Martin Luther King Junior and Mother Teresa’s theology of leadership



Influential and popular leaders across the world adopt different theologies of leadership to guide their views, perceptions and actions. Both Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. were exceptional leaders who advocated and fought for ideals meant for the betterment of the society. Whereas mother Teresa was canonized in 2016 as a saint for her efforts to help the poor, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister who advocated for the rights of African Americans. Mother Teresa and Martin Luther king, Jr. were first spiritual/church leaders before they ventured out into the practical world. This implies that a theology of leadership must strive to create a balance between the biblical narrative and the contextual application. The achievement of balance ensures that both practical leadership and ecclesiology are advanced simultaneously. In light of this, the paper will analyze and evaluate the theology of leadership discerned from Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther king jr. Further, various characteristics of leadership theories associated with the two leaders will be highlighted. Moreover, a discussion of the relevant components of the theologies of leadership that are applicable to the contemporary Christian leaders will be undertaken. The paper will conclude on the influence and impact mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr had on my personal theology of leadership.

Key Components of Each of the Individual’s Theologies of Leadership

In its basic form, the concept of Christianity is an act of followership (Huizing, 2011). Jesus Christ mentored his disciples to be like and him, and then instructed them to go out and multiply. Hence, the followers of Jesus were turned into leaders. By incorporating and applying Christian spiritual aspects and components into practical leadership, leaders are able to mentor and influence followers into becoming better Christians.

Mother Teresa who was canonized in 2016 as saint Teresa of Calcutta was a Roman Catholic believer. She founded the order of the missionaries of charity in 1950 which had an aim of helping the needy and poor people in society. As a roman catholic, mother Teresa based his leadership on love and service to others (Fry & Kriger, 2009). As a leader, she encouraged her followers/members to abide and adhere to various vows such as poverty, obedience, and chastity vows. Additionally, the love and service for others component required her followers to give and serve the poor and less privileged in society wholeheartedly. On the other hand, Martin Luther king Jr. as a religious leader mobilized African Americans to protest against the injustices the black community in America faced. He acknowledged that practical leadership must be based on the teachings and life of Jesus.  Further, Martin Luther king Jr’s theology of leadership was guided by his vision to improve and empower the lives of African Americans. According to, Martin Luther King Jr easily articulated his vision to the masses. Also, he believed that ordinary African Americans could improve their lives by working collectively (Carson, 1987).

Characteristics of Leadership Theories Observed In The Two Leaders

Mother Teresa subscribed to the theories of being-centered leadership (level II-servant leadership) and spiritual leadership. The being centered leadership theory is made up of six levels in which the higher level transcends and includes the lower levels of being. An individual progresses through the levels as he develops. Additionally, the individual will fall back to the lower levels if he/she regresses. Mother Teresa had achieved level II status of being-centered. Level II (servant leadership) focuses on the spirit. Spirit enables an individual to achieve self-transcendence in addition to enhancing the connectedness with the universe (Fry & Kriger, 2009). Acts like contemplation and meditation enables a level II individual to comprehend and discover, and refine  his/her social identity. By achieving level II of being centered leadership, mother Teresa was able to identify the ‘other’ (suffering of the poor). She became aware and more connected to the elements of the universe and thus based her leadership via love and service to the people ((Fry & Kriger, 2009). She put forth the needs and wants of the poor ahead of hers. This made her to become a servant leader. A servant leader develops a vision and goals meant to enrich and improve the lives of individuals. This eventually leads to a better and more caring world. Mother Teresa’s missionaries of charity provided help to orphans, families and people suffering from various diseases. As a servant leader, mother Teresa required her members to offer free services wholeheartedly to the less privileged. Saint Teresa of Calcutta incorporated spiritual values to improve her leadership effectiveness. Thus, she also adopted the spiritual theory of leadership.

Martin Luther king Jr. was a servant and spiritual leader. As a servant leader, martin Luther king Jr championed for the interests of the marginalized African Americans. The primary motivation of a servant leader is his/her urge and desire to serve (Russell & Stone, 2002). Carson (1987) states that King’s desire to serve made him a prominent and key figure in the civil rights movement. His ability to influence and mobilize local leaders contributed greatly to the success of the movement.

Spiritual and servant leadership theories share a wide range of attributes. The primary characteristics are similar.  Vision is a major characteristic of both servant leadership and spiritual leadership. A leader must possess the ability ‘to foresee the unforeseeable’ (Fry, 2003), Russell & Stone, 2002). Thus, a servant leader is tasked with establishing a vision for his/her organization/movement. Whereas mother Teresa had a vision of creating a more just and hospitable world through selfless giving, martin Luther king Jr had a vision of a free and empowered African American community. Other shared characteristics of Servant and leadership theories that characterized mother Teresa and martin Luther king Jr include trust, integrity, courage, honesty, compassion, patience, and humility.

Theological Components that are Applicable for Contemporary Christian Leaders

The effects of technology and globalization have had a great impact on the 21st century church. In response, Christian leaders have to adapt and modify theologies of leadership so as to be relevant in the contemporary church. Contemporary Christian leaders must include the components of vision, servant-ship, and spirituality in their theories of leadership.

The contemporary Christian leader must create a clear vision for his or her organization. A vision gives the followers or church members a sense of direction and meaning.  A vision enables the members to know the aims and goals of the church and where it wants to be in the future (Fry, 2003). Further, modern Christina leaders have to be servants. Servant leaders put the interests of their followers at the forefront. Russell & Stone (2002) argue that servant leaders are motivated by the desire to serve. As such, Christian leaders should act as servants instead of bosses. Lastly, theological leadership is guided by the component of spirituality. Christian leaders should follow the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Therefore, contemporary Christian leaders must model their teachings and life according to the person of Christ.

My Personal Theology of Leadership

My personal theology of leadership is founded and based on a Christian worldview, ethics, and value system. I view myself as a servant/spiritual leader. Both leaders (Martin Luther king Jr, and Mother Teresa) were servant and spiritual leaders. They put forward and pursued to achieve the needs of others leading to the creation of a better society. Their selfless dedication to help the less privileged in society influenced my theology of leadership to become a servant/spiritual leader.


Martin Luther king Jr. and Mother Teresa were influential leaders who had a positive impact on the world. Mother Teresa advocated and helped the poor people globally while martin luther king jr fought for the rights of African Americans in the united states. Their theologies of leadership were based on the components of spirituality, vision, and being servants. Hence, the two leaders were servant/spiritual leaders in their quest for a better society. their acts and theologies of leadership influenced my personal theology of leadership to become a servant/spiritual leader.

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  1. Carson, C. (1987). Martin Luther King, Jr.: Charismatic leadership in a mass struggle. The Journal of American History, 74(2), 448-454.
  2. Fry, L. (2003). Towards 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
  4. Huizing, R. L. (2011). Leaders from disciples: The church’s contribution to leadership development. Evangelical Review of Theology, 35(4), 333-344.
  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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