Feb 22

Reflections on Leadership from the Book of Nehemiah

I am presently in the middle of a series preaching through the book of Nehemiah in our Sunday morning Chinese worship service. The discoveries about leadership and organization that I have made through my preparation for these messages come at a welcome moment in my own life and ministry. The personal benefits that I am receiving from these studies far outweigh any received by the congregation, I’m sure. The benefits to them will come when these principles (hopefully) begin to work their way into my actual ministry practices. We have only just completed chapter three. I can’t help but wonder how much more awaits discovery in the remainder of the book.

One truth of which I have become convinced through my studies is that leaders are made, not born. Some people have natural gifts of leadership; I am certainly not one of them. In fact, I sometimes despair of ever really becoming an organized person. But I now believe that truly godly leadership is a function resulting from obedience to the truths of the Word of God, progressive conformity to the image of Christ, and walking in the power of the Spirit of God; it is not a function of personality, psychological insight, or managerial methodologies. God makes leaders out of ordinary men and women who are transformed by the Word and Spirit of God.

I am amazed at the wealth of practical leadership principles which Nehemiah has modeled for us and which have direct application today to the exercise of spiritual influence in fields such as church administration, ministry management, and interpersonal relations, as well as applications to the business world, educational administration, government, and other areas of human organization. These principles, which are presented through the story of Nehemiah’s successful rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, are far more than mere “moral tales” (on the order of Aesop’s Fables, for instance). They are also more than a list of pragmatic methodologies describing “what worked” for Nehemiah. Rather they are a divine revelation of how to lead others for the glory of God.

At this point the question must be asked, “What qualifies Nehemiah to instruct us about leadership?” There are several elements in the life of the man Nehemiah and in the nature of the book of Nehemiah which demonstrate the divine source and validity of these leadership principles. Negatively, it must be stated first that Nehemiah’s “success” in completing the job does not alone constitute him as a spiritual authority. Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:30), the builders of the Egyptian pyramids, and many others built great monuments of human achievement, whose works God evaluates to be as ephemeral as “the flower of the grass” (1Pet. 1:24). Nehemiah did not choose the task, rather God chose Nehemiah for the task. Furthermore, Nehemiah pursued the task for the glory of God and the benefit of His people. His successful completion of the task was patently due to the power and blessing of God, as he himself repeatedly testifies (Neh. 2:8, “according to the good hand of my God upon me”). It is this evident “hand of God” which stamps the divine imprimatur upon the work and upon the operative principles by which it was completed.

Nehemiah was a truly godly man. His sensitivity to God, his acknowledgment of his own sin and weakness, his dependence upon God, his ordering of his goals and purposes for the glory of God, his genuine love for the people of God, his courage, his self-sacrificial spirit, and many other qualities all testify to the genuineness of his character. The principles which he fleshed out in his own leadership (whether consciously or unconsciously) were practiced out of an earnest desire to follow God in his life. Although even earnest and well-meaning men can err, God does not (and cannot) bless non-conformity to his own character (Gal. 6:7-8). The blessing of God upon Nehemiah due to his character demonstrates the authority of the principles upon which he acted.

The ultimate issue at question, then, has to do with the nature of leadership. Was Hitler a good leader? By framing the question in this way, it becomes obvious that the biblical concept of leadership involves more than just getting people to follow you. It has to do with first being one’s self a follower of God and allowing one’s own goals, desires, and methods of attaining those goals to be determined in the context of one’s walk and relationship with God, under the instructing influence of the Word and Spirit of God.

In conclusion, we must approach the book of Nehemiah as an historical record which is also a part of the inspired Word of God. However, we do not view its historical precedent as alone sufficient to justify our emulation today. Rather, by accurately interpreting the text and drawing out the principles it contains, we are able to gain divine perspective on our task and role as leaders. These leadership principles (which I’ve scarcely touched upon in this article) are secondary to our primary need, which is the development of our character. God is still in the business of developing Nehemiahs that he can bless and use in the accomplishment of His own kingdom goals in this age. I’ve determined to matriculate in God’s Nehemiah School of Leadership Development. I suspect that the course of study will take me a lifetime to complete.

8 comments to Reflections on Leadership from the Book of Nehemiah

  • Jane Prybyski

    Praise the Lord for your insights on Nehemiah. I sure enjoyed reading them and look forward to further installments.

  • Julie

    I like your definition of Leadership, “It has to do with first being one’s self a follower of God and allowing one’s own goals, desires, and methods of attaining those goals to be determined in the context of one’s walk and relationship with God, under the instructing influence of the Word and Spirit of God.”

  • Mirry Shix

    I would like your outline of the whole book of NEHEMIAH concerning the other reflections that is inclusive of leadership.

  • Sorry, I don’t yet have that in a form convenient to distribute.

  • Peg

    I am in the midst of doing a paper on the leadership principles outlined in Nehemiah for a bible class and came across your page. I have to tell you that your insights are outstanding and just made me pause. I hope its okay with you if I quote you in my paper. I see so much pragmatism in the church, especially around the concept of leadership, I wish so much that your page could be read by every christian leader. Thank you so much and may God richly bless you for sharing.

  • Thank you for commenting. I’m glad it was a blessing to you.

  • Tim


    I have a theory that every thought, word and deed done by Nehemiah illustrates some aspect of spiritual leadership – ie the book is God’s manual to church leaders. I am probably wrong but from my reading of the book a lot can be made from his approach and actions.

  • Ezekiel

    This work is really good and very helpful to many bible students which i am one.thank you and may GOD richly bless you and increase your knowledge.

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