Characteristics of religious leadership

In every community, there exist groupings of people, with a particular goal that they work together to achieve. These groups vary depending on their orientation. They may be religious groups or secular. They are mainly formed for a specific reason which binds them together. The groupings therefore demonstrate a common believe in most of the things that they do together. With in their operations, there are rules and regulations that act as the guiding principles for the members. In the life of the group, more members are recruited; with the group trying as much as possible to prove the need for its existence in the society. The groups participate in social activities as well as in the day to day activities. A community becomes complete through the presence of these groups. All religions owe their origin to social groupings amongst members of a community with a common goal. As groups expand through recruitment of more and more members, decision making becomes relatively difficult. It becomes hard to reach an agreement on issues affecting all the group members. In order to improve on consensus building, groups tend to adapt formal procedures in their governing structure. This culminates in the formation of chains of command, with roles being allocated to each individual within the group.

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Religious groupings exhibit these characteristics, where by few leaders are chosen by the members and given authority to oversee the effective running of the religious groupings. This leadership ends up becoming managerial as well as spiritual. Every member of the religious grouping has an obligation to observe obedience to the law. Groups always seek recognition from the authorities of the ruling regime in order to strengthen their capacity within the society. Traditional religious groupings have developed over time, resulting in advanced religions with elaborate structures that are used to govern the institutions. Over time, groups embrace change as they become exposed the challenges of the developing world. This causes gradual changes within the religious groupings, leading to divisions amongst members. There always occurs a conservative part of the group that does not encourage change especially in religious matters while the other group feels that change is inevitable in the modern times. These divisions eventually produce sects and sub denominations that break away from the main religious grouping.

According to Feldman (2002), “Religious groups have a tendency of choosing leaders who are expected to lead in a manner that reflects the feelings of every member of the group”. The leader is given authority and power, to lead the group towards achieving the desired goals of the group. These goals are mainly spiritual and there fore for a leader to win the confidence of the believers who confer the powers to him, he has to demonstrate humility while exercising these powers. With this characteristic, the leader can not abuse his powers. The believers make the religious leader a custodian of their property because of the trust that they have towards him. The leader therefore should be trustworthy. He should be willing to take care of the property as well as be trusted in all the dealings of the group with others, where he acts as the representative of the group. With this characteristic, the leader can not use his position to engage in undesirable activities for his personal gains.

Nathaniel (2004) argues that “A good religious leader encourages the group under his leadership to be active in the society as well as work hard to develop in all aspects of life”. He is therefore development oriented. He should lead his group with integrity, assisting his group to solve problems in matters of religion as well as general relationship with others in the society. He should therefore be strong in the group’s faith, with a clear vision of the future demonstrated by his understanding of the Supreme Being who has power over all human beings. For a religious leader, prayer and worship are part and parcel of his daily life.

The religious leader should enjoy offering service to the people. He should spearhead administration of the rights of the religious group as well as organizing schedules for effective operation of the group in its endeavors (George, 1998). Enthusiasm in work and dedication to serve the people are characteristics that religious leaders should posses. They are disciplined and of good character, with a high level of understanding of the people’s needs. He should possess excellent communication skills if the religious group is to prosper.

The implication to the sociology of religion is the fact that religions can only prosper if the leaders have a combination of all these characteristics, and that religions might be highly affected by poor leadership.

Social Stratification and Religion

According to (Hardy 1998) “As religious groups compete for limited resources, there eventually happens to be a looser and a winner”. The losers tend to come below the hierarchy in the resulting social hierarchy, with the winners occupying the top of the hierarchy. The issue of resources and the question of who gets what create social stratification. Social stratification occurs when different groups of people compete over valuable resources. In religion, differences amongst people arise, leading to debates over power relationships. This tends to define the roles of the members of the society, creating a hierarchical arrangement. Religion has played a major role in supporting social stratification. This creates a difference in society, whereby the are distinct places where each individual is presumed to fit in, e. g in case of housing, there are social classes depending on the ability to pay for the houses.

Carthy (2006) argues that, “the phenomenon of stratification does not arise in the society randomly”. This shows that the occupancy of individuals in various positions does not occur by chance. Religion plays a significant role to put every member of the society in his position within the hierarchy. It ensures that these positions are maintained from generation to generation because it is an ideology that tends to hold much weight especially if it gains the society’s acceptance. People avoid as much as possible to challenge such ideologies in religion for fear of challenging the religion. Other factors that influence social stratification include governments, the financial system which creates differences amongst individuals in the society as well as education levels.

According to Michael Howard (1997), “In a situation where there is a balance of resource distribution, the powerful force of religion maintains the society’s sense.” This shows that religion can be significant in lowering the differences in social stratification in the absence of conflicts over resources. People come together as one to worship, regardless of their backgrounds. In the traditional setting, kinship and religion were major determinants of the social class one belongs. Families connected to the high priests and leaders belonged in the high class within the society.

This implies that Religion has a significant influence on social stratification existing in the world.

Women and Religion in the USA

In the recent past, women have taken up a new dimension from the earlier segregated position in church leadership to an active role in religion. They have been playing an important role in religion but have been restricted from taking up leadership. (Johnstone, R. L. 2007). Leadership had been previously meant for men in religious matters. However, a change of attitude and empowerment of women through women organizations has caused a rise in the number of women who are actively involved in religious leadership. Female activists have been using religion as an arena for airing their opinions. Many religious schools and associations have been established by women. Through churches, African American women were able to gather enough strength to ignite the civil-rights movement. Since early 1920s, women were largely involved in various denominations. On religious matters in the United States, women play a central role with a higher responsiveness to religion than men.

It implies that women are given a chance in America and every other part of the world, religion can be successful because of their dedication in it.




  1. Carthy M. (2006). Society Stratification: Not a Random Process, 2nd edition, London: Century Business.
  2. Feldman L. (2002). “Development in the Society” International Journal of Societal Behavior & Research. 11 No. 1, July, pp. 25-41
  3. George D., (1998). Religion and Society: Development of World population, Rockhampton: CQU Press.
  4. Hardy T. 1998). “Modern Religion: Difficulties Encountered,” International Religion Journal, 3, no. 2, August, p. 47
  5. Howard B. (1997). “Developments in the Modern Societies: An overview” Journal on Communication in Religion. 5, no. 3, September, pp. 121-126
  6. Johnstone, R. L. (2007). Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. ISBN-13: 9780131884076.
  7. Nathaniel M. (2004). Religion, Society and Government: a Modern Approach, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, England, UK
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