As I have gotten to know many of you, I have come to realize the great diversity that is South Plains Presbyterian Church. We are diverse in so many ways: politically, socio-economically, and especially ecclesiastically. We live in a more fluid society than our parents. In the past, the faith tradition one was born into tended to be the tradition one remained in throughout life.
Today, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodist, Baptists, etc. along with lifelong Presbyterians make up our congregation. Each of these traditions has its own form of government or way of doing things. This "melting pot" of backgrounds often causes confusion about the way our church functions.
In light of this, my articles in “The Reflector” over the next few months will focus on Presbyterian Polity.
- September – polity of the local congregation
- October – church councils
- November -- membership privileges and responsibilities
- January and February – the Reformed understanding of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
POLITY IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
Presbyterians have a representative form of government. It is neither hierarchical nor congregational. When the founding fathers of our country sought a model to use for the new government, it was ours they chose. The Session members, our board of elders are the primary council for the local church. They are responsible for the life and ministry of the congregation. The session sets policies, establishes financial procedures, hires non-clergy staff, manages property, receives and dismisses members, provides for the worship and nurture of the children of God, and oversees programmatic events.
Under our constitution, the congregation has limited powers. Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation shall be limited to matters related to the following:
- electing ruling elders, deacons, and trustees;
- calling a pastor, co-pastor, or associate pastor;
- changing existing pastoral relationships, by such means as reviewing the adequacy of and approving changes to the terms of call of the pastor or pastors, or requesting,
- consenting to, or declining to consent to dissolution;
- buying, mortgaging, or selling real property;
- requesting the presbytery to grant an exemption as permitted in this Constitution (G-2.0404). (G-1.0503)
Item “e” concerns an exemption from the stipulation limiting an officer’s service to no more than six years consecutively. These items are the only matters that may be brought before.
The congregation annually elects elders for a three-year term. Elders may serve two three-year terms, but may not serve more than six years consecutively. Once a member is ordained, they are ordained for life. The election procedure is not a political process like we see today. Rather, members are elected to serve on a nominating committee. The members of this committee pray, study scripture, brainstorm, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, bring a slate of officers to the session. The session upon receiving the slate, if there are no concerns, calls a congregational meeting. At this meeting the slate of officers is placed before the congregation for election. Nominees may be offered from the floor at this time. Service as an elder or trustee is not a popularity contest, but rather a calling, which is placed upon the heart of election of the congregation. We believe that God calls and sets apart individuals to serve and to do his work.
Presbyterians believe that the will of God through the Holy Spirit is discerned through the work and discussion of the session. Sometimes, the elders serving on session may disagree with the decision of the council, but for the sake of the unity and peace of the church, support
According to our constitution, on matters brought before the session, elders are to vote their conscience. “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship” (F-3.0101a). Elders are not to be influenced by the opinions of others. Rather, they seek the will of God through prayer and vote as they feel the Holy Spirit is leading them. Sometimes this results in the session having to make unpopular decisions.
As the governing body of the church, decisions by the session are final.