Pastors have many roles. They are teachers, evangelists, caregivers, guardians, and leaders. Much is written about these areas of endeavor, but perhaps none as much as leadership. Recently the Society of Human Resource Managers released figures from a global survey of corporations that revealed 57% of all of the organizations surveyed employ outside vendors to provide leadership training. Companies know the great importance of good leadership.
When listing great leaders, we think of Nehemiah, the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem during the time of the great Persian Empire. Many books have been written about his skillful handling of a desperate situation. But I’d like us to look at his heart as he expertly leads. When looking for a new king, the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
As we follow Nehemiah upon his arrival at Jerusalem, a broken city, verses 11 through 20 of Nehemiah chapter 2 reveal several key features of his leader’s heart. Having sought permission and been given support for his venture, he arrives in Jerusalem after a long and arduous journey.
Many would arrive at such a scene and immediately decide what needs to be done, give orders, and push for a quick solution. Not Nehemiah. While he was a man of action, he was also a man of careful observation:
He cared enough to accurately assess the circumstances confronting his people.
It seems he took three days to re-gain strength after his nearly 1000 mile trek. And after resting up, he took a few men and quietly toured the walls so as to not alert the many enemies of God’s people, those who did not want Jerusalem to regain its position as a place of worship and influence.
He also very carefully inspected the walls, making sure to note the exact circumstances facing the people. Being careful with such details would assure a wise approach to the project and success in bringing protection to God’s people and honor to His name.
One of my hobbies is working with wood, building furniture and other items of household use. Woodworkers have a saying: ‘Measure twice, cut once.’ It is better to make sure your measurement is correct than to try and stretch a board you have cut too short!
We demonstrate a leader’s heart when we take care to know our people, their circumstances, and the challenges they face in their lives. Such leaders do not force solutions on others, but listen to the hearts of their people and create ministries that meet their needs. Careful sermon preparation, program planning, organization and counseling reflect the heart of a leader who honors God.
Having done his careful inspection, Nehemiah speaks to the leaders and says: “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire” (v. 17). Here we see a second feature of Nehemiah’s heart:
He was sensitive to the brokenness of his people.
The walls he examined had been compromised for over 140 years. The city had lived in this desperate state for so long, the people most likely did not even notice the brokenness.
My wife and I own a house near our university. Occasionally we repaint the walls. When we take down pictures and other ornaments, stand back and look at the wall, we are always amazed at how dirty the walls really are. We did not see this until we cleared away the wall hangings.
Nehemiah, as one not living in the rubble, but in the courts of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, was sensitive to the damage, the hopelessness, and the reproach these people had been to their neighbors and most importantly, to the Lord their God. A leader’s heart remembers what once was true, and what could be true again. He or she is sensitive to the broken spirit, the lamenting soul. Faithful ministers see the heartaches of their people, and they take to heart the neediness of those they are called to love in Christ Jesus.
As we read on in verse 17 and through verse 18, we see Nehemiah’s response to the brokenness of the city and its people, and discover another most precious feature of a leader’s heart:
He was focused continually on redeeming the lives of his people.
When Nehemiah first heard of the plight of his brethren in Jerusalem, he ‘sat down and wept and mourned for days . . . fasting and praying before the God of heaven’ (1:4). In this, he reflected the heart of Jesus, who viewing the city centuries later would weep over it, desirous that his own people recognize the salvation that was at hand (Luke 19:41).
It is so important to notice that in responding to the mess in Jerusalem, Nehemiah does not berate the people for allowing this to continue, but instead includes himself in the pain when he says ‘You see the bad situation we are in.' And again, ‘Come, let us rebuild the wall . . . that we may no longer be a reproach’ (v. 17).
From the day he arrived on the scene, Nehemiah’s heart was bent on restoring the beauty of the eternal city. He did not come with an accusative heart. He came with a desire to redeem, restore, and bring grace to his people to the glory of God. Yes, the people are later called to repentance and restoration of their spiritual obligations as God’s chosen. But even in this, he and all the leaders include themselves in confession and renewal.
We, too, as shepherds of God’s people, must keep the eyes of our heart on redemption, restoration, helping our people know the freedom of forgiveness, the beauty of God’s grace, the hope of the gospel. We do not criticize, blame, or become bitter at the brokenness of lives and the struggles of the church. Instead, we call upon the Lord our God to deliver, to show mercy and grace to all as we worship and serve him.
Now, the project ahead was going to take everyone’s cooperation and effort. In light of this, we will see, in our next installment, the approach Nehemiah’s heart takes in meeting this great challenge.