Leadership Fellows Program


The Academy for Leadership Excellence is a ministry dedicated to strengthening the leadership skills of clergy and laity. The Academy recognizes that serving the Church requires the need for effective leaders to be continually open to re-thinking and re-tooling how they practice faithful ministry in service to the Church and in ministry and mission of Jesus Christ within today’s world.

This program changed the way that I serve as a minister, and that change helped my entire life improve. It is very difficult to put into words how thankful I am for the Academy. The people in the church noticed change. My wife and my children noticed the change. My preaching is much better. I am more joy filled. I delegate more. The church is growing tremendously. Being a minister is the greatest and most difficult calling in the world, and the Academy helped me to be more equipped to meet the challenges with grace and joy.” – Clergy Fellow

Academy 890

Unlike seminaries, the focus of the Academy and the Leadership Fellows Program is not on theological and historical aspects of ministry, but on the enhancement of practical skill sets. Approximately 12 clergy and 12 lay leaders are accepted to the program as Fellows each year.  Clergy applicants pair themselves with a lay leader from their congregation to walk with them side-by-side through the program, as equal partners in the journey.  Both clergy and laity must be willing to meet the rigorous expectations and requirements of the program.

This two-year transformational program requires participants to meet for 112 total hours of discovery, discussion and learning. Year one of the Fellows program covers sustainable servant leadership and focuses on understanding oneself as a leader. Year two focuses on church leadership strategies and pulls from relevant and cutting-edge studies of successful models. Each session is carefully structured to incorporate practical, skill-building exercises, small group discussion and instruction. The benefit of learning together in community is one of the most crucial components of the program.

(The lay and clergy partnership is) crucial so that the church can benefit from this type of program. So many times I go to classes/workshops and think that the laity should be hearing this too. My lay leader goes back to the church and shares what she learns more than I do! It’s awesome!!” 
 – Clergy Fellow

Each Fellow, clergy and laity alike, will be assigned a Passion in Partnership coach to provide feedback and support during the two years. The coaches engage in regular conversations throughout the program to help the Fellows connect the classroom learning with their own individual learning goals, making the information relevant to the challenges in their churches and lives.




Fellows Program faculty and practitioners consist of a community of carefully selected, highly-skilled resource leaders drawn from area universities, leadership consultant groups, and the Church. Curriculum development was overseen by a team of church leaders and education professionals whose careers focus on leadership development.

The (Fellows Program) is the best thing the church has done for its ministers and lay leaders for as long as I can remember.”
– Jo Warren, Lay Fellow


Applicants may personally apply, be nominated by their District Superintendents or by the leadership of his or her own local congregation. Elders in Full Connection, Deacons, and full-time Local Pastors are eligible. The Academy Admissions Team is searching for church leaders who have a commitment to learning and show evidence of possessing the temperament, character, spiritual gifts, passion and heart required of Christ-centered spiritual leadership. The Academy seeks a strong diversity of gender, race and ministry settings, believing that a diversity of viewpoints enriches discussion and learning opportunities.

Clergy applicants must select a lay partner (not a paid church staff member) to apply alongside them as equal partners in the journey. Both clergy and laity fill out an application, including response to essay questions that assist the Admissions Team in understanding more about the applicants’ leadership journey. In addition, the clergy member must have approval to join the program from his or her Pastor (Staff ) Parish Relations Committee.

The Fellows Program “takes the best of the business model and views it through the lens of faith.” – Trip Lowery, Clergy Fellow

Three letters of recommendation must be received from each of the following: Pastor (Staff) Parish Committee, District Superintendent and other relevant references. Lay applicants may request letters of recommendation from their church peers, work or personal references.

The Academy’s Admissions Team reviews materials from the candidates and selects the Fellows. The Team consists of Conference leadership and Academy Board members. The Admissions team intentionally selects a small group of particpants (typically 12 clergy and 12 laity) to facilate a leraning community in covenant with one another.



Module 1 (Year 1):  Sustainable Self-Leadership

  • Self Awareness and Self-Care
  • Servant Leadership and Communication
  • Relationships and Team Building
  • Conflict Management
  • Best Practices in Leading People
  • Leading Change
  • Ministry Action Plan


Module 2 (Year 2):  Church Leadership Strategies

  • Understanding Systems Approach
  • Reaching More and Diverse People
  • Shaping Servant Leaders and Building Ministry Teams
  • Small Group Ministries
  • Leading a Missional Church
  • Holistic Stewardship
  • Living as a Spiritual Leader (retreat)



The annual tuition for Leadership Fellows is $500 per person. There is a $100 application fee per team which does not apply towards the annual tuition. Scholarship funds may be pursued if available funding is a deterrent to being enrolled.


  • Completed application for clergy and laity
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Application fee of $100 per team

January 22/23
February 26/27
March 19/20
May 21/22
August 13/14
September 10/11
October 22/23 (Offsite retreat for Year 2, Year 1 is at Edenton Street UMC)


Applications for the Leadership Fellows Program must be received by the Director of The Academy Leadership Fellows Program by the second Monday in September.  As stated above, applications must be accompanied by a completed application form, a $100 application fee for each team, and the above-stated three letters of recommendation.

Contact Leah Wiebe-Smith for the 2018 application and letter of recommendation form. lwiebesmith@nccumc.org or 919-779-6115 ext. 266.