Nehemiah Part 11: Resolving Internal Conflict

Nehemiah Part 11: Resolving Internal Conflict


Last time we talked about leading when facing an external threat. In chapter 4, Nehemiah and his team began to make noticeable progress on rebuilding the wall of protection around the city of Jerusalem. According to Nehemiah 4:6, the wall had reached half of its height. Half-way through the project, Nehemiah faced 2 great threats: external and internal.

External Threat: In chapter 4, the powerful people in the surrounding area didn’t want Jerusalem to be rebuilt. So, they began to verbally and physically threaten Nehemiah and his team. In Chapter 4 Nehemiah provides some principles to follow when facing external threat.

My personal favorite is verses 21-23. Right in the teeth of all of these threats, he says:

So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.

WE labored at the work….neither I, my brothers or servants even took off our clothes” Nehemiah didn’t allow himself or anyone else on his team to get swallowed by criticism. Remember: “Speed of the Leader, Speed of the Team. – Faith of the Leader, Faith of the Team. – Courage of the Leader, Courage of the Team.  In difficult moments, your team keys off your response. Consider the confidence Nehemiah built into those around him by getting back to work. So many times people are waiting on the leader to move forward & they will follow. Fathers, Husbands – that’s you.

Now in Chapter 5 – Internal Conflict. Ask leaders whether they would rather face an external threat or an internal rift. Most would rather face the external threat. So it’s important to learn how to handle these situations.

I love the movie Apollo 13. Apart from being a fantastic film, there are tons of great leadership moments. This is the third mission to the moon, but like so many missions (businesses, churches, families), things don’t go as planned. We’ve all experienced this.


The tension to get home safely is building. These men are tired. Here is a very real moment of internal rift. The internal rift threatens their safe return just as much as the external problems.

Background: Chapter 5

 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.”There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards.Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

In verse 1, men and women raised a great outcry. This is an intense leadership challenge because the outcry is against their fellow Jews.

The laborers were working so hard on the wall they had no time to plow their fields for food to feed themselves. Some (vs. 3) are mortgaging their fields and homes, some (vs. 5) are having to sell their own sons and daughters into debt slavery in order to have money to buy food.

The people prospering from the food shortage are…wait for it….their own people!  The wealthy are exploiting the laborers. There is nothing new under the sun.

3 Signs of a developing Rift inside your team:

  1. People on your team want to control rather than serve. For example: Deacons in Greek means “servant”. Their primary role is to serve the Elders and the physical needs of the congregation. However, when a Deacon decides they would rather control people’s lives and the direction of the church, you call those “Demon Deacons.” You all have meet the person on the team who wants to control rather than serve.
  2. When the failure of other team members is not their concern. Not a concern because they are too consumed with themselves not the team goal. * If you have children: When they are 2 & 16 – their primary interest is in control because they are consumed with themselves
  3. When team members try to manipulate others or circumstances to further their own agenda. Often they work behind the scenes to build small coalitions who agree with them. They don’t communicate openly in meetings.  They do end runs.

Question: What’s the culture of your team, family, or business? Any rifts you need to immediately address?

How Nehemiah address the Internal rift (3 Points)

Anger Management

Nehemiah has a high EQ.

I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them

(vs. 7a) “I took counsel with myself,” Another translation says “I turned the problem over in my mind.” What an incredible first step! This might be the most important piece of advice some of you need to hear. When Nehemiah got angry, his first step was backward.

I prefer the translation: “I turned it over in my mind…..” Why? Because when I have an initial burst of anger, when I find out about the internal exploitation, I first need to “turn it over in my mind”, not respond immediately.

Nehemiah hears the problem and takes time to regain his emotional equilibrium. Because anger is a very complex human emotion, and Nehemiah’s anger could be coming from the wrong place, he took caution. Example:

  • Nehemiah could have been angry because he didn’t know this was going on. As the leader, he is embarrassed. So, to cover his embarrassment he gets angry, which shifts the momentum of the outcry off of Nehemiah. This happens all the time.
  • Nehemiah could have been angry because of his background as a former slave. He is tired of the wealthy oppressing the poor, so most of his anger could have been coming out of historical momentum. He turns the situation over in his mind because he could have easily overreacted. How many times have you overreacted at home because of your frustrations at work or visa versa.
  • Of course Nehemiah could have been angry because his people on his team were exploiting others on the same team, which is an appropriate place for anger.

Being able to take a step back and maintaining your emotional equilibrium in the midst of emotional circumstances is a critical leadership characteristic.


(vs. 7b) and….I brought charges against those who were exploiting the laborers…” The distance between: “Turning it over in his mind” and “brought charges” isn’t very long.

It’s ok to have a problem, it’s not ok to ignore it.

Bill Hybels puts it this way, “Move toward funk fast.”

For sure, some people need to work on stepping back because their first reaction is to move too quickly forward. However I suspect, if you are like me, that you don’t move toward “funk” forward fast enough.

Does this sound familiar? There is an internal rift & I think: “Why won’t everybody just grow up and act like adults? I hope the problem will go away. This will blow over. I am too busy to address this school yard argument.” In case you haven’t noticed: Internal rift, internal Funk; it rarely just goes away. Usually its quite the opposite. Unity in a team is fragile. A rift between two people can quickly become a chasm. If funk gets buried, like mold, it grows in the dark and when it comes back out – it has spread!

Think about your car alignment. Once your car starts pulling to the right, it doesn’t stop on its own. If you don’t take Action to fix it, it creates other problems. More costly problems down the line.

There is a cost to working on internal conflict, but there is a much bigger one for not working on it!

Address the problem head-on, with clarity

I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.

This is so important if you want to be a leader!

Notice these things:

  • First: (vs. 7) Nehemiah calls a meeting. Everyone involved is at the meeting. Nehemiah addresses the problem face to face. No text or Facebook. Men look each other in the eye and work on problems face to face.
  • Second: (vs. 8-9) Nehemiah clearly lays out the problem. He is getting everyone on the same page. This is what you are doing, and it’s not right. Notice vs. 8b – “They were silent….”
  • Third: (vs. 11) – Here is exactly what needs to be done going forward. Is everybody clear on expectations?
  • Fourth: (vs.12) Nehemiah stays until the problem is solved.  That’s leadership.

As Christian leaders, what provides the energy, the fuel for you to enter into this internal relational rift? The Gospel. God saw the rift between you and him, and he came to reconcile you. If God can do that for people as far away as us, we can do that for people in our own families and business.


1. When there is internal conflict going on in your business, church, or family that makes you angry – what is your initial response? How do you “turn the problem over in your mind” & how do you know when it’s time to take action?

2. Do you “move toward Funk Fast” or do you make excuses hoping it will go away? Can you recall a time you didn’t move fast enough and the problem grew?

3. How skilled are you in addressing the problem head-on and with clarity? What happens if there aren’t clear expectations and accountability structures in place when the meeting is over?

Friends and Brothers,

Paul Phillips

Pastor, Christ Community Church
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