Church Leadership

There are many different names for those people or ministers who lead worship in the different Christian churches.

The Roman Catholic Church is led on earth by the Pope. St Peter was specially commissioned by Jesus (Matthew 16) and when Peter set up the Church in Rome he passed his authority on to his successor in Rome.

This authority is continued through the symbol of laying on of hands. Every Roman Catholic priest or bishop has hands laid on him at his ordination and this can be traced back to Peter – and therefore Jesus. This is called the ‘Apostolic Succession’.

Threefold Structure

  • Some denominations have a threefold structure to their leadership.
  • Anglicans, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians have bishops, priests and deacons.
  • There are subdivisions within these – but the basic structure is always threefold.
  • Senior bishops are called Archbishops – the leader of the Anglican Church is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Non-threefold structure

  • Other denominations do not have this threefold ministry.
  • They often call their leaders ‘ministers’ (because they give or minister to their people – just like Jesus did).
  • Sometimes senior people in these Churches are called ‘elders’.

The roles of priests and ministers

Whatever you call them, leaders of churches do many things:

  • Leading the worship, on a Sunday, and also marriages, funerals and so on. A key part of worship is the Sunday Eucharist for many Christians.
  • Preaching,  this has different emphases in different traditions, but is present at every Sunday service.
  • Praying for their people.
  • Being there to listen and to support those who need it.
  • Visiting the sick
  • Teaching inclusing visiting schools, but also making sure the message of the faith is passed on through the church.
  • The minister also represents his/her church in the wider community. He/she takes part in the day to day life of the church – such as finance committees, or pastoral groups.
  • If there is a Church school nearby he/she might be a Governor.

The roles of bishops and elders

  • A bishop or elder oversees a group of priests or ministers.
  • In threefold structures the bishop looks after a diocese.
  • They represent their Churches on a wider scale.
  • If there is a disagreement about the teaching of the Churches they take part in making sure everyone believes the same thing.
  • In the Roman Catholic Church senior bishops are called Cardinals and they often meet with the Pope to discuss key issues in the Church’s life.


Question 1

“Churches should not have leaders.” - Do you agree?

Give reasons for your answer, showing that you have thought about different points of view.



  • Everyone is equal and called to use their gifts in particular ways.
  • In the early Church everyone lived as a community.


  • People still need someone specially trained to help them through their lives, to preach to them, and so on.
  • Churches need people to represent them in public.

Question 2

‘Women should not be priests.’  Do you agree? 

Give reasons for your answer, showing that you have thought about different points of view.



  • Jesus chose twelve men as his apostles.  He could have chosen women if he wanted.
  • The priest represents Jesus at the Eucharist – only a man can do that.
  • Women can have other important roles in a Christian community.  It is not being sexist to say they cannot be priests.


  • Women and men both have useful gifts.
  • Jesus chose twelve men because that was the culture of the day.
  • Women are often seen as more caring.

Make sure you give your own opinion and back it up with a reason!

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