In the leadership course I recently taught in Khabarovsk at the Far East Russia Bible College, one of my assignments required my students to read through the first 6 chapters of Nehemiah. They were to describe five leadership characteristics or actions of Nehemiah that explain why he was able to motivate and organize the people to build the walls of Jerusalem in such a short time.
During the week that I was in Khabarovsk, I decided to re-read Nehemiah for myself in my personal devotions, and pay particular attention to his leadership qualities. Over the years, I have read Nehemiah many, many times, and marked dozens of papers on this subject. But again, I noticed leadership qualities in Nehemiah that I had missed before, particularly in the chapters following chapter six. My reading and reflection on Nehemiah continued after my return to Kiev, and I would like to share a few observations from the dedication celebration of the wall that Nehemiah organized, and which is recorded in chapter 12.
At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. Nehemiah 12:27
The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, Nehemiah 12:38
And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. Nehemiah 12:43
Observation: In contrast to Ezra, who leads the first procession going to the right (Neh 12:36), Nehemiah follows the second choir along with the other officials. He has organized the whole event, but he does not take the leading role in the celebration. This is a thanksgiving and dedication service to God, not to Nehemiah. The two choirs circle the city, walking on top of the wall, and end up at the temple. It is noteworthy that the choirs do NOT end up at the governor’s home. Nehemiah gives Ezra, the teacher of the law, a prominent place at the head of the first procession, but he does not seek the same for himself.
The whole dedication ceremony is a public recognition that Jerusalem is now once more a holy city (see Neh. 11:1, 18). As a holy city, it is now able to exclude the unholy, keep the Sabbath and preserve the worship of God as prescribed by the Law. Nehemiah sees his leadership as contributing to this higher purpose. The wall was not built as an end in and definitely not as a monument to Nehemiah’s leadership. Nehemiah does not want this celebration to be about him. It is not a public ceremony celebrating his leadership accomplishments or even an expression of the people’s gratitude for all his sacrifices and effort in helping to restore their city.
Application: When leaders are successful, praise is given to God and everyone participates in the celebration. It not about the leader and his or her accomplishments, but about giving glory to God for what He has done for us. Our leadership must result in people praising God, and rejoicing in what God has done. May this image of Nehemiah following behind the choir be impressed upon my mind as I lead and train leaders in SEND.
A couple of quotes from Crawford Loritts’ Leadership as an Identity, one of my favorite books about leadership:
“When we start sharing the stage with God, eventually He lets us know-usually in a very memorable way-that He doesn’t do variety shows and He’s not into cohosting what He wants done in human history.”