Qualities of Servant Leadership
From the life of Nehemia
If we look around the world today people are crying for leaders who will be able to bring changes for the betterment of society, community, organizations, and nations. This has been true in the secular world and Christian organizations throughout history. Today, specifically talking about Christians, we know that different churches and Christian organizations are in need of good godly leaders, and this has been one of the greatest needs since the beginning of the Church. So we know that leaders are vitally important for the well-being and growth of the Church.
Leaders play an important role in churches and societies, yet their responsibilities are not easy at all. Throughout history, we can see that leaders have played an important part in leading, guiding, encouraging, and leaving a heritage for the generations to come. Many leaders fail to do the task they were responsible to perform, and some perform with flying colors but last for only a short time. But no matter how good a leader is, he does not stay forever. So, the most important thing a leader can do is leave a heritage for the generations to come and glorify God in all he does.
Good leaders will always leave godly footprints which will guide future generations in the way they should go. If one were going to talk about good leaders in the Bible, Nehemiah would be a prominent one. There are not many leaders like Nehemiah who completed the task of leadership successfully. Many leaders in the Bible are known as good ones, but they failed at certain points in their life. However, the Bible has no record of failure for Nehemiah. So in this paper, my intention is to present qualities that made Nehemiah a great leader.
It is my prayer that we will be encouraged and learn something from the life of Nehemiah. I hope we will truly be applying these principles in our lives and be challenged and transformed. I believe we will be effective servant-leaders if we prepare our hearts to do God’s work as Nehemiah did. Background History of Nehemiah To talk about Nehemiah it would be good, to begin with, his historical background and a brief history of the Israelites so that we can better understand him. Nehemiah was the son of Hachaliah. He was born of Jewish parents in exile. His name “Nehem-Yah” means “the comfort of Jehovah. From this, it is possible to assume that Nehemiah’s home was a godly one. (Jensen, 46) He also had a brother Hanani (Neh. 1:2) Looking back on the history of Israel, we know that after King Solomon reigned in Israel, the nation split into two kingdoms in 931 B. C. – the northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah). After that, there were no good kings in Israel, but in Judah, there were a few partially good kings. Kings like Asa, Jehoshaphat, and a few others followed God’s will for some time; but they did not continue to follow God fully and wholeheartedly. So they failed at some time in their lives.
Josiah was the only good king without blame that Judah had after Israel became two kingdoms (2 Kings 22:2). Due to their wickedness, God punished Israel and Judah. The two kingdoms were taken into captivity several times. The Northern Kingdom fell first, and the people were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 772 B. C. After a few years, the southern kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians, and they were taken into captivity in 586 B. C. After forty-eight years in captivity, in 538 B. C., the Israelites first returned to Judah from captivity under the leadership of Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:1-2:2).
The second return was in 458 B. C. led by Ezra (Ezra 7:1-10). In 444 B. C. Nehemiah returned to Judah, and God used him to guide Judah in rebuilding the city walls and reordering the people’s social and economic lives (Zuck, 673). So there is a possibility that Nehemiah’s great-grandparents were taken into captivity in 586 B. C. when Jerusalem fell into Babylonian hands. This tells us that Nehemiah was born in Persia. Dr. Knoblet says, “Nehemiah was probably born in Persia around Susa sometime during or soon after Zerubbabel’s ministry in Jerusalem. (Knoblet, 19) Apart from all this information, Nehemiah’s genealogy is not known. Nehemiah was just a mere man, but he left his mark on history because he was an available man. (Stewart, 22) We don’t know how a Jewish born, son of a slave become a palace servant; but we do know that Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer while he was in Susa. (Neh 1:11). When Artaxerxes, the king of Persia gave permission to Nehemiah to return to Judah with his people and rebuild the wall, Nehemiah returned to Judah and served as the governor of Judah and led his people in rebuilding the city wall.
Though there are different views on the chronology of the years of Nehemiah’s service as governor, it is probable that he was in Jerusalem for twelve years (444-432 B. C. ), went to Susa for two years (432-430 B. C. ), and returned. (Knoblet, 129) If we are going to find a man in the Bible who shows us what true leadership is really all about, it is no doubt, Nehemiah. (Knoblet, 150) Now, the question is – What made him a great leader? Why was he so effective in his ministry? Let us discuss the qualities that made Nehemiah a great leader. Qualities of Nehemiah Without spirituality one cannot be a good leader.
Jensen says, “Nehemiah was not a priest, scribe, prophet, rabbi, theologian or pastor. As a public official, his vocation was secular, not religious. And yet, he clearly demonstrated in his service that spirituality is for the secular as well as for the religious vocation. ” (Jensen, 64) So, what makes Nehemiah a good and effective leader must obviously be his spiritual walk with God. Let us discuss some of his qualities – 1. A Man who Feared God: Nehemiah’s qualities of leadership are all tied to his fear of God. It would not be possible for him to do what he did without the fear of God.
When Nehemiah returned to Judah he found the Jews were going through hard times. Talking about the condition of the Jews in Judah, George and Syme said, “There had been a drought, poor crops, and recession. But people had to eat, and taxes inexorably fell due. Many were so heavily in debt that, having no more property to mortgage, they were reduced to selling their children into slavery. ” (George and Syme, 92) All these things happened due to the corrupt practices of the leaders and moneylenders; but Nehemiah, unlike the other leaders, stayed pure.
So, it is evident that when Nehemiah was the Governor of Judah, he did not practice any corruption because he feared God. (Neh. 5: 15) Not only in reference to corruption but in everything Nehemiah feared the Lord; and as a result, he lived a life which was pleasing to the Lord. His fear of God gave him boldness for he knew God was happy with his life. So, when Shemiah told Nehemiah to meet him in the house of God, intending to kill him, Nehemiah was not scared because he knew that God was with him. Seume comments on Nehemiah’s boldness by saying, “He feared man little because he feared God much. (Seume, 71) That’s the secret of his success in his leadership. 2. A who Knew God’s Word: Though Nehemiah was born and brought up in the land of captivity, it is evident that he read and learned God’s Word and knew God’s promises for his people. This is evident because he quotes the book of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Exodus in Nehemiah 1: 8-11. It would not be possible for Nehemiah to enquire about his brethren in Judah from Hanani who returned from Judah, if he was not aware of God’s promise for His people. 3.
A Man of Right Burden: When Nehemiah heard that the survivors who were left from the captivity in the province were there in great distress and the wall of Jerusalem was also broken down, and its gates were burned with fire, he was burdened by it. (Neh. 1:3) This was the right burden because he knew God’s promises for the Israelites. But what he heard was the opposite of what God had intended for the Israelites. Since Nehemiah knew God’s promises for the Jews he was burdened because the Israelites were in distress and Jerusalem wall was broken. He was so burdened that the king Artaxerxes could see it in his face. Neh. 2: 2) He wanted to rebuild the wall and point his people back to God’s promises and commandments. That’s the right burden because it is God’s burden. It is not possible to have the right burden without knowing the Almighty God and His promises. If Nehemiah’s burden was not right he could have just enquired and been emotionally sad but never acted upon it to put things back in order. What a leader was by having a burden on God’s work! 4. A Man of Prayer: When Nehemiah heard about the situation of Jerusalem and the Jews in Judah, he prayed to God. (Neh. :5-11) He interceded for his people and begged God’s forgiveness for himself and his people. Paul N. Benware says, “Nehemiah spent about four months in prayer. He confessed the sins of Israel and prayed for the favor of king Artaxerxes. ” (Benware, 152) This makes it clear that before Nehemiah did something he sought God’s will first. 5. A Man of Patience: After Nehemiah heard about the reproach and distress of the Jews and the broken down wall of Jerusalem, he prayed to God and wept. (Neh. 1: 3-4) He also prayed to God so that the king would have mercy on him and allow him to go to rebuild the city wall. (Neh. 1: 11) But four months passed, and Nehemiah was patient to wait for God’s time. Wiersbe comments on Nehemiah’s patience saying, “…Nehemiah patiently waited on the Lord for directions; because it is through faith and patience that we inherit the promise (Heb. 6:12). He that believeth shall not make haste. (Isa. 28:16). True faith in God brings a calmness to the heart that keeps us from rushing about and trying to do in our own strength what only God can do. We must know not only how to weep and pray, but also how to wait and pray. (Wiersbe, 638) 6. A Man of Action and Example: Nehemiah not only interceded for himself and his people, but he also prayed to God that he would find favor in the sight of the king. (Neh1: 11b) Moreover, he boldly told his burden to the king and asked his favor to go to Judah to do the business of the Lord. (Neh 2: 3-8) God never fails those who seek His will and do His work. It is because of God’s work that Nehemiah found favor in the sight of the king. (Neh. 2: 8b) As a leader, Nehemiah did not just give commands, but he associated himself with his people, and he took part in rebuilding the wall. Neh. 4:21-23) Moreover, he did not depend on people, but he used his own things for his business. (Neh. 5: 15-16) It is because of his actions that he was respected as a leader. He guided and led his people by setting an example. He put into practice what he said. 7. A Man of Careful Planning: As a leader, Nehemiah studied the problems before he did the work. He was careful to select a few men alongside him, and they enquired about the walls and gates at night and told no one before they knew what needed to be done. Neh 2: 12-16) Before Nehemiah began the work, he already had an inspection of the place and knew what the situation was and what needed to be done. (McGee, 86) Secret goals and plans are what leaders should have in any ministry. Also, be careful not to make the secret too concealed that no one will know anything about it and it will bring no fruit at all. Nehemiah carefully handled this. Though he had a secret, he knew when and what to share about his secret plan. At the right time he revealed enough things to his people so that they would get to work and be able to achieve the set goals. Neh. 2: 16) Commenting on Nehemiah’s secret plans Swindoll says that before Nehemiah began his work, he did not say anything about his plans for three days. (Swindoll, 49) This shows that Nehemiah kept secrets when he planned, and after he carefully studied and made an architectural plan of the way to achieve the goals, he shared the plans with his people. That showed his incredible ability to balance things at the right time and in the right place. 8. A who Motivates: After Nehemiah studied the problems and had a plan, he motivated his people to build the wall of Jerusalem.
It is because of his preparation that he knew what to say and the people understand his intention. So, without any hesitation, all the Israelites followed his leadership. (Neh. 2: 18b) The source of his motivation was in the Lord. Nehemiah trusted the Lord in all things. He had seen many things that the Lord had done for Israel and he believed that the Lord would continue to do so. In motivating his people Nehemiah said, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome! ” (Neh. 4: 14) By saying this Nehemiah meant to say that, “God helped us before and He’ll help us again! He is our covenant, God! That’s why I’m here!
That’s why the wall is half up! He is great! He is awesome! Let’s continue to trust Him! Let’s not give up now! ” (Getz, 81) What an encouragement for the Israelites, having such a leader who motivated in the right way! 9. A Who knows well his People: When the time came to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, Nehemiah appointed leaders in different areas; and they began the work. Looking at the work strategy, it is evident that Nehemiah knew his people’s ability, talents, and strengths. (Neh. 3) This is an extraordinary ability of Nehemiah. As a leader, it is important to know well the people that we serve.
This also tells us that Nehemiah was good at building a relationship because it would not be possible to know people well without knowing them well. 10. A man who is ready to face Challenges: As the rebuilding of the wall began there was opposition from enemies. Nehemiah was not afraid of them, and he was not discouraged. In the midst of challenges, Nehemiah prayed to God and was ready to defend. (Neh. 4: 9) But that was not the end for him. It is important to pray, but it was not the only thing they needed. To have prayed only would have been presumption and to have watched only would have indicated a lack of faith. Campbell, 39) Nehemiah balanced it all, and he was ready for challenges that came along his way. 11. A man who relies on God: When the Jews were opposed, Nehemiah turned to God and prayed to Him. Not only that, but he also directed his people to rely on God’s strength and readied to fight for the Lord. (Neh. 4: 14) Throughout the course of rebuilding the wall, opposition came. But Nehemiah always prayed to God which tells us that he always relied on God for God’s work. Fallah says that “as a godly leader, Nehemiah was dependent upon God from whom he received his personal support and encouragement, which motivated him enough to succeed. Foullah) What a leader, seeking God’s will and relying on God’s strength rather than self confidence! 12. A Man of Compassion and Justice: With the poverty situation among the Jews, there were richer people who did business with their fellow brothers. When the rich oppressed the poor in many unjust ways, there was an outcry of the poor against their own Jewish brethren, and Nehemiah acknowledged that. So, he assembled all his Jewish brethren and rebuked all those who treated others unjustly. (Neh. 5: 9) Nehemiah was bold to stand up for the poor and rebuke the sins of the rich because of his compassionate and just heart.
His justice resulted in taking action against any sin immediately. Commenting on Nehemiah’s instant reaction with sin Kidner says, “Ever realistic, Nehemiah leaves no room for postponement or for second thoughts, and make sure that the promises are upgraded into oaths, properly sworn in the presence of the priests. ” (Kidner, 97) Nehemiah was a leader who was impartial. He valued all people equally. 13. A Man of Generosity: Nehemiah not only spoke for the poor he also shared what he had with others. He fed one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers.
Moreover, there were others from the nations around them. So, Nehemiah prepared one ox and six sheep daily for them. Also, fowl, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine was prepared. (Neh. 5: 18) 14. A Man of Wisdom: When Nehemiah was invited by the enemy to meet in the house of the Lord to talk about business, Nehemiah sensed that he would be in trouble if he went there so he decided not to go. (Neh. 6) This is wisdom. Leaders should be sensitive to dangers and should deal with things carefully and wisely. That’s the wisdom Nehemiah had as a leader. 5. A Man who Respects others: Though Nehemiah was the governor of Judah and knew God’s Word, he had high respect for Ezra the scribe and worked together with him. (Neh. 8: 1-9) Nehemiah did not ever rule his people as his property but allowed others to serve in different ways. Moreover, he also appointed many leaders in different ways. (Neh. 3) This makes it clear that Nehemiah highly respected others. This is a good attitude for leaders. 16. A man who is bold for God: After Nehemiah returned from Jerusalem he found that Eliashib prepared a room for Tobiah in the courts of the house of God. Nehemiah was angry and threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room and commanded the room to be cleansed. He also found out that the Levites had not been given their portions. So, Nehemiah gathered the leaders and commanded that portions for Levites should be brought to the house of the Lord. (Neh. 13: 1-13) Moreover, Nehemiah strongly forced the people to observe the Sabbath and gave warning to those who broke the law. (Neh. 13: 21) He also contended with the Jews who married foreign women.
Nehemiah cursed them, struck some of them, and pulled out their hair, and made them swear in God’s name that they should not allow their sons and daughters to intermarrying with foreigners. (Neh. 13: 25) It is evident that Nehemiah was bold for the things of the Lord. His actions would not be necessarily bad for that time period, in that culture, and with the situations. If Nehemiah was bold enough to do that, it shows that he was right in doing what he did because no one was against what he did. As a leader, dealing with problems takes courage and Nehemiah did it successfully.
Moreover, he cleansed every pagan thing and assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service. (Neh. 13: 30) 17. A Man with a Thankful Heart: After the wall was completed they dedicated it to the Lord. They celebrated the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing. (Neh. 12: 27) Nehemiah brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. (Neh. 12: 31) This shows that Nehemiah always remembered how he prayed to God from the very start, and how he came to God with a thankful heart because God allowed him to complete his project.
The city was full of joy on the day of dedication. McIntire comments on Nehemiah’s joyful heart saying, “The fullness of the joy of Jerusalem is in the heart of Nehemiah, too. Speaking of the people upon the walls, he says, ‘So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God, and I, and half of the rulers with me. ’ Jerusalem is a city of joy. Jerusalem is the city of the king. Jerusalem is the holy city. ” (McIntire, 99-100) A godly leader will always remember God’s goodness and will worship God with a thankful heart. 18. A Man of Humility: In whatever he did Nehemiah did not seek fame or popularity.
He did what he ought to do with humility. Talking about Nehemiah’s humility Maciariello says it well – Whatever his strengths or weaknesses of character, Nehemiah does not seek temporal rewards. Although, after completing the city wall, he leads remarkable religious and social reforms during his two terms as governor of Judah, his account ends with a simple request that God remember his deeds on behalf of the people: “Remember me, O my God, for good” (Neh 13:31). Nehemiah’s behavior exemplifies the Christ-exalting characteristics of leadership enumerated in this article (sincerity, tenacity, mood, scope, realm, and rewards).
His example endures as proof of the wisdom of godly principles of leadership and management. (Maciariello, 8) What can we learn from Nehemiah The story of Nehemiah gives us an extraordinary example of a servant-leader motivated and acting for God’s ends. It also provides an example of the use of godly means in the pursuit of excellence in leadership and management, and the focus upon achieving positive results. Looking at the footsteps Nehemiah left for the generation to come is incredible. What a great model of leadership he was! Today in the Christian and secular world, there are great things that need taken care of.
How are we going to begin the process? I believe the only way to begin is to turn our hearts to the Lord as a leader and motivate others to do so. It is so evident from Nehemiah’s life that without God nothing is possible. Man’s strength is fallible and weak in itself, but God is infallible, mighty, and powerful. So, leaders should trust God in everything. That’s what Nehemiah did! The leadership qualities of Nehemiah mentioned above are important for leaders in communities, Churches, and any Christian organization. The only way to begin is to fear the Lord and submit ourselves to Him.
If we honestly take God seriously, I believe the other leadership qualities will be evident in our lives. The problem with leaders today in the secular and Christian world is the lack of the fear of God. We fail time and time again because we try to do things by our own strength. The Psalmist says it well in Psalm 127:1, “Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. ” Let us remember that God is the source of every good thing, and to make the world better we have to turn to the Lord.
Leaders should seek God first for wisdom and understanding in all they do. I believe there will be a difference in the community, society, churches, and any ministry if God is the first and foremost priority that every leader seeks as Nehemiah did.
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Campbell, Donald K. Nehemiah Man in Charge. Wheaton, Il: Victor, 1979.
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Kidner, Derek. Ezra, Nehemiah. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1979.
Maciariello, Joseph. “Lessons in leadership and management from Nehemiah. ” BNET, Oct. 2003. Web. .
McGee, J. Vernon. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Nashville. TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
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