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Concept 6. Stanley's Constellation Model of Relationships

While working on methods of leadership training for Navigators in Europe, Stanley developed a model to describe the relationships a leader needs if he or she is to grow and finish their ministry years successfully. He calls it the Constellation Model. Stanley teamed up with J. Robert Clinton to write an excellent book called, Connecting. The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life. A major reason they gave for writing the book is that while many leaders start off well in their ministry, a considerable number of those do not finish well. This is true of leaders in the Bible as well as leaders in the church today. Various sins and even just a feeling that, “I have arrived and can now coast through life,” cause many leaders to either not reach their potential or to completely loose out with God. After studying the lives of many leaders, Stanley and Clinton conclude that successful leaders who do not fall almost always have a network of relationships which help support the growing leader in a number of ways.

Concerning the importance of relationships to leadership development, Stanley and Clinton write:

A growing leader needs a relational network that embraces mentors, peers, and emerging leaders in order to ensure development and a healthy perspective on his or her life and ministry. A network of vertical (mentors) and horizontal (peers or comentors) relationships is not an option for a believer who desires to grow, minister effectively and continuously, and finish well. It is imperative! In our studies of leaders, we can clearly conclude with few exceptions that those who experienced anointed ministry and finished well had a significant network of meaningful relationships that inspired, challenged, listened, pursued, developed, and held one another accountable. (Stanley, 159)

In Stanley’s Constellational Model, mentoring should ideally occur simultaneously in three directions—upward, downward, and horizontally.

Upward Mentoring. This involves finding a leader with more wisdom and experience from whom you can learn and grow. Everyone needs upward mentoring from someone who has gone before and can give direction and perspective. These relationships provide 1) strategic perspective, 2) spiritual formation and accountability, and 3) ministerial skills formation.

Downward Mentoring. A leader needs to be concerned with those who are coming up behind him or her. Downward mentoring is a primary means of helping develop the capacity, commitment, and values that will enable the next generation to serve God faithfully. Downward mentoring also has numerous benefits for the one doing the mentoring. The younger leader will challenge the more mature leader and will hold him or her accountable for what they should be doing— encouraging consistency. New leaders tend to be enthusaistic and idealistic, which can be refreshing to the older, mature leader. This enthusiasm often is caught by the older leader, resulting in renewal and a deeper commitment. These relationships are important for 1) spiritual formation and 2) ministerial skills formation.

Peer Co-Mentoring. Peer relationships are the vital horizontal dimension of the Constellation Model. These fall into two quadrants—internal and external. Internal peer relationships are with a leader’s peers within the organization. These relationships can be close as the two leaders share much in common. External peer relationships are with those on about the same leadership maturity level but who belong to other organizations. These relationships can be very beneficial because people outside your organization have a different perspective and can challenge the leader to think through issues that have been taken for granted. These relationships are important 1) for ministerial skills development and 2) for spiritual formation.

A newly emerged leader is not ready to mentor anyone. New leaders also have trouble relating to other leaders in a meaningful way. The most important thing for a new leader to have is a leader who he or she can look up to and follow (upward mentoring). But as the leader grows the full constellation of mentoring relationships becomes possible. Stanley and Clinton argue leaders who are in the middle range of their leadership development should have the full range of relationships if they wish to continue to grow. As a leader enters the later stages of their leadership, the number who can serve as upward mentors and even peer mentors shrink. The majority of their mentoring relationships will be downward mentoring.

Sometimes leaders have no mentoring relationships or only part of the constellation of mentoring relationships. This may produce various leadership aberrations:

The Lone Eagle: This leader may have started his own independent church or ministry. No one holds him accountable and he does not try to develop the leadership abilities of those around him. These people are usually task oriented and do not make the time necessary to develop close relationships with others. They tend to be workaholics and rarely take time off from their ministry. They often end by either burning out or have a moral failure. They rarely succeed in finishing their ministry well.

The Authoritarian. This leader has relationships with people under him but no one who is their equal or is above him or her. They are frequently very directive of others and may be guilty of abusing their power. They frequently have conflicts with others because they zealously try to guard their power. These kind of leaders frequently reproduce this authoritarian tendency in those they mentor.

The Elitist: This leader may have a few peer co-mentoring relationships within his organization, but not any others. He believes his organization is “the best” and is “too good” to associate with anyone else. Frequently this serves as a coping mechanism to ward off competition. This leader often doesn’t have any upward mentoring relationships and downward mentoring relationships are viewed as being unprofitable in any significant way.

The Politician. This type of leader is attracted to positional authority in their organization. They are usually aware of how to work the system for their benefit. Their relationships are almost exclusively within the organization and are made to enhance the leader’s ability to move up in the organization. They do not seek accountability and generally do not have downward or external co-mentoring relationships.


Clinton, J. Robert and Richard W. Clinton. The Mentor Handbook. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1991.

Stanley, Paul D., and J. Robert Clinton. Connecting. The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life. Colorado Springs, CO:NavPress, 1992.