Many people have heard the word, "Presbyterian" in the list of the names of churches. But there is a good chance large numbers of people could not spell it, much less say what it means.
To be "presbyterian" in the most direct sense means that our churches are led by a group of elders composed of both seminary-educated ministers and a larger number of local church members elected by the congregation. Our churches come from the Reformed Tradition of "the priesthood of all believers," which means that God may call anyone to leadership in the church, so we try to acknowledge that by how we share leadership bringing together as many skills and backgrounds as we can.
In a deeper sense, to be "Presbyterian" means that we rely completely on the righteousness given to us by God in Jesus as a free and completely undeserved gift. This transforming experience changes how we look at God, at ourselves, at the world and at every person in it. Presbyterians (at our sanest) believe that salvation comes "by Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone." In other words, God alone is the judge of humanity, and God has chosen to seek the salvation of everyone and not our condemnation.
In some groups and some churches, you know you belong because there is a precise list of beliefs that everyone is required to believe. There is an undeniable power in that approach of uniformity, but there is also a great fear of any kind of change.
Change for the sake of novelty is of no value, but as disciples of Jesus, we are always "learners." (That's what the word, "disciple" means.) So, we must always be prepared to make changes as individuals and as congregations when we realize we have limited God, failed to treat others as we should or put our own prejudices and preferences in the place of God's call and purposes.
While most Presbyterians probably share many beliefs in common, we are charged to remember that the basis of our belonging together is not anchored in exact agreement on a list of doctrines and beliefs. In fact, one of the foundations of the Presbyterian tradition is that "only God is lord of the conscience." We must each live out the convictions we have as Christians and respect one another's faith in Christ, even when it differs from each other's. To put it in the classic terms of the Reformed tradition, we belong to Christ and to each other "by Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone."
What unites us as a church--and we would say, as Christians around the world--is not anything about us or our ability to understand and explain every Christian belief, but rather our trust that God has united us through the grace of Jesus Christ and our reliance on him alone as the basis of all our hope and lives. This grants us the freedom to examine our beliefs and our practices as fearlessly as we can and making changes to respond to what we sense God is showing us in our lives as Christians.
The good news is that Christ alone is lord of the church and not any of us. So, we trust that anyone who puts their trust in Jesus Christ will be led by God's Spirit into all that we will need to know and do in order to accomplish, not our wills, but God's.