what   are   presbyterian   distinctives?

What are Presbyterian distinctives?

Since their earliest beginnings in 16th century Europe and Scotland, Presbyterian churches have been committed to a number of basic values, which include: faith in Jesus Christ (both personal and corporate); a democratic approach to the structure and governance of the church; involvement in society; a freedom of belief and understanding; and the value of education. Our plan for the future builds on our history. We seek to have a Church made up of “healthy congregations”, groups of lively Presbyterians with an outward focus, a sense of direction and an involving and shared leadership.


The Presbyterian Church is part of the wider family of Christian churches. Our emphasis has been on the primacy of God in our lives and our belief that all people are equal in the sight of God. The Presbyterian Church seeks to follow Jesus Christ, who lived 2000 years ago and who, for us, has significant contemporary value.


Our Church is one run by the minister and the elders in partnership. ‘Presbyterianism’ means everybody is involved in decision-making at all levels. Our structure includes groups representing members of the Church. We have a particular partnership with Maori, Te Aka Puaho. Presbyterians believe in the ‘priesthood of all believers’; the value of each individual. We are committed to a style of leadership that is accountable to and serves the people. Each person’s contribution is valued, your ideas count.

Involvement in Social Issues

Whether it’s protesting for the rights of women or trying to stop the liberalisation of gambling, Presbyterians don’t just sit down on a Sunday and sing. We get involved! Presbyterian Support is the largest provider of Church-based social services in New Zealand.

Work overseas

While every congregation has their particular overseas mission interest, the Global Mission Office coordinates our denomination’s work overseas. Many of our partnerships with churches and ecumenical bodies date back many decades whereas other endeavours are relatively new. We have been working in Vanuatu for over 150 years and celebrated the centenary of our mission to the Punjab, India in 2008. Our work over the years has focused primarily on education in schools, theological institutions and teaching hospitals over and above the provision of ministry staff. In more recent times we have also been involved in development work as well as mission exposure visits for young people.


Presbyterians don’t agree on everything - you may have noticed that. What is important to us is the way that we treat each other. We seek to make room for all people to be heard. You’ll find a wide range of ways of thinking about God, different styles of worship and different cultures in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. We reflect Kiwi society, with more than 137 cultures represented in our membership. We have a special relationship with Maori through Te Aka Puaho (our Maori synod), and with other cultures including Pacific Island and Asian groups.


Presbyterians have always had a commitment to education. The Church was instrumental in the establishment of the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university. We started the Turakina Maori Girls’ School in 1905. Currently there are 12 schools in New Zealand identified as Presbyterian. Our own School of Ministry in Dunedin trains prospective ministers and leaders for our Church, and others who are interested in studying theology.


The history and belief of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is closely linked to our reformed heritage. John Calvin in Geneva and John Knox in Edinburgh were instrumental in shaping early Presbyterian faith and practice. In this country the Presbyterian Church began as a “settler church” in 1840. Our early history was shaped by Scottish and English settlers wanting to build a better world for themselves and their families. That experience has continued today with post-World War II Dutch and European settlers and more recent Pacific Island and Asian migrants.

Where we’re going

New Zealand Presbyterianism today continues the dynamic tradition of our forebears. We’ve been through a lot in the 160-plus years of our existence in Aotearoa New Zealand, and today we face an environment as challenging as that faced by the early settlers in 1840. We have a strategy that recognises that our society has changed and we have to change with it.