Servant Leadership: Practices
“Content: Practicing Servant Leadership Today - Part 1” (SL#62)
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1:3 - Charting Your Course

“Charting Your Course” begins with an intentional choice and the continuous practice of servant leadership--or not! Just what is servant leadership--both its biblical and contemporary components? How does it relate to patterns and practices in congregational life? During recent years have you continued along a journey toward servant leadership? It’s really not a new journey because the path runs throughout the pages of Holy Scripture. Yet retracing old and favorite paths of service to Christ helps us stay on course--or when we stray, to get back on the pathway.

This working definition is a guideline for me, and I share it with you:

Practicing servant leadership in Christian ministry is self-giving 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.E.--1995 and since)

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.--Phil. 3:13-14

A Servant Leadership Pattern
Visuals, definitions, concepts, the sage instruction of a pioneer like Greenleaf, even Holy Scripture--all of these fall short of the mark if you and I do not get them down into “practicing servant leadership” consistently. It is a way of living, serving, and leading. Let’s work through this together.

Years ago I started with the oft-quoted maxim adapted from Warren Bennis:

“efficiency [management] is doing things right”
“effectiveness [leadership] is doing the right things.”

Placing high value on these two elements and adding three others, the servant leadership graphic on these pages intends to portray the practice of servant leadership as five open windows of opportunity--of light and fresh air. The largest window, encompassing all else, is empowered leadership; the smallest window, supporting all else, is efficiency. All five practices work together reflecting a synergy that is true to the essence of the servant as leader. It makes for an exciting journey. Study carefully this visual (repeated from the introduction), beginning to assess key elements of your pattern of servant leadership as they compare to the graphic:

Practice #1. Empowered Leadership:
“Doing the right things in His power.”
The presence, power, and pattern of Christ empower us to follow Him as servant leaders; that is the starting place.

Glossary--empower: To invest with power, especially legal power or official authority. To equip or supply with an ability; to enable.
Usage Note: Although it is a contemporary buzzword, “empower” arose in the mid-17th century with the legalistic meaning “to invest with authority, to authorize.” Shortly thereafter it began to be used with an infinitive in a more general way meaning “to enable or permit.” These uses survive today, overpowered by its use in politics and pop psychology.

--from The American Heritage® Dictionary of English Language, Fourth Edition

  1. Christ himself is the “big picture” for all who would practice servant leadership.

John 15:5 - Fruitbearing is not only possible but certain if the branch remains in union with the vine. Uniformity of quantity and quality are not promised. But if the life of Christ permeates a disciple, fruit will be inevitable.--Zondervan Commentary

  1. Practice what Jesus did; the disciplines and practices we find in the life and servant leadership of Christ, we should choose for ourselves. For example:
  1. Jesus is our Way in His service. E. Stanley Jones, veteran missionary, passed down an account of a missionary who lost his way in an African jungle--no landmark, no trail. Finally coming upon a native’s hut, he asked if he could lead him out. The native arose, walked into the bush and for hours hacked his way forward. The concerned missionary finally asked: “Are you sure this is the way? I don’t see any path.” The African chuckled over his shoulder, “Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path.” (Source:
  2. Seven ways Jesus empowers servant leaders:

Practice #2. Ethical Leadership:
“Doing the right things for the right reasons.”
Servant leadership asks and seeks to answer the ethical questions: “Why am I serving this way, or leading in that manner?” “What is the true motivation and outcome of my life and leadership?” “Am I following biblical character and principles?” In public and corporate life, ethical responsibility is so critical.

Glossary--ethical: Conforming to accepted standards of social or professional behavior; adhering to ethical and moral principles; “it seems ethical and right.”--WordNet ® 1.6 © 1997 Princeton University

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”--Mark Twain

  1. The centerpiece for ethical leadership for Christian ministers of any generation, in every role or position, is shaped by the example of Jesus Christ and His indwelling life presence (John 15:5-8); and the guidance of the Spirit (John 16:12-13).
  1. Authentic “lived-in” character is the fabric of servant-first leadership.
  1. The “best test” of servant leadership, according to Robert Greenleaf, is an ethical threshold for us all.

The best test is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?
--Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, pp. 13-14

  1. An ethical leadership checklist might include questions such as:

Practice #3. Enabling Leadership:
“Doing the right things together.” Servant leadership builds relationships, enriches congregational fellowship, and develops the life and competence of fellow workers.

Glossary--enabling: To supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity; make able: techniques that enable surgeons to open and repair the heart. To make feasible or possible.--from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

  1. Leadership is within the company of others, not a solo performance. In fact, one test of a leader is “to look over your shoulder to see if anyone is following.”
  1. Servant leadership is an equipping ministry as set out in Ephesians 4:11-13. Equipping others enables them to become servants and matures them toward leadership. This is further developed in SL#71 under Coaching Leadership but may be described by a diversity of tasks:

    It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . .--Ephesians 4:11-12

  1. Enabling leadership builds on the “one another connection” of the New Testament witness. The following Scriptures affirm that we are servants of one another; dependent on one another, and commissioned to do Christ’s work together:

Conclusion: The purpose of this article is to move toward the actual practice of servant leadership. This article introduces a servant leadership graphic and presents servant leadership practices #1-3; it is continued with practices #4 and 5 in the next article (SL#63).

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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