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Entries in Nehemiah (3)


Can a leader be self-appointed?

Last night at my church, there was a celebration in recognition for the 33 years of service my in-laws contributed to youth ministry at my church. Thirty-three years with teenagers. Can you imagine? My in-laws saw all of their grandchildren pass throuth youth ministry while they were still there, and they retired at the end of last year.

Part of the festivities was hearing from men and women who were once under their teaching and guidance in the group, two pastors, a young mother attending our church, and my husband. In each case, these people pointed out one thing about my in-laws that I know to be true: they are humble servants.

In 1979, when my in-laws joined the youth ministry, they were called "leaders" but they did not sit down one night and say to themselves, "Hey, we need leaders. Let's be leaders." What they did was see a need and humbly agree to answer to call to fill it.

I have thought about the word "leader" a lot over the weekend, being directed to it by to a few things I read last week, this special event, and my studies in Nehemiah. When Nehemiah saw the need in Jerusalem, he was undone (Nehemiah 1:4). He sat down and wept and mourned for days when he heard about the problem in Jerusalem. He continued to fast and pray for months before going to the King and asking for leave to go to Jerusalem, before assuming leadership. His attitude was one of humility, and he proves his worth throughout the account of the rebuilding of the walls.

When I think about good leaders, I am often struck by how quickly they are to resist the notion that they are leaders. My in-laws are not attention-seekers. They don't look for fame or repute. They simply serve the God they love. I have a husband like that as well. He is a very good leader, but it's not something he seeks, and it's not something he wears like a badge. He doesn't go around telling others he's a leader; he just does it. That is the way my in-laws work, too. They simply go about their business with humility and devotion.

Can a leader appoint himself? Yes.  I, personally, am cautious about people who do that. In my brief 48 years on earth, it's been my observation that the best leaders aren't the ones who go around bragging about their position. Frankly, some of the worst leaders are the ones who are too aware of the fact.  The best leaders aren't necessarily the ones with the loudest voices, the biggest audiences, or the most profound words. The best leaders are the ones who are servants, and who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, to be inconvenienced, or to simply be unnoticed. Good leaders don't seek the limelight.

Yes, leaders can be self-appointed, but give me the cautious leader any day. I am thankful that I've been blessed to know true servant leaders. They spur me on to work quietly and diligently.


Words worth repeating

Daily; hourly, if necessary:

The source of strength is the knowledge of God, recalled, reviewed, refocused, thought through, and applied to the matters in hand.

J.I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom From the Book of Nehemiah.


From a long line of workaholics

My father is a hard worker, He was brought up by a hard worker, who produced children who are hard workers. I think they all tend toward workaholism. My father passed on his work ethic to his children. I think God keeps me from being employed because I could end up as a workaholic.

In his book A Passion for Faithfulness, J.I. Packer quotes a pastor, John White, with regard to the principle of work. He's giving this insight in relation to Nemehiah's work in rebuilding the temple walls.  The word "work" is frequently used in Nehemiah.

White says:

Sometimes we work too much not because the work is essential, but because we are driven by fear - rather than sustained by faith. Workaholics are driven. Work for them is not an expression of faith but a search for peace ... workaholics try to keep their consciences clean by working. Consequently, they work too much and become slaves to their own neuroticism. Workaholics cannot easily rest; they begin to look haunted when resting ...

The Scriptures do not encourage this sort of drivenness. "In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat - for he grants sleep to those he loves" (Ps. 127:2). Nehemiah ... was deeply aware that labor is fultile if it is not with the Lord. Nehemiah worked hard when hard work was needed because he knew God's hand was on him (2:8, 18), not because he suffered a neurotic need to achieve.

I love my father and he worked hard to provide for us, but there was quite simply an element of ambition behind what he did. He's not alone. Ambition is not a bad thing. As with any good thing, it can be taken to an extreme. I know people who work strictly to feed their ambitions, and I know people who work because it is good and because it's a vocation from God. There is a difference, I think.