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Recognizing We All Have Gifts

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Marsha Somers McElroy

When we ask how we grow working relationships to meet the needs of a ministry, we have only to look to the text in Ephesians 4:11-16. There are many gifts and God calls us to many types of ministry. We often forget that no gift is more important than the other. Do we really think the pastor is the only one who can amplify scripture reading, the only one who can pray (or ask a blessing!), the only one who can comfort and support grieving families? If we believe in the priesthood of believers then, of course, those statements are untrue. However, I have heard on many occasions an elder say, “I’m just an elder.” Is that said to abdicate responsibility or because one really feels inferior? Healthy working relationships will first need to break through this wall. There are many gifts and those gifts are to be used to serve our Lord.

Part of breaking the wall is learning about the gifts of others. Within the last several years I was recruited to chair a committee to discuss ways we might use our church plant during the week to serve a community need. As a social worker working with older adults, I had interests and skills related to this area of need in the community. So I was keen to be a part of this discussion. The pastor recruited others with similar interests and some with skills and interests around the needs of children. Our discussions were lively and all over the map till we began to narrow our focus. We now have a bilingual preschool meeting in one of our buildings that is used only a little during the week. We learned a lot in the process and continue to rejoice at the work God is doing. Using our gifts as the Spirit worked among us!

Many years ago I was in a civic club and served as an officer. The first time we gathered to make plans for our group the president’s first question was “What do I need to know about you so that we can work together well?” I thought that question was brilliant. I remember that as a fun and rewarding year. That leader respected us enough to want to know our perspective and that engendered our respect for her and for one another. Along with respect was trust that we would work together for the health of our group. This experience is nothing different than being on a local governing body.

Volunteers and staff have other essential roles to fill. What is it like to walk in the shoes of staff: There are many bosses, right?! Members of the congregation who are quick to point out flaws and eager to triangulate staff to “solve” issues… Staff regularly sees persons who are sick, angry, dying, and grieving and persons with lots of questions. The sadness must be overwhelming at times. Church officers have similar experiences but with less intensity and frequency. Here is the opportunity for mutual support. Who doesn’t relish empathy in the midst of turmoil or deep sadness? Who doesn’t need to be encouraged to carry on or to be reminded that God is with even when things are messy?

Along with support and empathy, working relationships are made much stronger with expressions of appreciation. The simple “Thank you” is very powerful. Finding ways for expressing simple gratitude is necessary and can be a powerful support. And, of course, this is mutual – staff to volunteer; volunteer to staff.

The actions are simple really – listening, learning about one another, showing gratitude, recognizing and using gifts, respecting, supporting, encouraging. There is time involved and a certain amount of intentionality. But strong working relationships are faithful and essential to the health of a congregation.


Marsha Somers McElroy is a ruling elder at Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Marsha received her BA from Queens College and MSW at UNC Chapel Hill. She has served as director of Christian education, serving churches in North Carolina for 21 years. She also served as a social worker with older adults, primarily as a caregiver support specialist. She lives in Long Creek with her husband, Bill, and cat, Max.

The Makings of a Vital Partnership

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Katie Harrington & Kelley Hames

Pastors and volunteers rely on one another to make ministry happen at local churches, but how does a successful relationship work? At Sardis Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rev. Katie Harrington, associate pastor for families, and Kelly Hames, a ruling elder, have a vital partnership that enhances the children’s ministry at their church.

Kelly: I have an exceptional relationship with my pastor. What makes it so special you may ask?

Photo from Sardis Presbyterian Church Facebook page.

I have given it a lot of thought and what continues to impress as unique and powerful is that my pastor appreciates my vocation: a divine call to God’s service in the church as a volunteer. She has a care for my gifts and a desire to help me use them to the glory of God… always nurturing me, gently leading me, and sometimes challenging me in the development of those gifts. She treats me as a partner in ministry worthy of respect and gratitude. This, in my opinion, is the true secret of our relationship and ability to work well together: we’re equal members of the same cohort with different calls to service, both necessary in the church.

For my part, I believe that elders are called to embrace new thoughts and ideas. The culture in which the church exists is constantly changing. The church should adapt if we want to be relevant now and into the future. There are so many opportunities these days for ruling elders to increase in knowledge and wisdom — through continuing education and associations, to name just two. We should take advantage of these resources so that, in partnership with pastors and staff, we can grow with and lead the church through all the tides of change.

Katie: One of the joys of serving the Church is discovering leaders in the church who not only make the ministry happen, but make it thrive. Kelly is one of those ruling elders at Sardis Presbyterian. With a passion for children’s ministry, and lots of experience and training, she makes church work exciting and inspiring. Our relationship enhances my ministry to the whole congregation, and our collective ministry to the children and parents of our church. We truly are partners, and inspire one another to do exciting new things for our families.

One of the challenges of ministry is finding volunteers — there are always holes to fill for Sunday School teachers, youth advisers, coffee hour hosts, ushers, greeters. You name a role in the church, and we need a volunteer to do it. The joy of ministry is when we ask someone to fill a role for whom that role becomes a vocation, a calling. And then, we teaching elders need to step back, trust and support their leadership, and give them lots of encouragement along the way, building a vital partnership that benefits all of God’s kingdom.


Kelly Hames is from Mobile, Alabama, where she earned an undergraduate degree in Accounting from the University of South Alabama, and in 2012 graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary with a Masters in Christian Education. In 2008 she was ordained as a Ruling Elder in the PCUSA. She now lives in North Carolina where she is a member of Sardis Presbyterian Church.

At various times she has served on Finance, Member Care, Missions, Worship, Children’s Christian Education, and Elementary Faith Formation Committees. She served as Interim Director of Children’s Christian Education at Matthews Presbyterian Church twice and in between that as the Director of Children’s Ministries at Indian Trail Presbyterian Church. She now thoroughly enjoys doing similar work as a volunteer at Sardis.

She lives with her disabled sister, their seven fur babies, likes to read, enjoys card-making and adores fantasy science fiction (especially dragons). She has a passion for children’s ministry and delights in her favorite role as Sunday School Teacher.

Katie Harrington is associate pastor for families at Sardis Presbyterian Church in Charlotte NC, where she enjoys serving families in every sense of the word family. Originally from Ohio, after 13 years, she has now settled into life in the South, assisted by marrying a native Charlottean and raising two southern kids!

Ready or Not, God Calls

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Todd Muldrew

Just over two years ago I received a phone call from my pastor. She wished to know if I would serve as an elder. Honestly, it’s flattering when a leader at your church calls to ask if you’re willing to lead, too. But I was uncertain.

I was relatively new to Presbyterianism, but I was at a point in my relationship with my church where I was willing to step up when called. I spoke with my wife, a lifelong Presbyterian and elder. She explained the commitment to me, both in faith and in time. I was ready. I was excited.

Image from Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church Facebook page

Because I was working often with our mission group, I assumed that is where I would plug in. But instead, I was asked to serve on the Christian Education and Formation committee – which includes a major focus on Sunday School. Now, I will admit to being a sporadic attendee to the Sunday School hour. But I said to myself, “This is where God must need me, so I will have faith that it’s the right place for me to be.” Then I went to my first meeting. By the end of that meeting it became clear that I was not just going to be on the committee – I was being asked to moderate the committee. My heart skipped a few beats. Who was I, as a part-time Sunday School participant, to moderate such an important part of the life of our church? Had there been a mistake?

The very next month, I was asked to give the devotional at our first meeting of the new session. In doing so, I found both guidance and peace. I discovered an article entitled “Wait Until You Get to the Corner.” It’s about a young pastor who is anxious and uncertain about what God has in store for him. An older pastor counsels him to walk the path before him with God, and not to worry about where the corner is or what’s beyond it until God reveals it. “Take the task He gives you gladly, let His work your pleasure be.” The author counsels us at the end: “There’s a line in a song, ‘I will go, Lord, where you want me to go.’ We might add, ‘And I will stay, Lord, where you want me to stay.’ And when we know that we are at a place and in a position because God has put us there, it takes a lot of stress out of it.”

It does indeed. God knows my strengths and my weaknesses, and yet here I am. I have faith that I am playing a role in God’s plan for our congregation, regardless of my inability to see around the corner.

As I took this leap of faith, the pastors and staff have been incredible partners in our work. Our children and youth programs are growing rapidly. This growth is wonderful, but it requires an evolution in our priorities and new commitments from our congregation.

One of the biggest challenges we face is awareness and buy-in. My first year, I took time to observe the process of this committee as I stepped gently into my role. Much decision-making seemed to take place with just the moderators and staff. When I listened to congregation members not privy to these meetings, I heard people complaining that such-and-such wasn’t happening in their child’s Sunday School – when, in fact, such things were happening. There was a disconnect between perception and reality.

This year, we have widened the circle of people who are involved in the committee’s work. Consulting with the pastors and staff, we have both solicited and personally invited interested and concerned members to our visioning meetings. This not only increases our awareness of the different needs of our members, but also gives us a conduit back to the congregation to explain what is going on – and why. The response has been rewarding, both in new ideas and greater understanding from the congregation.

I am prayerful that this momentum will continue to grow in the years to come. In the meantime, I remind myself “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord!” Ps. 27:14. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us next.


Todd Muldrew is member of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He gladly serves as an elder and moderator of the Christian Education and Formation Committee of the session.

Removing “Just” From our Vocabulary

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Lisa Raymaker and Heather Newgreen

Growing up, pastors were always on a pedestal – set apart by God, always doing and saying the right things, seemingly without fault. As we get older, perspectives change. Set apart by God is still true, called for a special service is true… AND we are ALL set apart, we are ALL called for a special service. Responding to that call sometimes makes us feel inadequate.”But I’m just a layperson, how am I equipped to answer that call?” God doesn’t pay attention to the “just.” He/She gave each of us particular gifts and calls us to use them, regardless of whether we think we’re up to the task.

We’ve been able to believe this more because of our relationships with our pastor. He treats us as an equal in the body of Christ and encourages us to lead where we are called. In the beginning, it’s normal to feel that we need to be careful with our words, to put our best foot forward. We are in a church, after all. As we work together more as the hands and feet of Christ in our faith community and in our city, we can become more comfortable being our authentic selves, for better or worse. We have learned that it’s alright to question the way things are done; to speak the truth in love; to challenge each other to think, love, and serve more deeply. We learned that our thoughts and ideas are valued, and that the diversity of our thoughts is exactly what the church needs.

The relationship between a pastor and an elder can be summed up in one word: equals. We should be listening to each other, questioning each other, and trusting that we are capable to serve in the roles where God has placed us. When a congregation sees that the elders they elected are working in partnership with their pastor and not for their pastor, they can trust that their voices are being heard.

We believe there are three components to making a teaching elder and ruling elder partnership successful (of course, there are three – thank you, Triune God): always making room for the Holy Spirit to move and lead us, the teaching elder valuing and encouraging the work of lay leaders, and the ruling elder believing in and using their spiritual gifts. God’s call comes in many different forms and at different volumes. It can be a burning bush and it can be a whisper. It can be to serve as a pastor and it can be to use your skills as a business person to help lead your faith community into uncharted territory. If we listen, if we respond, if we work together as equals in the body of Christ, if we get rid of the “just” in our vocabulary, God will lead us to amazing places.


Lisa Raymaker is a member of Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, and a ruling elder. After serving a 3-year term on the Session at Caldwell, she is chairing the Hope Committee, which is part of the new Gambrell Social Justice Fellowship program, and the Touchpoint Committee, which focuses on Caldwell’s outreach to the Charlotte LGBTQ community. Lisa works in the insurance industry and her husband, Patrick, is a musician.

Heather Newgreen was born and raised in the Presbyterian Church. She was ordained and installed as an Elder in 2009 and recently reinstalled in 2018. Heather currently serves as the Chair of Christian Formation where she oversees the education programs from infants to adults for Caldwell Presbyterian Church. She has remained an active volunteer in many of the church’s educational programs such as Godly Play, Youth Sunday School, and Confirmation. Though she holds a degree in music, Heather works for a non-profit that provides financing to small businesses. Her husband Kyle, and their two small children, James and Emily, are her greatest blessings.

Tips for Working in Mutual Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Grace Lindvall, Kim Nims, and Sherese Smith

This is our common calling, to be disciples and servants of our servant Lord. Within the community of the church, some are called to particular service as deacons, as elders, and as ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
– Ordination and installation services for elders and deacons, Book of Occasional Services

Working together as ruling elders and ministers is essential to our identity as Presbyterians; it is also the heart of much joy, collegiality, and growth. The church works its best when we work together as different officers in the church, when we recognize our particular services to the church while keeping our eyes always fixed on our common calling.

Photo of Trinity Presbyterian session from their Facebook page

While the church works its best when we work together in mutual ministry, there are, and have been, and will be bumps along the road. After all, we’re humans working together in relationships that are unlike any other: we’re pastor and parishioner – which can mean muddied waters sometimes. Who is responsible for what? Who has the greater stake in the church? Where are the boundaries supposed to lie? Who holds who accountable? How can we push each other without hurting each other? How do we mix business and pleasure and worship?

Sure, any one of these could prove to be hard – even impossible – hurdles to jump to find healthy working relationships but over the two years we’ve found that it is possible to move through them. And, amazingly, not only is it possible to get past them but the relationship that comes from it can be more than special, and downright sacred.

As we reflected on what works for us, themes kept bubbling to the surface, things we’ve done and learned:

Respecting our individual calls to ordained ministry – ordained lay leaders and ordained ministers

First things first: the most important part of our unique relationship becoming a sacred relationship is our respect of one another’s callings. Blessedly, each of us has had the opportunity to see and be a part of the other’s ordinations or installations. We’ve laid hands on one another in prayer and seen that it is God who has called us all to these unique roles in the church. We respect that one calling is not higher than the other, but that we have been mutually called to serve God and Christ’s church.

Sharing together

Before we are minister or elders or leaders, we are humans. When we meet together we bring our days, weeks, joys, and sadnesses with us. Part of the beauty of this special relationship is that it is special and unique. In what other working relationship do you get to sit down and tell your partners that you are frustrated because of your kids behavior and need advice, gush about a recent engagement, or share that you are stepping down from a working role and seeing where God leads you? Sharing together has become a part of our time together. Before we cut to business, we check in with who we are as humans and who we are as disciples. We share joys with one another, we share grief, we share scripture, we share our faith, we share our doubts, and we share our prayers.

On the topic of sharing, share a meal together – share a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, a lunch. Break bread together. We’ve become convinced that our sacred relationship is sacred because of this sharing.

Being willing to be surprised and even wrong

Some of our greatest joys in ministry have come when we found out we were wrong. Some of our biggest successes in ministry have come from what we did not plan. When we come together without agenda of what we want the other to say or the direction we hope the meeting will take, the Holy Spirit shows up and surprises us. It’s amazing what happens when we sit back and watch without agenda, and cling instead only to the hope of the Spirit’s movement in our conversations.

What ways is your sacred relationship between elder and minister shaping your ministry?


Kim Nims is a 59 year old wife, mother of 3, and grandmother of 2. She is a graduate of Columbia College in South Carolina. Formerly, she has served as a piano teacher and as director of music and activities for children and youth in PCUSA churches in Georgia and North Carolina. Kim has recently retired from serving for 14 years as a Teaching Leader and Area Advisor with Bible Study Fellowship International. She currently serves as an elder and co-chair of the Christian Formation Ministry Team. For fun, Kim enjoys walking 1000 miles a year, traveling, and spending time with her family and her dog.

Grace Lindvall serves as Associate Pastor for Mission and Church Growth at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. Before arriving in Charlotte Grace graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary where she had the opportunity to learn from wonderful teachers and classmates. She enjoyed the opportunity to serve in different ministry settings ranging from suburban church youth work to immersive Mission experiences in Baltimore and Rwanda. While Grace loves a good “covered dish” at church she also loves to cook, laugh with friends, share stories, and spend time with her fiance, Matt.

Sherese Smith is a 49-year-old wife and mother of 2. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University and received a Masters in the Art of Teaching from Queens University. Formerly she taught school for 5 years in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system, and then worked for 8 years in Human Resources for Bank of America. She currently serves as an elder and co-chair of the Christian Formation Ministry Team. In her spare time, she volunteers at her kids’ schools, plays tennis, walks her dog, Sadie, and shuttles her kids to their after-school sports.

A Very Special Relationship

by Suzanne Davis

Rulering Elder Vilmarie Cintron-Olivieri, and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann , co-moderators of the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA). (Photo by Michael Whitman)

There I am in total Presbyterian geekiness watching the election of our new co-moderators at the General Assembly this past June on streaming video, seeing a teaching elder and ruling elder elected as co-moderators. They said they were a reflection of the shared leadership of the Presbyterian church, teaching elder and ruling elder.

As they stood together on the stage, I pondered the relationship between those who are pastors and those who are not, and how indeed they do share together in the work and wonder of the church. Because we’re all in this, how do we do it? How does the pastor work with the those who often have little time for the church work? How does the church leader shore up their own spiritual insecurity to lead others? What is this special sauce of a working relationship that is beyond amateur and pro?

My own experience working with pastors at the nine churches which I attended in the past 26 years was that I was the willing pair of hands and the pastor was the connector and resource person. Until recently, the longest that I had lived in any one area was 3 years. Being involved and participating in NEXT Church has been the longest “church” relationship of my adult life. God bless those patient souls who have been around for my formation! Through NEXT Church, I have learned about the trends of church membership, about innovative ministries all over the US, about Cultivated Ministry (How do you define success and enliven old leadership models?), and community organizing (Revolutionary thought – Get to know people and have more than an everyday pleasant exchange at least once). Probably the biggest idea which has taken a hold on me is that we are indeed in this church thing together, pulpit-filler and pew-sitter, west and east, north and south, conservative and progressive, small and large church, rural and urban. We each bring a point of view that is valuable, important, and worthy of hearing.

This month in the blog, you will hear from singular voices as well as collaborative voices reflecting on this working relationship of teaching elders and ruling elders. Many of the authors are from the Charlotte area, where most were involved in the NEXT Church Elder Symposium held last year. You will also hear from a pastor who was “checking out” the NEXT Church National Gathering to see if the elders and leaders from their church would be a good fit. The message there is that it is important to share the experience with the pew-sitters in their church!

And on that very important note –

Peace be with you all!


Suzanne Davis is a ruling elder on the NEXT Church strategy team where she is challenged and stretched to move into roles she never thought were her ability! She is a proud spouse of a retired military officer with 2 children that are on their own. While she loves travel, she also enjoys staying in with the dog and cat!