Nehemiah: Old Testament Principles for Modern Day Leaders

Principle 1: Pray for God’s Guidance and Actually Listen.

We must first silence ourselves and ask God what His will is for our lives, once we do this we must wait patiently and actually listen for God’s answer.

· When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven (Nehemiah 1: 4 New International Version). v “You need to know whether or not you have received a call from God, and you need to know what you have been called to do” (McNeal, 2000, p. 97).

Principle 2: Confirm God’s Vision.

We must, like Moses, receive confirmation of God’s calling or vision in order to validate it and assure that this is the direction you are meant to be heading. You may receive confirmation of your calling to be a leader through other people, God’s word, life circumstances or direct communication with God.

· The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it” (Nehemiah 2: 4-5)

v A Swiss philosopher named Henri Frederic Amiel said, “To win true peace, a man needs to feel himself directed, pardoned, and sustained by a supreme power, to feel himself in the right road, at the point where God would have him be – in order with God and the universe. This faith gives strength and calm” (as cited by Neal, 2010, p.195) v “The call may come privately but it is validated publicly” (McNeal, 2000, p.98).

Principle 3: Share the Vision.

Once you have heard God’s vision and confirmed it, you must now share the vision with others. God gives you the vision and the ability to share this with others; this is the true beginning of your leadership journey.

· Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work (Nehemiah 2:17-18).

v “An effective vision provides guidance. It gives direction for an organization….direction that cannot effectively result from rules and regulations, policy manuals or organizational charts. True direction for an organization is born with vision. It begins when the leader accepts it. It gains acceptance when the leader models it. And it becomes reality when the people respond to it” (Maxell, 1995, p. 27-28).

Principle 4: Build a Team with Shared Vision and Equal Commitment to the Mission

Now that you have begun your leadership journey and you have shared your vision, you will now begin building a team of people around you who understand and share your vision. By choosing people who understand the mission you are assuring that they will be equally committed to completing the task.

· Nehemiah 3 illustrates a listing of all the participants that assisted in rebuilding the wall. Each person was invested in the rebuilding since it benefitted them and they understood God’s hand in building the wall. v “Once a leader has a vision, he needs to build a team to carry it out.” (Maxwell, 1995, p.28) v “A team is a group of people bound together by a commitment to reach a shared goal” (Wilkes, 1998, p. 215). v “Each member helps move the team toward its goal through his or her unique contributions to the team” (Wilkes, 1998, p. 220).

Principle 5: Anticipate Opposition and Don’t Lose Focus of the Mission

You are sure to encounter some sort of opposition along the way, someone or something

that stands in the way of your mission or is unsupportive of your vision. If you are a good

leader and you keep up your awareness of the issues; you will often be able to anticipate

opposition and have a plan made out before it becomes an emergency. You must always keep the mission in mind as a gauge to figure out how much weight you need to give to a person or thing that stands in the way of your mission.

· When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.

From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me (Nehemiah 4:15-18).

v “A test of a leader is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency…Great leaders are seldom blindsided,” (Maxwell, 1993, p. 81-82). v “Spiritual leaders must welcome conflict as a heart-shaping tool of God,” (McNeal, 2000, p.156).

Principle 6: Practice Humility.

We need to remember we are the same as the people working towards the mission, though we may be in a leadership role we aren’t “above” anyone. We need to remember that we all serve a different purpose in reaching the mission but every contribution, big or small, is important. If it is necessary to protect the people or the ultimate outcome of the mission, we are not exempt from helping, we shouldn’t assume that others should protect us and we don’t have to participate. We can move forward confidently knowing there is always someone more important on the mission than us, it’s God!

· So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and workmen by day.” Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water (Nehemiah 4:21-23). v “Something in human nature causes us to start slacking off at our moment of greatest accomplishment. As you become successful, you will need a great deal of self-discipline not to lose your sense of balance, humility, and commitment,” H. Ross Perot (as cited by Borden, 2007,p.137). v “We who lead often overlook that the true place of Christlike leadership is out in the crowd rather than up at the head table,” (Wilkes, 1998, p.13)

Principle 7: Set Standards to Stop Issues from Recurring (Maxwell, 1993, p. 94)

At times, out of desperation or overconfidence, we or the people around us may make a bad decision(s). When this happens we need to pray for guidance and wisdom and we must step in before things get out of control. Sometimes we will need to set standards or rules up so that we don’t see the same issues continuing to occur if they can be avoided or we can stop them before they escalate beyond repair.

· When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.

So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them-the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.”

“We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say” (Nehemiah 5:6-12).

v God has editing rights over our prayers. He will… edit them, correct them, bring them in line with His will and then hand them back to us to be resubmitted,” says Reverend Stephen Crotts who is also a speaker, teacher and writer (n.d. retrieved from

Principle 8: Be Humble

Leadership roles can be accompanied by feelings of importance and others treating you “special”; however as leaders we must remember that we must remain humble. We must not take more than we need and we must assure that our teams are taken care of just as well as, or better, than we are. Receiving special attention can be very attractive and hard to resist but we must remember that we are serving our purpose to bring attention to God and His Word, not ourselves. We must die to ourselves each and every day.

· Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people (Nehemiah 5:17-18). v “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker,” said Helen Keller (as cited by Lynberg, 2001, p. 183).

Principle 9: Accountability is Essential (for you and your team members).

Accountability is very important and we must be accountable to thing just as others are. We must not only hold others accountable to follow standards and to be faithful people; we must also do the same. It is important to have accountability partners in your life so that there are people there to keep track of you and hold you to your word and promises, if you don’t form these relationships you may slip through the cracks.

· Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!”

At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised (Nehemiah 5:12-13).

v “Perhaps nothing in our society is more needed for those in positions of authority than accountability. Too often those with authority are able (and willing) to surround themselves with people who support their decisions without question,” says author Larry Burkett (2006).

Principle 10: Be a Model

Along with accountability, we must also be a model in all other aspects. There is always someone watching every step we make, some are watching for us to make a mistake while others are watching us intently to form their own habits and opinion. This is a large responsibility but it must be taken seriously, we must view it like we are the parent and others are the children in the fact that children watch every move their parents make, they want to be just like them.

· Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year-twelve years-neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors-those preceding me-placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels [a] of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land (Nehemiah 5: 14-16). v “Your actions will be your most valuable tool in casting a vision and staying the course,” (McNeal, 1998, p.169). v “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way,” said John Maxwell (as cited by Palmieri, 2009, p. 21).

Principle 11: Trust God (Especially in Conflict)

Although we have talked about anticipating problems and setting forth rules to stop things from happening over if they are problematic, we must also acknowledge that we will sometimes encounter conflicts that will require us to find a solution. In this case we must hold strong to God’s command and calling for our lives and trust God to carry us through and protect us. We must also sometimes embrace the opposition since it does cause reflection time and God shapes us most in times of weakness or conflict.

· But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer (Nehemiah 6: 2-4). · But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me (Nehemiah 6: 11-13). v “Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they can. If they see you are afraid of them, they are liable to spring upon you; but if you look them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight,” said Orison Swett Marden, hotel owner and author (as cited by Martineau, 2006, p.161).

Principle 12: Perseverance

We must persevere through the difficulties in life. Many times when we complete something we will reflect back and wonder how we made it through and the answer is God. God carries us through; he gives us the physical and mental strength to make it through if we lean on him for help.

· So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6: 15-16). v “Perseverance is more prevailing than violence; and many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little, ” said Plutarch (as cited by Lehman, 2009, p. 9).

Principle 13: Appoint trustworthy people.

We must carefully choose the people that we surround ourselves with in this important time in our lives. We must trust God and if we do all of the things mentioned above but have a non-trustworthy team you will be left with nothing. We must ask for God’s guidance on our mission but also on the people who he will provide for us to complete the task at hand.

· After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed. I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do. I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses” (Nehemiah 7: 1-3). v “I think vision is highly overrated today. I think what really blesses a ministry is, if you want the power of God in your life, its humility and integrity. I’ll take a person who’s humble and has integrity over a person who has vision any day. A lot of people have vision just based on ego, but it’s in that dependence upon God that we get His vision and develop more trust in Him,” said Rick Warren (2003, retrieved from

Principle 14: Observe the Sabbath

We must observe a day of rest, it is absolutely essential for our mental and physical health. Today, tomorrow and yesterday God loved us just the same and he wants us to be the most effective we can and in order to do this we must observe the Sabbath to not only recuperate but to re-connect with God and remember what the mission is and sincerely listen for his answers.

· Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them (Nehemiah 8: 10-12).

v “Putting off Sabbath means putting off life. Without Sabbath, our souls lose touch with our true destiny. Life becomes too common and profane. Transcendence is lost. The tyranny of the urgent rules of our lives. We forget what is really real. We neglect the kingdom. We fail to rehearse eternity,” (McNeal, 2000, p. 143).

Principle 15: Keep the Truth (bible) in the Forefront of your Mind.

It is very important that we have a foundation in biblical principles and that we continue to study scripture so that we can have those concepts in our minds at all times. By continuing to read scripture it encourages us to live in a biblical way, we are much more likely to respond in line with biblical principles if we have the Truth (biblical principles) in our mind always.

· On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law (Nehemiah 8:13). · Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulate on, there was an assembly (Nehemiah 8: 18). v Mother Theresa said, “May today be peace within. May you trust your highest power that you are exactly where you are meant to be… May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you… May you be content knowing you are a child of God… Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love. It is there for each and every one of you,” (citied by Samson, 2009, p.161).


Borden, William (2007). Living Like Benjamin: Making Dreams Come True. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

Burkett, Larry. (2006) Business By The Book: Complete Guide of Biblical Principles for the Workplace. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Lehman, Robin. (2009) Perseverance. Lawrence, KS: Fogdog Press.

Lynberg, Michael. (2001) Make each Day Your Masterpiece: Practical Wisdom for Living an Exceptional Life. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Martineau, Scott. (2006) The Power of You: How YOU Can Create Happiness, Balance and Wealth. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Maxwell, John C. (1993) Developing the Leader Within You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Maxwell, John C. (1995) Developing the Leaders Around You: How to Help Others Reach Their Full Potential. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

McNeal, Reggie. (2000) A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint.

Neal, Amy. (2010) Secrets of a Soccer Mom.

Palmieri, Carl. (2009) Satisfying Success: And the Ways to Achieve it. Booksurge Publishing.

Porter, Debbie. (2010) Has Anyone Found Your What? Retrieved from

Samson, Will. (2009) Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.

Scripture Quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. 2002.

Warren, Rick. (2003) FIRST-PERSON: A Conversation with Bill Bright. Baptist Press. Retrieved from

Wilkes, C. Gene (1998) Jesus on Leadership: Timeless Wisdom on Servant Leadership. United States of America: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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