In many modern churches today, ushers play an important Bible Say About Faith?”>role in welcoming people, handing out bulletins, assisting with seating, collecting offerings, and maintaining order during services. However, the role of ushers is not clearly defined in the Bible. The English word “usher” does not appear in most English translations of the Bible. So who was the first person to fulfill a similar role to what we think of as an usher today? After examining the Scriptures, we can gain some insight into the history and origin of this church office.
- The English word “usher” is not found in the Bible. But there are people who served similar functions.
- Moses instituted attendants to guard the tabernacle. They could be considered some of the earliest ushers.
- The Levites helped maintain order and distribute sacrifices in the temple. This was an ushering role.
- Philip the evangelist welcomed the Ethiopian eunuch and helped him understand Scripture. He displayed qualities of a good usher.
- Elders in the New Testament cared for order and hospitality in the church. This involved ushering duties.
- Church offices developed over time according to needs. Ushers became more formalized in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Guards and Attendants of the Tabernacle
In the Old Testament, we see the first indications of assigned servants and officials who carried out functions similar to what we consider ushering today. When Moses constructed the tabernacle in the wilderness, God instructed that surrounding the tabernacle tent, there was to be an outer courtyard. Inside the courtyard, the sacrificial altar and bronze laver were placed.
Exodus 38:8 (NKJV) describes bronze sockets that were made “when they cast the sockets of the court all around and the sockets of the court gate, and all the pegs of the tabernacle, and all the pegs around the court.” The sockets held curtains and screens in place around the tabernacle courtyard.
God designated the Levite tribe to be in charge of the tabernacle and its furnishings (Numbers 1:50-53 NKJV). The Levites camped around the tabernacle and watched over it when the Israelites traveled through the wilderness:
But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall attend to it and camp around the tabernacle. And when the tabernacle is to go forward, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall set it up. The outsider who comes near shall be put to death. The children of Israel shall pitch their tents, everyone by his own camp, everyone by his own standard, according to their armies; but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the children of Israel; and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony. (Numbers 1:50-53 NKJV)
Part of the Levites’ job was to camp around the tabernacle and act as guards. They watched over the tabernacle courtyard and all its fixtures. In a sense, they were ushers of the outer court, regulating access and maintaining order according to God’s instructions. Exodus 30:21 states that the Levites were to wash their hands and feet with water from the laver before entering the tent or altar, so they could avoid death for improper procedure.
The Levites also took down, transported, and set up the tabernacle whenever the Israelites traveled. They carried the tent curtains and coverings under the supervision of Aaron’s son Ithamar (Exodus 38:21; Numbers 4:21-33 NKJV). Throughout Israel’s journeys in the wilderness, the Levites served as ushers and attendants of the holy tabernacle, following God’s specifications precisely.
Levitical Service in the Temple
Later on, when Solomon built the permanent temple in Jerusalem, the Levites continued to serve as ministers and guardians of the sanctuary. 1 Chronicles 23:1-5 (NKJV) records how David organized the Levites into divisions with assigned temple duties:
So when David was old and full of days, he made his son Solomon king over Israel…And he gathered together all the leaders of Israel, with the priests and the Levites. Now the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and above; and the number of individual males was thirty-eight thousand. Of these, twenty-four thousand were to look after the work of the house of the Lord, six thousand were officers and judges, four thousand were gatekeepers, and four thousand praised the Lord with musical instruments.
The Levites served as officials and judges, doorkeepers, musicians, and other roles to assist the priests and maintain order in temple worship. Stationed at the gates (1 Chronicles 9:17-27 NKJV), they regulated who could enter, much like ushers directing people today.
The Levites also assisted worshipers who came to offer sacrifices. 2 Chronicles 29:34 (NKJV) states:
But the priests were too few, so that they could not skin all the burnt offerings; therefore their brethren the Levites helped them until the work was ended and until the other priests had sanctified themselves, for the Levites were more diligent in sanctifying themselves than the priests.
Likewise, 2 Chronicles 30:16-17 describes how the Levites slaughtered Passover lambs for worshipers who were not ceremonially cleansed:
Then they stood at their stations after their custom, according to the Law of Moses the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood from the hand of the Levites. For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites were in charge of killing the Passovers for everyone who was not clean, to sanctify them to the Lord.
The Levites thus assisted with preparation and distribution of sacrifices as part of maintaining order in worship. In the New King James Version, they are described as “ushers” in 2 Chronicles 23:4, which says:
This is the thing that you shall do: One-third of you entering on the Sabbath, of the priests and the Levites, shall be keeping watch over the doors.
The Levites guarded the temple gates and screened people entering the temple courts. Through their service, they upheld God’s standards for proper worship and access to the sanctuary.
Philip Welcomes the Ethiopian Eunuch
The ministry of Philip the evangelist in Acts 8 provides another positive example of serving in an ushering role. God sent Philip to a desert road where he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch reading from Isaiah in his chariot. The Spirit told Philip to approach the chariot, and he heard the man reading Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah. Acts 8:30-31 (NKJV) recounts their conversation:
So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
Philip welcomed this foreign traveler and offered to guide him in understanding the Scripture. He took the time to listen and explain how the prophet Isaiah foretold Christ’s sacrificial death. As they traveled, they came to some water and the eunuch asked to be baptized. Philip baptized him upon his profession of faith in Christ (Acts 8:26-39 NKJV).
Like a good usher, Philip extended hospitality, listened attentively, explained the gospel, and guided the Ethiopian through the experience of Christian baptism. He sought to meet the man’s needs, serve him, and assist his worship on the road. Such personal spiritual care epitomizes the heart of ushering ministry.
Elders Overseeing Order in the Church
As the New Testament church developed, elders (also called overseers or bishops) were appointed to provide spiritual care and leadership. The qualifications for being an elder focused on maturity, good teaching, hospitality, and managing one’s household well (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9 NKJV).
Part of the elders’ role was to maintain doctrinal purity and proper order in church meetings. 1 Timothy 5:17 (NKJV) says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” The word for “rule” here refers to leadership and oversight. Church gatherings in the New Testament era often involved shared meals, communion, prayer, singing hymns, reading Scripture, and teaching (Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 NKJV). Elders made sure everything was “done properly and in order,” as Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 14:40.
Like ushers today, the elders welcomed members and visitors, ensured people were cared for, resolved conflicts, collected offerings, and attended to practical needs. Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV) admonishes church members to obey elders because “they watch out for your souls.” James instructed elders to pray over the sick and tend to their physical as well as spiritual needs (James 5:14-15). Such personal shepherding modeled Christ’s love. Qualified elders thus promoted order and care in the church body with pastoral urgency and oversight.
The Formalization of the Usher Role
While the Bible does not use the term “usher” directly, we can trace the evolution of this ministry through the examples of the Levites, Philip, and early church elders. Over the centuries, the duties of greeting, providing hospitality, ensuring correct worship procedures, and maintaining order during services became more defined roles in many churches.
In the 1700s and 1800s, the functions of ushers became solidified, especially in liturgical and metropolitan congregations. Church growth in cities during the industrial eras increased the need for crowd management, seating arrangements, parking instructions, and information guides during worship. Formally designated ushers helped accommodate larger crowds in expanding church facilities.
Today many churches commission or install ushers during special services. Ushers often wear uniforms like white gloves or suits to mark their official hospitality role. While the Bible does not use the terminology of “usher,” the basic functions of this ministry clearly have early roots in Scripture through God’s servants who cared for worship procedures, church order, and people’s needs. Whether called gatekeepers, attendants, overseers, or ushers, those who serve in this capacity fulfill an important biblical calling to facilitate worship.
In summary, while the term “usher” does not originate in Scripture, God established roles for those who cared for worship spaces, assisted pilgrims, welcomed newcomers, explained truths, maintained order, met physical needs, and resolved conflicts. As the church grew exponentially after Pentecost, these duties became more formalized as an organized lay ministry. The spirit of ushering continues to provide a vital service in the Body of Christ today. Ushers and greeters serve on the front lines of representing Christ through servant-hearted hospitality, compassion, and a spirit of biblical order. Their ministry allows the church to carry out its worship and mission for the glory of God.