How to Uphold Servant Leadership in Church: 3 Strategies

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Servant Leadership" by Robert Greenleaf. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to build a servant leadership church? What level of social responsibility are churches expected to uphold?

Churches provide a safe space for people to attend, so they need to fulfill certain responsibilities. Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf provides a few ways servant leaders in churches can create a community for their members.

Keep reading to learn more about the role of servant leadership in churches.

3 Pieces of Advice for Churches

According to Greenleaf, the social responsibility of servant leadership churches is to unite spiritual seekers with spiritual visionaries who can help them grapple with relevant moral issues. He uses the Quaker leader George Fox as an exemplar, arguing that Fox successfully convinced other Quakers of the spiritual importance of treating people lovingly in all parts of life—which contributed to the Quakers’ push for gender equality, the abolition of slavery, and fair business dealings.

(Shortform note: One of the Quakers’ fundamental beliefs is the spiritual equality of all humans—in fact, George Fox started the Quaker movement in part because he rejected the idea that some people, like priests or members of the upper class, were more spiritually important or closer to God. Because of this belief, many Quakers in history became social activists—for example, American Quakers were instrumental in the fight to get rid of capital punishment and reform prisons, and American and British Quaker societies were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their anti-violence efforts. Quakers continue to be devoted to activist causes like climate change today.)

To fulfill this social responsibility, Greenleaf argues that churches must accomplish three things:

Materially and spiritually improve churchgoers’ quality of life. He argues that churches lose their ability to influence people’s behavior when they merely preach about religious rules without actually meeting the needs of those they claim to serve. For example, if a church teaches that you should care for the sick but doesn’t help its own congregants when they get sick, they’re likely to be seen as hypocritical and lose followers.

(Shortform note: According to some studies, attending religious services improves your quality of life by strengthening your relationship with a higher power, imparting morals on you and your children, and providing comfort during hardship. Research on the success of Christian churches suggests that to capitalize on these benefits and grow your religion’s membership, you should introduce others to your higher power via evangelism, ensure that sermons are of moral relevance to members of all ages, and encourage members to volunteer within the church and the larger community.)

Train spiritual visionaries to tap into their intuition and lead the way forward. Greenleaf believes that there always have been and always will be a number of spiritual visionaries in the world—these are people who have intuitive wisdom about what needs to happen for the world to heal. If churches proactively teach future visionaries to trust their own intuition and equip them with leadership skills, they’ll become more effective spiritual leaders.

(Shortform note: Some psychologists suggest that you can learn to tap into your intuition by journaling regularly, practicing meditation, living in the moment, being curious about the world around you, listening to others with an open mind, and paying attention to how your body feels in a given moment.)

Teach spiritual seekers to become servants. Greenleaf says that serving others fulfills an innate spiritual need—uniting you with others in the work of healing the world—and that’s what people are looking for when they join a religion. Teaching seekers to serve also fulfills the church’s larger purpose: When churchgoers go about their day-to-day life with the intention of serving others, they carry out the healing work of the religion outside of the church’s walls—for example, in their business dealings.

(Shortform note: Research suggests that even if you’re not religious, serving others is fulfilling because it makes life more meaningful by strengthening your connection to others—since humans are an interdependent, social species, connection is a basic psychological need. When you help someone else, you reinforce that connection and therefore your sense of belonging—your life seems to matter more when your actions improve others’ lives.)

How to Uphold Servant Leadership in Church: 3 Strategies

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Here's what you'll find in our full Servant Leadership summary:

  • Why modern institutions fail to meet the needs of those they serve and employ
  • Why institutions must learn to prioritize the needs of their followers
  • How you can learn to become a servant leader

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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