Summary: Most leaders are like middle-managers with superiors and subordinates and Nehemiah shows us how to both lead and follow.
I heard Adrian Rogers give this example: We all have seen Canada Geese fly in their V formation with one leg of the V formation longer than the other leg. Why do they fly in the V formation? The lead goose is making it easier for the other geese who are following his lead. He is moving the wind resistance of the other geese following him. The rest are cruising. But after awhile the lead goose gets tired and drops back and the next goose moves up. Engineers in the wind tunnel experiments have discovered that geese flying in the V formation can fly 72% further than by themselves flying alone. Geese flying in the V formation illustrate the necessity and advantages of practicing both leadership and followship.
Cyril Barber, in his commentary on Nehemiah, transfers this principle into all of life; “Middle management involves being able to translate the ideals of one’s superiors into practice and, at the same time, knowing how to motivate one’s subordinates. It necessitates keeping corporate goals in mind, while encouraging individuals to strive for personal achievement” Cyril J. Barber, Nehemiah and the Dynamics of Effective Leadership, page 26).
Most of us live in a middle management role of some kind. Most of us have superiors who lead us and subordinates whom we lead. We are all accountable to someone.
Middle managers lead line workers and follow their senior management.
Executive pastors leads a congregation and follows their senior pastors.
Teachers instruct students and follow their principle.
Wives train their children and follow their husbands.
Nehemiah teaches us the third mark of lay leadership: He follows his leader.
Here are Six Marks of Leadership in Nehemiah:
1. He Shows Concern for God’s Work (Nehemiah 1:1-4)
2. He Prays for God’s People (Nehemiah 1:5-11)
3. He Follows his Leader (Nehemiah 1:11-2:8)
4. He Motivates his Followers (Nehemiah 2:9-20)
5. He Organizes his Work (Nehemiah 3:1-32)
6. He Handles his Opposition (Nehemiah 4-6)
How can we practice followship in order to also exert leadership?
1. By Praying for your Leader (1:11)
Nehemiah prayed four months for his unsaved leader. Nehemiah prayed from December to March with no results. There were no entries in his prayer journal for four months. We know from his model prayer in 1:5-11, he used promises from Scripture in his prayers. Maybe he also used Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turns it wherever he will.” Swindoll really develops this verse in light of Nehemiah’s crisis with his superior. The word "rivers" means channels and refers to irrigation canals carrying water. The king’s heart is not a river randonly flowing with no direction or purpose. But the heart of the king and your superior is a divinely directed canal under the sovereign control of the God to whom we pray (Hand Me Another Brick, page 44).
Nehemiah talked to his Divine King before he negotiated with his human king.
This principle is also taught in the N T (1 Tim 2:1-2; Rom 15:30). These verses should be seriously studied and applied. Do we pray for our President and members of Congress? Sometimes we say if someone has not registered and voted then he has no right to criticize the current state of affairs. The same applies to praying for our leaders. If we have not prayed then we should not be criticizing. Do we pray for our pastors? These verses command us to pray for these leaders in our lives.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon is one of the most influential and most quoted pastors of all time. Yet Spurgeon gave the credit for the success of his ministry to his praying church. Spurgeon would take visitors to the basement prayer-room where a significant group of his members were on their knees praying for him. Spurgeon called that prayer room the powerhouse of his church.
Maybe more churches would produce more Spurgeons if more churches prayed like Spurgeon’s church. We can practice followship first by praying for our leaders (1:11).
2. By Practicing Loyalty (2:1-3)
When the king noticed Nehemiah’s sad countenance, Nehemiah admitted he was afraid. “Nehemiah had good reason to be frightened. Subjects who were noticeably sad or melancholic in the presence of the king were usually killed for ‘raining on his parade’ (Charles R. Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick, page 48).
Because dictators were insecure from the possibility of assassinations, the job description of cupbearers included having pleasant personalities, wearing bright clothing, and smiling a lot. Nehemiah had no problem with this job description because he was genuinely loyal to his leader which was expressed in his reply, “Long live the king.” This was not just proper protocol for Nehemiah. Nehemiah had not fallen into the two extremes among followers: followers who simply “yes men” and others who live to make their leaders look bad. Nehemiah was geniunely loyal.