What a “capital campaign” that was! Nehemiah was under house arrest in a land far from Judah. We know he was a close servant to King Artaxerxes there. A small group of his fellow citizens from the homeland sent him a message that the wall of protection for the capital city was “broken down.” He felt the call to help repair it, to lead the capital campaign. There’s a lot to learn about leadership in how he went about it. What would you or I do today to emulate his leadership?
- Pray. The news hit Nehemiah hard. He sat down, wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed to God (Chapter 1:4) He asked God to remember “instruction you gave your servant Moses” (1:8), to listen to all God’s servants “who delight in revering your name,” and to grant him favor before the king to approve Nehemiah’s going to Jerusalem. The king said yes. When your school needs to build, repair what’s broken, handle shocking events, deal with loss of enrollment, or solve nasty conflicts, today’s Nehemiahs first pray.
- Plan. Nehemiah asked, “May I have letters to governors…so that they will provide me safe-conduct?” And “May I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel?” (2:6-8). The king said yes. Contemporary Nehemiah boards and leaders plan solutions: estimating the costs for additional buildings, creating procedures for emergencies from tragedies to financial losses, setting protocols for families to address teacher-student skirmishes.
- Delegate. Nehemiah described the “trouble we are in” and then called for builders: “Come, let us rebuild” (2:17). Throughout the building process, he persistently prayed; he divided employees into guards and stone masons; he put his brother in charge of the city “because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do” (7:2,5), and appointed Levites to organize the dedication (12:27,31). Christian school Nehemiahs have good eyes for noticing talents and integrity and then matching them to the school’s needs: hospitable folk to admissions, listeners to counseling, and winsome ones to fundraising.
- Counsel. Sanballat and others ridiculed the Jews in their building: “What are these feeble Jews doing?” (4:2-3). Even prophets suggested Nehemiah quit. His answer: “Should a man like me run away? I will not go” (6:3-16). He counseled the fearful, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes” (4:14). Current Nehemiahs model courage and encourage followers: praying for staff, lifting up the despairing, talking plainly to the self-assured.
- Instruct. After the people “settled in their towns,” Nehemiah brought in Ezra to read from the Law “before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.” The people “lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’” (8:3-8). Not only that, the Jews remembered: thanking God for not abandoning them in the desert, for giving them his Spirit to “instruct them,” for acting faithfully, while they did wrong (9:19-23). Today, Nehemiahs keep the Bible and the Living Word active in their schools, help teachers to interpret the facts in God’s light, and remember God’s faithfulness over generations.
- Celebrate. At the same gathering to hear the Word, Nehemiah organized a party, seven days long. He said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.” This day was “holy,” but it was joyful: “Do not grieve, for the joy of our Lord is your strength” (8:10). At the dedication of the wall, he appointed Levites to arrange songs of thanksgiving, with cymbals, lyres, harps, and “two large choirs” (12:27, 31). Today’s Nehemiahs celebrate, too: chapels with music and joyful testimonies, anniversary parties, dedications, and encouraging teachers to sing “the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 78:4) in every subject area.
- Warn. What? Warnings at the end of the book? Don’t books end with “they all lived happily ever after”? Not this one. Nehemiah leaves Judah to report to King Artaxerxes and returns to Jerusalem to find trouble: a priest had given Tobiath, the mocking critic of the Jews’ restoration project, a room in the “house of God.” Nehemiah “threw all Tobiath’s household goods out of the room,” purified it, and put back in it the grain offerings meant for God (13:6-8). He also warned farmers about selling food on the Sabbath, saying, “If you do this again, I will arrest you.” When Jews intermarried with the “women of Ashdod,” he went so far as to “beat some of them and pulled out their hair” (13:15-25). The living Nehemiahs in Christian schools chastise and correct boldly their people for the same reason God does his: “The Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6).
Christian school leaders, both principals and boards, have tough tasks. A few fall into the ditch of being very large bulls in small china shops; others drift into the other ditch: wimpy, hiding in their offices, with a “let George do it” fear. Nehemiah’s practices outlined here are worth imitating. We leaders are flawed; so were most Bible leaders. God used those back then, and us right here, to build his kingdom. That’s noble and godly work.
– Dan Vander Ark