One of the problems I addresses in Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment is that the church has created structures to undermine the authority of pastoral leaders. I spent this week with the summer conference of the Synod of the Trinity in Pennsylvania. In our conversations on this subject, I realized that the church had also created structures to undermine the authority of elder leaders.
The session that governs a local congregation is composed of elders, and is moderated by the pastor. Prior to the reforms of "the Sixties," a small group of elders might serve for many years. Now elders normally serve for a three-year term, are off for a year, then serve another three-year term. And that is it. Though elders are ordained for life, just as ministers are, their formal service is normally limited to one stint. The same holds for deacons, who serve on a separate board. In most Presbyterian congregations, more than half of the members have been ordained as deacons or elders.
When they go off the session, the governing experience that they learned mostly goes with them. Moreover, the elders who are sent by a local congregation as official representatives (commissioners) to the presbytery, the regional governing body, are chosen from the session. This means that the governing experience that the Presbyterian Church can bring to its central governing body, the presbytery, is also only short-term.
It would be bad to have only a small group serve on the session and presbytery for years and years. No one advocates that. But by requiring rotation of elders, and rarely recalling elders with past service, the Presbyterian Church (USA) undermines the other half of its possible Establishment.