Even many long-time Presbyterians think that the “ruling” of Ruling Elder means to reign, or to be in charge of. Instead, as it was likely originally intended even of community or royal rulers, to rule is to measure. Ruling elders are called to be good at measuring the mission and work of the church and in our lives, against Scripture, against our reformed theology and teachings, and against the movement of the Spirit discerned in our common prayer.
In order to do this work well, Presbyterians are called to work together, and to be accountable to one another. However, just as “ruling” can get twisted, so can our idea of accountability.
Christians have been instructed how to proceed in areas of conflict, in Matthew 18. Jesus instructs us to go directly to those we may have disagreements with, whether over ideas or behavior, with further steps if resolution cannot be reached. But there are many example where this has been twisted to shut down important conversation, disagreement that is not acrimonious, but rather productive and instructive.
In order to have productive conversations and accountability, leaders in the church are called to:
- Learn together
- Name conflicts and tensions that arise
- Disagree in respect and love
- Support the decisions of the body
There is a reason we open and close even our business meetings with prayer and worship in the church. We cannot do anything without God’s guidance. Especially not have difficult conversations and face deep conflict together. So, pray, learn, discuss, discern, decide and pray again. Together. This is the accountability we are called to.