In the coming months and years, the world will be in rebuilding mode. We’ll be rebuilding churches, communities, and economies.
Most importantly, we’ll be rebuilding lives.
Leadership is critical to any rebuilding effort, and Nehemiah is my favorite leader in the Bible. Jerusalem had been in shambles for more than a century when he arrived, yet he led the effort to rebuild it.
Nehemiah gives us a great example of leadership as we enter into a time of rebuilding.
What made him such a great leader? I believe it boils down to eight characteristics.
Nehemiah really cared about people. Just four verses into the book and you’re confronted with his compassion. Nehemiah 1:4 says, “When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven” (NLT).
Nehemiah had a cushy job with the king of Persia. He didn’t have to care about the problems in Jerusalem, where he had never been, but he cared anyway.
Love is the foundation of Christian leadership. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership without love will just become manipulation.
Great leaders instinctively know they need to balance the time they spend with people and the time they spend alone with God. Leaders need a time of contemplation. The effectiveness of your public leadership is determined by your private life.
Nehemiah was a man of prayer. Nine times in this short book, Nehemiah prayed. He prayed about every decision he made, every crisis he faced, and every criticism he endured.
No one likes to follow a grouch. A great leader has a positive attitude.
Nehemiah was evidently a highly cheerful, positive person. “Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence” (Nehemiah 2:1 NLT).
During all the time Nehemiah had been serving this guy, this was the first time he’d gone in to see the king while wearing a frown.
In Jerusalem, Nehemiah stayed focused on the project before him. He didn’t worry about anything else.
We see this focus in how he handled opposition in Nehemiah 6:2-3. Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to Nehemiah asking for a meeting. Knowing they wanted to harm him, Nehemiah told them he couldn’t see them. He needed to focus on the task at hand.
When you lead, you must keep the main thing, the main thing. The more focused your life, the more effective it will be. Nehemiah didn’t let anything distract him from the work God gave him. You shouldn’t either.
Many people believe you’re either born with creativity or you’re not, but creativity is something that can be developed. It’s like any other skill.
Nehemiah showed us several times how he creatively solved problems. One example happened in chapter 4 when those who opposed rebuilding the wall threatened to come back and attack. Nehemiah divided the people by families and put them each by their own house to build the closest portion of the wall. Then he split the men into two shifts. One shift focused on the work while the other shift protected the wall. That’s creativity at work.
Nehemiah showed courage when he expressed sadness to the king in chapter 2 (which could have ended up in his execution). He showed it when he encouraged the people as they faced attacks in chapter 4. Nehemiah left a well-paying job at the peak of his career to go to a place where he had never been and to do a job he had never done. The entire book highlights Nehemiah’s courage.
At its core, courage is simply another word for faith. It’s being willing to take a risk.
Nehemiah knew how to handle success. He was a man of integrity.
One of my favorite passages in the book is Nehemiah 5:14-19, when Nehemiah described his commitment to not use his power to enrich himself (unlike the previous governors). For 12 years, Nehemiah could do anything he wanted to do. He chose to honor God and lead the people to complete the task the Lord had given them.
When you find success, you’re tempted to abuse your power, prestige, and privilege. Nehemiah didn’t do those things. The key is in verse 15: “Because I feared God, I did not act that way” (NLT). He was a leader with a clear conscience.
Throughout the book, Nehemiah faced great opposition, yet he never gave up. He moved forward based on conviction. Eight times people tried to stop him from building the wall. He just kept going.
Great leaders have strongly held beliefs. An opinion is something you’d argue about; a conviction is something you’d die for. Nehemiah was a man of conviction. He believed strongly that God had called him to this job, and nothing could stop him from doing it.
We will need to lean on these characteristics in the coming days. It’s a great time to reread the book of Nehemiah.