Presbyterian Government
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The Presbyterian Church is a representative democracy, based upon the Biblical system of church government portrayed in Acts 15 and I Timothy 5:17-22. Each congregation elects “elders” (who may not be very old) to “session,” the primary governing body of the congregation. Each session elects commissioners to “presbytery,” a local governing body.

 

Each presbytery, in turn, elects commissioners to a “synod,” a regional coordinating council, and to “general assembly,” the highest governing body of our denomination. The system looks like this:

 

 

This system of government is described in our Book of Order, which states “that a larger part of the Church, or a representation of it, should govern a smaller, … that a majority shall govern; and consequently that appeals may be finally decided by the collected wisdom and united voice of the whole Church.” (G-1.0400)

 

The Book of Order also declares that all church decisions “should be founded upon the revealed will of God,” (G-1.0307) and that Christ is the “Head of the Church.” (G-1.0100). Thus, the central task of elected leaders at every level is to follow the will of Christ as it is revealed by the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.

 

 

The Presbyterian Church is a representative democracy, based upon the Biblical system of church government portrayed in Acts 15 and I Timothy 5:17-22. Each congregation elects “elders” (who may not be very old) to “session,” the primary governing body of the congregation. Each session elects commissioners to “presbytery,” a local governing body.

 

Each presbytery, in turn, elects commissioners to a “synod,” a regional coordinating council, and to “general assembly,” the highest governing body of our denomination. The system looks like this:

 

 

This system of government is described in our Book of Order, which states “that a larger part of the Church, or a representation of it, should govern a smaller, … that a majority shall govern; and consequently that appeals may be finally decided by the collected wisdom and united voice of the whole Church.” (G-1.0400)

 

The Book of Order also declares that all church decisions “should be founded upon the revealed will of God,” (G-1.0307) and that Christ is the “Head of the Church.” (G-1.0100). Thus, the central task of elected leaders at every level is to follow the will of Christ as it is revealed by the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.

 

 

Lower Governing Bodies

Our “lower” governing bodies are the Congregation, the Session, the Deacon Board, and the Commissions. Every member has some exposure to these groups.

 

 

The Congregation

Most of the work done in our church is accomplished through individuals and small groups, but the entire congregation is involved in four important decisions: 1) Electing elders and deacons. A majority may choose to accept or reject the recommendations of the Nominating Committee. 2) Hiring a pastor. A majority may choose to accept or reject the recommendations of the Nominating Commission. 3) Approving the pastor’s “terms of call” (i.e., salary) each year. A majority may choose to accept or reject the recommendation of the session. 4) Buying, selling or mortgaging property. A majority may choose to accept or reject the recommendation of the session.

 

The Book of Order requires that written notice of congregational meetings be given at least one week in advance, and that 10% of the active membership shall constitute a quorum. In most cases, the Pastor will moderate the meeting, and the Clerk of Session will take minutes. Most meetings are “called” meetings, during which only one item of business (e.g., an election) can take place. But there is also an annual meeting during which ALL congregational leaders can be questioned about their work during the previous year.

 

 

The Session

The session is the highest governing body in the local church. Each Session is charged with “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.” (from the Book of Order, Section G-1.0200)

Our Session has delegated most of these responsibilities to the Deacon Board and the commissions (described below). The session’s principle task is to provide clear guidelines for these commissions and support for their ministries, while enhancing commission work with new planning and programmatic teams. The Session is also responsible for discipline of church members whose behavior may be destructive to the congregation as a whole.

 

The commissions, under the authority of the session, administer most programs of the church. Membership in these commissions is open to all members of the congregation. Department chairs are selected by the pastor.

 

 

The Board of Deacons

Deacons are elected to three-year terms. They are charged with the ministry of pastoral care for the sick and shut-in members of our church. They meet monthly for prayer and mutual support. They organize receptions in the Fellowship Hall following memorial services. They also schedule greeters for Sunday Worship.

 

 

Staff

Staff members do not “run” the church. Nor are they simply “hired hands”. They partner with volunteers in order to get things done. The only current full-time employee is the Pastor. We have a number of part-time employees: Office Manager, Youth Director, Children’s Director , Financial Secretary, Music Director, Children’s Choir Director, Organist, and Pianist. We have also had a number of volunteer “staff” throughout the years.

 

 

Higher Governing Bodies

Our “higher” governing bodies are the Presbytery, the Synod, and the General Assembly. When considering the structure of these “higher” governing bodies, it is helpful to remember the three branches of our United States government: the legislative branch (which creates laws), the executive branch (which “executes” or implements laws), and the judicial branch (which interprets and enforces laws). The higher governing bodies of our church also have executive, legislative and judicial branches that work in a similar way.

 

The Presbytery

At the Presbytery (district) level, policies are created in general or called meetings that involve representation from every congregation in this area. These half-day “legislative’ meetings occur about six times per year. A “moderator” (who serves for one year) runs the meetings, and a “stated clerk” (who serves four years) takes minutes. The stated clerk also serves as the official parliamentarian of the meeting. Most meetings include a meal and a worship service.

 

The policies created at these meetings are “executed” (i.e., implemented) through fourteen committees, each of which reports to the Presbytery Coordinating Commission (similar to a congregation’s session). The General Presbyter (similar to a congregation’s pastor) and his or her staff organize and facilitate the work of the Presbytery Coordinating Commission and its Committees. Most problems and complaints about the Presbytery are sent to the General Presbyter, but serious breaches of stated policy or personal integrity are referred to Presbytery’s Permanent Judicial Commission (or “PJC”, a district church “court”).

 

We are part of the Presbytery of the Pacific, which is housed in the Covenant Presbyterian Church (just north of LAX). This office contains a “Resource Center,” or lending library, containing videos, books, and magazines which can be of great help to pastors, elders, and Sunday School teachers.

 

 

The Synod

At the Synod (regional) level, policies are created in annual or called meetings that involve representation from each presbytery in the area. As at the Presbytery level, a moderator runs the meetings, and a stated clerk (who is also the parliamentarian) takes minutes.

 

The policies created at these meetings are executed through four volunteer committees: Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation; Racial Ethnic Pastoral Leadership, Representation and Nominations, and the Permanent Judicial Commission. The synod executive and her staff facilitate the work of these councils and committees. They synod also supports hospital chaplaincy, campus ministry, Presbyterian Conference Centers, and the Synod of the Nile (through a "sister synod" relationship). Most problems or complaints about the synod are sent to the Synod Executive, but serious breaches of stated policy or personal integrity are referred to Synod’s Permanent Judicial Commission (a regional church “court”).

 

We are part of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, whose office may be found at 1501 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. This synod includes eight Presbyteries and two camps that our church has utilized in the past.

 

 

The General Assembly

At the national level, policies are created at the bi-annual “General Assembly” (or GA), a five-day meeting that is held in a different city every other year. This meeting involves representatives from each Presbytery and Synod. The elected moderator of this meeting becomes an official spokesperson for the denomination. The moderator’s two-year term involves lots of travel and the privilege of appointing committee chairs who recommend policies for the NEXT General Assembly. In addition to taking minutes and enforcing parliamentary procedure, the stated clerk of the General Assembly is responsible for interpreting GA decisions accurately.

 

The policies created at GA are primarily implemented through two entities: the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA). The Office of the General Assembly is funded primarily through per-capita giving (a recommended per-member "tax"), and these funds support three departments: Church-Wide ministries, Mid-Council Ministries, and Ecumencial Ministries. Among other things, this money pays for our national meetings and our pastoral placement service.

 

The Presbyterian Mission Agency is funded primarily through "Mission" giving (which our church calls "Presbyterian Benevolences"). These funds support five departments: Compassion, Peace, and Justice; Evangelism & Church Growth; Theology, Worship, and Education; Racial, Ethnic & Gender Issues; and World-Wide Missions. These departments lead our denomination's efforts to fight injustice, to educate church leaders, to build new churches, and to strengthen partner churches throughout the world. After 180 years of mission work, the PCUSA now has partner churches in almost every part of the world. Thus, the Presbyterian Mission Agency does not send "missionaries" any more; it sends mission "co-workers" to assist those partner churches in their ministries.

 

In addition to setting policy for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly, the General Assembly can recommend policy to four other church-related entities: the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Presbyterian Foundation, the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, and the Presbyterian Board of Pensions. In most cases, these recommendations are accepted.

 

Controversies and complaints about the national office normally to the Executive Director of the PMA or the Stated Clerk of the OGA. But a serious breach of GA policy or personal integrity could be referred (or appealed) to General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission, which is our denomination’s “Supreme Court.” There is no “chief justice” in the Presbyterian Church, but most members of a PJC (at every level) are lawyers, executives, or highly experienced pastors. They have the right to investigate charges, to hold hearings, to dissolve a church’s session, and to censure, suspend, or expel church officers (ministers, elders and staff). These actions are very rare, but they are also binding upon every pastor and every congregation throughout the United States.

 

The national offices are located at 100 Witherspoon Street in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. The national office building includes a beautiful modern chapel that is worthy of a visit if you happen to be in town. They also have a website.



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