Nehemiah Part 8: Two Laws of Leadership

Nehemiah Part 8: Two Laws of Leadership


John Maxwell wrote an excellent book titled: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

It’s a great read and I highly recommend it, but 21 laws to follow is a lot to keep in mind.    I want to reduce it to 2 laws of leadership. Of course there are more, but if I only had two, I would mention the two found at the end of Nehemiah Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. Casting a Vision – 2:17-18  (Today) and Getting People Engaged – Chapter 3 (Next Meeting)

Casting a vision is one of the defining moments as a leader. Sometimes casting a vision actually moves you into leadership. Anyone can have hopes and dreams, but when you crystallize those hopes and dreams into an action plan and it’s compelling enough to get other people engaged, that’s when you become a leader.

Perhaps no one was better at casting vision than Martin Luther King Jr. Here is his last speech. It was delivered in Memphis right before he was shot.

Obviously few leaders have the rhetorical skills of MLK, but every leader must have a clear vision. They must “go to the mountain top” and see where they are headed in the future. Remember, vision is a preferred future. It’s a picture of what could and should be done.

Having a vision isn’t usually done in some mystical way or sitting alone by yourself. Most of the time it comes through community. When I was beginning my job with Young Life here in Wilmington, my boss said, “One person committed to Christ who spends their whole like in one city can make an important impact on that city. That has stuck with me.

When I was being evaluated part way into my YL career, people would say, “If Paul weren’t on the YL staff, what would you see him doing? 100% said “being a pastor.”   This vision of a preferred future is usually hammered out in community. 

A compelling vision can cause people to make great sacrifices. Vision can breathe life into a single life, a family, church,  business, or community. The lack of a vision from a leader causes a life, family, church, business or community to whither and perish.

Bill Hybels once told a story about delivering a talk on vision to ministry leaders. After the talk a Christian businessman came up to him and in some exasperation pleaded with Bill to meet with his pastor. Bill asked him, “What for?”  The businessman’s response: “To tell him to put a target on a wall, any target on any wall. People like me need some reason, any reason for staying in this game. We need a reason to continue to move forward. A reason to stay in the game.”

If you don’t have a vision for yourself,  you’ll whither. You’ll bounce around with no idea what’s best. If you don’t have a vision for your family, they’ll whither. Wives and children want to know, “What are we about? Where are we going?”   So many wives are willing to make great sacrifices if you could just say, “This is where we are going as a family.

My wife Nancy and I had such a satisfying moment this past Saturday. We had a family vision talk.  We have reached a mountain top. We got our kids through school, they both got married, and each of us had made great sacrifices to get to this point. This year was the first time that all of our money didn’t already have an assignment; the first time all of our money was not already committed to paying for kids, school, or a wedding. Everybody is off the Phillips payroll, hallelujah!

So we sat for a couple of hours and I lead a discussion on what we want to do next. I didn’t deliver an MLK speech, but it was clarifying and motivating. Husbands, your family might be withering while they wait on your leadership!   They are looking for ANY TARGET on ANY WALL. Any reason to stay in the game.

The same could be said of your church, business or community

Observations about Nehemiah’s Vision Casting:  (2:17-20)

Leadership can be defined as moving people from here to there.

When God wants to move something, he looks for leaders who can move something from here to there. Let’s examine how Nehemiah moves people.

Law 1. Define Reality (Here) – (vs. 17a)

As the leader, Nehemiah did his homework (2:12-16). He painted a clear picture of where they are…. The people Nehemiah was talking to have always lived in their conditions – they never knew a time when Jerusalem had a wall…they knew of no other way to live….maybe some don’t think they are in as much trouble as Nehemiah…. So N had to paint a picture of reality.

 Law 2. Define the Future (There) – (vs. 17b) 

Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem.” Here is where we want to be. Very Clear.

The Key: We Can’t Stay Here – (vs. 17b)

That we may longer suffer derision/disgrace.  Disgrace: Their current condition was a disgrace for a nation which had a divine charter. It was a disgrace to people who had such an incredible history, it was a disgrace to the name and reputation of God himself.  Jerusalem was supposed to be the place where people could come and have an encounter with the living God, yet the city and the people had become a laughing stock.

I’m guessing this one sentence was quite a leadership moment for Nehemiah.  It certainly took courage to talk to a foreign King (Chapter 1), but now Nehemiah is standing face to face with his own people saying, ”we are a disgrace”. Nehemiah is not only trying to rebuild walls but rebuild people. They had lost their sense of purpose and destiny.     

This is such a powerful leadership moment. “We can’t stay here!” It’s a place of disgrace. As a leader, understand. People don’t like change, so you must convince them first. “We can’t stay here.” It’s simply not an option.

As a pastor of a church that is in the process of changing, I recently listed 5 reasons why “We can’t stay here”.

Think about a Doctor. They defines reality with blood work,  talk about a healthier future, and then tell you, “you can’t stay here.

Evangelism: Imagine talking to someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. The first thing you must do is define reality. In their current condition apart from Christ they are in trouble. Sin has its consequences. You paint a picture of a better future and you help them see…“You can’t stay here.

Business: Here are the realities of our business (good, bad & ugly). Here is my vision of a preferred future (what this business could look like).  And finally, “We can’t stay here.” If we do, we atrophy. Other businesses swallow us up.

Family: I preferred my children stay between 5-10 years old, but that’s not reality.  My hope was to raise two adults that I can have adult friendships with. I can’t keep treating my children like children. It hurts them and me, so “We can’t stay here.

Inspiration to Move Now! (vs. 18)

Think about the people listening to Nehemiah as he tells them about how God has already been at work. He’s opened so many doors.

  • “800 miles away I heard about your condition, fasted and prayed.”
  • “I risked my life to ask the king to give me time off, travel documents for safe travel, and his own lumber.”
  • “The King said yes & I personally travelled 800 miles with this log truck to help you rebuild the city.”

Think about how much inspiration this supplied for the people in Jerusalem.

This is text book leadership: As the leader – you are the one who is tasked to create momentum!  Whether you are leading people in your family, your business, or your church. If you are the leader, they are either gaining or losing momentum from you!   It is so important to provide momentum. Can you tell a true story that will help ignite my imagination and determination to move forward?


  1. Can you think of one of your leaders who did a great job at casting vision?  Have you been in a place where the leader failed to cast vision? How did it affect you?
  2. Would you say you have a clear vision for yourself? Do you have a “preferred future” in mind for yourself and a plan in place to reach that goal?
  3. Can you see this 3 step leadership outline helping you in your leadership?  (Define Reality: Here, Define the Future: There, & “We can’t stay here”)
  4. As a leader, how well do you create momentum for your team?

Friends and Brothers,

Paul Phillips

Pastor, Christ Community Church

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