Presbyterian (or presbyteral) polity is a method of church governance ("ecclesiastical polity") typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the session or consistory, though other terms, such as church board, may apply. Groups of local churches are governed by a higher assembly of elders known as the presbytery or classis; presbyteries can be grouped into a synod, and presbyteries and synods nationwide often join together in a general assembly. Responsibility for conduct of church services is reserved to an ordained minister or pastor known as a teaching elder, or a 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.