By Pastor Stephen Hess –
As I write this article, preparations are being made for a “Presbytery” meeting that will take place at Highview in just a few days. Quite often when I tell people that I am a pastor they will ask me about the type of church I serve. When I tell them “Presbyterian” I might as well be speaking a foreign language for most people. Many people today (even many Christians) have little to no idea what Presbyterianism is all about. So what does this strange word tell us about our distinctive identity at Highview?
The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek word presbyteros which simply means “elder.” At a basic level, to be Presbyterian means that our church is ruled by elders. There are a couple of reasons this is important. First, it is important because it is Biblical. When the Apostle Paul was planting churches he instructed them to appoint elders in every congregation (see Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). It is clear that from the earliest days of the church, leadership by elders was God’s design.
Secondly, being ruled by elders is important because the church is healthiest when it is overseen by a body of godly leaders. In Presbyterian churches, the pastor does not make all of the decisions. Instead, the “Session” (board of elders) has authority over the church and works together to make decisions. We feel that God’s will is best discerned by a group of godly leaders prayerfully working together to follow God’s word.
These principles are also reflected in our larger structure as a denomination. As Presbyterians, we believe that being connected to other churches for partnership and accountability strengthens our ministry and faithfulness. For this reason, we are sometimes described as a “connectional” church. There are some denominations that are connected by a hierarchy of individuals. In these denominations, individual leaders have all the power and are accountable only to other individuals in the hierarchy. There are other churches that aren’t connected by anything at all—they simply exist as autonomous organizations and don’t answer to any other church or denominational body.
Presbyterians represent a third way of being structured. Unlike the autonomous churches, we believe that being connectional is important. Being connected to other churches provides us with accountability as we strive to remain faithful to the gospel, and it also helps us unite and partner with like-minded congregations. However, in the Presbyterian system we do not have a hierarchy of individuals; we have a hierarchy of governing “bodies” or groups. Locally, the Session governs the affairs of each congregation. Regionally, the Presbytery (comprised of all the EPC churches in a specific region) oversees the congregations in a particular geographical area. Nationally, the General Assembly meets once a year to conduct business on behalf of the entire denomination.
There is no perfect way to structure a church or a denomination. Each denomination has its own strengths and weaknesses. But we believe that the Presbyterian structure honors the Biblical model of eldership while also providing accountability and partnership in mission. Being part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church connects Highview with over 600 other EPC churches across the country who share our theology and vision for ministry.
In just a few days Highview will be hosting our “Presbytery” meeting where leaders from more than 30 other EPC churches from the region will gather to have fellowship, to worship, and to prayerfully make ministry decisions with one another. It is truly a gift to partner with other like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ. Please be in prayer that God would give us wisdom as we seek to continue to do his work, and that God would bless the ministry of all the churches in our Presbytery.