The Path of Leadership Development

Based on the work of Natalie Briscoe

Let us begin as we mean to continue, which translates into our sharing a core premise that leadership development is critically important to the vitality of our communities. Even more important is how we approach Unitarian Universalist leadership development. Consider the shift change in thinking when we go from intending to “fill up” our leaders with techniques, and instead serve the potential of every member by providing faith deepening experiences. With that lens it can be said that Leadership Development is Faith Development (which) is Membership Development. There is a connectedness which allows everyone to grow in community and deepen in their faith.

What you’ll find here is framework for approaching leadership development in your congregation. Successful leadership development in the congregation consists of three areas:

  1. Marking the Path
  2. Traveling the Path
  3. Celebrating the Path

Marking the Path involves thinking about what happens BEFORE individuals become leaders. In marking the path of leadership, you are constructing systems that grow leadership in your community. Traveling the Path includes designing the experience of Leadership and thinking about what happens DURING an individual’s time as a leader. Finally, Celebrating the Path includes recognizing leadership both throughout and after a leadership position has ended.

Marking the Path

With clarity of purpose, we seek to have a clear pathway of leadership development that is an invitation and preparation for individuals to have a knowledge and deep relationship to Unitarian Universalism, which helps them become religious leaders in the context of our Faith. We want them to have knowledge of the way churches in general work, and the way your congregations works, including systems and structures. When we seek to aid leaders in their growth, it is important to prepare them with a working knowledge of leadership basics, such as the functional aspects of leadership, project-management, goal-setting and how to faithfully run a meeting. Yet, as referenced, we are not preparing them to simply have techniques or to “function” on behalf of our congregations, hopefully, we seek to create environments of transformation and growth.

Traveling the Path

The most fundamental thing to remember about cultivating Unitarian Universalist leaders is that we are religious leaders. As leaders, we serve the larger calling of our faith and its core values- and nothing else! We are not called to be neutral parties. Likewise, it’s important that first and foremost, our leaders be spiritually grounded and have a foundational understanding of our theology. This begins with narrative, the way that humans of all ages learn. Find the core Unitarian, Universalist, and UU stories that your congregation feels most connected to, find the core stories which shaped your congregation, and tell them over and over again.


Developmental Area Building Trust Hearing Stories Building Community Deconstructing Working for the Faith Incarnating Values
Support Needed Provide “easy ins” and extravagant hospitality Build the narrative and repeat Offer meaningful opportunity to contribute, explore Focus on covenant and boundaries Explore world’s traditions, teach Provide opportunities to live their values out loud
Recruit For Attendance at new events RE Teachers for Elementary Age Children, Worship Associates Committee Chairs, Middle School Advisors Small Group Leaders, Pastoral Caregivers

Youth Advisors, Board Members, Staff,Adult RE Teachers

Staff,Justice Leaders,Youth Advisors,Adult RE Teachers

Contact your Southern Region staff for more support on developing a membership path and curriculum map which helps tailor faith development for congregants at each age and stage. One which allows newcomers to learn our stories (like teaching RE for ages 6 and under or serving as worship associates) and elders to tell them (such as teaching Coming of Age).

Celebrating the Path

The celebration shouldn’t just occur at the end of a term; let’s show our congregational leaders appreciation throughout their time in leadership. Honoring our leaders publicly and privately helps cultivate an attitude of gratitude and becomes a community-wide spiritual practice.

Now more than ever, let’s lift up those performing service to our communities. We are missing the opportunities that in-person community provides; our ministers aren’t looking into the pews at our smiling faces or hearing our appreciation in the post-service receiving line, we’re not catching leaders at coffee hour to give them a handshake or a pat on the back. Yet, we can still show our appreciation, through innovative new technologies and more traditional means.

Consider who you’d like to acknowledge. Think about the virtual experiences you are grateful for in the last year, the worship services, classes, small group ministry meetings and more. Which congregational leaders helped to make those happen?

Plans for showing your appreciation can be simple and private, like sending a card in the mail. Include others by encouraging those touched by the ministry to send a quick email thanking the leader. Publicly acknowledge good work by listing names in your newsletter and order of service. Take the celebration online; the Southern Region staff have heard wonderful stories of congregations throwing zoom parties to mark the anniversaries of beloved ministers and staff.

Cultivating a congregation-wide attitude of gratitude will positively impact all aspects of leadership development, leading to higher leader retention and greater success in recruiting new folks to fill important roles. Leadership development is faith development, and faith development is all we do.

Thank you for supporting and celebrating your congregational leadership. As we close, we want to share how much your Southern Region staff appreciates YOU. We witness your hard work and creativity in these times. We feel immense gratitude for your commitment to your congregation and our shared faith.

About the Authors

Nancy Combs-Morgan

Nancy Combs-Morgan has been immersed in Unitarian Universalist faith development for 26+ years, including 6 as a Director of Religious Education, and 20 years on UUA district and regional staff.

Cameron Young

Cameron Young is a native Texan and lifelong Unitarian Universalist. Having grown up in those programs, they developed a particular affinity for youth and young adult ministry. Prior to joining the UUA, Cameron served as a lifespan religious educator in Fort Worth, Texas for five years, having...

Lillian Drab-Braddick

Lillian is a member of the Congregational Life Staff & Co-Dean of the LeaderLab Learning Center.

For more information contact .