Leadership theories



Ministry leaders are experiencing a wide array of challenges in today’s secularized and technologically advanced society. They struggle to remain relevant while at the same time abiding by the teachings of Jesus Christ. To comprehend what or who is an effective leader, various leadership theories have been developed over the years. They attempt to explain what or which characteristics make leaders to stand out. The paper will critically analyze and evaluate three leadership theories: servant leadership, spiritual leadership, and being centered leadership. Further, similarities and differences/unique components of each of the three theories will be highlighted. A critique of the theories will be undertaken before concluding on which theories/components are relevant to Christian ministry.

Servant Leadership

Jesus tackled the servant leadership theory in Matthew (20:25-28) “you know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”. Jesus states that Christian leaders must be servants first.  Jesus therefore defines a servant leader as one who puts the interests of other before his. According to Greenleaf (1977), servant leaders prioritize the needs and wants of others over theirs. By championing for their wants first, servant leaders empower others to become more autonomous and healthier.   Various attributes and components describe a servant leader. Greenleaf (1977) came up with attributes that describe a servant leader. A servant leader has to possess initiative. He must take the lead and attempt new ventures. Second, a servant leader is visionary. He strives and works towards achieving a certain goal. As a visionary, a servant leader has the ability to motivate others towards achieving a common goal. Next, an effective servant leader listens to his followers. Through listening, he is able to comprehend the wants and needs of his/her followers. Communication is a vital attribute of any leader. A servant leader is a good communicator. Also, a servant leader possesses empathy. He understands and accepts people’s feelings. Other attributes include ability to reflect, know the unknowable, have foresight, persuade others, serves, and assume responsibility.

Spiritual Leadership

Spiritual leadership theory focuses on the spiritual component which is often ignored by other leadership theories. According to Fry (2003), spiritual leadership theory is made up of the attitudes, behaviours, and values that are vital in the survival and enhancement of an individual’s spirituality. Unlike other leadership theories, spiritual leadership theory is more holistic. It encompasses the four components of human existence: the mind (rational thought), the body (physical), spirit, and heart (emotions and feelings). An individual’s spirit motivates and encourages him/her to seek fulfillment and meaning in life. A spiritual leader prefers fulfillment and achievement to other elements such as time and money. Hence, spirituality when incorporated into an individual’s life and work leads to greater inner fulfillment and satisfaction. Leaders who are spiritual in nature are more ethical, committed and work with little fear at their workplaces. It is vital to note that spirituality is an individual’s search for purpose, meaning and relationship or link with God (Fry, 2003). Thus, spiritual leadership theory is characterized by faith, altruistic love, and vision components (Fry & Kriger, 2009). Through vision, leaders are able to clearly articulate the organization’s future and its significance. On the other hand, altruistic love is defined as the care and concern for self and others. It is synonymous with the act of selflessness. A leader espousing selflessness creates an organizational culture that allows people to bring out their negative aspects of turmoil such as anger, and failure. By expending these aspects, people are able to achieve inner peace and joy. The faith component focuses on certainty and trust. Therefore, hope enables an individual to believe that what he wishes will happen.

Being centered leadership

Being centered leadership theory focuses on the inner development of a leader in his quest to know more about God. The individual advances through five stages before becoming a being centered leader (Fry & Kriger, 2009). These levels are level V, level IV, level III, level II, and finally level I. level V is whereby the leader listens, observes and then offers solutions to problems. He urges people to take some decisions or actions so as to solve the problems. This is a Physical level. Level IV is based on imagination and creation of images. A leader at this level creates acceptable visions which consequently lead to commitment and improved performance.  The legitimacy of the leader is also accepted at this level. Leadership theories such as charismatic and transformational leadership fall under this category/level (Fry & Nisiewicz, 2013). A leader’s self-interest becomes clear at this level. Level III focuses on the soul. A person’s experiences and beliefs converge and influence who he is. The leader uses past experience drawn from the soul to apply them to future considerations for successes.  Level II focuses on the spirit. Though the spirit, a leader is able to act selflessly and extend altruism love. Leaders such as Gandhi and mother Theresa were at level II (Fry & Kriger, 2009). Lastly, Level I is the final level. It is at this level that a leader seeks life’s goals. He bases his leadership on his relationship with God.

Similarities of the Three Theories

The three theories posses some similarities. First, they try to define an effective leader, his attributes and characteristics. Secondly, the theories have a spiritual component. Under the being centered leadership, a level I leader strives to know God while spiritual leadership theory is based or rotates around the spiritual component. The servant leadership theory is based on Jesus’s definition of leaders. Jesus stated that leaders have to be servants first.

Components that are Unique to each Theory

Whereas the servant leadership theory is centered on the follower, both the spiritual leadership and being centered leadership theories are centered on the leader. Additionally, the servant leadership theory puts little emphasis on thee spiritual component unlike the spiritual leadership theory. On the other hand, being centered leadership theory ignores the spiritual component in some levels.

Critique of Application to Christian Ministry

The three theories are applicable to today’s Christian ministry. Christian leaders are servants in nature (Greenleaf, 1977). They humble themselves to serve others. Further, they are godly leaders. Godly leaders are guided by ethical principles and God’s teachings.  Character is a vital element that distinguishes Christian leaders from non-Christian leaders. Leaders with a godly character are able to lead the Christian ministry. Also, all the theories state that an effective leader is visionary in nature. A leader has a sense of direction and the ability to influence his/her followers to follow him/her. Therefore, the leader ensures that all people involved with the church are moving in one direction. Hence, the three theories are applicable and vital to the modern church ministry.

Which Theories/Components are Relevant to Christian Ministry

The servant leadership theory is more applicable to the 21st century church ministry. This is primarily because it was a model encouraged by Jesus Christ (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus Christ urged his disciples to be servants first instead of being lords. A servant leader cares for the well-being of the church and followers first before satisfying his/her needs. The servant leadership attributes and components such as showing initiative, being visionary, and being able to listen and communicate effectively contribute greatly to the growth and continuation of the church (Russell & Stone, 2002). Whereas the being centered leadership and spiritual leadership theories are applicable to the church ministry, they are often complex and difficult to follow or achieve. For example, iconic leaders such as mother Theresa and Gandhi were only able to achieve level II of being centered leadership theory (Fry & Kriger, 2009). To tackle the challenges associated with the 21st century church, a leader must possess the servant leadership theory attributes or components.

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  1. Fry, F. W., & Nisiewicz, M. S. (2013). Maximizing the triple bottom line through spiritual leadership. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  2. Fry, L. (2003). Toward a theory of spiritual leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 14(6), 693-727.
  3. Fry, L., & Kriger, M. (2009). Towards a theory of being-centered leadership: Multiple levels of being as context for effective leadership. Human Relations, 62(11), 1667-1696. Doi: 10.1177/0018726709346380 http://iispiritualleadership.com/wp-content/uploads/docs/SLTBeingCentHumRelFinal1.pdf
  4. Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York, NY: Paulist Press.
  5. Russell, R. F., & Stone, A. G. (2002). A review of servant leadership attributes: Developing a practical model. Leadership & Organizational Development Journal,23(3/4), 145-157
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