(139) 2010-12-26 Inscription 41_Above and Alongside Leadership

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Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 41: Above & Alongside Leadership

Nehemiah 1-6

December 26, 2010



·         132 (Serve...), 134 (Prayer)

·         Skim Neh.

·         “Good to Great”

Scripture reading: Nehemiah 1:1-4 (Eddie)


Q   Do you remember “Bad News Bears” or “Periscope Down”?  

That’s Nehemiah– he takes a discouraged band of Jews and self-serving leaders and transforms them into a unified team.

To set the stage: As you may remember, God had kicked the Jews out of their land for disobedience, but now he’s restored them.

They had been there for almost 100 years, and they had gotten the temple rebuilt, but they still had not rebuilt the walls. It is hard for us to imagine what that means.

·         Imagine living in small Asian country without a military as WWII raged around you.

One hundred years of no wall and Nehemiah comes in and gets it rebuilt in 52 days! Parts of his wall are still standing today. In 2007 they found this section.

·         Nehemiah did the impossible on time and under budget

How did he do it? He was an exceptional leader – he organized, motivated, dealt with logistical issues and morale (and moral) problems. This book is practically a handbook on leadership.

Are you a leader?

I’m worried I might be losing a few of you already – I see you trying to discretely grab your iPhone to check your Facebook. You think, “I’m not a leader, this doesn’t apply to me. I’m just a student, a mom, an employee. I’m not in charge of anything.”

·         That’s where you’re wrong – everyone in this room is a leader.

We have strange (and inaccurate) view of leadership – like leaders are a special class of people who have been born with natural leadership skills. Let’s begin by redefining leadership:

·         Leadership is simply guiding a person or people to given goal.

Think about that definition for a moment. Who leads and guides people to a goal? Of course we think of the obvious answers: Business, political, military, spiritual leaders.  

But what about the less obvious types of leadership:


Getting your toddler to use the toilet instead of the floor? That takes a lot motivational and logistical skills! 


What if your friend is talking about leaving her husband?


Helping your spouse stay on budget is leading.


Evangelism is leading – hence the expression “lead someone to the Lord.” 

Above vs. Alongside leadership

The reason we have such a hard time with this is that we are so fixated on “Above leadership” that we wouldn’t recognize Alongside leadership if bit us in the hinny.

Above leadership refers to leaders who have a formal, recognized position. We think of it in terms like official, rank, authority, title, boss, they are “in charge.”

Alongside leadership are those without formal rank or title, but have the ability to “guide people to a goal.” We describe this use words like influence, teach, mentors, respect.

Q   Think back to all the people who have influence you, both good and bad. How many of them were your boss?

·         I asked that on Facebook and I got a lot of great responses; one point was clear – you don’t need a title to lead.

Not all of us will be given formal leadership roles, but all of us in fact are Alongside leaders – good or bad. The question isn’t “if” but “where” and “how well” we’ll lead.

You are held responsible

·         Think about that responsibility – people have grown closer to God and further from him as a result of your influence.

That leadership (Above and Alongside) is a sacred trust that God has given you. He has allowed you to guide, lead, affect, and influence others, and you will be held accountable for it.

·         I guess what I am saying is “Don’t screw it up.” But no pressure. But really.

Luke 17:2   2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.

Q   Have I scared you enough to put your iPhones away?

It is my hope that you take your leadership role (Above or Alongside) very seriously, and spend your life becoming a better leader. Here is one sermon, one lesson to help.

As I said, Nehemiah is practically a handbook on leadership, and I am going to pull out only three principle of leadership. I choose these because they apply to every type of leader and every skill set – these are non-negotiables.

1. A Leader Must Blend Prayer and Action

Let’s pick up where the reading dropped off. Nehemiah has heard that Jerusalem is in ruins, so he starts praying and fasting.

NIV Nehemiah 1:11-2:5 ¶ O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.

Proving Grounds

Side note: “Cupbearer” is a great example of Alongside leading; a lot of trust and influence, but little authority. He exercised that position well and was made the governor of Judah

How you use your Alongside leadership will demonstrate how fit you are for formal leadership. As a church when we look for new Above leaders, we look for current Alongside leaders – a person wanting a title is a massive red flag.

 2:1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes...

Four months preparation

Hang on: He got the bad news in Kislev and he waits until Nisan. Nisan! What’s going on here? It might help to know those are November and April. It has been four months.

He was devastated by the news. He is the cupbearer to king. He has his ear. What has he been doing for the past four months?

He has been fasting and praying, preparing for this very moment (hence “today”). He spent four months praying and preparing for this one conversation that would take less than 30 minutes.

·         Why? He knew that he was powerless to make this happen; he was completely dependent upon God.

...when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.”

·         After four months he has been praying for this moment, he springs into action.

You’ve got to admire his guts – he goes on to ask for a couple of years off, to be made governor, a military escort, and (to top it off) to be given the company credit card.

Throughout his career you see this sort of pattern – he balances complete dependency on God (demonstrated by prayer) and human responsibility (demonstrated by careful planning and action).

Q   Why is it that we have such a hard time balancing dependency on God with practical action?

spiritual fatalism

On one hand, some of you minimize the value of action. It’s like this fatalism disguised as faith – “Que sera sera.”

·         I have seen planning, strategies, mission statements, and logistics marginalized as being “unspiritual.”

·         EG: TG’s Mission Statement (some felt MS were unspiritual).

I am a pragmatist, and I grew up in churches that where bent this way, so I’m drawn to Nehemiah’s practical side.

I love chapter 4 where they were threatened by enemy forces:

Nehemiah 4:9   9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

Then he orders the builders to work with a sword in hand. That’d be like having special tool belt/holster combination.

As a leader (Above or Alongside), you cannot justify a lack of action as “spiritual.” Nehemiah, Proverbs, the entire scope of the Bible is against you. Human responsibility is on every page.

·         EG: The man who prayed for God to save him from a flood...

A Gospel Perspective

On the other hand, some of you rely too much on yourself. You pray, but it has all the desperation of praying before dinner.

This brings us back a “A Gospel Perspective,” which I keep bringing up. It can be summarized as “You are worse off than you think but, but God loves you more than you realize.”

Or said more Biblically:

Romans 3:23-24   ...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

A Gospel Perspective means that I am continually aware of my complete dependency on God – for my salvation and my leadership. Apart from God’s grace I can do nothing of lasting value.

Q   How can we live in dependency? Through prayer (cf. sermon on 11/7/10).

Nehemiah, the most practical leader in the Bible, gives us a good sense of relative importance of dependent prayer and personal action – 4 months prayer for a 30 minute conversation.

2. A Leader Must Lead to Give, not Get

The fact that Nehemiah was able to get lead the people to build the wall in 52 days tells us that the problem wasn’t with the people – though I am sure the leaders blamed them.

·         Shepherds tend to beat the sheep when things go wrong.

The real problem was with the leaders. See if you can spot it:

NIV Nehemiah 5:15-18 But the earlier governors – those preceding me – placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. 17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.

What’s the problem? The previous leaders used position to get.

Q   Any military/ ex-military? “Rank has it’s _____?” Privileges!

·         They were more interested in protecting their privileges than the goal.

Nehemiah sweeps in and says “I am here to get this wall built; that is all that matters,” he came to give and serve.

Q   Who is our greatest example?

Jesus is the highest example – God came to serve us, not be served. I preached on that (10/17/10), so I don’t need to repeat that. I only want to point out this danger:

Q   If you are an Above leader, which do you value more, the perks or the purpose?

I read a book called “From Good to Great” and one of the 5 key things marked great leaders was that they spurned the perks and were devoted to the cause.

·         Nehemiah got that 2,500 years before the book.  

The “Getting” of Laziness

If you’re an Alongside leader, perks haven’t been a temptation – there aren’t any. You’ve probably enjoyed that last bit, thinking the self-serving leaders who need to read that book.

Now it’s your turn: You have a very different struggle, a way you fail to give, and hence fail to help their people reach the goal. Let’s use parenting (which is both types) as an example.

Q   Have you ever watched Super Nanny or Nanny 911?

·         I think parents watch it for the purpose of convincing themselves they are “not that bad.”

The typical episode: The kids rule the house and the parents lack a backbone. Strangely, the parents are frequently successful professionals.

Q   Why can they get it done at work but not at home?

I’ve done a lot of research and I am pretty sure I know what the root problem is. I wish I could say the research has been conducted on others, but it’s based on only one subject: Me.

·         I have observed an important lesson: Parenting is hard.

Why do I let my kids fight? Why do I do their chores for them? Because it is easier. On the outside, it appears I am too easy on them, but in reality I am too easy on myself.

·         One of the biggest obstacles to good parenting is laziness.

Leading is hard

Now carefully consider your failures as an Alongside leader – people you could have influence, shared the Gospel with when an opportunity came.

Q   How many of them have been a form of laziness?

You didn’t pick up the phone, you didn’t bring up the conversation, or you didn’t offer to help. In each of these circumstances, you were getting, not giving.

3. A Leader Must Be Discerning

As the wall was progressing, Nehemiah’s enemies began to realize Israel just might get the wall built, and so they tried to stop it by stopping the leader.

·         BTW: Being a leader puts a target on your back.  

Nehemiah 6:10-13  Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.”  11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.”  12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.  13 For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me.

Both kind of leaders need to be discerning, able to recognize motives and deceit, as Nehemiah did.

You must be able to apply Biblical principles to situations, in the office or your friend’s living room.

There’s so much un-Biblical advice floating around. As a parent, friend, or co-worker, you need be able to sort through it.

You also need to be able to smell baloney, and there is a lot of it, especially if you are an Alongside leader.

·         This week I heard on TV some lady say, “I love my husband, but I don’t think I am ‘in love’ with him.”

My blood starts to boil even thinking about it! But she is just repeating what she’s heard. “My baloney has a first name, it’s O-P-R-A-H. My baloney has a last name, it’s W-I-N-F-R-E-Y.”

·         She needs a discerning friend to lead her out of nonsense.

Spiritual nonsense

And like Nehemiah, we have to be especially discerning of spiritual baloney. The people you lead say foolish, ungodly things but wrap it up as spiritual.

·         If a Christian want to avoid scrutiny, all he needs to say “God told me to” – after all who are you to doubt them?

Too many Christian leaders are too gullible: What are the chances their claims are driven by ulterior motives? We call it selective hearing.

·         And if you are not gullible and recognize it for nonsense, but don’t call it out, then you are a coward.

You must be surrounding yourself with godly wisdom – you can’t give what you don’t have. Read the Bible (esp. Proverbs), read good books, listen to good teaching.

And maybe watch a little less TV – that where a lot of the baloney comes from.

The mandate

To sum it up, God has given you this great privilege and responsibility of leading and influencing people.

We are “...children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life...” (Phil. 2:15-16)

Learn to recognize your leadership and who you are “leading to a goal,” whether Above or Alongside.


Be a man or women of action and prayer.


Lead to give, not get, don’t be lazy.


Be discerning.

Q & A

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