 2017 file photo. Wednesday’s “Good Stewards of God’s Grace” webinar focused on the expansive role ruling elders and deacons can play in worship. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians who agree to serve God and their congregations as ruling elders or deacons sometimes find they had little idea what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Cue the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology & Worship, who on Wednesday offered up a 75-minute Leader Formation workshop called “Good Stewards of God’s Grace.” Martha Miller, manager of Ministry Education and Support in the Office of the General Assembly, hosted the informative webinar, which drew 493 registrations. View the webinar here.

The charge to those non-pastors engaged in ordered ministry — deacons and ruling elders — is found in 1 Peter 4:7-11, Gambrell said, where we’re urged to “maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”

“The church needs you,” Gambrell told those in attendance, “and the world needs you.”

The part about hospitality “hits a little close to home. We have gone from preaching to meddling,” Gambrell said with a grin. But we’re to extend hospitality without complaining, “even to that person, and you know who I’m talking about,” he said. “That’s what it means to truly love one another in Christian community.”

Gambrell took attendees through the job descriptions of deacons and ruling elders as laid out in the Book of Order and the Directory for Worship, the middle section of the Book of Order. One focus was on both ruling elders and deacons taking on an expanded role leading worship. The Office of Theology & Worship offers these “Principles for Presiding” for those in ordered ministry ready to step up their roles during worship:

  • A presider is called by God through the church
  • Presiding is servant leadership, pointing to God
  • Worship is prayerful action of the body of Christ
  • There are no “magic” words, actions or people
  • Our primary form of participation is prayer
  • Worship should reflect shared responsibility
  • The goals are faithfulness, vitality and responsiveness to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

New resources on presiding at the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper can be found here, here and here.

The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the office of Theology and Worship, speaks during the 2019 Presbyterian Youth Triennium. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Gambrell spent some time during the webinar discussing what’s called the extended service of Communion, which requires two or more people serving in ordered ministry. Following worship, deacons and elders can go in teams to people hospitalized or homebound, offering up a scaled-back version of the worship service they’ve just been a part of, including serving the bread and cup.

“This allows those unable to attend to be included, drawing the circle wider even when we’re separated by all kinds of things,” Gambrell said.

He recommended elders and deacons introduce themselves and the church they’re from. “Take time to visit, and listen for joys and concerns,” Gambrell suggested. “Prepare the elements by uncovering the bread and pouring out the cup.”

The extended service can employ a simple order of worship, including offering up a prayer of confession and pardon, reading a portion of Scripture, perhaps providing “a brief interpretation” of the sermon, voicing prayers of thanksgiving and intercession followed by the Lord’s Prayer, and sharing the Communion elements, followed by a blessing.

“Upon leaving, identify the next time a team will return with Communion,” Gambrell advised. “It’s an exciting way deacons and ruling elders can take an active part in pastoral care and the sacramental life of the church.” The service has been part of the Book of Order for about a dozen years, he said, adding, “I hope it’s something we can make better use of.”

Other special worship services include the installation and commissioning of those called to ordered ministry. In the most recent Book of Common Worship, there’s one service for all three offices — ruling elders, deacons and ministers.

“It’s an important testimony to what our denomination believes about ordered ministry,” Gambrell said.

Then there’s a house blessing, the dedication of a Christian home. A ruling elder or deacon can lead such an event, which Gambrell called “a valuable opportunity for outreach and a great way to greet new members, celebrate transitions in life, show pastoral care to college students or welcome refugees.” National staff at the Presbyterian Center recently held one such service along with a refugee family whom staff is sponsoring.

During a question-and-answer session following Gambrell’s talk, the first question focused on Communion: If a pulpit is open, can a ruling elder handle Communion?

Yes, Gambrell said, and the Book of Order provides for a couple of options. One is for the presbytery to commission a ruling elder for pastoral service and train the ruling elder to do just that. In addition, the Directory for Worship says the session can authorize a ruling elder to occasionally serve at the table.

Another question was on the role of ruling elders and deacons leading prayer during worship. “Praying brings ruling elders and deacons into the circle of ministry in a congregation,” Gambrell said, since they’re the ones giving “voice to prayer.” Of course, “confidentiality must be carefully navigated, but I believe elders and deacons are called to pray in worship.”

Learn more in Gambrell’s book, “Presbyterian Worship: Questions and Answers,” published in 2019 by Westminster John Knox Press.

Calling it “a shameless plug,” Gambrell also recommended people check out “Call to Worship: Liturgy, Music, Preaching and the Arts,” found here.

As the webinar drew to a close, Miller announced that certain books published by Presbyterian Publishing Corporation will soon be available at a 40% discount. “They are curated for your ministry,” she said. Links and a promotional code will be released soon.

See last year’s Leader Formation webinars by going here.

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