Religious Leader

The Job and What's Involved

Religious leaders offer people spiritual and moral guidance, help and support. Over 80 per cent of the population of the UK describe themselves as having a religion and many rely on support from religious leaders.

There are more than 170 distinct faiths or belief systems in the UK, but the religions with the largest numbers of followers are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. Within each religion there may be different groups whose beliefs and practices vary in certain respects.

The duties of a religious leader vary from faith to faith, but may include:

  • Encouraging people to make a commitment to their faith and live according to its teachings.
  • Praying and helping others to pray.
  • Explaining the meaning of scripture and other religious writings.
  • Conducting regular religious services or ceremonies.
  • Conducting special services or ceremonies during religious festivals, on other holy days or at particular points in a person's life, e.g. birth, coming of age, marriage and death.
  • Helping people who are having difficulties with their faith.
  • Giving extra support to people who are converting to a faith.
  • Supporting people at difficult times in their lives, e.g. during illness or bereavement.
  • Having meetings with colleagues, members of the faith or representatives from other faiths and organisations.
  • Representing the interests of their community.
  • Being involved in fundraising.
  • Being a role model for their community.
  • Doing administrative work and keeping financial records.

Some religious leaders are involved in outreach work with groups such as young people, homeless people or the elderly. These may be people from the local community, as well as members of the same faith.

Hours vary, but the work of a religious leader usually involves a significant time commitment. Some religious ceremonies must be performed at a particular time of the day or week. The workload may be particularly heavy on days when other people may not be at work, but which are of particular significance for the faith community. Evening work may be necessary to visit people at home or attend meetings.

As well as spending time in their place of worship, religious leaders usually have an office, which may be based in their own home. They may visit people in a range of environments, including private homes, hospitals, residential care facilities, schools, youth groups and prisons. A driving licence may be useful to travel between different locations.

Some religious leaders work in institutions such as prisons and hospitals. Some work with the armed forces, which may include accompanying them on tours of duty. There may also be opportunities to visit other religious leaders, communities and holy places in the UK and overseas. In some religions, its leaders may have little choice in the location where they are asked to work.

Some religions expect their leaders to conform to wearing particular clothing, which may be based on traditional forms of dress. Other religious leaders wear particular ceremonial clothes when they are conducting services.

Some religious leaders are paid a regular salary, while others work on a voluntary basis. They may be entitled to benefits such as accommodation, living expenses or the use of a car.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Becoming a religious leader is not a decision to be taken lightly as it is usually a lifelong commitment. It is usual to practise a religion for some time before becoming a leader, as it demands deep-rooted faith. Candidates usually have to convince other leaders and members of their religion that they have a true vocation before they are allowed to start training. Anyone who is considering becoming a religious leader should first ask his or her own religious leader for advice.

Taking on the role of religious leader is a commitment that affects every aspect of a person's life. It could involve facing many challenges and making difficult lifestyle changes. Most religious leaders say that they have been called to the work, rather than having made a decision to take up the career in the typical sense.

Different faiths may have specific rules about who can train as a religious leader. Some faiths do not accept female religious leaders. Some expect religious leaders to remain unmarried and refrain from forming other close personal relationships.

Education and Training

Entry requirements vary. It may be possible to start training as a religious leader without formal academic qualifications. Life experiences are valued.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There is no standard training for religious leaders. Training and the length of time it takes vary between different faiths. Elements that may be involved include:

  • Study at a college or religious training centre.
  • Time spent alone in meditation and reflection.
  • Intensive study of the faith's scriptures and other religious texts.
  • Practical experience of working with people.
  • Supervision or individual tutoring by one or more experienced religious leader.

Many faith communities require their religious leaders to undertake a process of ordination before they are allowed to practise. This is a special ceremony where the individual is formally welcomed as a leader of the religion.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Religious leaders should:

  • Have deep and sincere commitment to their faith.
  • Have detailed knowledge of their faith.
  • Be excellent communicators.
  • Have leadership skills.
  • Be comfortable talking to large groups and dealing with people on a one-to-one basis.
  • Be compassionate and have empathy with people.
  • Be persuasive, with the ability to motivate and inspire people.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be a promotion structure, but this varies from faith to faith. Gaining promotion may mean being more involved with administrative work or supervising others. In some cases, this may result in less day-to-day contact with people in the community.

With some experience, religious leaders may become involved in the training of others to become leaders.

Some religious leaders become involved in broadcasting or writing newspaper and magazine articles or books. Work overseas is possible.

Get Further Information

The Board of Deputies of British Jews,
6 Bloomsbury Square, London WC1A 2LP
Tel: 020 7543 5400

The Buddhist Society,
58 Eccleston Square,
London SW1V 1PH
Tel: 020 7834 5858

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland,
39 Eccleston Square, London SW1V 1BX
Tel: 0207 901 4890

Hindu Council UK, Community Hall,
Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple,
Dudley Road East, Birmingham B69 3 DU
Tel: 0121 552 3549

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB),
PO Box 57330, London E1 2WJ
Tel: 0845 262 6786

Network of Sikh Organisations (UK),
Suite 405, Highland House,
165 The Broadway, Wimbledon,
London SW19 1NE
Tel: 020 8544 8037

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