Elders and parish councillors

Elders and parish councillors are parish leaders who are responsible for the direction and health of the congregation.

Eldership has biblical origins. Throughout the history of the church, eldership has taken a variety of forms. In the 16th century eldership was an innovative way of involving the laity in the leadership of the church and the pastoral care of each congregation. It also provided checks and balances in decision-making processes. Today the renewal and rejuvenation of the ministry of eldership is an important dimension in the renewal of the health and wellbeing of our congregations.

God's call 

In the Presbyterian tradition, to become an elder or a parish councillor is a matter for others to decide. It is others who approach us, not we who put our hands up. We can put our hands up is to be willing to assist in the ministry of the church in other areas. This may reveal to others and ourselves whether God may be calling us to the eldership or to be a member of the parish council.

If we are approached we may well ask the question "Why me?" It is wise to take time to respond. Pray. Talk to a Christian person who knows you. There is seldom a need to rush a decision.


Many elders are looking for training despite the fact that eldership is about Christian character and gifting more than qualifications, and the numbers of new elders in congregations are often small, sometimes training is not easy to arrange and the need is overlooked.

  • The Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML) is available to advise and resource training events for elders.  You can download a handbook for elders.
  • Some years ago the Church of Scotland produced a video called "Why Me?" The KCML may be able to access a copy of this video upon request.
  • The Presbyterian Church of Canada Elders Institute offers online courses which can be taken from New Zealand.
  • Lester J Reid, A Resource for Elders, Sessions & Parish Councils, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, Revised edition, 1997

Elder election processes and duties are set out in the Book of Order.