The most-cited biblical leadership text is probably Nehemiah. This book teaches us about the power of prayer, evaluation, decision-making, determination, and unity––or working together. One of the most critical and essential elements for leading God’s people today is vision. Consider the vision of Nehemiah and how his ability to communicate that vision united people to achieve it.

Nehemiah demonstrated great concern for the nation when he learned about the dire situation in Jerusalem. The walls of the city were broken down, the gates had been burned, and there was no protection for the people in Jerusalem. Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed. He continued praying throughout the journey and influenced others to do the same. When King Artaxerxes saw Nehemiah, he asked why Nehemiah’s face was sad. After Nehemiah explained what had happened to Jerusalem, the king asked what Nehemiah would request of him. Note that Nehemiah’s first response was again to pray.

The king granted Nehemiah’s request to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls, and he provided letters to the governors of the provinces beyond the river to secure necessary materials. Nehemiah arrived and evaluated the situation, inspected the walls, and specifically gathered the leaders together. Most people believe his vision was to rebuild the wall, but if we dig deeper into the text, we learn his vision was greater.

The mission was rebuilding the wall—but the vision was much bigger.

Once these leaders were assembled, Nehemiah said,

You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach. I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me” …Nehemiah 2:17–18a

Four Thoughts That Stand Out

First, Nehemiah addressed the problem: “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate, and its gates burned by fire.” Even though it was evident to everyone, Nehemiah wanted to define the magnitude of the task publicly. If you plan to unite people, you can’t neglect, deny, ignore, or assume that people know the problem exists. Even if people do know the problem, it’s still important to define it clearly.

Second, Nehemiah presented a solution:

Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem

The only way to address the problem was to communicate how they could overcome it. I’m sure the people who lived in Jerusalem were aware of the need to rebuild the wall, but it took a leader to stand up and challenge them to get the job done. In leadership terms, the same need exists today. People are often aware of the work that needs to be done, but it takes a leader willing to challenge and work alongside them to achieve the task at hand.

Third, Nehemiah expresses the why or purpose:

So that we will no longer be a reproach.

Remember, at one time, Israel was the great nation of God—a light to the world. People feared Israel because of their great and holy God. However, because the Israelites had sinned against God, he allowed them to be taken captive by the Babylonian nation, and the city was destroyed. The result was a nation in reproach. Nehemiah’s vision was not to rebuild the wall; he was to make Israel the great nation of God it had been once before. Leaders today must know their why or purpose and communicate it well. When people understand the why behind the vision, they will follow and sacrifice to achieve it.

Fourth, Nehemiah inspired them with hope:

“I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me.”

Imagine the scene: Nehemiah gave an update on the situation—of which everyone knows. Perhaps they were thinking, Sure, we know we need to do this . . . but how can we get this job done when we have no protection from our enemies? Nehemiah wanted them to know that God was with him and would be with them, also. The evidence was based on the support of King Artaxerxes. When leaders know that God is with them and they communicate the evidence of God’s work in their lives, people develop confidence in their leaders to take them to any destination. Confidence is the power of a leader’s vision.

Notice the mindset of the people once Nehemiah expressed these four thoughts. Their immediate response was, “Let us arise and build.” As we continue to read through the text, we find people united. Even when enemies challenged the people, the text tells us,

We built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6; emphasis mine).

Later, we read about the intensity of their situation and the unity required to rebuild the wall.

When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and the breastplates, and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. . . The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us. So, we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. (Nehemiah 4:15–17, 19b–21; emphasis mine)

The people were united around a vision that inspired them to make whatever sacrifice was necessary to achieve it. They had a leader willing to stand alongside them to work and fight for a worthy cause. Leaders excel when they cast a vision before others, resulting in unity that will change the direction of the church in achieving its mission.

Bob Turner
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Bob Turner is the current Director of SALT (Sunset Academy for Leadership Training). He teaches courses and conducts workshops in Leadership Development, Emotional Intelligence, Creating Vision, Strategic Planning, Communication, Conflict Resolution, Character, and Managing Change. He also serves as an instructor in the Sunset International Bible Institute’s master’s and doctoral degree programs. He and his wife, Sheryl, have been married for 42 years with more than 30 years of ministry experience. They have three grown children and ten grandchildren.