Servant Leadership: Practices
“Practices Overview: Charting Your Course Today”
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 1:3
Charting Your Course

Servant leaders today have extraordinary challenges and exciting opportunities to make choices about life, ministry, and world citizenship. The objective of this article, and the subsequent series, is to help with those choices:

To enable you to chart your own course in the practice of servant leadership toward achieving kingdom goals by examining the content of servant leadership, the context of its challenges and situations, and its conduct expressed in contemporary styles and models.–Lloyd Elder

As a series overview on charting your course today, this article will introduce key biblical texts, the servant leadership scope, a visual of servant leadership in practice. Max DePree in Leadership Jazz (p. 10) succinctly lays down a challenge for all us in the ministry of Christ: “The servanthood
of leadership needs to be felt, understood, believed, and practiced if we are to be faithful.”

1. Key Biblical Texts
These biblical texts and situations may vary, but each one could contribute to “charting your own course” as a servant leader for today’s church and world.

  • Proverbs 16:9 – “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
  • Acts 20:24 – “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”
  • 2 Timothy 4:7 – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
  • Hebrews 12:1-2 – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
  • Reflect on these and your favorite texts; they may give you a solid basis for your personal planning.

2. Charting Your Course contemplates the scope and builds on two other sets of articles in this series on “your journey toward servant leadership.” How do they intersect in your path?

  • Principles: explores contemporary understanding and application of leadership and servant leadership; biblical concepts are also examined.
  • Pathways: calls upon us to follow biblical patterns of servant leadership.
  • Practices: expresses consistently the content, context, and conduct of servant leadership through styles, models, and approaches learned from Holy Scripture and contemporary experiences.
  • “Charting” means planning a starting point, checkpoints along the way, and a destination, including: to examine, understand, choose, adapt, arrange, map out, schedule, and commit to travel your journey of servant leadership.
  • “Your Course” emphasizes that you have work to do and choices to make about the leadership course you travel (your direction, your unfolding path, your struggle, and advancement).

3. Servant Leadership Practices–A Visual representing the fundamental movement of this course of study inviting you along the journey:
the following visual makes its own charting message, so consider these elements:

  • The 3-D oval plane indicates that any follower of Christ, or a team, has the potential for practicing servant leadership in the congregation and within his or her world.
  • Content answers the question “what?” (see
    SL#62 and #63);
    servant leadership is the essential, qualitative nature and purpose flowing into every situation, role or task. Other terms: character, essence, substance, philosophy.
  • Context answers the questions “when?” and “where?”; a servant leader examines the leadership/congregational situation before taking action (see SL#64, #65, #66). Other terms: conditions, contingencies, elements, framework.
  • Conduct answers the questions “who?” and “how?”; a servant leader (or team) chooses leadership styles/models to determine the most effective way to practice servant leadership (see SL#67–#72). Other terms: example, behavior, pattern, approach, method, form, shape.
  • “Kingdom goals” answers the question “why?”; achieving kingdom goals is the reason for leading like kingdom citizens and servants.
  • The Servant Leader: as a follower of Christ you are the facilitating, thinking, choosing, serving center of the process. Review this graph at the beginning of each article in this series. Does it convey a useful way to “install” servant leadership into your church ministry leadership?


4. Just Who Is A Leader?
How would you respond to that question? If you ask members in the pew or “scholars” in the study, you would receive a wide diversity of answers; some do not represent the essence of being a servant leader.
For example, a leader is:

  • one who rules, commands, takes charge, gets things done;
  • one who goes out ahead to show the way, one who leads, guides;
  • one who has influence or power with or over others;
  • one who leads by example, integrity, and consistent behavior;
  • one who uses authority to persuade others rather than power to coerce;
  • one who empowers, motivates, and organizes people to achieve a common objective;
  • one who provides ethical or moral guidance to others;
  • one who embraces being, behavior, and action in the balance of life.

Reflection: These lessons should help to prepare you to develop your own understanding of servant leadership and shape it into statements and practices. What would you add to these descriptions?


5. Charting your course could profit from valuable insights provided in “The Attributes of Leadership: A Checklist,” (Leadership Jazz, Max DePree, pp. 218-225).

Max DePree readily confesses that friends call him a man for many lists. But as he provides this list, he also acknowledges that his–or his checklist–is never complete. “One quality of leadership always implies another,” he affirms and launches into his own effort to describe the attributes of leadership:

  • Integrity in behavior
  • Vulnerability, leaders trust others
  • Discernment, detection of nuance and perception of change
  • Awareness of the human spirit
  • Courage in relationship
  • Sense of humor
  • Intellectual energy and curiosity
  • Respect for the future, regard for the present, understanding of the past
  • Predictability as human beings
  • Breadth of vision
  • Comfort with ambiguity
  • Presence: be patient, listen, follow up

6. Practicing Servant Leadership – Today:

  • Begins with the most significant of all decisions–to follow Christ as Savior and Lord.
  • Is for every one of us as followers of Christ–being disciples and servants before leaders; that is the model that Jesus set for us.
  • Is not merely a soundly welcomed and contemporary movement but is at the heart of the biblical concept (Mark 10: 39-49); it is seen in prophets, apostles, pastors, teachers, missionaries and an unnamed host of followers of Christ.
  • Is for the churchplace, the workplace and the homeplace–in every situation.
  • Is desperately needed in the world today not simply as a buzz-word but as an authentic way of life; some companies have made it their standard practice.
  • Is a choice among available, well-known alternative leadership models/styles.
  • Is for every place of service and leadership in the congregation, in every role and position; among volunteers, support staff and pastoral staff.
  • Is for those who bake the bread, carry the water, keep the nursery, chair the committees, preach the Word, teach the class, sing the songs or go to the “uttermost.”
  • Continues for a lifetime until there is from the Christ a “well done, good and faithful servant. . . ”– Matthew 25:21
  • Is for your life and contribution inside your family, whatever shape and size.

7. Servant Leaders and the Congregation
Servant leaders make special contributions inside the life and ministry of a congregation. The following ten charting questions are asked and answered inside a three-fold context:

  • The Lordship of Christ over the congregation.
  • The systems and context of the congregation.
  • The leader’s function and service, more than title or position.

Now let me close this article with ten charting questions stimulated by Peter Drucker and other experts in the field:

Ten Leadership Charting Questions
for the Congregation and its Leadership Teams
1. What is your mission/vision? your business?
2. Who are your constituencies? your stakeholders?
3. What are their valued needs and wants?
4. What are your ministry/service strengths?
5. What new opportunities does your church have?
6. What weaknesses, threats, obstacles do you face?
7. What are your available resources for the task?
8. What are your congregation’s strategic priorities?
9. What is your plan for action? short, & long-range?
10. How will you know if you achieve success?

Keep the end of your journey forever in view: “I have finished the race [course], I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). From servant leadership (content) to congregational leadership situation (context), to styles and models (conduct): as you chart your course, keep your focus on leading in order to achieve kingdom mission and goals. Write up your own “trip-tic” mile posts in your journey toward servant leadership.

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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