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Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

God has an ultimate agenda for His people that brings glory to His name and joy to their hearts. He doesn’t have to, but He most often uses human leaders to unravel His plans.

Much like today, there were leaders throughout the Bible who used their positions of power to abuse and exploit people for their own gain. And, much like today, there were leaders throughout the Bible who used their position as for good. Nehemiah is one of the most prominent examples of spiritual leadership that viewed authority as God-given privilege — a responsibility, really — not a mandated right. Nehemiah held a job as the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11), and later as governor (5:14), and used his position of influence to carry out God’s agenda. Warren Wiersbe’s strikes the heart of leadership challenges when he writes, “In our day of public scandals in almost every area of life…how refreshing it is to meet a man like Nehemiah who put serving the people ahead of gain for himself.”

Simply put: we need leaders like Nehemiah. He’s a model worth emulating and one that we should pay close attention to.

Here are five qualities that Nehemiah possessed, though the list could be much longer. As you read through, take notice that these are not things a leader is naturally born with. These are qualities that every leader in the body of Christ can strive for and obtain by the grace of God.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer

After learning about Jerusalem’s distress, Nehemiah’s response proves much about his leadership. He gave himself to “fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (1:4). Nehemiah was no priest but sought the Lord on behalf of the people with the priestly passion (1:5-11). When we come face-to-face with troubling circumstances, our first response says a great deal about our leadership aptitude. Do our knees hit the floor with a sense of ownership and confidence? Do our hearts break for those in bondage? A passionate prayer life is a mighty weapon in ministry.

Nehemiah was a prudent planner

Nehemiah has close access to the king and when an opportunity presented itself he was ready with an answer. When the king offered him the chance to make a request, he wasn’t at a loss for words. In fact, he prayed (of course!), then came to the king with clear plans for action and was shown favor by the king (2:1-9). How many times do we ask God for big things but our plans are nothing more than a meandering daydream? It’s been well said that goals without a deadline are just dreams. Nehemiah wasn’t praying for God to open doors for his barely-vetted idea. He was prudent, planned, and ready when the answer was, “Yes!”

Nehemiah was a confident motivator

When rallying the officials concerning the rebuilding of the wall, Nehemiah explained the dire situation, then called for progress! He motivated them by explaining the favor God had shown them in opening the doors for a rebuild (2:17-18). The result of his prayers, his plans, and call to action? “Then they said, ‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work” (2:18). For all his ability to motivate, not everyone was impressed. In the face of opposition and ridicule, Nehemiah spilled the secret to his confidence declaring, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (2:20). His constant call was to “remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (4:14). Within the church today, leaders have the opportunity to motivate people to take on big challenges for the glory of God and the good of His people. Motivating them with divine confidence is critical to moving the ball downfield.

Nehemiah was focused on giving God glory

When the wall was completed, it wasn’t said the Nehemiah was the greatest in the land. He didn’t stand and testify of his strength, wisdom, and might. Nehemiah has continually testified about what God had done and the result was this: “And it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16). Now that is a leader who has created a culture of glorifying God!

Nehemiah was committed to obedience

At the end of the book of Nehemiah, we find that the devotion of the people and their obedience to God had faded. Nehemiah quickly stepped in and called for the people to remember the sins of Solomon (13:26) and turn in obedience to God. Ever the watchman on the wall and the defender of God’s commands, Nehemiah refused to back down when it came to pleasing God. As leaders, we can grow exhausted in our efforts to call people into obedience to God. Sometimes it may seem like all a leader is doing is policing people’s bad behavior. Yet, after all he’d faced, how was it that Nehemiah still found the strength to take on another course correcting challenge? He was serving an audience of One. In the end, he declared, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:31). A leader stays committed to even the hardest parts of our task by remembering Who we serve and why we serve Him. Nehemiah modeled what it means to obey God for the right reasons and stay focused on what matters most.

May a generation of Nehemiah’s stand tall in the midst of great challenges; determined to do great things for the glory of a great God.