Religious leaders offer support to followers of their religion through spiritual and moral guidance.

What does a religious leader do?

The most common faith communities in the UK are Buddhism, Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. Within each faith there may be sub-groups with different beliefs and practices. Faith leaders are known by titles such as priest, minister, swami, imam, rabbi or granthis. Their duties will depend on their faith, but on a daily basis may include:

  • encouraging commitment to the faith
  • praying and studying their religion
  • explaining the meaning of their faith’s teachings
  • leading regular religious services or ceremonies
  • conducting special services/ceremonies for religious festivals, holy days and events, such as births, marriages and deaths
  • educating people who are converting to their faith
  • supporting people at difficult times in their lives
  • representing their faith within the community
  • being a role model for followers
  • meeting representatives of other faiths and communities
  • fundraising, doing administrative work and keeping financial records

Religious leaders may also be involved in politics or public affairs depending on their position within their faith. Some faith leaders make recommendations to government on particular issues. Some leaders may also need to do this on an international level.​

What do I need to do to become a religious leader?

Becoming a religious leader is a serious commitment that can be seen as a ‘calling’ as much as a career. As well as a strong belief in your faith and its traditions, you should accept that the work will affect all aspects of your life.

If you want to train to become a leader in your faith, the first thing you should do is ask your own religious leader for advice and guidance.

The process of becoming a leader can take several years, because it is often based on your knowledge, experience and position within the religion. You may have to convince other leaders and members of your religion that you are truly committed before you can start training.

In some religions there are rules on who can become a leader. For example, some faiths do not accept women. Some would expect you to remain unmarried and not form any other close personal relationships.

A good standard of general education is often helpful as your training will be likely to include in-depth study at a religious college.

For some faiths, you may need a higher level qualification.

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • Patience

Related subjects

  • Religious studies

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

You will perform ceremonies at your place of your worship, and you would also have an office there or at your own home. Some posts are based permanently in a prison, hospital or with the armed forces.

You will also spend time visiting people in their homes, or in hospitals, schools, prisons or care homes.

There may be opportunities to travel within the UK and abroad, to meet other religious leaders or visit holy places. Some faith leaders might work as missionaries in remote locations overseas.​

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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