“Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” became a trite phrase because it fit so many situations. Whether in business, the classroom, or some community effort, get as few as two people collaborating on an idea or a project, and there’s likely to be a power struggle. Sadly, the same may often be said when believers attempt to collaborate. On such occasions, the flesh of many is exposed. What we must recognize is that there is a great difference between a boss and a leader. A boss “bosses.” Any multi-person project requires that someone tell others what to do, but there is a world of difference between bossing and leading. A boss may have superior ideas, an effective plan, good implementation; and he may succeed in accomplishing the designated task. But a leader is one who, by his godly character, sets an example that others willingly follow and imitate. Though not a how-to manual on leadership, the fourth chapter of Nehemiah offers a vignette that illustrates genuine leadership.
Nehemiah had been moved by God to leave his comfortable and powerful position as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes and return to the war-ravaged home of his ancestors and build the wall that had been demolished during the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When Nehemiah arrived, if he found the wall to be in complete shambles, he discovered his people to be even more so. They were thoroughly demoralized by the threats of their enemies, “Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites” (Neh. 4:7). Convinced that things were hopeless, the Jews lamented, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn” (v. 12). So Nehemiah flew into action (giving us an example of godly leadership).
1. Remind others that God will not fail to accomplish His purpose. “When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke . . . : ‘Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses” (v. 14). The people had looked at the difficult task; they had looked at their formidable enemy; and they had taken their eyes off God. He had called them to a task that He would not abandon. Though the task may be difficult and the opposition great, God will not fail to accomplish His will. A leader directs the eyes, the mind, the heart, and the will of others to the Lord.
2. Encourage others to get to the task of doing God’s will. “From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shield, the bows and the breastplates” (v. 16a). Certainly, doing God’s will is seldom easy: “Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon” (v. 17). But God blesses determined faith. Nehemiah explained how they should rally to the sound of the trumpet in order to fight together when attacked and assured them that “Our God will fight for us” (v. 20b).
3. Set a proper example. Nehemiah instructed “each man with his servant” to “spend the night within Jerusalem” in order to efficiently build in the daylight and guard against surprise attacks at night (v. 22). As both the “general” of the army and the “general contractor” on the project, Nehemiah might have been exempted from this exhausting double duty. But he writes, “So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water” (v. 23). Nehemiah eschewed comfort or privilege. What he demanded of others, he himself did. His actions became the pattern for others to observe and imitate.
Leaders lead by example. They must exercise God-given authority, but they do so with humility, patience, and faith. With their mouths they say, “Do as I say.” And with their lives they say, “Do as I do.” “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ,” Paul wrote (I Cor. 11:1). A leader does not remove his clothes—he always has on the whole armor of God, patterning a Spirit-filled, Word-directed, prayer-empowered, selfless life. Be a leader—in your home, at your work, in your community, and in your church.
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