I love being Presbyterian (which is sort of obvious, since I'm a Presbyterian pastor), but I realize that others might not share my enthusiasm. In fact, when I've mentioned in the past that I am Presbyterian, I've had people look at me slightly askance, peering at me with questioning and troubled glances. It was as though I had just admitted to them that aliens had abducted me when I was a child.
In a world where conservative Presbyterians are a tiny minority (even within the broader evangelical world), I think some of this confusion is simply due to a lack of information about what it means to be Presbyterian. I'm hoping over the next several blog posts to chronicle a bit of the distinctives of being Presbyterian, with future posts discussing our distinct view of baptism, Reformed theology, worship, the Lord's Supper, and the place of the presbytery in church government.
But first, we'll tackle the session meeting!
The Session Meeting
The "session" of a Presbyterian church is the group of elders who have been called by God to care for, teach, and govern that local congregation (for the biblical qualifications of elders, check out 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9). The word "session" originally meant "the state of being seated," with the idea being that when the elders gather together, they sit down to discuss and deliberate weighty church matters, like church discipline or the doctrine that is being taught and preached.
I think it's important to clarify that session meetings are NOT business meetings, although typically we do discuss items like church finances. However, the church is not a business, and being an elder is not like being a board member. The church is the communion of the saints, comprised of those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, along with their families. Likewise, elders are not glorified board members; they have inwardly sensed God calling them to care for the spiritual welfare of the church. That inward call is then matched by an outward call from the church, as the local congregation recognizes that God has given this individual the spiritual maturity, wisdom, and competencies necessary for the task. The session is a calling, not a club.
The session has a serious responsibility. The author to the Hebrews remarks that the elders are accountable to God for the souls of those who are under their care (Heb 13:17). So when we're in a session meeting, we may laugh with each other, but we also cry together. Weird fact: I've seen more crying from men in session meetings than anywhere else in my life. We weep at how sin has destroyed lives and relationships, and we mourn over the trials, distress, and difficulties that so persistently harry the sheep under our care.
When necessary, the session makes decisions with regard to church discipline. Christ has given his church a process for preserving her purity and peace (Matt 18:15-18). Those decisions are never taken lightly, but always with great caution, lots of discussion, and much prayer.
Lastly, the session prays. The primary tasks of the elders are the ministry of the Word and prayer. We always spend a significant portion of our meetings praying for the congregation, lifting up their needs and difficulties to the true Shepherd of the sheep (Heb 13:20).