Nehemiah: How do leaders think?
After I arrived in Jerusalem and had been there three days, I got up at night and took a few men with me. I didn’t tell anyone what my God had laid on my heart to do for Jerusalem. The only animal I took was the one I was riding. Nehemiah 2:11-12
Nehemiah was the rare leader who was simultaneously a visionary and an organizer. Usually, leaders are one or the other. Visionaries tend to be so lofty and big picture in their thinking that they struggle with implementation and execution. At the same time, organizers tend to be so detail-oriented and grounded in their thinking that they struggle to dream.
For most leaders, the goal is to excel in one area and be competent in the other. But every once in awhile there are leaders who excels in both—like Nehemiah. I love how the Book of Nehemiah captures Nehemiah’s heart and how his vision and planning intertwined so tightly. We don’t just see a leader who had a vision for a rebuilt city, but he thought strategically, and organized the people to build portions of the wall by family, knowing that families will work with more conviction and effectiveness together.
Nehemiah looked at the task God had given him, pondered the solution, and motivated the people to work together even in the midst of opposition. That’s leadership! Here are five tips for thinking strategically in our ministries:
- Read leadership books. One of the best ways to learn to think like a leader is to read books written by leaders. There are many good leadership books written from a Christian perspective, but don’t limit yourself to those. There are fantastic leadership books that you can learn so much from, even if they are not written from a biblical worldview. Be discerning when you read these (as you should be with Christian leadership books too), but don’t be afraid to read a business best-seller just because it comes from a different worldview.
- Guard time to dream and think. This may be a challenge, but it is worth it. Leading your ministry doesn’t always mean people have to always see you doing something. Being busy is not the same thing as being effective. One of the most effective things you can do is to guard time to dream, think, and pray. Nehemiah did. More importantly, Jesus did too. Schedule time on your calendar to get away by yourself as an appointment and keep it.
- Set wise goals. Goals are an essential part of strategic thinking as a leader. Former Major League Baseball player Yogi Berra is credited as saying, “‘If you don’t know where you are going, you‘ll end up someplace else.” It’s a pretty humorous quip, but it is also saturated with truth. If you don’t set goals in your ministry, you won’t be able to guide and direct where you believe God wants you to go. So set goals, but be sure they are wise ones. Your goals should stretch you, your leaders, and your ministry, but they need to be realistic too.
- Evaluate. Like dreaming, it is critical that leaders guard time to evaluate. While the frantic pace of ministry makes regular evaluation difficult, it is worth the time and effort. When something goes well in ministry, evaluate the reasons so you can replicate them. Also consider if the event could have even be better. Likewise, if something doesn’t go well, look for what went wrong and what can be improved for next time. Find wins in it too. Very rarely is a ministry event a total loss.
- Include your leaders and leadership team. Don’t miss that Nehemiah took some others with him as he developed a plan. As you think, dream, and evaluate, involve others as much as you can. God has given you and your team different experiences, perspectives, and abilities for a reason. Inviting others to think strategically with you is good for you, your team, and your ministry.
Next time — Barnabas: How do leaders breathe life into their teams?
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.