Servant Leadership: Practices
Conduct: Three Interactive Leadership Models

by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1:3
Charting Your Course

As a practicing servant leader today, you make choices about changing leadership as the situation changes–and you do so quite often. My home church pastor, Rev. Bill James Bell, was an able and faithful minister of change. Because I was part-time, teenage custodian, I knew a little about his schedule and leadership.
One Saturday, it went something like this:

A.M. – A planning breakfast deacon’s meeting
A.M. – Supervision of custodian (namely, Lloyd Elder)
Noon – Conducting a small church wedding
2:00 P.M. – Memorial service of a church member
Late Afternoon – Evangelistic/enlistment visitation
Evening – preached a revival service at a neighboring church

In the larger scheme of things, the effective minister changes the model (pattern) of leadership as the ministry situation changes.

In charting your course, three proven contemporary models of leadership are complementary and interactive in the practice of servant leadership.
“Conduct,” expressed in styles and models, becomes two sides of the same coin:

  • Style refers to the pattern of behavior and manner of life customary in a leader’s performance of functions and tasks in changing situations. These are presented in SL#67,
    #68, and #69.
  • Model refers to a consistent shape, pattern, and process in the practice of a leader’s influencing the achievement of organizational mission and goals. An understanding of style and model is often best seen as complimentary parts of the whole. Presented here are three contemporary
    leadership models(there are others) through which you may practice servant leadership today:

    Model #1: Mission/Vision-Centered Leadership usually is highly participative and includes elements of other models–prophetic, charismatic, and transformational; it works with congregational issues and its suborganizations.
    It also moves toward intentional results. (this article–SL#70)

    Model #2: Coaching/Team Leadership usually ranges from directive to participative styles; it expresses pastoral, equipping, “frontline” and educational models. The coaching model works naturally toward the other two. Model #1 and Model #3

    Model #3: Management/Administrative Leadership is often directive in seeking to be efficient and high-task performance; it works through structures, policies, programs, people, and other resources. (see SL#72)

    Note: Out-of-Bounds
    Two other leadership styles are reported but not recommended: “Controlling” and “Retreating.” They are “out-of-bounds” when they become too much of a good thing. Directive moves toward “controlling,” even over-management; “participating,” when over-emphasized, becomes “retreating,” even hands-off dreamers.


Model #1 Mission/Vision-Centered Leadership

Source: This model is abstracted from SkillTrack Vol. #2 – Mission-Centered Leadership: Translating Vision Into Reality by James D. Williams and Lloyd Elder, published by the Moench Center for Church Leadership, Belmont University, 1999, 2004.

Summary: Model Objective and Content: The mission-centered leadership model is a significant expression of CLGrid (8,8) –Transformative Style (see p.54)– and of the highest levels of congregational servant leadership.
Mission-centered leadership is the capacity to lead the congregation:

  • to establish a kingdom-size mission as its true center;
  • to assess its actual situation, opportunities, and challenges;
  • to cast vision, objectives, and goals toward the future; and
  • to empower the members to translate vision into reality.
  • Warren Bennis–“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
  • Max DePree–“Every organization, in order to be healthy, to have renewal processes, to survive, has to be in touch with reality. I happen to believe that the first duty of a leader is to define reality.”
  • Stephen R. Covey–“A mission statement that results from broad-based involvement and that is based on principles [is like] a compass needed in the hands of every associate.”
  • What is at the center of your church? That is the impelling question. When kingdom mission starts and stays at the core, servant leadership impacts every other alternative.

1. A Mission-Centered Planning Model
A mission-centered model of planning moves the church from vision to reality (see Steps in Planning graph later in this article).

  • Mission Statement – used synonymously with purpose, describes what the church was designed to do; it describes why the church exists through the ages.



  • Vision Statement – states what the church will do about its mission in space and time, usually representing the dream and prophetic voice of church leadership interacting with the congregation.
  • Situation – assessing the factors that characterize the environment of the church and its community, including external information (demographics and changing social structures of the community) and internal information (statistical data, profile information on membership); also identifying the values and aspirations of the congregation, accurate future forecasting, and planning assumptions.
  • Direction/Action – objectives, goals, and strategies flowing out of the mission/vision. Objectives are broad outcome statements that identify priorities and directions for an organization. Goals are more specific, precise, measurable statements of intention. Strategies describe the most effective action steps to achieving goals.
  • Implementation – the process of putting action plans into place, describing in specific terms what we plan to do, when, who will have responsibility for it, and what resources (fiscal and human) are necessary to carry it through to successful completion. The steps for implementation have to do with chrategizing, scheduling, recruiting and assigning, resourcing, and monitoring.
  • Results/Reality – Mission-centered leadership seeks real results, not merely activities. All good planning seeks to evaluate outcomes, or “how well we have done.”


2. Mission: Purposes of the Church

  • To Worship – A host of passages makes it clear that the wellspring of the church is worship. “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” –Eph. 3:21
  • To Fellowship – The NT word koinonia implies that “all” the saints are bound together by the Spirit in love and unity with one another. Eph. 3:18 provides a wonderful contextual phrase . . . “with all the saints.”
  • To Disciple (Educate) – This cardinal purpose of the church emerges directly from the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).
  • To Minister – Unless the church cares actively and deeply for people–all people–it cannot be effective in witnessing to the power of Christ’s redeeming love.
  • To Evangelize (missionize) – At the heart of the Great Commission, is the imperative of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). There is no boundary that Jesus does not cross, nor want His followers to penetrate.

3. Developing a Mission Statement
The mission of the church is the living out of its nature; it is doing what Christ would do if He were here in the flesh. When members have reached consensus on what God wants them to do, then everyone can begin to say, “This is my church and this is my contribution to its mission.” Six steps lead the church to develop, redefine, or renew its mission statement:

  • Search the Scriptures – begin with biblical guidance.
  • Ask and answer key mission questions of the church.
  • Collect and tabulate responses from members.
  • Write a single-sentence mission statement; a concise yet comprehensive statement that raises the following questions: Is it biblical? Is it specific?
    Is it memorable? Is it measurable?
  • Push the mission statement into your future; it may emerge as your church vision.
  • Adopt, communicate, and celebrate your church’s mission statement. Let it become a watchword and a commitment for the whole church.

4. Casting and Communicating Vision
Mission-centered leadership develops and communicates a motivating, energizing vision. Guidelines include:

  • Bathe in prayer: “What is God’s vision for us?”
  • Create a vision, put it into clear words.
  • Communicate that vision to others (small and large groups).
  • Remember that vision always involves a participating team.
  • Captivate others by using metaphors, parables and pictures.
  • Build support for the vision; repeat the vision over and over.
  • Coach others to create commitment to the vision.
  • Use emotionally charged words to elicit excitement.
  • Secure both organizational and personal acceptance.
  • Keep clear the mission and vision.

5. Assessing the Congregation’s

Leaders know or want to know answers to key questions:

  • How is God at work in us now; wants us to do?
  • Where has the congregation been; is headed?
  • What are the memorable stories from the church’s history?
  • What has been accomplished; in ministry areas?
  • What are the congregation’s values; its culture?
  • What part of the community is the church reaching or not?
  • What are the environmental factors that the church faces?
  • What are the demographic, economic, political, legal, and ethical forces at work in the church community?
  • What steps should the church take to serve the community?
  • What is necessary to create a “community of commitment” that will live out its core values, dreams, and goals?

6. Direction: Action Planning
Objectives should be written for each of the five church functions, answering six strategic questions:

  • Why? – How does this proposed ministry/action plan advance the congregation toward its mission/vision?
  • Who? – What publics/groups within the church and community will be involved and impacted by the ministry action plan?
  • What? – What measurable, beneficial impact will the ministry/action plan have on the church, community, world?
  • When? – When–time urgency–is the implementation of the ministry/action plan, and what is its degree of risk?
  • Where? – Where should this ministry action plan be implemented?
  • How? – What skilled leadership will be required and how much will it cost to train and deploy them?

7. Implementing the Vision Toward Reality
Keeping the mission/vision clearly in mind, a good implementation plan includes:

  • Strategizing – “What actions will we take?”
  • Scheduling – “When will each activity take place?”
  • Recruiting and Assigning – “Who is responsible to see that it takes place?”
  • Resourcing – “What are the equipment, space, money, and worker needs to carry out the activity?”
  • Monitoring – “How will we check up to be sure the plan is functioning properly, with results, and on time?”

8. Establishing a Sound Financial System
Visionary plans cannot be implemented without funding. “Can we afford it?” “How can we afford it?” “Can we afford not to do it?” Steps: 1) promotes biblical stewardship; 2) establishes ministry priorities; 3) budgets and spends wisely; 4) practices controls; 5) chooses capable financial leaders.

9. Providing Adequate Facilities
A mission-centered church seeks to provide adequate space and facilities for new and expanded ministries. Space should be planned, affordable, balanced, and used efficiently.

Conclusion: Measuring Results Against Plans
Evaluation is the “reality check,” measuring performance against plans, seeking not merely activity but “real results”– such measuring is a dynamic process guided by knowledgeable people, with proper standards. Evaluation helps move the church from survival, to success, to significance.
That’s “translating vision into reality.”


Close this window 

© 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