What is Servant Leadership?

What is biblical servant leadership and how does it enable leaders to meet the needs of the people in their church, business, or organization?

The idea was popularized by Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990) his essay "The Servant as Leader", first published in 1970.

Greenleaf pursued a career with AT&T. At the same time he spent over forty years researching organizational leadership and management. He concluded that  power-centered authoritarian leadership style so prominent in American corporations and institutions was not working. He took early retirement in 1964 to found the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (originally known as the Center for Applied Ethics).

The traditional leader accumulates and exercises power as one at the top of the pyramid. Servant leaders seek to share power, put the needs of followers (employees, customers, parishioners, etc.) first and help people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Today this has become has become fashionable leadership model. The city where I live, Columbus, Georgia is known as the "Servant Leadership City". The Servant Leadership scholarship program at Columbus State University, where I teach as an adjunct continuing education instructor, seeks to plant and nurture the seeds of servant leadership in their students and as well as in families, companies and throughout the community, helping others prosper and grow.

Have you read Greenleaf's critically acclaimed work on servant leadership?

Nearly four decades ago Robert Greenleaf coined "servant leadership" in this prophetic series of essays. Greenleaf challenged the traditional autocratic leadership model of corporate America with a healthier ethical approach. Leaders find their true power and moral authority to lead through serving their parishioners, constituents, customers, and employees by collaboration, trust, listening, and empowerment.

Click image to order.

However important the work of Greenleaf and other advocates of this leadership paradigm has been, I always like to remind students that the idea of servant leadership did not originate with Greenleaf,

In the 6th century BCE the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu says in the Tao-te Ching, "A leader is best When people barely know
that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him... But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, 'We did this ourselves.'"

In 4th century BCE Greece, Plato says in his Republic, "no one in any other kind of authority either, in his capacity as ruler, considers or enjoins his own advantage, but the advantage of his subject, the person for whom he practices his expertise... any genuine ruler really is incapable of considering his own welfare, rather than that of his subject."

In the 1st century CE Jesus Christ says, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all" (Mark 10:43-44).

His actions spoke louder than his words when he washes his disciples' feet (John 13:13-15).

As a Christian leader I look to biblical and Christian sources as the ultimate inspiration and guide for leadership models.

Christian servant leadership involves the responsibility to work successfully with people. This requires not only compassion and courage, but skill and perception as well in dealing effectively with people who work and worship with us!

How to Meet People’s Needs As a Leader

You must understand the four major needs of people (every person) and how to meet them as a leader.

Remember, only God can fully meet people’s deepest needs, so our efforts must include Him!

Here are the 4 basic needs of people:

1. Acceptance

You need to be loved for who you are now not who you can become.

This meets the “I AM” NEED.

We need to be acknowledged and cared about as an “I”, a person
As you practice servant leadership you will need this need in people through eye contact to show affection and give affirmation; by using his/her or name and by careful touching (when appropriate). Pursue him/her and include him/her in the life and activities of the organization.

2. Security

Everyone needs to be surrounded by a safe, reliable and resourceful environment.

The addresses the “I BELONG” NEED.

The Christian servant leader meets these needs by being family, remembering in Christ we are “brother” and “sister”. By being faithful; that is, dependable to those in your area of ministry or work. And by being consistent in your behavior and moods.

...no major ups and downs
...you cannot be a lamb one day and a lion the next.

3. Identify

Everyone needs someone to understand his/her unique giftings, abilities, and standing with God and man.

This meets the “I MATTER” NEED

Servant leaders meet this need by encouraging people's expression and interaction, communicating spiritual worth and value, and exhorting people individually.

4. Purpose

Everyone needs to know that he/she has an important reason for existing and participating in life.

This relates to the “I CAN” NEED.

Keys to meeting this need include intentionally creating opportunities for participation, understanding and teaching the body concept of the church, and teaching the great truth of “Kingdom Destiny” from Romans 8:28...

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Be Jesus!

So there you have it... people have 4 basic needs:

AcceptanceI Am
SecurityI Belong
IdentifyI Matter
PurposeI Can

The steps to effective Christian servant leadership can easily be remembered... BE JESUS!

B - Recognize that leadership occurs within the boundaries of relationship.
E - We must lead by example.

J - Point people to Jesus, not ourselves.
E - Be an encourager.
S - Be sensitive.
U - Be unhurried.
S - Be strong.

Would you like to host a Biblical Leadership seminar at your church, Bible school, or Bible study group?

C. Peter Wagner

Rev. Julie and Dr. Ian Bond at the Association for Christian Educators and Administrators annual meeting with fellow keynote speaker, Dr. C. Peter Wagner.

For over three decades I have lectured on leadership and personal motivation and professional development in universities, colleges, churches, and conferences throughout the world.

We are able to conduct a seminar at your church, school, study group, or conference throughout the United States and Canada. We are also available to facilitate seminars in other countries on a more limited basis.

Please contact us.

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