“How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been eaten out by fire?" (Neh 2:3)
The book of Nehemiah offers us a wonderful map for leadership even today. The prophet’s first task was to face the reality of Jerusalem’s destruction in the context of prayer. After acknowledging his pain and desire to help, he approaches King Artaxerxes, who he was serving as cup bearer, to ask for a “leave of absence” so he can return to Jerusalem and help the people rebuild the holy city.When Artaxerxes grants his request, he asks for letters of protection on his journey to Jerusalem which the King also grants. Finally, on arriving in Jerusalem, he quietly surveys the damage to the city and realizes he cannot address the devastation by himself. Consequently, he organizes the people already there and assures them that if they work together they can both rebuild the city and protect themselves from their enemies. Miraculously, Nehemiah and all his compatriots rebuild Jerusalem in 52 days.
Nehemiah’s steps as a leader are clear. Pray, reflect, assess and discern what can be done. Organize those most affected, and act together. For those of you experienced in community organizing, these steps are self evident, but they have not always been followed carefully in our church and nation. While I do not think we can impose prayer on our civil leaders, surely it must be the foundation of church leadership. Only with prayer can we come to terms honestly and openly with the struggles our church is experiencing in the United States today. Without prayer, which can free us of the strangling fear that makes new initiatives die on the vine, we will be using old models and paradigms which are overly hierarchical and clerical to address the needs of our church in the 21st century. The Second Vatican Council was clear when it urged bishops and pastors to seek out qualified lay women and men, who are called by baptism to serve the entire church, (Lumen Gentium, Chapter 4, #31) to take their rightful place alongside the hierarchy in leading the church. (1)
Today ask Nehemiah for honest hearts with which to face our problems as a church and work together to address them.
What do you think makes a good leader?