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Understanding Headship in the Congregation

Understanding Headship in the Congregation

“The Christ is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body.”​—EPH. 5:23.

SONG 137 Faithful Women, Christian Sisters


1. What is one reason why Jehovah’s family is united?

WE LOVE being part of Jehovah’s family. Why is our family so peaceful and united? One reason is that all of us do our best to respect the headship arrangement that Jehovah has put in place. In fact, the better we understand the headship arrangement, the more united we become.

2. What questions will we answer in this article?

2 In this article, we will consider the subject of headship as it applies to the congregation. Among other things, we will answer the following questions: What is the role of sisters? Is it true that every brother is the head of every sister? Do elders have the same type of authority over brothers and sisters as a family head has over his wife and children? First, let us consider how we should view sisters.


3. How can we deepen our appreciation for the work that our sisters accomplish?

3 We appreciate our sisters who work hard to care for their family, to preach the good news, and to support the congregation. We can deepen our appreciation for them by considering the way that Jehovah and Jesus view them. We will also benefit from considering how the apostle Paul treated women.

4. How does the Bible indicate that Jehovah values women as well as men?

4 The Bible indicates that Jehovah values women as well as men. For instance, it reveals that in the first century, Jehovah gave holy spirit to women as well as to men and empowered them to perform miraculous works, such as speaking in different languages. (Acts 2:1-4, 15-18) They both have been anointed by holy spirit with the prospect of ruling with Christ. (Gal. 3:26-29) Women as well as men will receive the reward of everlasting life on earth. (Rev. 7:9, 10, 13-15) And both men and women are assigned to preach and teach the good news. (Matt. 28:19, 20) In fact, the book of Acts recognizes the work of a sister named Priscilla who, along with her husband, Aquila, helped to explain the truth more correctly to the well-educated man Apollos.​—Acts 18:24-26.

5. What does Luke 10:38, 39, 42 reveal about Jesus’ attitude toward women?

5 Jesus gave women honor and respect. He did not follow the custom of the Pharisees, who looked down on women and who would not even speak to them in public, let alone discuss the Scriptures with them. Instead, he included women in the deep spiritual discussions that he had with his other disciples. * (Read Luke 10:38, 39, 42.) He also allowed women to accompany him on his preaching tours. (Luke 8:1-3) And Jesus gave them the privilege of announcing to the apostles that he had been raised from the dead.​—John 20:16-18.

6. How did the apostle Paul show that he respected women?

6 The apostle Paul specifically reminded Timothy to honor women. Paul told him to treat “older women as mothers” and to view “younger women as sisters.” (1 Tim. 5:1, 2) Paul did much to help Timothy become a mature Christian, but he acknowledged that it was Timothy’s mother and grandmother who had first taught Timothy “the holy writings.” (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14, 15) Paul specifically greeted sisters by name in his letter to the Romans. He not only noticed the work sisters did but also expressed appreciation for them as Christian ministers.​—Rom. 16:1-4, 6, 12; Phil. 4:3.

7. What questions will we now consider?

7 As the preceding paragraphs show, there is no Scriptural basis for thinking that sisters are inferior to brothers. Our loving and generous sisters are a real asset, and the elders rely on their help to promote peace and unity in the congregation. But some questions need answering. For instance: Why does Jehovah require a sister to wear a head covering on certain occasions? Since only brothers are appointed as elders and ministerial servants, does this imply that every brother is the head of every sister in the congregation?


8. According to Ephesians 5:23, is every brother the head of every sister? Explain.

8 The short answer is no! A brother is not the head of all sisters in the congregation; Christ is. (Read Ephesians 5:23.) In the family, the husband has authority over his wife. A baptized son is not the head of his mother. (Eph. 6:1, 2) And in the congregation, the elders have only limited authority over sisters and brothers. (1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:17) Single women who no longer live with their father and mother continue to respect their parents and the elders. However, like the men in the congregation, they have only one head, Jesus.

Single ones who no longer live with their parents are under Jesus’ headship (See paragraph 8)

9. Why do sisters at times need to wear a head covering?

9 It is true, however, that Jehovah has appointed men to take the lead in teaching and worship in the congregation, and he has not given women that same authority. (1 Tim. 2:12) Why? For the same reason that he has appointed Jesus as head of the man​—to keep good order in his family. If because of circumstances a sister must fill a role that is normally cared for by a brother, then Jehovah requires that she wear a head covering. * (1 Cor. 11:4-7) Jehovah asks this of sisters, not to demean them, but to give them a way to show respect for the headship principle that he has put in place. With those facts in mind, let us now answer the question: How much authority do family heads and elders have?


10. Why might an elder be inclined to make rules for the congregation?

10 Elders love Christ, and they love the “sheep” whom Jehovah and Jesus have placed under their care. (John 21:15-17) With good intentions, an elder might think of himself as a fatherlike head in the congregation. He may reason that if a family head has the right to make rules to protect his family, an elder can make rules that he hopes will protect God’s sheep. And some brothers and sisters may encourage elders to act as their spiritual head by asking them to make decisions for them. But do elders in the congregation and family heads have the same authority?

Elders care for the spiritual and emotional needs of the congregation. Jehovah has given them the responsibility to keep the congregation morally clean (See paragraphs 11-12)

11. How are the roles of family heads and elders similar?

11 The apostle Paul implied that there are some similarities between the role of a family head and that of an elder. (1 Tim. 3:4, 5) For example, Jehovah wants family members to obey the head of the family. (Col. 3:20) And he wants those in the congregation to obey the elders. Jehovah expects both family heads and elders to make sure that those under their care are spiritually healthy. Both also care for the emotional needs of those under their authority. And like good family heads, elders make sure that those under their care receive help in times of crisis. (Jas. 2:15-17) In addition, Jehovah expects elders and family heads to promote his standards and not to “go beyond the things that are written” in the Bible.​—1 Cor. 4:6.

Family heads have been given authority by Jehovah to take the lead in their family. Before making decisions, a loving family head will consult with his wife (See paragraph 13)

12-13. As indicated at Romans 7:2, how are the roles of family heads and elders different?

12 However, there are also significant differences between the role of an elder and the role of a family head. For instance, Jehovah has assigned the elders to act as judges, and he has given them the responsibility of removing unrepentant sinners from the congregation.​—1 Cor. 5:11-13.

13 On the other hand, Jehovah has given family heads some authority that he has not given to elders. For instance, he has authorized a family head both to make and to enforce rules for his family. (Read Romans 7:2.) For example, a family head has the right to decide at what time his children should arrive home at night. He also has the authority to discipline his children if they fail to obey that rule. (Eph. 6:1) Of course, a loving family head consults with his wife before making rules in the household; after all, the two of them are “one flesh.” *​—Matt. 19:6.


Jesus, under Jehovah’s headship, gives direction to the Christian congregation (See paragraph 14)

14. (a) In light of what is said at Mark 10:45, why is it fitting that Jehovah has appointed Jesus as head of the congregation? (b) What is the role of the Governing Body? (See the box “ The Role of the Governing Body.”)

14 By means of the ransom, Jehovah purchased the lives of each individual in the congregation and, potentially, of all humankind. (Read Mark 10:45; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 15:21, 22) So it is fitting that he appointed Jesus, who gave his life as a ransom, as head of the congregation. As our head, Jesus has the authority to make and to enforce rules that govern the conduct of individuals, of families, and of the entire congregation. (Gal. 6:2) But Jesus does more than just make rules. He feeds and cherishes each one of us.​—Eph. 5:29.

15-16. What do you learn from the comments made by a sister named Marley and a brother named Benjamin?

15 Sisters show that they respect Christ by following the direction given by the men he has appointed to take care of them. A sister named Marley, who lives in the United States, sums up the view of many sisters. She says: “I really value my place as a wife and as a sister in the congregation. I constantly have to cultivate the right attitude toward Jehovah’s headship arrangement. But my husband and the brothers in the congregation have made that easier for me because they respect me and express their appreciation for the work I do.”

16 Brothers show that they understand the headship arrangement by respecting and honoring sisters. Benjamin, a brother who lives in England, says: “I have learned so much from sisters’ comments at the meetings and from their tips on how to study and how to be effective in the ministry. I think the work that they do is very valuable.”

17. Why should we respect the headship principle?

17 When all in the congregation​—men, women, family heads, and elders—​understand and respect the principle of headship, the congregation enjoys peace. And more important, we bring praise to our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah.​—Ps. 150:6.

SONG 123 Loyally Submitting to Theocratic Order

^ par. 5 What is the role of sisters in the congregation? Is every brother the head of every sister? Do elders and family heads have the same type of authority? In this article, we will consider these questions in the light of examples found in God’s Word.

^ par. 5 See paragraph 6 of the article “Give Christian Women Your Support,” published in the September 2020 issue of The Watchtower.

^ par. 13 For a discussion of who should decide in which congregation a family will serve, see paragraphs 17-19 of the article “Respect the Place of Others in Jehovah’s Congregation,” published in the August 2020 issue of The Watchtower.

^ par. 59 For a detailed discussion of this topic, see the book “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love,” pp. 209-212.

^ par. 64 For a full discussion of the role of the Governing Body, see the July 15, 2013, issue of The Watchtower, pp. 20-25.