Leadership isn’t easy. Indeed, it is often more noticeable when it fails than when it succeeds, and we notice its absence more than its presence.
Leading faith communities is particularly challenging. People who go to their place of worship regularly in our increasingly secular world go because their faith really matters to them — because their religion, and their community, is among the most prominent anchors of their life, supporting and sustaining them through times of joy and trial. These people deserve to be well cared for, supported, inspired and loved by those who are entrusted with their care. And that is increasingly complex work. Our faith communities are now frequently sizeable organisations with sophisticated educational, healthcare or social engagement projects and significant financial turnover. Yet in many cases, faith leaders are basically trained to lead the congregation in prayer inside the four walls of a place of worship. Undertaking a pastoral role effectively, representing the community at a political and social level, complying with equalities laws in the delivery of services, signposting the vulnerable to relevant agencies etc. have not been part of their training, nor considered part of their role and responsibilities.
Faith leaders tell us that they face a whole series of challenges that they often feel ill-prepared to confront. Even those that do have some understanding of these issues often don’t know where to go for accessible, practical help and advice that understands the religious and ethical concerns which motivate faith communities. We believe that effective, equipped and well-informed leadership is one of the best ways of helping our mosques, churches, temples, gurdwaras and synagogues move forward together with confidence and work with impact.
The Faith Leaders Training programme isn’t about government telling faith leaders how to behave, or imposing alien and secularising values upon them against their will. It isn’t a theology and religious studies class — our leaders are already expert in their faith traditions. It isn’t even especially an interfaith project, though we hope broader networks and deeper friendships will be one of the outcomes of our work. The Faith Leaders Training programme is fundamentally about people of faith learning together - sharing experiences frankly and constructively, getting a clearer understanding of the social challenges we face and how to navigate them effectively; and working together to build knowledge, skills and abilities in a range of areas that will benefit our communities.
In the programme, we will explore how to lead organisations effectively and accountably; the contribution faith groups make to social cohesion, local wellbeing, prosperity and harmonious communities, and how they can work with other bodies to deliver shared priorities effectively. The programme will also focus on how we can confidently confront the ethical challenges life throws at us and balance timeless religious obligations with the pace of social change; and to ensure our families, whatever they look like, continue to be both safe havens and launching pads into aspiration, opportunity and success. The programme seeks to be inclusive and inspirational, challenging but constructive, and will deliver great practical reward in the transformative effect that well-trained and supported leaders can make among their communities.