There are more than enough books on leadership out there and just as many on management. The challenge is that so many of these resources talk about the how and the what exhaustively, but when it comes to the WHY we often only get half the picture. The Why often talked about in leadership is why good leadership is needed and what happens when good leadership is lacking. As Christians though we need to take things a step further. Our Why of being leaders should start with Why we should be a leader in a specific time or space?
Nehemiah was a great leader and accomplished major changes for Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah is a great study on good leadership and good management, but there are two important statements about leadership made in chapter 1 of the book of Nehemiah which should never be far from our hearts and minds.
Leadership starts as a response to a need or pain found in the world. Nehemiah was not looking for an opportunity to escape, there is actually no indication that he was dissatisfied at all with his lot in life. Unlike Daniel he had not rebelled against being in the house of a foreign king, and later on we see that the king can discern that something is bothering Nehemiah indicating that up until that point he was fairly satisfied. What shook Nehemiah and grew in him a hunger to work for change in Jerusalem was the pain that the people were going through. The fact that they were defenceless, lacking dignity, and being taken advantage of. Leadership should never start as a need for affirmation or praise, but because of a missing piece seen in someone’s life or in a community or an organisation which we can fill and in filling bring holy transformation.
The second lesson we learn in Nehemiah 1 is that God given leadership starts with putting God at the center. Nehemiah, before creating his plan, before appealing to the king for help, before doing anything else wanted to make sure that he was right with God. He repented, spoke with humility, and placed himself and his family in God’s care. The temptations of leadership are many, as are the stresses. It is easy to start with good intentions and to still be caught up in the title, the respect we get, the people who listen to us, and even the rush of the job so that we stop setting time aside for what is important. Things get tight and in positions of leadership it is easy to start responding based on the needs of the job or our own needs in fulfilling the job instead of remembering to respond to the needs of people and the cry of the world for redemption. It is at those times that we have to remember who is at the center of what we do…it isn’t us. This humility and God centeredness is at the heart of being a leader because it keeps us grounding to our original task, which is to respond to the needs of others and not our own.
This not only sets the foundation for Nehemiah’s leadership style and principles, but should also be reflected in our own.