As I mentioned yesterday, with my fellow-elders, we’re making an ongoing study of the elder and his work. What better to study then, than a book of the same name The Elder and His Work by David Dickson (you can read it online free).

David Dickson was an elder in the Free Church of Scotland in the mid-late 1800′s and wrote this book for his fellow elders. The book was reprinted multiple times and he allowed later editions to be adapted to fit the American context also.

I made many notes on the book as I read it which you can access here (Word/PDF). But we’ve been using it at church, together with 1 Timothy 3:1-7, primarily to start putting together an elder’s checklist to guide us in our regular duties. Our aim has been to produce something that we can use to continually remind ourselves of the basics of our task and to keep one another accountable in our service. This is what we’ve come up with so far (also here in Word/PDF):


1. Visit each family in the district once every 18-24 months

Aim for one scheduled home visit every 3 weeks (our five districts have about 25 families/homes in each)

2. Review district list every week to identify specific needs including

  • New member
  • Bereavement
  • Birth
  • Marriage
  • Illness
  • Questions
  • Problems
  • Mentoring
  • Exam time
  • Old age

Depending on circumstances, specific needs may be met by:

  • Home visit
  • Hospital/Nursing home visit
  • Phone call
  • Coffee/lunch
  • Hospitality
  • Email
  • Social interaction at church

Aim for at least one of these “specific need contacts” every three weeks.

3. Aim to know the spiritual state and condition of each individual.


  • Private prayer for families and individuals on district list every month (average of one family per day)
  • Regular attendance at congregational prayer meetings


1. Attend monthly elder meetings and joint meetings with deacons.

2. Assist and advise fellow-elders in discussions and decisions.

3. Arrange for holy administration of the sacraments

4. Administer church discipline

  • Follow due biblical process especially Matthew 18:
  • Identify and admonish the disorderly
  • Act against the impenitent and receive the penitent

5. Help with administration


1. Watch the ministers of the Word

Using preaching review form, assess the doctrine and life of the ministers of the Word with a view to:

  • Encouragement
  • Correction

Identify where ministers of the Word may need help in delegating responsibilities to others so that they can give themselves more fully to the ministry of the Word and prayer.

2. Watch the congregation

Observe the congregation to see who is present/absent, active/passive, engaged/disengaged.

3. Watch the families

Ensure family worship is practiced and children are receiving Christian education.


The elder should be growing in:

  • Christian knowledge and wisdom
  • Teaching ability

In order that they may be equipped to teach in areas of special gifting, including:

  • Pulpit
  • Sunday School
  • Catechism Class
  • Fellowship evening
  • Bible Studies
  • Vacation Bible School
  • Church Camp
  • Evangelism
  • Book studies
  • Distribution of good books


Be on the look out for new families and individuals coming to church.

Offer hospitality to individuals/families/groups of families.


Pro-active rather than reactive leadership with a willingness to take on new responsibilities

  • Vision for future direction, role, and needs of the congregation.
  • Mission and evangelism
  • Identifying, encouraging, training future leaders and service opportunities.
  • Flora Compton

    That is an excellent check-list and how interesting that the classic on the elder-ship was written by a Free Church of Scotland minister. It has been my observation that churches of Dutch, Reformed back-ground, function much better than the Scottish churches, in this area of the role of elders. They are generally numerically stronger these days so this makes a difference, I suppose. A godly, elderly Free Church woman,in Toronto told me that she had asked a minister why some men, with none of the Biblical qualifications ,were being made elders and the response was, ‘when you don’t have stones,you use rubble”.

    It’s off topic but I am genuinely interested in the role of assessor elders. Is their function merely to make up a quorum at Session meetings? Can they function in any of the areas you mention to a people they have never met and in some cases are on a different continent? Can a group of people with no local elders rightly be called a congregation? These are questions that trouble others as well as myself and I would be very interested in your response.

  • Dan Sudfeld

    Very helpful. Thank for sharing this.

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  • John Larson

    Thanks so much! Would you be willing to make the preaching review form available? I’m trying to take the Dickson material, as well as your checklist, and tailor it to fit the needs of our session & congregation. Thanks again.

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