How are Presbyterians governed?
Presbyterian polity is a method of church governance typified by the rule of elders. Elected ruling elders, usually called the Session, governs each local church. The Presbytery, a higher assembly of elders, holds groups of local churches accountable. Presbyteries nationwide then gather together in a General Assembly every year.
An ordained minister of the Presbytery is elected as pastor and handles conduct of church services. The pastor also holds the titles of teaching elder and minister of the word and sacrament.
Presbyterian polity was developed as a rejection of governance by hierarchies of single bishops (episcopal polity), but also differs from the congregationalist polity in which each congregation is independent. In contrast to the other two forms, authority in the Presbyterian polity flows both from the top down (as higher assemblies exercise limited but important authority over individual congregations, e.g. only the presbytery can ordain ministers, install pastors, and start up, close, and approve relocating a congregation) and from the bottom up (e.g. the moderator and officers are not appointed from above but are rather elected by and from among the members of the assembly). This theory of governance developed in Geneva under John Calvin and was introduced to Scotland by John Knox after his period of exile in Geneva. It is strongly associated with French, Dutch, Swiss and Scottish Reformation movements, and the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.