Functional Vs. Titular Church Leadership

March 3, 2017
by Joseph Mattera

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By Joseph Mattera

Through the years, I have observed various types of leadership styles as well as how people operate within the flow of leadership titles. In this article, I use the word titular, to refer to a person who tries to lead primarily on the merit of their title and or official position. When I use the term functional, I am referring to a person who earns the respect of their peers and subordinates through their effectiveness and relational capital.

I have found that those who attempt to lead merely through their official title have little or no respect in the organization. Through the past three plus decades of serving as a lead pastor, I have only had to mention my title of exerting leadership, perhaps two to three times. I have found, if you have to tell somebody you are the leader, then you are not really demonstrating it in your organization. This is not to say that titles are unimportant; titles are useful in the military, politics, business, and the police department, not only to depict who is responsible for what task but to explain their job description.

However, in the context of the business and the church world, continually touting one’s title is often unnecessary since relational leadership trumps hierarchical leadership more often than not in these contexts. In the context of Christianity, the church went from a functional style of leadership in the first two centuries (as shown in the Way of Christ and the Apostles as written in the Gospels and epistles) to a hierarchical form of leadership. (Starting especially after 313 AD, when Rome stopped persecuting Christians, the clergy became hierarchical and started adorning themselves with garments similar to the Roman prelates and officials).

Also, in contemporary times, many church leaders have titles without commensurate function. I have met numerous leaders with the title “Apostle”, “Bishop” and even “Archbishop” without apostolic fruit to back up their title.

Another thing to consider in this day and age, the world is flat and more egalitarian and informal. Titular leaders are losing the respect of the younger generation. To be fair, we also live in an age when the “executive” position and authority in general is being attacked, which is unfortunate and unbiblical. For example, the attacks against the presidency of the United States the past several decades continue to increase in its vitriol.

That being said, my goal in this article is to get titular leaders to transition towards functional leadership and to affirm those who are functional leaders.

The following are seven contrasts between titular and functional leadership.

1. Titular leaders tout their title for influence / functional leaders earn respect by accomplishments.

Whenever I meet somebody for the first time and they have to say their title along with their name, my antennas go up and I suspect they are caught up in the titular style of leadership. When someone asks me my name, I do not have to say “Apostle” or “Bishop” Joseph Mattera because that is not on my birth certificate. I merely have to say “Joseph Mattera”. The exception to this is when I am in formal political or ecclesial events and the title is necessary in order to be identified officially with my function. I have learned that our congregation and my peers respect me more because of who I am and what I do, than the official title either myself or others have bestowed upon me.

2. Titular leaders find their identity in their title /functional leaders express their identity through their assignment and relationships.

While titular leaders depend upon their title to feel significant, functional leaders are more concerned with what they are accomplishing than mere titles. I have never met an effective functional leader who was obsessed with their title.

3. Titular leaders are hierarchical /functional leaders are egalitarian.

In hierarchical organizations, the culture creates a “pecking order” replete with people vying for position, along with cutthroat competition that makes it more political than performance based. In the context of the local church, the New Testament seems to advocate an egalitarian spirit with apostolic government.  That is to say, the top leaders should treat every person as a peer and not bully people with their title through a “top down” autocratic leadership style.

4. Titular leaders are often aloof /functional leaders are often transparent.

Through observation I have found that titular leaders are usually insecure people who rarely trust anybody enough to be transparent with them. The more comfortable a person is in their own skin, the less hierarchical and the more functional their leadership style tends to become. When a leader is secure, genuine and functional, they are usually very humble, approachable and transparent with those in their circle of influence.

5. Titular leaders strive for promotion/ functional leaders strive to serve.

Since titular leaders derive their sense of value and worth from their official title, they tend to continually strive to move up on the hierarchical “food chain” so they can exert more official authority over others. A functional leader’s main objective is to strive for personal, internal and external growth, so they can better serve the people to which they are assigned.

6. Titular leaders use people to get ahead/ functional leaders help others get ahead.

Titular leaders tend to size other people up according to their ability to help them with their agenda. Consequently, they are guilty of objectifying people instead of humanizing them. Functional leaders don’t “use people” but equip people to get to the next level.

7. Titular leaders value their position the most / Functional leaders value people the most.

People with a tendency towards titular leadership often strive to get another academic degree, certificate of completion, or another official endowment that they can use for bragging rights. I am not against getting academic training or certificates of completion; however, many do this for the wrong reason and even when not necessary for their main assignment. There are some people I know, every time I have heard them speak in a public gathering they mention their academic degree and or where they went to school. They must feel like they have to claim the terrain of peer respect through their degree, similar to the muscle guy who feels he has to wear short sleeves or a tank top even in cold weather. What these people don’t realize is that they turn discerning leaders off by constantly mentioning their credentials publicly, since they demonstrate their primary identity is derived from their title. This behavior usually triggers all sorts of red flags like: this person is vying for position, this person is insecure, this person may try to use you to get ahead, this person is self promoting, this person has fleshly ambition and so on. The most powerful, transformational and significant leaders I know are informal, secure within themselves, operate with a functional leadership style and rarely mention their accomplishments in public, unless necessary for their presentation.

In closing, may all of us in the church and marketplace replicate the way of Christ and His Apostles in every aspect of our leadership style. Therefore, only truly transformed leaders can transform others.

Dr. Joseph Mattera has been in full-time ministry since 1980 and is currently the Presiding Bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York, a multiethnic congregation of 40 nationalities that has successfully developed numerous leaders and holistic ministry in the New York region and beyond. This article was first published on his website at:


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