Resources for Elders and Parish Councillors

These pages bring together information for Elders, Parish Councillors, and other Parish Leaders in Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. It includes material for training elders being authorised to preside at communion and conduct baptisms.

See also material on the PCANZ website information for parishes and treasurers and downloadable pdf copies of the Parish Handbook and Treasurer's Manual. A Synod of Otago and Southland report by Lynne Baab on Elders' Training Needs can be downloaded here.

If you are interested in biblical or theological study there are papers available through the Ecumenical Institute for Distance Theological Studies (EIDTS) as well as through Laidlaw College, Carey College, the University of Otago and other centres. 

Being an Elder: What am I expected to do?

Being an elder is something we may be asked to do. It is not something we ask to do.

Being called to this form of ministry is about being invited to share in the working leadership and pastoral governance of a congregation and being available to play your part in the wider life of your church. Together with supporting one another and encouraging others who share in leadership, the most important collective task of minister and elders together is to seek to discern God's will for your congregation.

If you are asked to consider being an elder, the first questions are whether being part of that group in your congregation is what God wants you to do. Are you willing to be part of that leadership team?

You will also want to know how Presbyterianism works, and to take inspiration from other elders and ministers and how they face the challenge of God's calling. The framework provided our Book of Order particularly Chapter 6 on Ministers and Elders is surprisingly flexible, but things still need to be done well. It is important to both respect our heritage and be part of its development. Presbyterianism gives us permission to play our part in reforming the church for the mission needs of each new generation.

Learning on the job

Some of us learn by reading and thinking. Many of us learning by talking with others. All of us learn by doing and by being part of a group.

Being in church leadership is itself being part of a dynamic learning environment.  To allow that learning to happen we need to take time to talk about what is going on. This will help clarify our goals, build our confidence that we are doing what God wants, and grow our faith.

Where we do not yet know the way, there is always plenty to do meantime. Even people we find difficult or who find us difficult are part of learning together.

Identifying our "training needs"

One step towards improving our confidence and effectiveness is to identify our training needs and work with others to address them. The following are topics raised in interviews conducted by Dr Lynne Baab for the Synod of Otago (download). They may help you plan for training events.

Topics  mentioned by almost everyonge:

Topics  mentioned in a majority of  interviews:

Topics mentioned in over a third of interviews:

Understanding Elders by John Roxborogh and Mary-Jane Konings.

This is an "open source" resource and a work in progress.  Feel free to download and adapt the current version to suit your local needs: . If you have suggestions or ideas for contributions please email

Presbyterianism is about including others in running the church


My paper Lay Leadership and Ministry and the Future of Reformed Christianity in the West was written for a conference on the future of Christianity held at the University of Otago in 2002. The key ideas are:

John Roxborogh

Updated 1 February 2011