Evangelist and Bible teacher in the Eastern Cape. B.A. and H.E.D from University of South Africa and M.A. Abilene Christian University
Lessons from the Old Testament for Today: Leadership
Who is a leader? The obvious and somewhat simple answer is everyone. We all lead in some way or another, be it a parent in the home, a friend in their group, a person in the workplace, to mention just a few informal leadership positions. In contrast there are formal situations where people are appointed to positions of leadership that exist at every level in society from the president of a country down to the local leader in the most basic situation. All are important because each one has an area of influence that affects others.
Leadership in the Old Testament makes a very interesting study and covers all these situations. In the formal appointed level we find leaders such as Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the Judges, and then Kings (Saul, David and Solomon of Israel), followed by the Kings of the divided Northern and Southern Kingdoms.
Any of these formal leaders would provide us with a treasure of information about what constitutes good leadership and also what constitutes indifferent or even poor leadership. In general it can be clearly seen that those who trusted in God and followed his commands were successful, while those who did not brought disaster not only on themselves but also on their followers.
A study of an informal leader in the form of Nehemiah provides some practical and vital principles of good leadership as he leaves his position as cup bearer in the court of King Artaxerxes in Sushan, a city in ancient Persia, to return to Jerusalem to build a wall around the city.
The fist principle that leaps out at us is the fact that Nehemiah is moved by compassion. When he heard about the plight of the people in Jerusalem, the writer of Nehemiah records that he sat down and wept and mourned for many days (Nehemiah 1:4). Nehemiah then turned to God in prayer for help. He confessed his and his peoples’ sin and asked for forgiveness. We see here clearly a humble and contrite spirit in sharp contrast to the attitude that we see in many of the leaders, at all levels, in the world today. Nehemiah then looked back at the history of his nation and took notice of what happened in the past.
The second principle that comes out clearly is that Nehemiah developed a clear plan of action to do something positive to correct that which needed to be put right. In addition he gathered together the necessary resources that he would need to achieve his goals. He got not only the blessing of the King but also the authority that he would need (2:7-9). This included letters to the officials in the area and an army escort provided by the King. It becomes obvious that Nehemiah was well respected by the King who he had served for some time. Trust is earned and cannot be expected without proof.
The third principle of leadership in the account of Nehemiah is that any leader can expect and will usually face opposition. Whenever someone tries to do good there are always those with ulterior motives who will try to overthrow those plans. This was so with Nehemiah who at times, needed to take drastic action by arming the workers on the wall to protect themselves from danger (4:13). When those opposed to the building of the wall invited Nehemiah to join them in debate he refused to do so because he knew that they were merely trying to stop the work that he had set out to do.
The fourth principle that we can see in the building of the wall around Jerusalem, is that Nehemiah delegated responsibility and used the work force that he recruited. He appointed groups of people to do a specific part and motivated them to work hard. Nehemiah 4:6 records that the work was done because the people had a desire to work. Nehemiah set the right example and the writer records that he also refused to accept the money offered to him by the King but rather shared it out among the people (5:14). He put an end to corruption and abuse by officials and set a personal example in his own life. It is interesting that over and over he writes “we” had a will to work. He was not someone who stood idly by but worked side by side with the people.
The fifth principle that stands out in the example of excellent leadership is that Nehemiah continued to pray and seek God’s guidance along the way. So in fifty two days the wall was completed (6:15) leaving us a great example today of how an ordinary person moved by compassion could achieve a great result.
The challenge is to look around yourself and be moved by what you see in this world and then ask God for guidance in how to become a leader in achieving something to make a difference. You do not need to be appointed but rather like Nehemiah simply start to do something. It may be a small local project or the start of a great movement.
The main factor is to be moved. Be moved when you see the world through the eyes of the many people who are battling with life as the people in Jerusalem where in the time of Nehemiah. Then ask yourself the question; is there something you can do? The world's problems seem so big and challenging that we feel helpless - so we do nothing. Look around you and identify something you can do near by. Who knows what is possible with God’s help? After all a better world starts with you and me.