Missionaries Ought to Know About ...
What Missionaries Ought to know about Leadership
Ronald L. Koteskey
all missionaries, at some time or other you are in a position of
leadership: planting churches, directing a work team, or teaching in
school (or Sunday school, or English). You may feel pressure from above
to reach goals and pressure from below to help those you supervise meet
their needs. What are you to do? In such a position of leadership,
Nehemiah gives good answers. Who was Nehemiah? What did he do? How did
he lead? When did he lead? Why did he lead? Did he succeed? Although not
everyone has the same style and uses the same methods, let us consider
Nehemiah as one example of Godly leadership.
Who was Nehemiah?
Like missionaries, Nehemiah was living in another culture, working in
a position of responsibility there. He was cupbearer to the king. When
visitors arrived from his passport country, he inquired about the people
back home and about the capitol city. However, much more important than
his occupational title were his personal characteristics. When he heard
that the people back home were disgraced and the walls of the city were
burned and broken, he wept, mourned, fasted and prayed.
- Compassionate. He wept and mourned for his people and his country.
- Caring. He fasted, prayed and took action, encouraging the people.
- Committed. He got the job done, cared for his people, and was
faithful to God.
- Consistent. Even those he reprimanded could find nothing negative
to say about him.
- Courageous. He persevered in the face of threats, ridicule, and
opposition from both the outside and inside.
For nearly a century some of his people must have said,
"Somebody ought to do something about those walls." Others
must have replied, "Nothing can be done." Because of his
character, Nehemiah felt responsible to take some action.
What did he do?
The most obvious answer to this is that he built the wall. Although
little had been accomplished in 90 years, he had the wall completed in
only 52 days, less than two months. More important than building the
wall was that, as their leader, he took care of his people. He was
- Safety. He directed them in defending themselves from people of
other cultures opposed their work.
- Justice. When people of their passport culture took advantage of
them back home by charging exorbitant interest rates, Nehemiah
confronted the lenders.
- Spiritual renewal. He saw that someone led his people in hearing
God's word, confession, worship, celebration, and praise.
- Consolidation of his gains. Nehemiah did not leave the capitol
city nearly empty but got one in ten of the families to volunteer to
- Forethought. He anticipated needs and drafted plans to avoid
How did he lead?
More important than being cupbearer to the king (who he was) or that
he built the wall in 52 days (what he did) is how he did it. He did it
all in ways that brought glory to God and a sense of fulfillment to
those under his supervision. Here are some of the ways he did it:
- Prayed. After he first heard the bad news and reacted to it, we
have recorded his prayer of adoration, confession, reminder of the
covenant, and petition for success.
- Overcame his fears. Although he was very much afraid of what the
king in the culture where he was living and working would say, he
responded when asked about his problem. He knew that the king would
probably not be very excited about rebuilding the capitol of a
conquered nation-Nehemiah's passport country.
- Was tactfully open to superiors. He began by appropriately
addressing the king and then sharing his problem at the king's
request. He responded to each of the king's questions by asking more
and more from him, including letters of recommendation.
- Shared his vision. After deciding what should be done, he shared
his vision with the local leaders in his passport country.
- Gave God the glory. From the beginning he acknowledged that his
success was due to God's grace.
- Faced ridicule. When people of other cultures mocked and ridiculed
him and the people he was leading, he again affirmed his confidence
- Delegated the work. He assigned people to work on various parts of
the wall-often the parts in front of their own houses. What
motivation-those who did poor workmanship or did not complete their
part of the wall would be the first to suffer the consequences of
their lack of diligence.
- Emphasized cooperation rather than competition. He had forty
distinct groups working together on a project, something of a
miracle for those who have tried to get even two churches or mission
agencies to work together.
- Faced opposition realistically. When the people of other cultures
became incensed so that they despised and ridiculed Nehemiah's work
force, he responded with prayer and the posting of guards.
- Encouraged his workers. He acknowledged their fears and reminded
them of their great awesome God.
- Developed contingency plans. He had half of the people working and
the others standing guard. He further arranged for defenders to come
at once to the sounding of the trumpet when those at another part of
the wall were threatened.
- Confronted internal dissention. When the controversy arose over
people from the home country charging the workers interest, he
immediately called a large meeting to resolve the issue.
- Did not take the perks. Nehemiah did not lord it over his workers
but out of reverence for God did not take even the food to which he
was entitled, nor did he acquire any land.
- Kept to the task. Rather than taking the perks, he said,
"Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall."
Notice that most of the "how he did it" things were more
about his character than they were about techniques for motivating his
workers to get the job done. Also note that after the wall was built
Nehemiah was not the one to read God's word to the people, but he
stepped aside for Ezra to do so.
When did he lead?
Nehemiah did not rush right into action as soon as he heard the bad
news, but he carefully took one step at a time.
- Four months after he talked with the delegation from his passport
country (the month of Kisley) he spoke with the king (the month of
Nisan). During that time he wept, mourned, fasted and prayed.
- He did not leave the country where he was living without
permission from the king and letters of introduction, rather like
getting visas before international travel.
- He did not immediately call the people of Jerusalem together to
get them working on the wall. Instead, before even telling anyone
why he was there, he did a secret survey at night to get a
comprehensive view of the project.
- Once the project was underway, everyone worked from dawn to dusk.
There was no hesitation at that time. (Note that this schedule was
for 7.5 weeks, not for a lifetime.)
Why did he lead?
Of course, part of the reason was the kind of person he was. He was a
concerned, caring, compassionate person who identified deeply with his
people who were hundreds of miles away in his homeland. When he heard of
their trouble and disgrace, his response was to sit down, weep, and
His next responses were prayer and fasting. He went beyond merely
empathizing with them and carried their problem to God over a period of
several months. All Christians, including missionaries, should make this
prayerful response for people in times of need.
After months of prayer he was convinced that he had to do more about
the need, something that involved his personal involvement. In Nehemiah
2:12, he talked about "what my God had put in my heart to do for
Jerusalem." What a clear call from God to a specific task!
Did he succeed?
He succeeded on both counts. He completed the task to which God had
called him, and he took care of his people while accomplishing the task.
He not only built the wall, but he also brought about changes that would
keep the wall in place for many years by restoring to the people of God
their identity and giving them a common purpose.
Of course, not everyone succeeds in all tasks attempted. Leaders need
to be prepared for the frustration of failure even when obeying God
completely. Repentance by the people did not occur under the leadership
of every prophet.
brochure is just an introduction to what this book of the Bible says
about Nehemiah's leadership. If you are in a position of leadership,
reading this book annually (or even more often) will serve as a regular
checkup for you personally as a leader and for your style of leadership.
As you study his word, God himself will emphasize what you need at that
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