You can’t succeed in ministry without getting people to work together. It’s a crucial leadership skill.
Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is a powerful illustration of effective leadership. When God put a dream on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the wall around the city of Jerusalem, he successfully led a team to finish his goal.
Pastor, as you rally your team around the dream God has given you, these six principles can help you get the most out of those you lead.
- Divide a big dream into smaller goals and tasks.
Nehemiah broke down a huge dream into manageable chunks. If you read Nehemiah 3 in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible, you’ll see the word “section” used 28 times in 32 verses. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that particular groups of people helped to build specific sections of the wall. A section is simply a smaller part of a whole. Nehemiah took this very large dream and split it into manageable tasks.
I followed Nehemiah’s example when I started Saddleback Church. Before we began, I split my 40-year dream into 480 monthly goals. Over 40 years later, I still have that same chart.
- Let others share ownership of the dream.
You’ll never accomplish your dreams until they become our dreams. In 1980, before I had my first Saddleback member, I wrote an open letter to the community, sharing my dream of starting a brand-new church called Saddleback. I never used the personal pronoun “I” in that letter. Instead, I used the word “we.” We hadn’t even held our first service yet. Kay and I were the only two involved, but I wrote that letter in faith. When 205 people showed up for the first service, “me” became “we.” We never looked back.
Another key phrase you’ll see in Nehemiah 3 is “by his own house.” The word “own” reminds us that Nehemiah employed the principle of shared ownership. Ownership increases motivation. In this case, people were allowed to serve in their area of interest. They did their best because they were building the part of the wall that protected their own homes.
- Organize around natural relationships.
Nehemiah did this in multiple ways. For example, he organized groups around four things:
- Families (4:13)
- Ministry relationships (3:1)
- Geography (3:2)
- Careers (4:32)
We did something similar at Saddleback. We formed natural groups around families, ministries, geography, and careers. Why? People respond better when serving together in groups of similar-minded people.
- Develop team spirit.
Focus on cooperation rather than competition. You do this by getting your team to focus on those who are working alongside them. Your team members won’t value their teammates if they’re only focused on what they are doing.
Nehemiah succeeded where others failed in rebuilding the wall because he encouraged team spirit. He helped people feel like they were part of something bigger than themselves. In fact, he used the phrase “and next to them” 21 times. This is to remind the Israelites of the larger work they were a part of.
- Love everyone, but invest in the willing.
Jesus modeled this. He loved everyone. He fed the 5,000. He preached to large crowds of people—but he trained the 70, he discipled 12, and he mentored three. Jesus loves everyone, but he spends the maximum time with those who bear the maximum responsibility.
Nehemiah wasn’t discouraged by those who would not help build the wall. Nehemiah 3:5 says, “Next were the people from Tekoa, though their leaders refused to work with the construction supervisors” (NLT). Nehemiah just barely mentioned their reluctance, and then he focused on those who actually wanted to be part of the work.
Pastor, not everyone will want to be part of your God-given dream. Don’t fret about it. Focus on those who want to join you.
- Never stop saying thanks.
The first duty of a leader is to communicate the dream clearly. The second duty of a leader is to always say “thank you.”
Nehemiah modeled this throughout chapter 3. In fact, he showed four specific ways to be appreciative of others:
- Recognize individuals by name. It’s not enough to say a general “thank you” to those on your team. Be specific. Nehemiah singled out 71 individuals in 32 verses.
- Recognize specific work. Don’t just say, “You did a great job.” Point out the details. Nehemiah did this over and over.
- Recognize great attitude. Nehemiah pointed out the attitude of Baruch in Nehemiah 3:20, saying he “zealously repaired an additional section” (NLT). You’ll see a lot of people with bad attitudes in our world today. When you see someone with a good attitude, make sure you recognize them.
- Recognize extra effort. Nehemiah noted one man, Meremoth, who repaired two sections of the wall in chapter 3. When you see a goes-the-second-mile person like Meremoth, it’s important that you reward their effort.
Great teamwork is counter-cultural today. So often people work against each other. That’s why leaders who create harmony and teach people how to work together are rare.
God is honored when we, in our broken and divided world, stand together shoulder to shoulder to do God’s work. This is our greatest witness to the world.