What Does Presbyterian Mean Anyway?

Have you ever felt uneasy when an organization (especially one with lots of resources or power) had most or all of its power concentrated in just one person? Why does our system of national government have 3 branches? And why does Trinity have lots of ministry teams and not a pope?

The answer is all the same – Presbyterianism. We believe in shared accountability because we believe in the reality of sin and our deep capacity for corruption apart from Jesus. The American Revolution was known to some in England as the “Presbyterian Rebellion” because of the form of government chosen in the American Colonies. The Bible’s teaching on accountability shaped their decision. And we have ministry teams at Trinity, not a pope, because of how the Bible teaches us that leadership in the church is shared.

Presbyterian comes from the Greek term for elder (presbyter). Significantly, the term is almost always plural because the norm in the Bible is a plurality of leaders. Think of a school. A teacher – singular – is one person trained and certified to teach in a trustworthy way. But a school is almost never the site of just one teacher. A typical school has scores of them, and a healthy school has teachers who even help train other teachers.

So in like manner, we believe deeply in being a place with multiple leaders where multiple leaders are trained and serve in a trustworthy way. We want to always work to help train up many other leaders within our church, even if they are not officers. Ephesians 4:7 says, “Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Catch both points: Jesus has made it possible for every believer to help in the work of the whole church at every successive level – from children’s ministry to our oldest members and from the most mature down to the newest believer.

To recap: 1) our brokenness in sin means that we have been terribly wrong – all of us. So we need and want to welcome the influence (accountability) of other believers, everywhere we live, work and play. 2) We believe God’s Word, every believer has spiritual gifts, and in the Church, everyone has a role. And 3) we believe in teamwork. Shared ministry and shared decision-making authority is God’s best for us. We’re deeply Presbyterian and I’m glad we are.

Things to pray for:

  • Gratitude for God’s work to invest in every believer. Read Ephesians 4:7 & 1 Corinthians 12:7, and give thanks for how the Lord has worked to instill every believer with spiritual gifts for the good of the whole church. Ask Him to make clear what your gifts are and how you can serve others with them.
  • Wisdom. In an age of rampant individualism, how have you lived recklessly or foolishly to not be accountable or to not share decisions with fellow believers? Ask Jesus to forgive you and to give you wisdom to learn His ways (notice even Jesus did everything in keeping with His Father and the Holy Spirit).
  • Humility. Ask the Spirit to help you humble yourself and open your life and decision-making to His Word and other believers in your life who are trustworthy.
  • Courage. This runs counter to our world, so ask the Lord to build into you courage to live in light of His ways rather than the world’s ways.

Tim Rice
Lead Pastor & Director of Church Planting