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.