Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

The Church and Leadership Development

One of my developing ecclesiological theories is that the church, especially the liberal church, serves among its many purposes as the laboratory for being a whole, full, and religious human being.  The liberal congregation is the container, the laboratory where we are able to learn how to engage one another in right relationship.  It is where we learn how to treat one another with justice and compassion.  It is where we learn how to live in light of our values, and how to turn those values we may intellectually and emotionally hold into virtues we live in our daily lives.  To borrow from James Luther Adams, the church is where we learn to be human religiously.  It is… or at least it should be these things, and more.

I have recently been giving thought to the liberal church and leadership development.  Leadership development has been a part of my life since I was very young.  I went through my own process of developing as a leader that involved the Boy Scouts, followed by the United States Army.  When I became a Sergeant in the Army, my role shifted to not only developing myself as a leader, but to being responsible for developing my soldiers as leaders.  I still continue this practice, now as a Chaplain who is developing my Chaplain Assistants into leaders.

I have come to believe that leadership development is always in the light of a set of values and ideals, and that it involves inculcating in the developing leader a set of virtues and beliefs.  Sometimes these values and ideals, these virtues and beliefs are overt… they are stated as a part of the process of Leadership Development.  More often these values and ideals, these virtues and beliefs are communicated to the person developing in leadership covertly, through the structures, priorities, and practices of the institution in which they are learning their leadership.

Let’s take the Army as an example.  I developed as a leader in an institution that holds certain values and ideals, and inculcates certain virtues and beliefs… and how I am as a leader is profoundly shaped by that institution.  Some of the ideals are obvious and stated… honor, loyalty, duty.  When I joined in 1991, I served under a Soldier’s Creed that set out the ideals and values under which I developed as a Leader…


Pre-2003 Soldier’s Creed:

I am an American Soldier.

I am a member of the United States Army – a protector of the greatest nation on earth.

Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the military service and the nation it is sworn to guard.

I am proud of my own organization. I will do all I can to make it the finest unit in the Army.

I will be loyal to those under whom I serve. I will do my full part to carry out orders and instructions given to me or my unit.

As a soldier, I realize that I am a member of a time-honored profession—that I am doing my share to keep alive the principles of freedom for which my country stands.

No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country.

I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform.

I am proud of my country and its flag.

I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent, for I am an American Soldier.


It was a Creed for a peacetime Army.  Notice that the use of force to kill people is not directly referred to, and only obliquely acknowledged.  Large emphasis is given to ethical and moral action.  Loyalty, honorable action, and “doing my part” are the high ideals that it imparts… and those ideals were a large part of how I formed as a leader.  I had to memorize this to pass the board that allowed me to become a Sergeant, a leader…

Now, look at how those ideals shifted and changed for a wartime Army, after the United States became involved in combat actions in Iraq and Afghanistan:

I am an American Soldier.

I am a Warrior and a member of a team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and I am a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

I am an American Soldier.


The ideals that are highlighted in this creed all center around a concept of warriorship… The MISSION is paramount; we are loyal to one another; being a professional and an expert; the destruction of enemies.  It places a high values on identity as an American Soldier, and sees that identity as primarily lived out in a combat environment… not a peacetime environment.

Can you see how each of these sets of ideals and values crafts a different kind of leader?  One of my greatest challenges in adapting to coming back to the Army as a Chaplain and a Spiritual Leader has been transitioning between the leadership I was taught in the 1990’s to the Army that is today.

However, I believe it is the values we are taught covertly that have the greater effect upon our development as leaders.  This can vary widely from unit to unit, from institution to institution, from culture of culture.  If an institution has a covert value that it is not useful to engage senior leadership, but rather work around them to get things done, then this value is inculcated into the leadership styles and patterns of those who learn leadership in that system.  If an institution has a value that leadership is best conducted from the shadows, so that leaders are rarely publically acknowledged, then this pattern of leadership is inculcated in those who develop as leaders in that institution.

In today’s world, where do most people learn leadership?  A few learn it in educational institutions, and yet there has been a decided trend in the last few decades of colleges and universities moving away from student led government and leadership opportunities, because of those students challenging administration officials.  Some, like I, learn it in the military.  Some learn how to be a leader in their families.

And, I believe that, in today’s world, most people learn leadership at work.

Now, depending on the institution they work for, this can be a good thing.  Some of the best developed leaders I have ever met learned their leadership through employee unions, or in some blue collar jobs, or in some small businesses.  When I was a special events manager, I loved hiring experienced construction workers, because their style of leadership was so project focused, resource aware, and timeline driven.  I hired them to manage the artists I needed to paint the décor and stagesets… a growth situation for all involved!

Yet, I believe that much of our leadership development in America is coming from the Corporate World, and it is profoundly shaped by the values and beliefs of that world.  It is shaped by values of efficiency, profit, and project completion.  The effects of leadership in light of these values is something I will leave up to your judgment… I believe those beliefs and values are shaping our world in ways I often find appalling.

I believe that churches, and particularly the Liberal Church, has forgotten its calling when it forgot why it helps human beings develop as leaders.  We began to think that the purpose of developing leaders for our churches was so that our churches could run better… that we could be more efficient, have more effective committees, run better projects.  We focused on what the benefits of leadership development would be for our churches, not the religious necessity of developing leaders in light of our values and beliefs, so that they can go forth and lead us to a world in tune with those values and beliefs.

The purpose of Leadership Development in a Unitarian Universalist Church is so that the person trained in Leadership in light of the value of the inherent worth and dignity of every person can take that leadership style into corporate boardrooms and factory floors.  It is so that the person trained in leadership in light of the right of conscience can take that leadership into teaching in a High School.  It is so that the person trained in leadership in light of the interconnectedness of all things can take that leadership into a City Council.

The Church may benefit from having better leaders, but that is a secondary concern.  The purpose of Leadership development in a liberal church is to create and send forth leaders into the world trained to Leadership in light of liberal values and ideals, virtues and beliefs.  Our Congregations are the training ground, the laboratory for liberal leadership… not always the beneficiary.

Because we gotta practice somewhere…

Yours in faith,

Rev. David



2 Thoughts on “The Church and Leadership Development

  1. Preach it, Rev. David!

    In my lay leadership development trainings I talk about having to unlearn corporate leadership styles before learning how to lead in a way that reflects our Unitarian Universalist values….

  2. Pingback: Memorial Day, living our values, and other UU blogging « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: