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Back to the Future: What Ezra-Nehemiah teaches us about Leadership at Level 2

CCCNZ Ambassador Mark Grace

Are you ready for Level 2 leadership?

Level 2 will not be a return to ‘normal’. The story of God's people returning from exile teaches us to trust God in our changing circumstances.

God's people had experienced significant loss and hardship under Babylonian captivity, increased freedom and favour under the rule of Cyrus, until they were allowed to return to their homeland and begin to rebuild their spiritual and physical homes. 

Ezra-Nehemiah picks up the story of God's people returning to find that Jerusalem is not the city they left.

It’s not an easy environment to navigate. Security is not certain; freedom of movement is not the same. Employment is tenuous. The elderly are vulnerable. The times, uncertain. The economy is fragile.

The return to worship happens across Ezra-Nehemiah in three waves, and each wave has lessons for us as we consider leadership in Level 2. 

  1. The return from exile (Ezra 1- 2)
  2. Rebuilding the temple (Ezra 3 - 9) 
  3. Restoring Jerusalem’s walls, recommitting to equitable relationships and to Scripture (Nehemiah 1-13).

Following God's lead

Ezra begins with these incredible words:

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken to Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation”.

Verse 5 records God moving in the hearts of those who are to return. Here God takes the initiative. God is moving, God is preparing, God is leading.

Level 2 leadership involves following God back to the future: Where do you sense God is taking the initiative amongst your church family?

Seeing where God is at work

Worship is not 'normal' for God's people. God does not lead them back to their past; he leads them back to the future. Worship looks similar, but it’s not the same. The new temple's foundations are smaller and simpler.

There is a reaction to this! As the foundations are laid, thousands of older people weep at what is lost, while thousands of younger people celebrate with joy.

It’s into this exact moment the Prophet Zechariah speaks: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts… For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel." (Zech. 4:6-7,10)

Why? Because in this temple’s smallness and simplicity, the Lord of Hosts is powerfully at work through his Word, by his Spirit. 

Level 2 leadership involves looking into this season with different lenses and discerning the difference between our instinctive need for ‘normal’ and the Spirit’s activity in bringing us back to the future.

Meeting with God

In Nehemiah 1, the rebuilding of the walls does not come from strategic planning, but strategic praying, it does not come from management theory but mourning. It doesn’t come from leadership frameworks but fasting. 

The rebuilding of the walls is birthed in time with God. What we transition to will involve strategic planning, management, and leadership frameworks, but it doesn’t start there. 

Mobilising God’s people

Nehemiah recognises that everyone has a part to play in rebuilding the walls.

There are two approaches Nehemiah can take to rebuilding, the wakeboard approach or the waka approach. Wakeboarding involves the wakeboarder in action on the waves, while everyone else watches. In the waka, everyone paddles, navigating the waves together.

A heart for the poor and a love for justice

In Nehemiah 5, Nehemiah’s attentiveness to God’s character gives him a tenderness towards the poor and a sensitivity to injustice.

With the level of unemployment likely to rise, with the financial pressure on families and businesses increasing, we too (out of a heart for God) must be attentive to the financial and practical needs of our people.

Zerubbubal, Ezra and Nehemiah each have to advocate for the people of God to political leaders. In Level 2, the pastoral and the political may intersect as our culture adjusts to a new way of life. 

Letting the Bible out of it's cage

In Ezra 1:1, God works to fulfil his word. In Ezra 5:1-2 and 6:14 the preaching of God’s prophetic word through Haggi and Zechariah empowers the building of the temple.

In Ezra 7:6 and 10, Ezra is recognised for being devoted to the study and observance of the ‘Word’. In Nehemiah 8 Ezra unleashes the Word amongst the people.

In 2012, The Centre for Biblical Engagement conducted research into the Bible engagement and lives of 400,000 people.

The life of someone who engages Scripture four or more times a week looks radically different from the life of someone who does not: People who engage with Scripture four or more times a week are more likely to share their faith with others, more likely to disciple others, more likely to give generously to Christian work, less likely to feel spiritually stagnant, less likely to view pornography, and less likely to struggle with loneliness. 

The Bible has had a profound effect on our history, as women and men have spent time dwelling in the Word and applying it to life, business, family, relationships, finances... 

Suffering well

Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah each face challenges, opposition and suffering. We too, as leaders, will face our own opposition, challenges and suffering.

Level 2 leadership will ultimately involve settling our confidence in our Risen Lord Jesus who died for us, through the gospel from the Scriptures.

Consider how the story in Ezra-Nehemiah points us to Jesus. The temple points us to Jesus; the failings of the leaders and the people point to our need for Jesus; suffering and justice in the day of small things points us to the way of Jesus... 

All of Scripture points us to Jesus. Jesus is the head of the Church, the Church is the body of Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus has gifted the Church.

Level 2 leadership in the local church is ultimately being led by Jesus, through the gospel from the Scriptures, in the power of the Spirit. Let's be leaders, therefore, living under the leadership of Jesus in pointing people to his death and resurrection and return.


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