A Report on Servant Leadership in The United Methodist Church
By, G. R. Bud West and Jessica Dearth
Copyright © 2014 by the authors. All rights reserved.
During the recent past, some United Methodists have taken issue with the established and longstanding doctrines and the guiding principles, processes, and procedures prescribed by traditions and hierarchy. While some members have found the center of denominational polity as appropriate; others have found it too progressive, and still others have found it too liberal. However, regardless of the sides of the current controversies with which members have aligned, the need for United Methodists to employ Christ-centered leadership has arguably never proven greater.
The Book of Discipline and other guiding instructions of The United Methodist Church have prescribed the use of servant leadership, as the preferred leadership style for leaders at every level, throughout the denomination. Well-known people in other denominations have likewise, both formally and informally confirmed the importance of adopting servant leadership as the go to style for their members. For example, when addressing the Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, in 2011, Pope Benedict emphasized the importance of servant leadership. The institute reported him as having said: "that from Jesus' perspective, authority means humble service — and that’s a message that continues to be valid in the church today — 'especially for those who have the task of guiding the people of God.'" Similarly, in the working paper "Theological Education for the Anglican Communion" written in 2003 and forwarded by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Cantuar, the authors suggested that the use of servant leadership answers a biblical call to lay ministers, ministers. and bishops alike. In 2011, the now president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page, wrote an article in SBCLife that discussed the fundamental importance for Christian leaders to adopt the Christ-like character of servant-hood; and the celebrated Southern Baptist pastor, Rick Warren, has similarly implied and specifically described the important value associated with implementing servant leadership. And the list goes on, with high ranking executives from just about all of the main stream denominations, ranging from Evangelicals to Pentecostals to Orthodox, who have embraced servant leadership and the values that support it
Of course, people who oppose the concept of servant leadership have also spoken out. For example, Andrey Shirin, the director of transformational leadership and an assistant professor of divinity at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies wrote a contrary opinion of servant leadership. In her writing, Shinn stated her doubts about the relationship of servant leadership to biblical scriptures and she suggested that the constructs that support servant leadership have not and cannot alone, effectively answer the complex challenges found in organizations today. Similarly, in her 2001 article on her assessment of servant leadership at an institution of higher education, Adrianna Kezar suggested that the administrators' application of servant leadership perpetuated a participative leadership style that resulted in feelings of coercion on the parts of some faculty members. She also found that this coercion led to further problems associated with organizational fit; primarily based on a lack of awareness of power, apparently on the parts of everyone involved. However, regardless of these and other, similar arguments; no one has yet proven, by any valid measures that the factors supporting servant leadership represent non-biblical principles or that servant leadership will not provide leaders with better and more equitable ways to lead people, than any of the other popular leadership styles currently in use.
What is Servant Leadership?
In our research, one of the biggest challenges that we faced included trying to determine what the term servant leadership actually means to United Methodists. We found several instructions that required members to utilize servant leadership and that also provided ideas of the generally beneficial results that people should expect by using it. However we could find no source references that included any comprehensive definitions, descriptions, or explanations of servant leadership in any of the authoritative or administrative documents that span The United Methodist Church. It seems likely that this lack of clear guidance has led to some confusion about desired and expected leader behaviors and outcomes. After all, through the ages, it has usually proven difficult for leaders or anyone else to navigate well in uncharted territory. On the other hand, most of the factors that authors have included in their servant leadership components lists include those that most Christians, through the ages, have seemed to promote -- either explicitly or implicitly. Representative examples include factors listed in the works of Larry Spears, Kathleen Patterson, and Don Page and Paul Wong. Specifically, Spears said that servant leadership consists of: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. Patterson suggested that servant leadership consists of: agapao love, humility, altruism, vision, trust, empowerment, and service. According to Don Page and Paul Wong, the 12 factors that represent servant leadership, include: integrity, humility, servant-hood, caring for others, empowering others, developing others, visioning, goal-setting, leading, modeling, team-building, and shared decision-making 
Other authors have reduced and otherwise manipulated these factors and other, similar factors (e.g., Dirk Dierendonck and Inge Nuijten; and Sen Sedjaya, James Sarros, and Joseph Santora; among others); while still other authors have added words or phrases to provide clarity, where they thought some confusion might have otherwise existed. Two such authors have included the team of John Barbuto and Daniel Wheeler. Barbuto and Wheeler expanded Spears' ten factors by adding the term calling to the list. They then reduced their investigative tool to five categories, including: altruistic calling, emotional healing, wisdom, persuasive mapping, and organizational stewardship. Additionally, their instrument serves as the only validated survey tool that researchers can use, regarding servant leadership, that allows for the measurement of both the self-perceptions of leaders and the perceptions of followers about their leaders.
In 2014 we finished conducting a servant leadership study in The United Methodist Church. This study included over 300 congregation members and over 300 pastors, all volunteers, from across more than 40 of the United States. Using Barbuto and Wheeler's servant leadership instrument, we asked pastors to rate themselves and we asked congregation members to rate their pastors and themselves. Women represented the congregation members with about a 3 to 1 ratio and men represented the pastors with about a 2 to 1 ratio; and the participants in both groups reported having an average age of 55+ years.
Generally, both pastors and congregation members rated the pastors at or below (median) average in four of the five categories measured; with both groups only rating organizational stewardship as higher than average. Similarly, congregation members rated themselves below average in the same four categories as the pastors. These results seem to represent a cause for concern. For over five years, United Methodists have agreed in their doctrinal statements and in committee meetings that resulted in the development of those statements that pastors and all others who aspire to lead should employ servant leadership. The concept of servant leadership and its supporting characteristics have received relatively wide publication, in both religious and secular professional journals and in the popular press, for well over ten years (even though some people might likely argue that in any case, servant leadership really represents nothing more than the typical leadership behaviors that Christians have expected of each other, throughout the ages). Additionally, the participants performed their ratings by responding to items that plainly asked about specific behaviors that directly support servant leadership -- and not about the five categories, per se. Therefore, based on these premises, it appears that within The United Methodist Church, a gap exists between the current state and the desired state of servant leadership. It further appears that this gap probably represents one of the fundamental leadership concerns that reaches across The United Methodist Church; at least in the United States.
This gap in leadership could stem from a lack of definition, a lack of appropriate training, a lack of prioritization, a lack of accountability, or a combination of all of these. Holding people accountable for successfully implementing servant leadership only works (equitably) if those people first receive the appropriate authority to make that happen. In this case, the authority presents in the form of expected leadership behaviors. Without knowing and understanding those expectations, people will not generally have what they need, to establish priorities or to otherwise take the appropriate levels of responsibility, to successfully accomplish the desired goal. Additionally, for many people, becoming a servant leader requires a lifestyle change, because, arguably, servant leadership requires "right reasons" and not just "right actions." Lifestyle changes generally require changes in values and in deep seated, cultural assumptions. Therefore, relatively quick changes usually only result from intense training. For example, the different branches of the military use "boot camps" and officer candidate schools to "kick start" the associated, required lifestyle changes. Some religious orders use seminaries in much the same way, to accomplish changes in their students toward divinity. However, some Christians have apparently developed a belief that good leadership should somehow come naturally, through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. At the most, they seem to feel that learning leadership should not require any more effort than having prospective leaders pray and read the latest books by John Maxwell or Ken Blanchard. Certainly, any individual can successfully lead in particular, short term efforts, without necessarily having to first experience intense training. However, Jesus modeled His servant leadership 24/7 for three years for the disciples. In doing so, He shared with them what to do, but He also showed them how to do it. This enabled them to lead effectively, in broad ranges of situations, for the remainders of their lives. Can United Methodists really expect to achieve similar results through applying less effort? Finally, it will likely prove impossible to train leaders and potential leaders to embrace and implement a common and unified understanding of servant leadership across The United Methodist Church, unless and until United Methodists define, describe, and explain an accepted meaning of the concept: servant leadership.
Jessica Dearth serves as an independent researcher, consultant, and speaker, primarily on the topic of servant leadership. As a Methodist parishioner, she has also served in various lay leadership roles for several years. Ms. Dearth holds a Bachelor degree, summa cum laude, in Organizational Leadership, from Regent University and she currently resides with her handsome husband and beautiful children in New Mexico.
 Retrieved at: http://www.yeshualeader.com/Index/PopeBenedictemphasizes/tabid/371/Default.aspx
 Retrieved at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/theological/teac/docs/briefs080206.pdf
 Retrieved at: http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2011/10/Sla7.asp
 Retrieved at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-warren-launches-coalition-to-combat-five-global-giants-32537/; and Retrieved at: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=9000
 Retrieved at: http://www.ethicsdaily.com/servant-leadership-is-it-inherently-biblical--cms-21560
 Kezar, Adrianna. "Investigating Organizational Fit in a Participatory Leadership Environment." Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management 23, no. 1 (May 2001): 85-101.
 Spears, Larry. "Tracing the Growing Impact of Servant Leadership, in Insights on Servant Leadership: Service, Stewardship, Spirit, and Servant-Leadership, ed. Larry Spears (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998), 1-12.
 Kathleen Patterson, "Servant Leadership: A Theoretical Model" (PhD diss., Regent University, 2003).
 Retrieved at: http://www.twu.ca/academics/graduate/leadership/servant-leadership/conceptual-framework.pdf
 Dierendonck, Dirk, and Inge Nuijten. "The Servant Leadership Survey: Development and Validation of a Multidimensional Measure." Journal of Business & Psychology 26, no. 3 (2011): 249-267.
 Sendjaya, Sen, James C. Sarros, and Joseph C. Santora. "Defining and Measuring Servant Leadership Behaviour in Organizations." Journal of Management Studies 45, no. 2 (2008): 402-424.
 Barbuto, John E., ,Jr and Daniel W. Wheeler. "Scale Development and Construct Clarification of Servant Leadership." Group & Organization Management 31, no. 3 (06, 2006): 300-26,
 For more information on this, see: Schein, Edgar H. "Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture." Sloan Management Review 25, no. 2 (1984): 3-16.