By Brian Jennings
When Israel returned home after 70 years of captivity, their walls lay in ruins, their memories of God’s Law had faded, and their citizens were vulnerable. Without leadership, everything might have crumbled again.
Ezra and Nehemiah emerged as two of the greatest leaders in Scripture. While dozens of leadership principles ripple through this story, here are four essential ones for leading people to freedom.
1. Lead by Studying
“For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
The word study indicates vigorous investigation. Imagine a scientist on the brink of an invention. He hasn’t slept in days. His lab is full of flasks, strange metals, and hot liquids. He’s so close to changing the world, but he realizes he’s missing one piece of knowledge.
He races to his floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, stands on a chair, and snatches the one book he needs. He rushes back to his workbench, frantically opens the book, and studies.
You’ve been given a precious gift. Study it with passion. Lead by studying.
“And you are to teach any who do not know [God’s Laws]” (Ezra 7:25).
If you’ve been hungry your whole life and then find food, you must tell others.
Once you’ve studied, you’re both ready and obligated to share. When people live without God’s wisdom, disaster ensues. Save them from that destruction.
Lead them to life. Share.
3. Lead by Doing What Is Right
Some of the so-called nobles devised an unjust system that brutalized the poor (Nehemiah 5). The people were losing their fields, homes, and children. Nehemiah heard their cries.
He called the nobles together and gave them an intense scolding. He probably used their middle names. And do you know what happened? They listened and obeyed. Sometimes a scolding is exactly what people need.
Nehemiah refused to live above his people. He defeated the temptation to seek power and comfort, and the people loved him for it.
In Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller writes, “If you’re unwilling to risk your place in the palace for your neighbors, the palace owns you.” The palace never owned Nehemiah; God did.
If you submit to God, you’ll be free to do what is right.
4. Lead by Dealing Hope
Napoleon said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” Picture a good leader, making his way through his warehouse, dealing hope to the discouraged machinist, the tired father of a baby, and the overwhelmed manager.
When the Israelites were frightened by the threats of their enemies, perhaps the words God spoke to Joshua years before were echoing in Nehemiah’s heart: “Be strong and courageous.”
“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14).
Deal hope, my friends. When people are in crisis, deal hope—not blind optimism or empty promises, but hope.
Church leaders, ministry leaders, teachers, parents, neighbors: Deal hope!
Lead Like Jesus
The leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah points us to the greatest leader of all time.
• Jesus studied. When Satan tempted him, he quoted Scripture. When he hung on a cross, he quoted Scripture. He studied Scripture and it flowed out of his life.
• Jesus shared God’s Word everywhere he went. He used stories, parables, and object lessons to teach. His life served as one big invitation.
• Jesus did the right thing every single time. It cost him safety, friends, and even his life.
• Jesus dealt eternal hope. When his disciples were shaken, he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
While God wants you to lead, the first thing you must do is submit yourself to be led by the Great Leader. When you do, he’ll give you all you need to lead others to freedom.
Brian Jennings serves as lead minister with Highland Park Christian Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma.