Lessons on Leadership from Nehemiah

Lessons on Leadership from Nehemiah


Categories: Lessons on Leadership

The book of Nehemiah provides lessons not merely about faith, or about trust in God; the book of Nehemiah is one of the greatest books on leadership that’s ever been written. While that may not be the primary purpose of the book, the example this humble servant of the Lord provides helps us to see what true God-focused leadership looks like. Every one of us are leaders in some capacity. It may not be in a formal role or setting. It could be at home, or in the neighborhood, or in a congregation. Leadership simply defined is influence – an influence that provides direction and guidance for another. 

The book of Nehemiah begins setting the context in place – the people of God had been in Babylonian captivity for the past 70 years. After which, through God’s providence and the defeat of the Babylonians, the Persians allowed God’s people to return to their homeland. Some did, and some remained. Nehemiah is one who remained. Scripture reveals he lived in Susa, the capital of the Persian empire, and worked as a cupbearer for the king. That may not sound like an important position from our modern contexts, but in the ancient world a cupbearer was one who would taste the king’s wine to make sure it was safe before he drank it. Only someone of utmost trustworthiness would be allowed such a position. Because of his consistent close interactions with the king, he acquired an influence far beyond most. 

The first chapter opens with one of Nehemiah’s brothers visit to Susa from Jerusalem. Nehemiah asks about the status of their homeland, and is told the crippling news – it is still vulnerable and unprotected. The once safe and stable capital of God’s people now so weak and feeble. The fallen state of Jerusalem is but a visual picture of Proverbs 14:34 – “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” 

Nehemiah’s response to the news of Jerusalem provides us two power principles of leadership: 

  • Leaders Recognize the Seriousness of the Situation (v. 2-4) – Susa was safe, his job was secure, his life was in good shape – so why ask? To ask is to get involved. To ask is to convey interest and concern. Though living in Susa Nehemiah was still a child of God and cared for His people and God’s city. And when told about the city his response told it all – he didn’t sugarcoat it, downplay it, or ignore it. For days he mourned, wept, and fasted. The serious situation in Jerusalem demanded a serious response from it’s citizens. Do you know the condition of those you are leading (PROV 27:23)? How’s the spiritual, mental, emotional, physical condition of your mate, your children, your brethren, your coworkers – those under your care? 
  • Leaders Know Where to Begin (v. 5-11) – first things first, the highest priority for Nehemiah was to bring these burdens to the Lord. Before crafting his plan to repair the wall, and preparing his speech to the king, his first step was to talk with God. In reading Nehemiah’s prayer it’s obvious this isn’t new or out of the ordinary for him, rather we get a glimpse of a man who had built the habit of praying often with his God. Great leaders are great prayer(er)s. In reading through his prayer we see the building blocks of how to pray well – the acronym ACTS – adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. And it all flowed from such a humble heart – a heart that cared enough to ask, a heart that placed himself in the fault of the problem, as well as placing himself as part of the solution. Are things not well at home, with the brethren, at work, with your people? Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray deep. Pray often. 

If leadership is about influence, the greatest influence comes from the greatest influencer – the one who holds even the hearts of kings in His hands (PROV 21:1). Nehemiah understood something we tend to forget – leadership isn’t about products and projects, it even wasn’t truly about a wall that remained broken down. Leadership is about people. Leaders know about their people, and leaders pray often about their people. 

“Almighty God, You are our highest motivation, our strongest influence. We seek to know Your will and to follow Your ways above and before all else, because Your ways and Your plans are always perfect and good. As leaders, in whatever capacity we fill, we ask for your blessing. Help us have hearts molded with compassion, filled with concern for those whom we are over. Help us to remember that leadership is more than products and service, even in the rebuilding of the walls, leadership is about people. We are thankful for each person you have placed under our influence, and ask you use us, the instruction of our words and the example of our lives to lead others closer and closer to You. May this prayer be but one of many moments shared with You this day.”