There are a number of books available on local church leadership. In answer to a recent question regarding my favorites, I recommended Dever’s The Deliberate Church (which I blogged on here) and Strauch’s two books Biblical Eldership and The New Testament Deacon (which I blogged on here) as among the most helpful. I’m now glad to add David Dickson’s The Elder and His Work to that list.
Dickson (1821-1885) ministered in Edinburgh, Scotland. (There’s something particularly safe about studying the works of dead men, since [a] they have stood the test of time and [b] they are very unlikely to change their opinions.) What makes his book particularly helpful is this: Dickson served as a ruling elder in his Presbyterian church. In other words, he wasn’t in full-time pastoral ministry (what Presbyterians call a teaching elder), but instead served as a lay elder in his local church.* Thus, his counsel is particularly helpful for lay elders in our churches, though I’ve benefited from it much myself. It’s an easy read, and on the few occasions when it contains outdated references, editors George Kennedy McFarland and Philip Graham Ryken provide helpful footnotes. Add to that the fact that the book is short (around 125 pages with short chapters) and extremely practical, and you’ve got an exceptionally useful book.
Dickson returns to a few vital themes again and again: the importance of pastoral visitation, friendly accessibility, and ministering to children and young people. What he writes is both instructive and convicting.
The editors do adjust some of the suggestions to fit modern life. For example, though they still press the importance of visitation, they acknowledge that there are differences in today’s world:
“[P]ersonal contact need not always come through home visitation. What is vital is direct communication. Today some spiritual care can be maintained by e-mail, by talking over the telephone, or by meeting for coffee. The common failure of elders today is not that they use the wrong methods, but that they fail to make much contact at all.” (p. 18 )
I may post some other quotations in the days ahead, so you might want to check back from time to time. Better yet, get the book yourself, and buy copies for the other elders that minister in your church. Good stuff.
*Note: I don’t care for the two designations, since Scripture indicates that all elders, whether paid or unpaid, both rule and teach.
Resource: We worked on an Office Definition project at TCBC just over a year ago. It’s not a formal presentation, but you may find it to be helpful. You can find the pdf here.