Servant Leadership: Principles
“Servant Leadership: Going the Second Mile” (SL#19)
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1.1 - Exploring the Journey

In exploring the servant leadership journey, a principle is found in the admonition of Jesus to “go the second mile” (Mt. 5:41). The servant leadership, as presented here, builds on and goes beyond the definitions in the article reporting what others are saying about leadership. Isn’t it often the case that those of us in Christian leadership continually learn from our informed contemporaries valid concepts and practices within our social and business arenas? But servant leadership after the pattern of Christ goes “the second mile” in the workplace, churchplace, and homeplace.

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Matthew 5:41 NIV).

Jesus refers to the Roman practice of commandeering civilians to carry the luggage of military personnel a prescribed distance, one Roman mile. That was the duty of residents of a subjugated country. One person's impression of another, like a lawsuit, evokes outrage. But the attitude of Jesus' disciples under such imposition must not be spiteful or vengeful; instead, it should be helpful--willing to go a second mile. That was a high standard for the disciples and a hard task to perform.

Scholars within the context of Christian ministry, businesses, or non-profit organizations have often identified and espoused similar concepts and practices of servant leadership. We can learn from these samples to encourage both the understanding and practice of servant leadership.

  1. Paul A. Cedar--Strength in Servant Leadership
    The servant leader (from pp. 27-30):
    • examines the life of Jesus Christ
    • serves as Jesus served
    • leads as Jesus led
    • gives what Jesus has given
    • is in all empowered by the Holy Spirit.

    Servant leadership is for everyone; for our different situations and needs, it is the common Christian leadership style. It is both biblical and practical for business, home, school, and the church (see pp. 17-27). Servant leadership begins with the heart--with our attitude, with our motives (p.29; see also Phil. 2:4-7). You can be a servant leader--whatever your leadership role . . . the Lord is anxious to empower and encourage us. Remember, servant leadership is not natural; it requires the supernatural--the very presence and power of God (see pp. 161-162). Reflection:

  2. Steven R. Covey--Principle-Centered Leadership
    Principle-centered leaders are service-oriented. They see life as a mission, not as a career. . . . In effect, every morning they “woke up” and put on the harness of service, thinking of others. . . . Until you can say “I am my master,” you cannot say “I am your servant” (pp. 34, 55). Reflection:

  3. Robert D. Dale--Pastoral Leadership
    “Servanthood” is the primary biblical image of leadership and the basic image of the person and work of Christ. As a leadership stance, servants (pp. 25, 29, 34):
    • lead out of relationship, not by coercion
    • lead by support, not by control
    • lead by developing others, not by doing all the ministry themselves
    • guide people, not drive them
    • lead from love, not domination
    • seek growth, not position.


  4. Max DePree--Leadership Jazz
    A jazz band is an expression of servant leadership--a public performance, dependent on so many things--the environment, the volunteers playing in the band, the need for everyone to perform as individuals and as a group, the absolute dependence of the leader on the members of the band, the need of the leader for the followers to play well. What a summary of an organization! (pp. 8-9)

  5. Rick E. Ferguson--The Servant Principle
    “The Servant Principle” is a dynamic call that challenges us to return to Christian service, performing tasks for the Lord in all walks of life--at home, in our communities, on the job, and most of all, in the church. . . . Servanthood is more than a lifestyle. It is simply a life. The life of a servant (p. 4).

  6. Leighton Ford--Transforming Leadership
    Jesus knew the price of leadership--He was willing to give himself (see Mark 10:45).
    • Kingdom leadership is in contrast to worldly patterns.
    • It is internally consistent with the nature of Christ’s community.
    • It takes its ultimate model from the Son of Man.

  7. Robert K. Greenleaf--Servant Leadership
    Those who choose to follow the servant leadership principle will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants (p. 10).

  8. James C. Hunter--The Servant
    Leadership: The skill of influencing people to work enthusiastically toward goals identified as being for the common good. . . . You manage things, you lead people . . . Leadership boils down to a simple four-word description: . . . Identify and meet needs (pp. 28, 90).

  9. Southwest Airlines--SkyMall Magazine
    (--a motto in a flight magazine)
    Service is the lifeblood of any organization. Everything flows from it and is nourished by it. Customer service is not a department, it’s an attitude.

  10. Gene Wilkes--Jesus on Leadership
    Those who lead in God’s kingdom lead from a kneeling position, dressed like a servant, meeting the needs of those who follow them (p. 20; see also John 13:16-17).

Personal Reflections
In another article, my understanding and definition of servant leadership will be enlarged and applied to various ministry roles.

Practicing servant leadership in Christian ministry is selfgiving service with others after the pattern of Christ through example and persuasion in order to achieve extraordinary commitment and contributions toward mutually shared kingdom goals (L. Elder).

I hope it will be obvious to you and appreciated how much I have drawn upon these insights, as well as the pattern of Christ and the teaching of Sacred Scripture. Since this is only a summary, the article leaves a healthy chunk of work for you to pursue. Think about your present leadership roles and tasks as you re-read the reported definitions of “servant leadership.” How are they alike? How different? How well do you see yourself reflected in the ten statements? If you select several elements that should go into your understanding, how would it affect your practice of servant leadership?

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 © 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership