In John Wesley's lifetime the word used for the preacher in charge of a circuit was 'Assistant', (i.e. to Mr Wesley). The term 'Superintendent' was first applied to Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury in 1784, in connection with the work in America, where it was soon replaced by the title 'Bishop', evoking John Wesley's strong displeasure. Later the term 'District Superintendent' replaced 'Presiding Elder' in American usage. In England it replaced the term 'Assistant' in the 1796 Minutes. While the title can be seen as the Latin translation of the Greek 'episcopos', i.e. 'bishop', there was no suggestion in English Methodism that circuit Superintendents should be regarded as belonging to a different order and ordained or consecrated to their office.
The Superintendent's name stands first (or alone) in the stations of a circuit. With their colleagues Superintendents determine the preaching plan for their circuit and are responsible for Methodist discipline in all its local churches (formerly 'societies'), subject always to the laws and regulations of the Conference. In conjunction with the Circuit Meeting they are responsible for the effective use of the resources for ministry and mission within the circuit. In 2005 the Conference adopted a major report, 'What is a Superintendent?', surveying the history of superintendency and its present exercise. Since 2008 the Superintendency may be shared.