Servant Leadership in Churches

Of all the chapters that I have read this one comes close to home. I not only teach trades but I also attend and volunteer at a church. I have, in fact, been attending and volunteering at church for more than half of my life. One interesting point that I keep reminding myself of is this; this book was first published in 1977 with some of the chapters being woven together with papers, articles, and talks originating from 1973. Being 2017 – some 44 years later – I find that truly there is nothing new under the sun.

In my church experiences, I have experienced some great leadership and some not-so-great leadership. The interesting phenomenon with churches is found in the fallacy that the church is a place where leadership, especially servant leadership, is paramount. We know this is not always the case. Churches are full of people and people are fallible creatures. Churches, like other ‘institutions’, are not immune to the pitfalls and egos of leading. Although I am hesitant to define the church as an institution per se, Greenleaf’s definition is one in which I find agreement. He defines an institution as;

A gathering of persons who have accepted a common purpose, and a common discipline to guide the pursuit of that purpose, to the end that each involved person reaches higher fulfillment as a person, through serving and being served by the common venture, than would be achieved alone or in a less committed relationship.

Greenleaf himself was associated with the Quaker movement. Whether you subscribe to this movement or not, one characteristic which makes the Quakers unique is their commitment to having no paid staff. Everything they do is done by volunteers and due to the nature of volunteerism (one cannot fire a volunteer), there must be a different approach for engagement. Servant leadership just might be that approach.

Some Quotes I’ll be thinking about this week:

  • Are enough of us really listening with a readiness to respond? – pg. 235
  • If we lack competence, we had better get some. – pg. 242
  • The reality we need to face, I believe, is that it is so much easier for a person of good will to be negative than to be affirmative. – pg. 249
  • I have not come here to tell you that this will be easy – pg. 252
  • It takes little faith to take a step that involves little risk – pg. 257
  • Mediocrity is the truly diabolical force in the world – Burckhardt – pg. 259

Key Points for Servant Leadership in Churches

  • Churches are needed to serve the large numbers of people who need mediative help if their alienation is to be healed and wholeness of life achieved, but I regret that, for the most part, churches do not seem to be serving well.
  • Remember that the word ‘religion’ finds its etymology in the Latin word ‘religio’ which carries the meaning, ‘to rebind’.
  • The academic world appears to want to educate the tech expert and the intellectual who both stand off and criticize the leader – but who wants to educate the leader?

Principles for Servant Leadership in Churches

  1. Are enough of us really listening with a readiness to respond?
  2. Are we adequately reinforcing one another as seekers in order to build, in each of us, the required competence, clarity, and strength to serve?
  3. Educating the leader (or those emerging as leaders) is paramount not only for the institution but more importantly for the individual.
  4. Building a better ‘institution’ could be built in four steps – (1) goals-concept (2) leadership (3) structure (4) trustees

Lesson Points / Challenges for Servant Leadership in Churches

  • We can either let things go on (mediocrity), we can centre our concern on conformity and discipline (which leads to anarchy), or we can set out with hope and courage to build something new (accomplishment).
  • Leadership should be willing to take the risk to say – let us do this now.
  • Followership should be willing to take the risk to empower the leader and say – I will trust your insight.
  • Both require deep levels of trust and integrity.
  • Those outside can criticize, flagellate, and disrupt, but only those who are inside can build.

Wrapping up….

Allow me to end with a quote

Caring, we know, is an exacting and demanding business.

We must have the courage to not only train and build up future leaders but it is imperative that these leaders are given the opportunity to lead, maybe even experience failure, and lead again. I would agree with Greenleaf’s statement – we stand in a crisis and we can be bearers of the torch or we can carefully husband a little flame and keep it from going out a little longer.

I for one, wish to be one who bears the torch. For the servant who has the capacity to be a builder, the greatest joy in this world is in the building.



the Guild podcastComing Up on the Guild Podcast – Paul Simpson, a third generation tradesperson working and teaching his craft from Middle Earth (Kamloops, BC)