Servant Leadership: Practices
“Context: Situational Leadership - Approaches
and Functions” (SL#64)
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
1:3 - Charting Your Course
Welcome to contingency!
Servant leaders today in the congregation give careful attention
to the substance or content of servant leadership, e.g. the
five practices that make up the whole. Those practices are constant, but not
rigid or brittle. Now, welcome to contingency! For servant
leaders must also assess the context of the congregational
leadership situation: the changes; the variables; the options, the heritage.
This article will seek to look at selected aspects of that
context as the basis for choosing leadership behavior and styles which might
serve most effectively!
In “charting your course” for congregational
leadership, servant leadership is the content, and the actual congregational
situation is the context. This article seeks to take a
look at selected aspects of that context as the bases for choosing leadership
behavior and styles to serve most effectively.
Assessing the congregational situation seeks to ask and
answer several basic questions.
“What is situational/contingency leadership?”
“What are the congregation’s vision/ministries/tasks
to be pursued?”
“Who are the followers/members/coworkers doing
“What do leaders, staff and lay, bring to the
“What organizational and family systems frame
“What specific relationships and events impact
the congregation context?”
Hersey and Blanchard, among others, have asserted that there is no one-best
leadership style. Rather, they have proposed that leadership styles should
be matched to the situation at hand. This is also described as behavioral
or contingency leadership. (See Study Abstract with this article and Abstract
- Four leadership situation components have a direct bearing
on the performance and the outcomes. Servant leaders should review and apply
these factors as they select ministry leadership approaches.
First: The Minister/Leader:
“Who is the minister/leader?” His/her competencies, background,
goals, values, characteristics and traits may emerge, but task and people
concerns are uppermost--level of respect for people. “We are laborers
For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.--1
Second: The Followers/Workers:
“What are the members like?” Their maturity, ability and willingness
to take responsibility for directing their own behavior, for performing
their task; their level of trust in the leader and in one another.
- Third: The Task/Ministry:
“What is the Christian ministry to be done?” Characteristics of
the task: Is the task clear by its very nature or because of planning; have
instructions been made clear to the worker; is the kingdom mission of the
Fourth: The Congregational Systems:
“What are the internal and external systems and environment for pursuing
the ministry/tasks?” The above three factors take place within the
living, changing systems of a congregation--that is the context of servant
Choosing a Leadership Style
The “path-goal theory,” one expression of situational leadership,
holds that given a particular leadership situation, any one of four leadership
styles could be engaged (see Daft, The Leadership Experience, pp.
Directive leadership--lets coworkers know
what is expected of them and how the task should be accomplished.
Supportive leadership--shows concern for the
needs of followers, makes the work more pleasant, and is friendly and
Participative leadership--consults with members
and takes their suggestions into consideration when making decisions.
excellence in performance and displays confidence that workers will
assume responsibility and accomplish challenging goals.
Situational leadership builds on biblical principles and examples.
The Apostle Paul admonished against being pushed about in the howling storms
of worldly doctrine (see Eph. 4:14), but he also confessed that he chose
to respond to the context and culture so that he could win over the unbelievers
(see 1 Cor. 9:10). He was gentle as a mother, stern as a taskmaster, principled
in behavior, and flexible in leadership methodology. He was always “pressing
toward the mark” (Phil. 3:14). Although just a summary, how do you
respond to this approach? How is it reflected in biblical events and characters?
What would your coworkers say about you?
Servant leadership is for every member, leader, and follower, in every role
inside and outside church life. Each can choose to participate as a servant
to do well a specific task, to add strength to the team, to provide example
and encouragement to others--and thus to enter the servant leadership force
. . . to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout
all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.--Ephesians 3:21
- When a church intentionally decides to do its work as a servant congregation,
it provides a dynamic relation for its leaders and followers; servant leadership
becomes part of every system.
On the other hand, a congregation becomes a servant body
in the cause of Christ as disciples/ministers invest themselves in its life
Every task, function, and role in church life provides
an opportunity for each member to be servant-as-leader. The task/function
graphic below seeks to visualize the biblical and practical ministries of
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for
the Lord, not for men.--Col. 3:23
Congregational Leadership Functions/Tasks:
- There are four critical sets of functions. Three of them focus on the congregation,
and the fourth on congregational leadership goals, skills, development, and
Although stated in four sets, each is tied together by
a congregational commitment to servant leadership and by the reality of
one congregational system, many subsystems.
Like the church as the body of Christ, every part is mutually
essential and responsible. If one part does not function well, it affects
the whole. This is a strong picture of “every member a servant leader”
or on a servant leadership team.
Finding your place as a servant leader may have to do with
your role or position power--but even more-so, with your spiritual giftedness,
task/skill readiness, and maturity of willingness and confidence.
- Concepts for this Congregational Leadership Graphic are adapted from Anderson
and Jones, The Management of Ministry (pp. 78-106), and other authorities,
as well as decades of experiences.
- Reflection/Application to your ministry and leadership:
In which do you serve consistently? Where could you enlarge your servant leadership?
Use the diagram as an assessment tool.
Study Abstract: Focusing on Situational Leadership
from Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources
by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard
Abstract prepared by Lloyd Elder
Blanchard and Hersey reported, and most management writers seem
to agree, that leadership:
is the process of influencing the activities of an individual
or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation. . .
. The leadership process is a function of the leader, the followers, and
other situational variables--L=f (l,f,s). (see p. 83)
- When any individual attempts to influence the behavior of another person,
that individual becomes a potential leader, and the other becomes a potential
follower--no matter whether the follower is the boss, an associate, a subordinate,
a friend, or a relative. (see p. 83)
- There is no normative (best) style of leadership for every ministry situation.
Effective leaders adapt their leader behavior to meet the needs of their followers
and the particular environment (situational variables). (p. 103)
- Situational leadership is based on the interplay (or combination) among:
(1) the amount of guidance and direction (task behavior) a leader gives; (2)
the amount of socioemotional support (relationship behavior) a leader provides;
and (3) the readiness (“maturity”) level followers exhibit for
performing a specific task. (p. 150)
- Situational Leadership Styles (pp. 150-151)--from Blanchard and Hersey--are
- S1 - “Telling” leadership style is for low maturity (M1)
for task readiness, people who are both unwilling and unable.
- S2 - “Selling” style is for low to moderate maturity (M2)
for task readiness, unable but willing.
- S3 - “Participating” style is for moderate to high maturity
(M3) of task readiness, able but unwilling.
- S4 - “Delegating” style is for high maturity (M4) for task
readiness; able, willing, or confident, to take responsibility.
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© 2006 servantleaderstoday.com; hosted and copyrighted
by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc. For full citation of referenced works,
see Bibliography/Links at www.servantleaderstoday.com.
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church