Nehemiah: the Servant Leader

Sometimes we take leadership skills from the business world and try to apply them to shepherding a flock of Christians, but these skills are often far from the type of leadership we see in the Bible. One such example we have is Nehemiah, a man who leads through service. He is one example we have of a servant leader in the Bible.

A Personally Involved Leader

In Nehemiah 1:1-11, Nehemiah hears of the state of Jerusalem, its walls, and the temple. His response to this news is to pray. He refers to himself as God’s servant, and he dedicates himself to leading God’s people as His servant. He has a clear recognition of a specific need. He is personally concerned with that need. The condition of Jerusalem drives him to tears, and these emotions drive him to action. Throughout his book, Nehemiah will display a variety of emotions, and he uses these emotions to help him lead God’s people.

Before all else, Nehemiah goes to God. He prays for the ability to help his people, and he prays for success in that endeavor. Moreover, as a leader, Nehemiah wants to be in the middle of things. He wants to help take care of these needs personally rather than step back and allow others to pick up the slack. Nehemiah recognizes that a leader needs to be personally involved.

A Rational Leader

In Nehemiah 2:1-10, Nehemiah meets with king Artaxerxes regarding his wishes. He waits rationally to approach his king, roughly four months in this text. He considers and waits for the right opportunity, and the king provides it when asking about Nehemiah’s condition. At this point, Nehemiah again prays before answering his master. He turns to God before turning to himself.

Starting in verse 8, Nehemiah outlines his plan for Jerusalem, including a timeline upon which the king can rely. He asks for letters to obtain the materials and services he needs. Clearly, Nehemiah has been planning out the details of his vision, and when the time came, he was able to give answer regarding his plans, and he trusted God’s power to help his plan come to fruition.

A Motivated Leader

Chapter 2:17-18 demonstrates the strong motivation in Nehemiah’s heart. Additionally, we do not see Nehemiah approach those in Jerusalem negatively. He does not berate them for past inaction. Rather, he pushes them toward future progress. We need to be able to move forward and press on rather than dwell on past failures if we are to lead God’s people.

With progress comes opposition, however. Sanballat and Tobaiah stand against these efforts, but Nehemiah, in chapter 2:19, stands up to this opposition and reaffirms his trust in God. Nehemiah 4:1-3 records more opposition from these individuals. They mock the Jews rebuilding the walls. Nehemiah again returns to God. He does not let the taunts tear him down nor does he personally retaliate. He goes to God, and he stays on task.

An Encouraging Leader

Nehemiah 4:10 reveals that the labor and the discouragement is taking a toll on the workers. The task seems insurmountable, and the opposition appears overwhelming. This discouragement robs people of their strength and vision. It damages their confidence and their sense of security. As Christians, we have a hope and confidence in Heaven, and we cannot give in to the various influences tearing us away from that hope.

How does Nehemiah respond to their discouragement? Starting in chapter 4:13, he unifies their efforts. In verse 14, he directs their attention toward God. In verse 15-17, he balances thoughts with actions. He makes a plan to keep everyone involved, and he determines a rallying point around hope in God in verse 20.

A Servant Leader

In Nehemiah 4:22-23, Nehemiah demonstrates that he will stand side-by-side with those he was leading in their efforts. He was servant to his earthly king, and he becomes a servant in leading the people of his true King. We are all building a structure in our own lives. Their are times when our efforts crumble and falter. There are times when we need to rebuild. We can encourage one another, be motivated to serve God and others, and be spiritual leaders like the one we seen in God’s servant Nehemiah.

lesson by Ben Lanius