Elders, Local Church Leadership, Lay Ministry, Discipleship, and Lay Preachers


An important part of the ministry of the local church is that exercised by the Elders. They share with ministers of Word and Sacraments in the leadership of the local church. The ministry of Elders is vital to the URC, and never more so than now.

Elders elected by the Church Meeting are ordained to their office and inducted to serve for such period as the Church which elects them shall determine. At the end of their period of service they may be eligible for re-election, dependent on the practice of the local church.

Elders share with ministers of Word and Sacraments in the pastoral oversight of the local church. It is normal for each elder to have a group of members for whom they are pastorally responsible. The URC specifies the Functions of the Elders Meeting in its Basis of Union; but it is for each Elders’ Meeting to decide it priorities.

Training for eldership is available both for new elders and those who have served for some time.

Training for Eldership is available within the Synod. There are opportunities such as:

Induction days for new elders

The URC ‘A Course for Elders’, is offered by the Synod Training Officer. It comprises of 8 sessions looking at various aspects of the ministry of Elders, designed to support and encourage groups of Elders or people who have been asked to consider a call to Eldership. It is best done with elders from different nearby churches coming together to share their experience and practice. All materials are provided – all you supply is the time.

Why not also consider an Elders’ Day? Away days looking at specific areas, eg, ‘Discernment’, ‘Welcoming Church’, ‘Prayer’, or time for quiet reflection and fellowship considering biblical themes, priorities, team working, etc..

The Synod also offers periodic Elders days for elders across the Synod to come together for training, support and refreshment.

Books for Elders

Exploring Eldership by Peter McIntosh

Refreshing the Elders Meeting, by Peter McIntosh & Graham Robson. A set of discussion starters covering the Functions of the Elders Meeting, which can be used as part of an Elders’ meeting or in other ways. Available from the URC Bookshop or the Synod Office. Contact the Synod Training Officer to arrange Elders Training events, either for the local church or a group of churches in your area.

Eldership in the United Reformed Church compiled by a group for GEAR Thank God You’ve Come by Graham Long You can buy these books from the URC Bookshop or borrow them from the Synod Office. For further information contact the Synod Training Officer.


Christian disciples are those who follow the way of Jesus. Exploring the way of Jesus is best done with companions or other seekers.

The Vision4Life process is encouraging churches throughout the URC to engage with basic issues of discipleship: The Bible, Prayer and Evangelism. You can find out more about Vision4Life and how your church can become a part of the process by visiting their page at www.vision4life.org.uk

There are also courses available that enable groups to explore together

The United Reformed Church publishes a course called ‘Developing Discipleship’which comprises 25 sessions for group study, 5 sessions each on Being, Believing, Belonging, Worshipping and Serving.

These involve Bible study and discussion as well as private reflection. It is intended primarily for Church Members (ie. Those who have made a commitment to follow Jesus). The course is available from the URC Bookshop or through the South West Synod.

Other available courses include: is intended primarily for Church Members (ie. Those who have made a commitment to follow Jesus). The course is available from the URC Bookshop or through the South West Synod.

Alpha an introduction to aspects of Christian belief using a pattern of presentation, group discussion, and eating a meal together.

Emmaus: The Way of Faith is a resource designed to help churches welcome people into the Christian faith and the life of the Church.

Local Church Leadership

An exciting pioneer development in Mersey Synod is the Local Church Leadership initiative that has been operating in the Synod for over 10 years.

What Mersey Synod believes about Local Church Leadership:

God is teaching us how to put into practice what we believe about the nature of the church ministry is the task of the whole church and not just of those called to be ministers there are men and women in our churches with gifts of ministry and leadership skills these people ought to be recognised and used alongside ministers, Elders, Church Secretaries and Treasurers to make our total ministry more effective.

Who can be a Local Church Leader?

  • they are men and women of faith
  • they are seen as natural leaders or potential leaders
  • they are able to work with others
  • they have the trust and confidence of a congregation
  • they might respond to this invitation as a call
  • they are Elders
  • Stages of the process

Local Church Leaders need to be prayerfully chosen, prepared, recognised and authorised.

It is the responsibility of each pastorate to decide whether there are one or more elders who are regarded as having the faith, talent, skills or expertise to become Local Church Leader(s).

The pastorate first identifies the role or task to be undertaken and the Elders invite a person (or persons) to be nominated as a possible Local Church Leader to fulfil the role description(s).

The pastorate passes the name of the person, along with the draft role description, to the Training Officer who forwards names to Synod Ministries Committee. Synod Ministries Committee is asked to concur with the names and role descriptions and to agree to their training by the end of May before the course commences in September.

When a person undertakes a Local Church Leadership course there is no commitment on either side.

The Synod provides the preparation through the Local Church Leadership course. Upon completion of the course the pastorate invites Synod to commission the Local Church Leader for three years, after which a review is held prior to renewal.

What qualifications are needed to become a Local Church Leader?

  • Local Church Leaders must be ordained as Elders.
  • There are no formal educational requirements.
  • Successful completion of the LCL course.
  • They are expected to continue developing their expertise and skills as they serve in various roles.

The Course

The purpose of the Local Church Leadership course is:

  • to prepare people for the spiritual and practical aspects of being a leader
  • to enhance leadership skills
  • to help people to work together in partnership and in teams within their church.

How will Local Church Leaders be prepared?

The Local Church Leadership course is one way in which Mersey Synod is developing lay ministry.

Other courses and day events are offered to meet the needs of Elders, members and others.

Ordained and lay people work together in leading the course as collaboration is an integral theme.

The course is suitable for people who have not undertaken further education after school, as well as for those who have. Adult education methods are used and the course respects the skills and experience of participants, building on these.

The course has 20 two-hour sessions, one evening per week, between September and March and is offered in alternate years.

Who writes the role description?

Each pastorate decides how its ministry team will work and writes the role description(s) for its Local

Church Leader(s). A draft is submitted to Synod Ministries committee along with the name(s) of the potential Local Church Leader(s). At the end of the course the pastorate and Synod agree the role description finally.

Examples of possible role descriptions include:

  • chairing and co-ordinating the work of a newly-formed pastoral care committee/team.
  • developing, co-ordinating and supporting work within Junior Church and raising the profile of
  • children within worship.
  • building links with a local community through playgroup parents, Pilots and Boys Brigade, and
  • luncheon club
  • assisting and developing worship, encouraging others to be involved.

What is a Journey Partner?

A Journey Partner is a person from the local church, usually the minister, who meets with the participant throughout the course and journeys with them by discussing aspects of the course and sharing their zest.

It is the Journey Partner’s responsibility to keep the local church informed about progress and to be mindful of the Local Church Leader’s role description.

The Journey Partner will be required to attend the Induction Session, a mid-course meeting and a third meeting after the course ends. They will also be involved in the Local Church Leader’s three yearly review.

What support is given to Local Church Leaders?

  • Tutors on the course are always willing to discuss any aspect of the course
  • Local Church Leaders have their own Journey Partners during training
  • There are two support/training days per year after completion of the course
  • Local Church Leaders are encouraged to undertake further training
  • What does successful completion of the course consist of?
  • At least 75% attendance at the sessions
  • To have contributed in an active way to discussions and other group activities
  • To have completed all the homework
  • To have taken part in evaluation sessions

What happens when the course is successfully completed?

  • A course certificate is issued.
  • The local church confirms the call and writes a detailed role description.
  • The local church requests the Synod’s concurrence with the person and role description.
  • The Synod arranges a Commissioning Service within the local church during Sunday worship and a
  • Synod Commissioning Certificate is presented.
  • If not already an Elder, the Local Church Leader will need to be ordained as an Elder.
  • The appointment begins for an initial period of three years, renewable after Review.
How do Local Church Leaders continue to develop?

Training/support meetings take place twice a year for all commissioned Local Church Leaders, so they can share experiences and continue training and development.

After three years the work of the Local Church Leader(s) is reviewed. The pastorate decides whether to continue with present arrangements, discontinue or change and develop some aspect of the Local Church Leader’s role. Synod is asked to concur.

What about future courses?

Courses run in alternate years – contact Synod Training Officer for more details.

The Moderator and Training Officer write to all churches to remind them of a forthcoming course in the preceding January, asking that they look for potential Local Church Leader(s).

Names are requested in the January, with a deadline of the end of May for all names to be in for consideration. 

To find out more about this initiative contact the Synod Training Officer. You could also talk with one of the many commissioned Local Church Leaders in the Synod. Their details can be found in the Synod Directory

Lay Ministry

Developing our God-given gifts and ministries - God has given each of us gifts, abilities and skills. Our sense of purpose in God’s world is enhanced as we learn to develop these gifts and use them in the service of others. The Manual of the United Reformed Church says:

The Lord Jesus Christ continues his ministry in and through the Church, the whole people of God called and committed to his service and equipped by him for it. This service is given by worship, prayer, proclamation of the Gospel, and Christian witness; by mutual and outgoing care and responsibility; and by obedient discipleship in the whole of daily life, according to the gifts and opportunities given to each one. The preparation and strengthening of its members for such ministry and discipleship shall always be a major concern of the United Reformed Church.

The United Reformed Church believes in the ministry of the whole people of God. God often invites us to discern the form of ministry into which God is leading us. This is something that can be explored in the context of the local church, or if you would like to speak with the Training Officer then she would love to speak with you, just get in touch, she is committed to enabling others to achieve their own God given potential.

Also the Synod has a small fund to help with costs of further study for Lay people wishing to undertake study to help them serve the church better.

URC members may apply to the Training Officer for grants to help with the cost of attending a training event or short course. Not more than three per church in the year, so as to give more churches a chance.

Lay Preachers

Members who, whilst not experiencing a call to the ministry of Word and Sacraments, may feel a call to preach the Gospel, may offer themselves for training as Lay Preachers.

Every Sunday there are many Lay Preachers across the Synod leading services in churches. They are a valuable asset to the Synod.

There is a Synod Lay Preaching Commissioner and there is a Synod Ministries Committee from whom further details may be obtained.

Training for potential Lay Preachers is currently based on the ‘Training for Learning and Service’ (TLS) study course.

National Accreditation – The standard requirement is completion of the 2-year TLS Foundation Course, followed by the one year ‘Gateways into Worship’ course, with associated placements.

(Preachers who have already trained received training in other Churches should consult the Training Officer about alternative requirements.)

The United Reformed Church and Mersey Synod are seeking to encourage more people to become Lay Preachers. The Synod policy is that where a potential Lay preacher undergoes a process of the Synod discerning a call to Lay Preaching, the Synod will provide substantial financial assistance to enable them to fund their training (the number of these is subject to Synod funds being available).

For more information please contact the Synod Lay Preaching Commissioner or the Synod Training Officer.

To encourage members of congregations to become more involved in leading worship Assembly provides an annual grant of up to £200 for courses and books for continuing training of Assembly Accredited Lay preachers.

Other courses for Lay Preachers are available. Details can be obtained from Synod Office. Preachers and worship leaders are encouraged to attend the annual Synod training for fellowship, mutual support and encouragement. 

Worship material for the Synod Lay Preachers Sunday to encourage vocation to Lay preaching and the re-dedication of Lay Preachers, to be used in local churches, is available from Synod office.

Lay Preachers are also encouraged to undergo a self reflection process periodically. For more information The Synod Directory contains a list of nationally accredited Lay Preachers who may be invited to preach at any church. The list also includes names of experienced non-accredited Lay Preachers. For a copy of the Synod Directory please contact Lynne at the Synod Office.