by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference
Being a minister in this post-Christian era is no walk in the park. As most nominating committee members can confirm, putting together church leadership teams seems to require advanced teeth-pulling skills. Even the most committed congregants seem to be more inclined to graciously decline invitations to serve their church, citing grueling work schedules and increasing family responsibilities, both legitimate reasons. What is a pastor to do? A growing number of congregants seem to believe that pastors, who receive a salary, should be doing the heavy lifting, while they do their part by at least attending Sabbath worship. Ministry ends up being limited by a lack of human resources, a lack of team work and even low morale among the ones who are serving. How can a minister keep his/her spirits up from week to week during what may seem like an uphill battle?
I came across some thoughts about Nehemiah’s ministry that may help us understand how Nehemiah was able to motivate a bunch of discouraged and fearful individuals and unite them to accomplish his vision.
“Nehemiah was a reformer, a great man raised up for an important time. As he came in contact with evil and every kind of opposition, fresh courage and zeal were aroused. His energy and determination inspired the people of Jerusalem; and strength and courage took the place of feebleness and discouragement. His holy purpose, his high hope, his cheerful consecration to the work, were contagious. The people caught the enthusiasm of their leader, and in his sphere each man became a Nehemiah and helped to make stronger the hand and heart of his neighbor.” (3BC, 1137; bold applied)
Imagine duplicating or triplicating yourself? Imagine having people around you who share your purpose, vision, enthusiasm and even your level of consecration. This is exactly what Nehemiah was able to do. How did he do it? He had ENERGY and DETERMINATION, yeah, pure determined energy. He had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish and instead of being affected by the feebleness and discouragement around him, he swam upstream and decided to turn the tide around.
Without a doubt, you’ve heard that the style and even personality of a pastor is reflected in his leadership team and/or congregation. Leaders are always influencing those they lead. In their book “Spiritual Leadership”, Henry and Richard Blackaby contrast politicians with statesmen. It occurred to me that an effective spiritual leader must be more like statesman. “Society longs for statesmen, but it generally receives politicians. Statesmen are leaders who uphold what is right regardless of the effect on their popularity. Statesmen speak out to achieve the greatest good for their people, not to identify with the shifting winds of popular opinion. Statesmen promote the general good rather than regional or personal self-interest. Statesmen make unpopular decisions when they are called for, but in the long run they are widely respected for their integrity and for following their convictions” (p. 11,12). It’s no wonder politicians outnumber statesman. Nehemiah’s courage and honor was statesman-like as he inspired his followers with his passionate commitment to the task he had purposed. What motived him? What made Nehemiah unique as a spiritual leader?
“There is a need of Nehemiahs in the church today—not men who can pray and preach only, but men whose prayers and sermons are braced with firm and eager purpose. . .The success attending Nehemiah’s efforts show what prayer, faith, and wise, energetic action will accomplish. . . . The spirit manifested by the leader will be, to a great extent, reflected by the people. If the leaders professing to believe the solemn, important truths that are to test the world at this time manifest no ardent zeal to prepare a people to stand in the day of God, we must expect the church to be careless, indolent, and pleasure-loving.” (3BC, 1137, underline and bold applied)
Jesus was a man of prayer and faith but also of energetic action. His journey companions sometimes wondered if they would ever rest. One time he responded, ‘My Father works so I must work also.” (John 5:17). Prayer + faith + energetic action = A contagious leader people will follow. Where did Nehemiah obtain his energy, passion and mission? By reading the scriptures and praying. Nehemiah was a man of prayer! “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant . . . and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man . . .” (Nehemiah 1: 11). After praying this prayer, he patiently waited four months for God to providentially provide a favorable opportunity to present his request to the king. He was submitted not only to God’s agenda, but also to God’s timing.
“To pray as Nehemiah prayed in this hour of need is a resource at the command of the Christian under circumstances when other forms of prayer may be impossible. . . In times of sudden difficulty or peril the heart may send up its cry for help to One who has pledged Himself to come to the aid of His faithful, believing ones whenever they call upon Him. In every circumstance, under every condition, the soul weighed down with grief and care, or fiercely assailed by temptation, may find assurance, support, and succor in the unfailing love and power of a covenant-keeping God.” (White, PK 628-632; italic and bold applied)
It is my hope that you will be strengthened and encouraged in your leadership as you fulfill God’s agenda in your family, and in larger ministry community. May the assurance of His care and support in all matters that challenge you today, result in more fervent prayer, more faith and more action that will infect all those in your circle of influence!