Presbyterian Government

In 1797, The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America adopted the following:

The radical principles of Presbyterian church government and discipline are:

That the several different congregations of believers, taken collectively, constitute one Church of Christ, called emphatically the Church; that a larger part of the Church, or a representation of it, should govern a smaller, or determine matters of controversy which arise therein; that, in like manner, a representation of the whole should govern and determine in regard to every part, and to all the parts united: that is, that a majority shall govern; and consequently that appeals may be carried from lower to higher governing bodies, till they be finally decided by the collected wisdom and united voice of the whole Church. For these principles and this procedure, the example of the apostles and the practice of the primitive Church are considered as authority.

Form of Government, Book of Order This is an Adobe Acrobat pdf document., G-1.0400

In simpler words, the Presbyterian Church is a representative democracy which governs itself by representatives chosen from the local congregation. It consists of governing bodies which in turn include more bodies from lower to higher. These bodies are the session, the presbytery, the synod, and the general assembly.

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) which directs the actions of all of these bodies consists of The Book of Confessions This is an Adobe Acrobat pdf document. and The Book of Order This is an Adobe Acrobat pdf document..

The Session

The Session governs the local congregation. A Session is made up of several elders with the pastor serving as moderator making sure that all voices are heard and that the meetings are run in a way that is fair to everyone. An elder is a male or female member of the congregation who has been chosen to lead the congregation in all of its activities from choosing a paint color for the sanctuary to choosing a new pastor. Elders are the people who answer to God for running the local church. One of these elders is elected to be the Clerk of Session. The Clerk has the job of keeping the minutes and recording all that the Session does. A session determines how the congregation as a body will spend its resources and energy in doing the work of God in that location.

The Presbytery

The Presbytery is comprised of every minister and at least one elder from each of the congregations in a given region. Our Presbytery is the Presbytery of Chicago. It includes 107 congregations and over 43,000 Presbyterians in Lake, Cook, and DuPage Counties in Illinois.

A presbytery determines how several congregations as a body will use their resources and energy in doing the work of God in that area. The presbytery is led by a moderator who is elected from one of the elder or minister members of the presbytery. The moderator is assisted by the presbytery staff which is led by the Stated Clerk of the presbytery. Most presbyteries are organized by regions however a few presbyteries are organized by language/cultural groups.

There are 173 presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Synod

The Synod is made up of representative members of several presbyteries. Our Synod is the Synod of Lincoln Trails. It includes eight presbyteries and over 700 congregations in Indiana and Illinois. The presbyteries in the Synod of Lincoln Trails, are:

  • Blackhawk Presbytery with offices in Oregon, Illinois
  • Presbytery of Chicago with offices in Chicago, Illinois
  • Great Rivers Presbytery with offices in Peoria, Illinois
  • Midwest Hanmi Presbytery (Korean-American Presbytery) with offices in Chicago, Illinois
  • Ohio Valley Presbytery with offices in Bloomington, Indiana
  • Southeastern Illinois Presbytery with offices in Decatur, Illinois
  • Wabash Valley Presbytery with offices in Rochester, Indiana
  • Whitewater Valley Presbytery with offices in Indianapolis, Indiana

A synod determines how presbyteries as a body will use their resources and energy in doing the work of God in that region. In recent years they have specialized in providing educational opportunities to congregations and providing support persons as congregations reassess their ministries. There are sixteen synods.

Synod Map Synod of Alaska Northwest Synod of the Pacific Synod of Southern California and Hawaii Synod of the Rocky Mountains Synod of the Southwest Synod of Lakes and Praries Synod of Mid-America Synod of the Sun Synod of the Covenant Synod of Lincoln Trails Synod of Living Waters Synod of the Northeast Synod of the Trinity Synod of Mid-Atlantic Synod of the South Atlantic Synod of Puerto Rico

Map source PCUSA Links to Synods

The General Assembly

The General Assembly is made up of representatives from each Presbytery according to the number of members in the Presbytery. It is the most inclusive ruling body of our denomination the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PCUSA, is currently the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States with about 11,200 congregations and 2.5 million members.

The General Assembly determines how all the PCUSA congregations in the United States will direct their resources and energy in doing the work of God in this country. It also provides guidance, at the request of lower governing bodies, in how we may organize ourselves, how we may reconcile disputes, and how we should support one another in difficult times. The General Assembly currently meets once every two years. It is led by a Moderator, an elder or a minister, man or woman, who is elected for a two-year term. The Moderator is assisted by the General Assembly staff.

For Further Study

The Book of Confessions This is an Adobe Acrobat pdf document.
The Book of Order This is an Adobe Acrobat pdf document.