The joy of being Presbyterian

The joy of being Presbyterian

I suspect that most people don’t associate the word “joy” with the word “Presbyterian”. Presbyterians have a bit of a reputation for being a little wooden, very focussed on good theology, but not perhaps so full of joy. Yet it is the right word to describe many aspects of ministering in a Presbyterian church government context.

First up, a disclaimer. I don’t think that Presbyterian church government is the only faithful way to organise a church. I went to a non-denominational theological college and have many friends who minister in different forms of church government, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages.

In addition, there are Presbyterians and there are Presbyterians! Every denomination and local Presbytery will be different, with a different culture. I can only speak for myself. I minister as part of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, a small denomination in Australia.

At the local level, Presbyterian churches are governed by elders, each having the same authority as one another. That means all decisions are made by more than one person. This provides a good check and balance for everything as well as providing the opportunity for deep working relationships with the other elders. As one of the key problems in pastoral ministry is isolation, it is a good thing to have to consistently work with other godly men on the issues facing the church.

At a broader level, Presbytery and National Assembly can be a source of great encouragement. Yes, it means more meetings, which cannot be avoided. But it also means realising that your local church is part of something bigger. Different elders use their time to help prepare and examine men for ministry, to encourage mission, or to think through practical and theological issues. I have seen many useful conversations around the table as the brothers grapple with some issue or other. Reports from committees have often helped me to sharpen my thinking on particular issues. Well thought through examination processes benefit everyone in the denomination, not only the candidate for ministry being examined.

And that’s before you consider the vaguer and more relational aspects of things. The friendships that form as you do ministry with other brothers is a great help. When a problem comes up in your local church, you have an automatic group you can consult for help. It is common for the men in our denomination to preach in each other’s churches or just catch up for a coffee and a chat.

We all need one another, and especially those in church leadership. While denominations, like any human organisation, might have their problems, they can be a great force for good when working well. There is indeed joy to be found even at a Presbytery meeting!