Summary: Nehemiah shows us that to be a leader, you must really become a servant leader. He gives us some keen insight and lessons of what it means to be a servant leader today.
Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s became a familiar sight to millions in his company’s television commercials. Dave also appeared in a lot of in store training films. In those, as in many of the more familiar commercials, he would dress as his workers. One year he appeared on the cover of one of the company’s annual reports dressed in a knee-length work apron holding a mop and a plastic bucket. For many years, a framed copy of that picture graced the back rooms and manager’s office of most Wendy’s. That picture was built on the fact Dave was a self-made millionaire. He didn’t finish high school. He worked his way up through the ranks of Kentucky Fried Chicken and then went off on his own to start Wendy’s. Here’s how Dave explained that picture: “I got my M.B.A. long before my G.E.D. At Wendy’s M.B.A. does not mean Master of Business Administration. It means Mop Bucket Attitude.” Dave Thomas taught all of his employees that service comes before success.
Nehemiah shows us that to be a leader, you must really become a servant leader. He gives us some keen insight and lessons of what it means to be a servant leader today.
First, we’re in this together attitude. Throughout Chapters 4 and 5, Nehemiah uses two key words in describing the events and in speaking with the people rebuilding the wall- “we” and “us”. This was never an “us” versus “them” thing. This was never about Nehemiah and what he could accomplish. This is about God’s call on Nehemiah and the people of Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah is in this thing with the people from the start and will be with them through the peaks and valleys until the very end. He’s there physically, mentally and spiritually. While Nehemiah is the leader and coordinator of the rebuilding of the walls, he’s one of the people and one with the people in this task and God’s call upon their life together.
Second, servant leaders seek the well-being of others. Verses 13, 16-17, 20 He pulled half the men off the rebuilding lines and outfitted and armed them as sentries and soldiers. He then placed them at the lowest points of the wall, the exposed places. He also stationed them behind the people, in effect saying, “We got your backs.!” Not only that, he put an emergency plan in place in the event that Sanballat and his armies were going to attack. All this spoke to the men, women and children that Nehemiah wasn’t concerned just about the work of rebuilding but first and foremost about the safety and well-being of those who were on the frontlines, sacrificing and laboring to rebuild the wall of God’s Holy City. As a result, the people doubled their efforts and worked long past quitting time because they knew they were safe and that Nehemiah was more concerned about them than the completion of the wall.
Third, servant leaders make personal sacrifices for the sake of others, the mission and the organization. verse 14. "Neither I nor my brothers ate the food that was allotted to us." As governor, Nehemiah was entitled to the very best of food and wine and proportionally more than anyone else. But he realized being a servant leader is not always about receiving. It’s about giving to God’s greater purpose so that others can experience blessings. There were a lot of perks for the Governor; and his whole team could have had many great benefits, but Nehemiah chose to do things differently from the governors before him who had oppressed the people through their lavish living. Instead, he chose to make personal sacrifices for the sake of the people.
Servant leaders lead by sacrifice, not by an attitude of entitlement. As a servant leader, Nehemiah realized that the more responsibility that you’ve been given means the less rights you have. As leaders, every time God gives us greater responsibility, it diminishes and decreases our rights and privileges that we have in the kingdom of God. Because of this huge responsibility to God’s work and leading God’s people, it was imperative that Nehemiah set the example. Nehemiah realized that it was more about influence than affluence. Nehemiah realized that God gave him a position to have influence on the people, but he didn’t give him a position to gain greater affluence. Servant leaders realize it’s not about me. It’s about leading through sacrifice. Other leaders had sought to move with self-interest, but Nehemiah realized that it wasn’t about oppressing others; it was about relieving others so that they could fulfill their life purpose as well. And that started with his sacrifice.
Fourth, the servant leader listens to the people and seeks to meet their needs. In the midst of famine and an economy stricken with inflation, the wealthy and those with means saw an opportunity to raise the prices of food and goods, lend money to those in need at exorbitant rates and foreclose on those who could not keep up their payments. Nehemiah heard the complaints of the people and saw the division it was causing among the workers. And the Scripture tells us he became very angry or irate. Why? Because he cared about the needs and concerns of the people. He could have just avoided the conflict altogether but instead he chose to take a great risk and confront the nobles and leaders. He called their action sins against God and their fellow Jews and then challenged them to change their ways. Those men could have turned and just walked away. But Nehemiah realized that the needs of the least and the last were more important than the desires of the elite. Servant leaders look after the needs of their followers because he knew if they’re met then they can reach their full potential and hence perform at their best. Steven Covey writes, "The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and most difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"