Written by: Bill Isaacs
When looking for leadership models you could not find a better one than Nehemiah. He is among a collection of leadership models in the Old Testament which deserve attention. The context of his leadership, the outcomes, obstacles and challenges are significant learning lessons for all of us. Here are 5 reminders about leadership which come from the model of Nehemiah:
1. You will need to feel the weight of a God-given burden (1:3-4)
Our leadership begins in the relationship we have with God. This is His world, His church, His kingdom and you cannot lead in His kingdom without a proper relationship to Him. It was to King Nebuchadnezzar that the prophet Daniel reminded,“Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.”(Daniel 4:31, NLT) Leadership is the result of our response to the burden God has placed upon us. This is important to understand because it is going to be challenging and Nehemiah’s going to face criticism and deal with tough issues but he’s going to be able to navigate them because he has a BURDEN from the Lord. This burden is our connection to the God who called us.
2. You will need others to help you accomplish your mission (2:9)
The longer I live and lead and the more I work with pastors and leaders, the more convinced I am God intends our leadership to be in community with others. To fulfill your assignment, you are going to need other people who will come along and their presence is God helping you to finish what He has called you to do. Nehemiah found a partner in the king who could open doors for him to advance the mission. You will need help along the way—accept it and embrace it. God is sending people to help you. When the walls start going up, you find Nehemiah listing all the people who helped him. It was not God’s plan for Nehemiah to do the work alone—that would never have resulted in the outcome. Rather, Nehemiah was a leader and so God helped him by surrounding him with people who believed in his leadership, his anointing and his vision.
3. You will need to develop a strategy for the mission (2:11-12)
The more striking parts of Nehemiah’s leadership is his commitment to developing winning strategies to get the mission accomplished. The rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem was no small feat logistically and it appears it was 4 months of praying and planning that brought Nehemiah to the king with his requests. But getting to Jerusalem was just part of the task because he had to survey the situation, develop a plan, organize the people and schedule the work, deal with problems on the job-site, with the critics and the discouragement of the people and the magnitude of the assignment. Far too many leaders are not strategic—they react to what is happening and don’t plan well. When this happens, they are not prepared to handle the situations with boldness and courage. Here are four powerful principles to remember:
- Pray before you act
- Be ready to answer the hard questions first
- Think ahead and anticipate next steps
- Always strategize the toughest parts of the assignment
4. You will need to deal with criticism and distractions (4:1-3)
Great leadership is bold and courageous. Great leaders take risks and subject themselves to those who never risk anything. You cannot lead great initiatives if you are afraid of not being liked. Every good leader gets criticized. The key is in how you respond and how you let affect your leadership posture. Nehemiah’s critics were brutal, making fun of the quality of his work; openly questioned his motives and character; plotting to attack the project; and intimidating with threats of violence. When they were not criticizing, they were creating distractions and diversions–asking for meetings to stop the work and trying to trap Nehemiah in compromising situations. Here are 5 things to remember about how to handle criticism:
- Listen to what is said—not all criticism is bad (there is truth sometimes)
- Don’t be defensive
- Don’t expose yourself to the criticism of people you don’t respect
- Delay response
- Accept responsibility and admit mistakes
5. You will need to lead discouraged people (4:10)
It’s one thing to lead yourself and to keep your balance emotionally and spiritually but it is an added challenge to lead people when they get discouraged. Leaders set the tone and the pace of the groups they lead so when the people you lead get discouraged, you have to lead the way back to better times. It is difficult to lead discouraged people. Nehemiah found himself leading people who were discouraged because:
- They were tired
- The work was harder than they imagined
- They were worried about the threats to their security and safety
How did Nehemiah respond?
- Don’t be afraid of your enemy (Courage)
- Remember the greatness of your God (Faith)
- Fight for what matters (Focus)
God has given you an assignment—you must be complete it but the enemy will do everything he can to discourage it, to prevent it from completion and it will come down to a couple of important decisions you have to make:
- Is your focus strong enough to drown out the voices of distraction?
- Is the conviction of your cause strong enough to keep you going when you don’t see progress and you don’t have success as you expect it?
This is God’s work and He will perform it. Remember you are God’s servant and He empowers you to lead.
Bill Isaacs is the Executive Director for the Center for Pastoral Excellence (www.excellentpastor.com),a global strategy to train pastors and local churches. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife, Shelley. His latest book, I Want What God Wants—How Obedience Transforms Your Relationship To God is available on Amazon.com. You can reach him ; Twitter: @bishopbill and Facebook: Bill Isaacs.