Servant Leadership: Practices
“Context: Situational Leadership – Approaches
and Functions”
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 the work?”
    • “What do leaders, staff and lay, bring to the context?”
    • “What organizational and family systems frame the work?”
    • “What specific relationships and events impact the congregation context?”


  • The congregation and its servant leaders have choices to make about leadership styles. In a sense, there are two basic approaches in responding to leadership situations:
    • First: The static approach– “I have only one way to get things done, and I try to use it to lead as
      well as I can in every situation.”
    • Second: The contingency approach– “I have a natural, preferred style of leadership, but based on
      changing contexts or situations, I lead in different styles to be most effective.”
  • The “contingency approach” seems to describe best the great variety of leadership styles we find in Holy Scripture and in today’s practice of servant leadership. Let’s start with an overview of “situational
  1. Situational Leadership Approaches
    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 in SL#65.)
  • 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 Cor. 3:9

  • 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 church served?
  • 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.90-91):
    • 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 approachable.
    • Participative leadership–consults with members and takes their suggestions into consideration when making decisions.
    • Achievement-oriented leadership–emphasizes excellence in performance and displays confidence that workers will assume responsibility and accomplish challenging goals.
  • Reflection/Application:
    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?
  1. Congregational Functions/Tasks
    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 of Christ.

    . . . 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 and functions.
  • 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
    most congregations.

    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: A Graphic

  • There are four critical sets of functions. Three of them focus on the congregation, and the fourth on congregational leadership goals, skills, development, and spiritual formation.
  • 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.

functions - Copy

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 summarized here:
    • 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; 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