OceanSide church of Christ
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THE CHALLENGE OF LEADERSHIP
Victor M. Eskew
The title of this article is the title of a book written by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. In this book, the authors strive to find out what leaders must to in order to get extraordinary things done in organizations. This, they say, is the leadership challenge.
Elders are the leaders of the local congregation. The title of “bishop” literally means “overseer.” As “pastors,” they are the shepherds who are leading the flock. God has given them specific directions as to where they are to be leading. He tells them exactly what type of things the church must be doing. Basically, the work of the church is threefold: 1) to save the souls of the lost (Mark 16:15-16); 2) to build up the local congregation (Eph. 4:11-12); and 3) the work of benevolence (James 1:27). The question that the eldership must ask is: “How do we get our flock to excel and accomplish extraordinary things in these areas?”
In the book, The Challenge of Leadership, the authors give five answers to this question. Leaders get extraordinary things done by: 1) Challenging the process, 2) Inspiring a shared vision, 3) Enabling others to act, 4) Modeling the way, and 5) Encouraging the heart. These men studied many people in many organizations to come up with these five points. If they had turned to the book of Nehemiah, they would have found these elements associated with the king’s cupbearer. Briefly, let’s examine these five qualities in the leadership of Nehemiah.
First, Nehemiah challenged the process. The Lord’s people had been out of Babylonian captivity for several years. Some changes had been made in Jerusalem, but the walls of the city were still in disrepair. The gross condition of the walls and the pitiable condition of the hearts of the Israelites had been reported to Nehemiah: “The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire” (Neh. 1:3). Nehemiah challenged the deplorable state of Jerusalem. With burning desire, he communicated his plans to his overseer, the Persian king. The king granted his request to return to Jerusalem, and, even offered his assistance in his endeavors (Neh. 2:5-9).
Second, Nehemiah had to get the vision into the hearts of the people. There was a time when his noble work was found only in his heart (Neh. 2:11-16). After viewing the walls personally, he gathered the leaders and the Jewish people together. “Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me, as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me” (Neh. 2:17-18a). Some might believe that this was an easy sell. But, it was a major undertaking. It would require manpower, supplies, hard work, and fighting against enemy opposition. Nehemiah had to sell the vision. He had to make it one the people desired to see come to fruition. He was able to accomplish this task. “And they said, Let us rise up and build” (Neh. 2:18b). The desire was no longer just in the heart of the leader. It was now in the minds of the people. Good leaders must accomplish this task in order to be successful. They begin by sharing a vision with the church. They can also show the church a plan as to how they would like to accomplish the vision. Then, they must challenge the church. It may be that the Lord’s people are ready and eager to rise and build.
Once the people were ready to go to work, the next task was to enable them to work. Chapter three of Nehemiah reveals that multitudes were given the ability to labor. Each family was given a specific assignment. They were given the supplies to do the work. Then, they were turned loose. The key words in chapter three are “build” and “repair.” The people were not shackled in their efforts. They were turned loose to accomplish the task at hand. The leaders assigned the work. They showed their trust in the people to do the work. “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work” (Neh. 4:6).
In this great work, one man stood out. His name was Nehemiah. He was in the middle of the efforts setting forth a model for all to follow. There were times when it would have been easy for him to leave the work in the hands of the laborers. One such occasion is recorded in Nehemiah 6. His enemies sought to meet with him in the plain of Ono. His reply was simple. “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down; why should the work cease whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Neh. 6:3). Nehemiah was in the middle of things. His sleeves were rolled up. He was an example of dedication to the task at hand. The people could see him as he labored. They could follow him. He was their example.
Lastly, Nehemiah constantly encouraged the hearts of his workers. In chapter four the work not only became difficult, but dangerous as well. The enemies of God’s people conspired against Israel. “And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall. And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease” (Neh. 4:10-11). Nehemiah did not ignore the people. Instead, he encouraged their hearts. Two things were done. One was in action; the other was in words. “Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the higher places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people. Be not afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses” (Neh. 4:13-14). This encouragement brought success. The next verse states: “…we returned all of us to the wall, and everyone to his work” (Neh. 4:15).
Leaders of churches must rise to meet the challenge of leadership. They cannot become satisfied. They cannot let the church grow stagnate. They must get the church to accomplish extraordinary things. We exhort our elders to be “Nehemiahs.” Challenge the process. Inspire us with your vision of the future for the church at OceanSide. Enable us to act. Model the way for us. Encourage our hearts when we grow faint. If you will do this, we will work and “rebuild the walls.” “So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days” (Neh. 6:15).