Friday, April 17, 2020

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Leadership Reflections on the Global COVID-19 Disruption

After sitting in quasi-isolation for the past month and observing, praying, and listening to the insights of other leaders by Zoom webinars and podcasts, here are some summary reflections:

1.  World Reorder -- The world will not be the same on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.  A few weeks ago I thought this was a "bump in the road" and things will return to "normal" in a couple months (it was really more about what I hoped would be).  Upon deeper reflection, it is clear to me that the different ways communities, states, and nations respond to this health crisis will leave the world in a different order.  Local and national economies will be impacted in unique ways.  What this all will look like is unknown at this point, but things will change.

2. God's Interruption -- Crises cause us to respond, adapt, innovate, and create new normals.  The mechanics and praxis of how we "do church" is under radical redefinition.  The church is, of course, really the people.  How God's people live into God's mission within a new set of constraints quickly shows us what is important and what has been superfluous.  The all-importance of the weekend event seems to be fading into the background while training leaders and resourcing people to care for one another and live Christ's mission on the street is coming into the foreground.  It appears that God is shuffling our strategies.

3. High and Low Tech -- When the Apostle Paul couldn't be with a particular group of churches in person, he resorted to technology: he wrote a letter!  Church leaders have been innovating with sharing the Message of the Gospel for generations.  Together is better...but internet tools are helpful ways to communicate and stay connected.

4. Turning Points -- Turning points are major inflection points in our lives where the trajectory of our lives takes a major pivot.  We go in a new direction.  Often surrounding turning points is a fair amount of pain and disruption.  They are also places where God does some of His deepest work in our lives. The world and the church are at an inflection point.  During this season of crisis, let God take you deeper.  Listen, pray, learn the lessons.  Then step up boldly!  The world needs godly leaders to make an important impact at this strategic time in world history.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Image result for broken ancient walls

As I ponder the basics of Godly leadership, I return often to Nehemiah.

          The first six chapters of the book of Nehemiah are an insightful study in the nature and    practices of leadership. We meet Nehemiah in chapter one: Nehemiah held the significant role of cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia, in the mid-fifth century BCE. Upon hearing with dismay the condition of his beloved Jerusalem, Nehemiah, used his position and proximity to the king to promote and launch a campaign to repair the ruined city walls. Let us consider the leadership behaviors of Nehemiah.

            1. Nehemiah prayed for the people and the task at hand

Once Nehemiah heard the report from Hanani on the status of his people and Jerusalem, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days, and…continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven”(Neh 1:4).  If spiritual leadership is moving God’s people onto God’s agenda, then Nehemiah began the task with prayer. He confessed his sin and that of the people of Israel, Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people    of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned” (Neh 1:6). Nehemiah then interceded for his king—Nehemiah knew that if he was going to accomplish the vision of and intact and secure Jerusalem, he was going to have to go through the king. Only King Artaxerxes could release him from his palace duties. And Nehemiah knew that he needed the favor of the Lord: O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. Now I was cupbearer to the king”(Neh 1:11).   

         2.  Nehemiah secured the initial resources for the project

If people are going to build, they need materials for the job. Nehemiah empowered his people toward success by providing what was needed to get the project done. After much prayer, Nehemiah petitioned King Artexerxes:

And I said to the king, 'If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.' And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me (Neh. 2:7-8).

3. Nehemiah analyzed the scope of the project

It’s been said, “Reality is your friend.” Leaders must understand what is really going on, even if the situation is grim, so they can devise a plan and execute upon it. Nehemiah, under the cover of darkness, rode a beast around the city walls and got a clear picture of the extent of the devastation: 

I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned (Neh 2:13-15).

4.  Nehemiah cast vision.

It’s amazing the power vision carries in the midst of a challenge. When leaders cast vision, explain what a new future could look like, and touch the hearts of the people, amazing things can happen!  

Then I said to them, 'You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.' And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, 'Let us rise up and build.' So they strengthened their hands for the good work (Neh 2:17-18).

           5.  Nehemiah organized the work. 

In ancient times, the building of walls was assigned to and carried out by various groups of laborers. To pull off such a feat in such a short time required a great deal of leadership and organization. Though the biblical text does not allude to it directly, there is evidence that there were strains between the various groups who worked together on the walls. Holding a vision high and good organization can override the complexities of working with people of differing perspectives and agendas.  In the end, over forty different groups worked with zeal on the rebuilding project (Neh 3).

            6.  Nehemiah encouraged their hearts in the middle of opposition

Leading into a new future always brings about pushback. At the least, change brings about    loss and grief. People don’t like these emotions and thereby resist change. At its worst, your enemies will feel threatened and attempt to thwart the new direction you are heading. Spiritual warfare is rooted in this reality.  The enemies of Israel were nervous at the success of the re-fortification of Jerusalem and fomented a rebellion against the work: 

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it (Neh 4:7-8). 

            In the midst of challenging times, good leaders rally the people.  When the emotions are fired up, people will push through challenges. Leadership involves explaining things logically.  It also involves capturing the heart. 

And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, 'Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.' When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail (Neh 4:14-16). 

            7.  Nehemiah lived the mission

          Nehemiah did not remain aloof from the burden of the work. Nehemiah modeled the kind of commitment and intensity he was calling from the people. Nehemiah was right there in the middle of the challenging work and faced the same threats as everyone else. Nehemiah was not an absentee leader. He was among his people with blisters on his hands and dust on his face.

So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. I also said to the people at that time, 'Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.' So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand. (Neh 4:21-23)

            8.  Nehemiah headed off opposition from within 

       "Now there arose such a great outcry of the people and of their wives agains their Jewish brothers..." (Neh 5:1ff.). As John White comments, "Those who gave themselves to work on the walls were mostly made up of people who could least afford to do so.  Such were the end results of those who passively resisted Nehemiah by not working on the wall (see 3:5)" (John White, Excellence in Leadership, 80).  Nehemiah then confronted the crooked leaders who had caused this injustice and distraction, "I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the noble and the officials.  I said to them, 'You are exacting interest, each from his brother.'  And I held a great assembly against them" (Neh 5:7).  To call others to account with integrity requires stellar character.  At the end of chapter five, Nehemiah demonstrated the quality of his character as he was personally willing to take on a greater burden than that which he asked of others--to lead is to go further than those one is leading. (Williamson, H. G. M. (1998). Ezra, Nehemiah(Vol. 16, pp. 245–246). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)


       9. Nehemiah persevered in the face of personal attacks

          When the Jerusalem wall was nearing completion, Nehemiah's enemies tried another tactic,
"Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, 'Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.' But they intended to do me harm" (Neh 6:2).  There is no point in meeting if the agendas are different.  Slander and accusation came next, 

It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why are building the wall.  And according to these reports you wish to become their king.  And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, 'There is a king in Judah.' And now the king will hear of these reports.  So now come and let us take counsel together (Neh 6:6-7).

          Nehemiah would not be dissuaded from the work of God.  He took comfort and strength from prayer and intimacy with God, "But now, O God, strengthen my hands" (Neh 6:9) and resisted the temptation to melt in fear and run away, "Should such a man as I run away?" (Neh 6:11).  Godly leaders face their fear and move forward anyway.  God's business depends on it.

As a result of God’s blessing and Nehemiah’s leadership, the walls of Jerusalem were restored and completed in a stunningly short-amount of time: fifty-two days!

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. (Neh 6:15-16)