Our Bible Study leader, Barry, prepared this for our Bible Study. I thought this is a very relevant and practical guide to all Christian leaders. May this be a blessing to everyone who reads this.
Introduction: There are many books on leadership. Do you know that the Bible is one of them? It tells of leaders used by God and gives both instructive and narrative guidelines. Famous examples include Moses, Joshua, David and of course, Jesus. Today we will take a closer look at one leader who faced a huge task amidst malicious opposition.
Objective: Learn leadership principles from a Biblical character
Approach: Lessons from Nehemiah
Why?: Babylon conquered the Jewish nation and carried many Jews into exile. Babylon itself was conquered by Persia. An exiled Jew, Nehemiah, served as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes.
Nehemiah had come to hear that his native Jerusalem, specifically its walls, were in ruins. He therefore organized a reconstruction effort. How he was able to marshal the resources and people to accomplish this task in only 52 days is a textbook study of what makes a successful leader.
From his life, we hope you will learn ways to develop yourself as a leader.
A. OUR CURRENT CHALLENGES
1. Many needs and crises, but few leaders.
It is not only our country that needs excellent leaders, but also our families, churches and yes, our companies. Your department may be facing certain challenges that cry out for wise leadership.
2. You are assigned a challenging task that will require you to lead.
Sooner or later, you will be in a situation where you must not only know what to do, but what others should do as well. The moment you begin to influence these others towards your goal, you have just become a leader.
B. THE PRINCIPLES
Leaders “do” based on who they “are”. Therefore let us first look at some basic characteristics of a leader before we go to concrete practices.
1. Leaders can come from unlikely circumstances.
I was the cupbearer for the king… (Nehemiah 1:11)
Think about it: Nehemiah’s job was actually one of royal trust and privilege. One of his roles was to make sure the king’s wine was not poisoned. A far cry from being a wall-builder, he could have said, “Oh, what do I know about construction or civil engineering? I will just let a more qualified person lead the project.” Yet he took on the challenge.
Personal insecurities limit our potential as leaders. We tend to rule ourselves out as leaders because we think we are not qualified, trained, charismatic or experienced enough. But many leaders in the Bible come from humble beginnings.
Nehemiah was an exiled Jew in a pagan land.
Moses murdered someone and spent 40 years in the desert.
Joshua was oppressed as a slave in Egypt.
Joseph and David started as shepherds.
Peter was an ordinary fisherman.
Paul was a Pharisee and a persecutor.
Examine where you are now. Are there factors that prevent you from exercising leadership? (Note: you can exercise leadership without a formal title as a leader). Write down these factors and look more closely if they are real or imagined. How can you overcome these factors?
2. Leaders have a heart for people.
[Nehemiah speaking] “I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (1:2-3)
Think about it: You are not a leader if there is no one behind you, following. For this, you need to be with people, talk to them and find out what they need.
3. Biblical leaders rely heavily on God’s help.
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven… O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant… Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man [most likely referring to King Artaxerxes]” (1:4-11)
• Why is prayer an important component in Biblical leadership?
• What situations do you find yourself where you can do nothing but pray?
• How can we know that God listens to and will answer your prayer?
4. Leaders attract and retain followers with their integrity and industriousness.
“But the earlier governors – those preceding me – placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that [INTEGRITY]. Instead, I devoted myself to the work [INDUSTRY] on this wall. All my men [FOLLOWERS] were assembled there for the work, we did not acquire any land [INTERGRITY again].” (5:15-16)
“…I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.“(v 18)
Think about it (1): Nehemiah could have stayed in his cozy and privileged position as the king’s cupbearer. Yet he left it to lead his people, which involves hard work and political headaches.
Think about it (2): He could also have enjoyed certain privileges while leading the wall reconstruction. Yet he did not.
• What are the privileges you are entitled to enjoy? Do you think you are better off not availing of these privileges?
• What are the resources you have which you can share with your people?
• Instead of “lording it over”, what work do you share with the people you are leading?
• How do you evaluate your work? Excellent? Average? Mediocre?
C. THE PRACTICES
Seven specific ways to improve your leadership skills.
1. Have a sense of timing.
Nehemiah started praying in the month of Kislev (1:1), about November-December. The King talked to him about Jerusalem in the month of Nisan (2:1), about March-April. That was a span of at least four months, at most six. We do not see Nehemiah barging into the throne room and demanded help from the king. Apparently, he waited until the timing is right.
• Again, think of that “critical need”. Do you feel now is the time for you to exercise leadership? Why or why not?
• What factors do you need to consider and confirm before you take action?
• How can we distinguish between patience for the right time and procrastination out of fear or insecurity?
2. Trust God, but also exercise foresight and planning.
Nehemiah finally got to ask the king for permission to go to Jerusalem and lead a reconstruction effort for the wall.
Then the king said … “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me, so I set a time.” (v 6)
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” (v 7-8)
• Take time to sit down: What are the action steps I need to take to accomplish my goal as a leader?
• What are the resources I need, who has them and how will I get them?
• What is the timetable I would need to implement my action steps?
3. Motivate people based on problem, solution and benefit.
Then I said to them [the Jews living in ruined Jerusalem]: “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire [PROBLEM]. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem [SOLUTION], and we will no longer be in disgrace [BENEFIT].” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had sent to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (2:17-18)
• How will you describe the problem to the people you will lead? What is the solution?
• Notice how Nehemiah used emotional, not simply intellectual appeal. What are the “hot buttons” you can integrate into your “benefit”?
• Also notice Nehemiah used “we” and “us”. How will you integrate yourself into the solution?
4. Leadership does not ignore organization.
If you read chapter 3, specific people were assigned to repair a specific portion of the wall. The phrase “next to him” appears frequently: A fixes X. Next to him, B fixes Y.
• Do you have a tendency to be a one-man show? Why or why not?
• Who are the people you should recruit to work with you?
• What are the specific tasks you will assign to them?
5. Expect and stand up to opposition.
5-A. Do not get side-tracked.
Nehemiah’s enemies invited him to a meeting.
But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with his reply, “I am carrying a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (V 6:2-4)
5-B. Pour out your hurts to God:
Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. (4:4, see also 6:15)
5-C. Pray, but also be practical.
They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat… From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor…
Those who carried materials did the work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the trumpets wore his sword at his side as he worked. (4:8-9, 16-18)
• When are the times you should ignore the opposition and when should you address them?
• How do you respond to people who belittle or resist your leadership?
• What are the practical steps you should take to protect your people, your project and yourself from the schemes of the opposition?
6. Address moral issues.
Nehemiah discovered that some Jews were financially exploiting their poorer fellowmen, he exclaimed:
“You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!… What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? … But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately [what you took from them]…” (5:9-10)
• This is related to “Keep your integrity.” Do you have the “moral ascendancy” to correct your people? Why or why not?
• Can you recover lost moral ground? How?
• What are the things you see wrong with the people you lead? How will you confront them? When and where?
7. Celebrate success.
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days… At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were … brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres… And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. (6:15, 12:27, 43)
• When your project is finished and the “critical need” is finished, how will you celebrate?
• What will the party look like?
Thanks for reading! Will try to share our other lessons also. God bless!