I have been working my way through the Bible on Wednesday nights for about 7 years and have made my way to the book of Nehemiah. The first 7 chapters of the book describe Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem and his leadership in rebuilding the walls around the city. He was a remarkably effective leader for God’s people. Tonight, I identified twelve principles of effective leadership from his life and work. I thought some of you might find them interesting. I’m going to try to resist my temptation to make this a 3000 word post. I will list the principles with a few brief comments.
1) Operate on God’s agenda. (Nehemiah 2:12)
No great work of God ever originated in the human heart. God reveals his will and his plans to his people and calls them to be a part of what he has initiated. God is not obligated to bless my ideas, but calls me to submit my goals and ambitions to serve his agenda.
2) Bathe the work in prayer. (Nehemiah 1:4-11 and various others)
Not only does Nehemiah pray a beautiful prayer before he approaches Artaxerxes, but he continues to seek God’s power and presence in prayer throughout the work. Since God’s work can only be accomplished by his power, seeking him is essential.
3) Character is KEY! (Nehemiah 2:1-8)
When Nehemiah finally approached Artaxerxes, there was a level of trust and credibility that can only have been built through years of faithful service. And, as his work throughout the book reveals, he was a man of high integrity and character.
Everyone wants the big job, but without the character to match it, that big job becomes a curse. Character develops over time as we grow in Christ and weather hardships in his service. A big job plus a weak character usually equals big trouble.
4) Work inside the system. (Nehemiah 2:1-8)
The stories of the exilic era are instructive for us, living in an increasingly pagan and wicked culture. The heroes of this period were men who stood strong for what was right, but did so within the evil system. Daniel. His three friends. Esther (her story has some big questions, of course). Ezra. And of course, Nehemiah. He did not run away from Artaxerxes, but worked under his authority.
We are going to have to learn to work and minister in a pagan culture as they did.
5) Expect opposition; don’t be intimidated by it. (Nehemiah 2:9-10)
As soon as Nehemiah showed up to do his work, opposition came against him. If he was a typical Baptist preacher, he’d have probably started working his resume to find a new place where no one opposed him. And when opposition arose there, he’d move on again.
But in every episode of Scripture, when God was at work through someone that work would be opposed. There is always an enemy – generally a big and powerful one! Expect it. If you are doing God’s will, do not be intimidated or derailed by those who oppose you.
NOTE: It is important that we distinguish between opposition to God’s work and opinions that differ from our own. Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean that he opposes God. Too many preachers turn people with contrary opinions into enemies of the gospel.
6) Approach the work thoughtfully, carefully. Be prepared! (Nehemiah 2:11-16).
When Nehemiah first got to Jerusalem, he made a careful, private exploration of the problem – the broken down walls of the city. He took the time to carefully figure things out and formulate a plan. He was neither impetuous or impulsive.
7) Build consensus around the need and the plan (Nehemiah 2:17-18)
Nehemiah did not demand that the people of Jerusalem kneel before him and yield to his will. He did not bully or intimidate anyone to follow him. He laid out the need carefully, explaining the problem that needed to be fixed. He then proposed a solution which would fix the problem. And God motivated the people to get behind Nehemiah’s plan.
This is one of the most important principles I ever learned (from Henry Blackaby). If you operate on God’s agenda, he does the convicting and convincing. You do not have to manipulate, pressure, bully or intimidate anyone to agree with you. If you are on God’s agenda then God is behind it and will motivate and guide.
8) Share the work…and the credit. (Nehemiah 3)
There can be no glory hounds in the work of the Kingdom. We already have a King to whom all glory is due. And none of us is the Lone Ranger. None of us has superpowers. Successful leaders share the work with others and are careful to give credit to them for what they have done.
Nehemiah could have never done what Israel working together did.
9) Expect the power of God to overcome obstacles. (Nehemiah 4)
Sanballat, Tobiah and their allies did not give up after Nehemiah rebuffed them the first time. They continued to lay obstacle after obstacle against him and he continued to overcome those obstacles in the power of God.
We are not only surprised by obstacles, but often we fail to expect the power of God to overcome them. No Christian has the right to focus on his own resources and abilities when confronted by problems. We have the power of the Living God dwelling within us and working within our churches. His power is never even challenged by the obstacles we face.
10) Let God defend you. (Nehemiah 6)
Nehemiah’s opponents formulated a scheme to kill him, even enlisting a false prophet to aid them. By God’s grace, Nehemiah avoided the trap and went forward. Then he prayed that God would deal with his enemies. That is significant. He did not attempt to settle the score, but left room for God’s wrath.
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” That is what God says. Meting out justice is a divine right; one we have no right to usurp. We do not have to defend ourselves. Our Father in Heaven will watch over us and care for us when we are unfairly attacked.
11) The ends NEVER justify the means. (Nehemiah 5)
Nehemiah was infuriated by the unjust treatment of people happening in Israel. He was involved in an important task, but the importance of that task did not justify injustice. People could not be sacrificed in the pursuit of the project.
12) Finish the work. (Nehemiah 6:15-7:4)
Perseverance is the key character quality of the great leaders of the Bible. They did not give up when things God hard. They continued to do what God had told them to do until the work was done.
Honestly, I wish I was more like Nehemiah!