This title has been used in Lutheranism since 1527 for pastors leading a denomination at the regional level. The office was similar to that of bishop, but instead of being ordained by the archbishop, the superintendent was appointed by the Crown. This new model of ecclesiastical polity was partly political, as the Roman Catholic bishops before the Reformation held considerable political power and often used it against the king. Superintendents' loyalty was supposed to lie with the head of the church, the monarch. Some Lutheran theologians also considered the term less Catholic and therefore preferable to 'bishop'.
The term "Superintendent" is used for several varying positions in Methodism worldwide since 1784. In the American sense, specifically within the United Methodist Church, the title is used not to refer to a minister who is equivalent to a bishop but to the supervisor of a district, which is a regional subdivision below an episcopal area (equivalent to a diocese). According to the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church,
The offices of bishop and district superintendent exist in The United Methodist Church as particular ministries. Bishops are elected and district superintendents are appointed from the group of elders who are ordained to be ministers of Word, Sacrament, and Order and thereby participate in the ministry of Christ, in sharing a royal priesthood which has apostolic roots (I Peter 2:9; John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2-3; I Timothy 3:1-7).
In the British Methodist Church and its offshoots, a Superintendent is a minister who serves in a supervisory position over a Methodist Circuit (a small group of churches to which ministers are appointed).
The term Superintendent evolved in Britain before the death of Methodist founder John Wesley and was a description of the responsibilities of some of his Assistants (a role which later evolved into what is now known as ordained presbyteral ministry).
- Günther Gassmann, Mark W. Oldenburg, Historical Dictionary of Lutheranism, Scarecrow Press, USA, 2011, p. 396
- The First Book Of Discipline (1560) - The Fifth Head Concerning the Provisions for the Ministers, and for the Distribution of the Rents and Possessions Justly Pertaining to the Kirk - The Names of the Places of Residence, and Several Dioceses of the Superintendents
- Kirk, James (1980). "The Polities of the Best Reformed Kirks': Scottish Achievements and English Aspirations in Church Government after the Reformation". The Scottish Historical Review. 59 (167 part 1): 30. JSTOR 25529356.
- Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., Susan E. Warrick, Historical Dictionary of Methodism, Scarecrow Press, USA, 2013, p. 348
- The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008: Chapter Three. The Superintendency. Section II. Offices of Bishop and District Superintendent - ¶ 402. Special Ministry, Not Separate Order(retrieved 10 October 2014).
- What is a Circuit Superintendent?. The Methodist Conference. 2005.
- Drew Blankman, Todd Augustine, Pocket Dictionary of North American Denominations, InterVarsity Press, USA, 2010, p. 21