Servant Leadership: Principles
“Mapping Your Leadership Journey” (SL#24)
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1.1 - Exploring the Journey

Those who would explore the servant leadership journey have yet this principle: lifetime intention and commitment. You and I perhaps could agree with Jesus, James, Paul--and a host of contemporary voices--that affirm: “Every tub has to sit on its own bottom.” Yes, I know that is not sophisticated philosophy, let alone Holy Scripture (even if in desperation a preacher tried to use it as a sermon text), but let’s see if there is not substance to the sentiment. Principle: you must map and travel your own journey toward servant leadership/discipleship.

Jesus: “. . . take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23-25).
James: “. . . I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).
Paul: “I press on toward the goal . . .” (Phil. 3:12-14).

Commentary: Philippians 3:12-14 (Zondervan Commentary)
Paul likens his Christian life to pressing onward to the goal so as to win the prize. In applying the figure, the goal and the prize are virtually identical, though viewed perhaps from different aspects. Paul’s goal was the complete knowledge of Christ, both in the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings (v. 10). When the goal was reached, this prize would be fully his.

Throughout my journey, I have tested and often found helpful several intersecting “mapping practices.” From among those, let me suggest nine as “clues only” for your consideration in mapping your own servant leadership journey:

  1. Self-development: “Will you choose to live and lead as a servant?”
    Robert Greenleaf’s path to servant leadership was largely a path of self-development. Although a lifetime of experiences, relationship, and influences intersected his path, consciously and joyfully he chose to become “servant as leader.” Dream and reflect; keep a journal, especially about “markers”on your path.

  2. The Master's Pattern: “Will you, as a Christian in life and leadership, doggedly choose to follow Christ as your model and strength?”
    Mapping your journey should start with a liberating vision, prayer, and Scripture about kingdom directions, the ethical use of power, and the value of humankind. Jesus is the primary guide for such a journey.

  3. Examples/Models: “Will you pay attention to those you know who practice servant leadership?”
    Write down why you consider them servant leaders: Who are they as persons? How do they feel about themselves, about you? How do they do what they do? Name them; write it down; tell them so.

  4. Reflection: “Will you reflect, ponder, meditate on your life experiences, behavior, events, and the human spirit?”
    “Light your own lamp”; get to know yourself better. Practice a healthy withdrawal into silence and aloneness--the Master Himself did so. Reflection explores meanings, not just information; it also builds a guardrail against an aimless or “workaholic” life.

    Glossary: “reflection” (from WordNet® 1.6)
    A calm lengthy intent consideration; the phenomenon of a propagation wave (light or sound) being thrown back from a surface; expression without words--“tears are an expression of grief”; the pulse is a refection of the heart’s condition.

  5. Relationships: “Will you build relationship and community into the center of your life?”
    The very test of servant leadership is to set as a priority, serving the needs of those you lead. Listen to people; care about what they are truly saying. Tell your own stories and learn from stories of those along your path. Enlarge your band of travelers on the journey.

    Glossary: “relationship” (American Heritage® Dictionary)
    A particular type of connection existing between people related to or having dealings with each other; the condition or fact of being related; connection or association; connection by blood or marriage; kinship.

  6. Roles and Tasks: “What roles and tasks give you an opportunity to practice servant leadership?”
    Consider the larger dimensions of your life because the principles and practices of servant leadership matter in your mapping plan: Personal life? Home? Church? School? Community? Society needs? Business? Your job description? Mapping a servant leadership path requires an awareness of authentic expectations made of your life.

  7. Self-Assessment: “Will you thoughtfully inventory your servant leadership strengths and limitations?”
    One way to chart the direction you want to go is to ask the question: “Where am I now in the journey?” To what extent do your gifts, skills, and practices contribute to servant leadership? Build on your strengths; plan for development in areas of limitation.

  8. Focus/Priorities: “Will you be intentional, but realistic, about development goals?”
    The practice of servant leadership takes time and work and patience. Focus on your direction toward “servant as leader”; target and enjoy the intersections on the journey not just the anticipated destination.

  9. Life-Long Learning: “Will you continue to thirst for knowledge, for understanding, for wisdom?”
    Keep on learning about the long, bright pathway called servant leadership. There is much to learn and put into practice if we are to “love God with all the mind.” (This article and its resources may help serve your purpose.) Your own reading and thinking should make a rich servant leadership journal.

  10. Reflection/Application
    If “mapping your own journey” is a principle of learning servant leadership, then the only one who can do this work is you, for yourself. We are instructed to “walk by faith, not by sight.” Yes, and that means all your planning should be an act of dependence on God. What are you really after in your leadership development? Again, that is for you to choose. It could be stated quite simply: “I want to improve my ministry performance.” “I want to enjoy the satisfaction it gives.” “I truly want to help people along their journey.” “I want my life to matter, to bring honor to God.”

    How do you get started? Your own choices are better, but just a few actions are suggested:

© 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

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