Leadership Makes A Difference

In his book Developing the Leader Within You, John Maxwell defines a leader as a person of influence.  When a leader speaks, people listen.  When a leader takes an initiative, people are inspired to follow.  When a leader tackles a problem, he or she makes a difference.  Nehemiah was such a leader (read Nehemiah 2:4-8, 15-18).

 Nehemiah Speaks

Nehemiah served as the “cupbearer” in the court of Persian King Artaxerxes.  In this position, Nehemiah was entrusted with the obligation of tasting the king’s wine to be sure it had not been poisoned.  As a person with such an awesome responsibility, Nehemiah had access to the king and some degree of influence over the decrees of the monarchy.

Noticing that Nehemiah seemed dejected, King Artaxerxes inquired about what was troubling his servant.  Nehemiah explained that he had received a heartbreaking report about the terrible conditions back in Jerusalem.  “Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my ancestors’ graves, lies waste, and the gates have been destroyed by fire?” 

 After listening to his servant’s anguish, King Artaxerxes allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and lead a restoration brigade.  In addition, Nehemiah was given letters of commendation to guarantee his safety as he traveled, and to grant him permission to rebuild the gates and walls.

 Nehemiah Takes Initiative

Upon his arrival at Jerusalem, Nehemiah made a secret journey (under the cover of night) to inspect the gates and walls of the city.  The purpose of this evening jaunt was to confirm first-hand the pitiful conditions of the city.  Only with first-hand knowledge could he properly devise a plan for reconstruction.

The next day, Nehemiah gathered an assembly and appealed for their support in rebuilding the walls.  He said, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned.   Come let us rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”

Nehemiah’s plan did face some opposition.  Fearful of a renewed Israel, three foreigners Sanballat, Tobah, and Geshem) publicly opposed Nehemiah’s plan.  Nehemiah rebuffed their objections, saying:  “The God of heaven is the one who will give us success, and we His servants are going to start building; but you have no share or claim or historic right in Jerusalem.”

 After Nehemiah’s reproof of these naysayers, the people supported his initiative to rebuild the walls of the city.

 Nehemiah Makes a Difference

 The restoration project took 52 days to complete.  Nehemiah’s main objective, however, was not to rebuild a wall, but a people.  The gates and wall represented the people’s identity.  Nehemiah’s leadership was intent on ending Israel’s disgrace and restoring its pride.  His primary goal was to reaffirm the Israelites’ identity as God’s people, renewing their trust in God, and re-establishing the importance of the covenant community.  He wanted to make a difference.

 In many respects, the circumstances surrounding the contemporary church are quite similar to those that faced the people of Israel during the days of Nehemiah.  We, too, seem to have lost our identity as a covenant community of faith.  The walls that metaphorically represent the church’s identity have been laid to waste.  We no longer know who we are!

Because of this lack of a clear identity, we have too easily found ourselves torn asunder by denominational politics, competing worship styles, conflicting approaches to polity and theological word-games.  The walls of our identity have crumbled.  If we are to rebuild them and recover our God-ordained place of mission in the world, we will need leaders who will influence us to rediscover our true identity as God’s people.

 The church needs people like Nehemiah – both among the clergy and laity.  We need leaders who are willing to leave the security of their comfort zones to boldly obey the voice of God.  We need leaders who are willing to face criticism without quitting – leaders who are willing to persevere despite opposition and the ever-present risk of failure.

The church desperately needs leaders who are able to help her or his people to discern and articulate God’s vision and then influence the formation of plans to achieve worthwhile and God-inspired objectives.  We need persons who are willing to make a difference.

 Will you become one of those leaders?

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