Today, I want to walk through a passage with you that explains how people work together to form an effective team and accomplish something God told them to do. It is a tale of leadership, but it is more – it is a tale about living together, sharing the planet, and learning to play well with one another in the sandbox of life. Any work that will endure will need more than one mind, one set of hands, one brain. It will require a team…I believe that. Not only that, but any group that is going to accomplish great things will need to have some understanding of what life is all about. To introduce our story from Nehemiah 3, I will begin with a publicly lauded instructor of leaders of our day…
John Maxwell is a sort of “go to guru” on leadership in Christian circles. He has made a living for many years sharing principles of management, leadership and development. As we look into Nehemiah, our Spirit directed ancient journal of a leader, I thought sharing this anecdote about the “meaning of life” from John would be appropriate, to help you smile for a few moments. At a recent meeting, John shared:
“I turned sixty-five this year and my dad just turned 91. With this reflective time, I want to offer something that explains life a little better. We all ask questions about life, and how we fit in, and what our purpose is…Here is my explanation…”
“On the first day, God created the dog. God said: “Sit all day at the door of your house and bark at anybody that comes by. I will give you a lifespan of twenty years.” The dog replied: “That is too long to be barking! Give me ten years and I will give you back ten of those years!” and God agreed.
On the second day, God created a monkey. God said: “Entertain people, do monkey tricks. I will give you a twenty year lifespan.” The monkey replied: “How boring! I am to do monkey tricks for twenty years? The dog gave you back ten years, so I think I would like to use only ten years, and give you back the other ten.” God agreed.
On the third day God created a cow. He said: “You must go out in the field, stand in the hot sun, bear calves and give milk to help the farmer… I am going to give you a lifespan of sixty years.” The cow, picking up on the dog and the monkey, said to the Lord: “That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years… let me have twenty, and I will give you back the other forty.” God agreed.
On the fourth day, God created man. He said: “You are to eat, sleep, play, marry, and enjoy your life. I will give you twenty years!” The man replied: “What? Only twenty years? I will tell you what…I will take the ten years the dog gave you back, and the ten years the monkey gave you back and the forty years the cow gave you back… that makes eighty years. The Lord said, “Ok, ok… you’ve got a deal!”
That, my friends, is why the first twenty years of our lives, we eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy our lives. For the next forty years we stand in the sun, and support the family around us. The next ten years, we grab the grandchildren and do monkey tricks to make them laugh, and the last ten years we sit on the front porch of our homes and bark at everyone that goes by!
That is the explanation of life.
I laughed at John’s explanation when I heard it. I laughed, not only because it was humorous, but because it contained some truth… and that is why I am deliberately focusing on positive subjects in a crowd like ours in days like ours. I sometimes fear that we as modern Christians collectively bark too much and accomplish too little of what God told us to do.
As we move from the frivolous to the foundational truth of life – the Word of God, I want to make an observation. In recent years, the constant flow of articles and books on the fascinating subject of leading and managing people seems to have grown exponentially. Yet, I came to a conclusion about many of the books I read – and maybe some of you have as well. Over the years of reading it seems like many people’s “insights” were actually little more than re-statements of earlier writings. In the area of management and leadership, Solomon’s warnings from Ecclesiastes about “nothing being new under the sun” certainly seem to apply.
Are there good Biblical texts about building the rabble you work with into a team of high performers? Sure there are. Today we are treated to one – but it will take you a few minutes of adjustment to see it because of the “work log” nature of the text.
We have heard it over and over…We can all readily understand that high performing companies have high performance teams – and there is no such thing as random organization when it comes to leading people. We know that the best teams start with the sincere agreement to a core set of principles. Because that is true, it is essential that the vision, the values and the mission of any team must be communicated clearly and team members must “buy in” to become an effective part of the team. We know that leaders will emerge on a team, but leadership is a skill that must be honed. We know that work teams are about collaboration, and productive collaboration is ultimately about effective communication. These are common principles that most any manager has been schooled to recognize and work through.
In more recent days, we have learned that the best teams are those who know how to recover from trouble. Even on the best teams, people make mistakes. One crucial need is to have a process for identifying, analyzing and reducing errors. Another is the ability to focus on the solution, not the blame. When people learn to do these two things well, the team advances from defeat much more quickly. Nothing slows recovery more than a team caught up pointing fingers instead of fixing problems.
Though all these insights are readily available, you may have missed some important truths found in the pages of ancient Scripture on leadership, teamwork and accomplishing a God-given, Spirit-directed task… God hasn’t been silent on team building and people work – since His work IS people work! Consider this principle for the work log of Nehemiah 3:
Key Principle: The key to progress is consistently doing the right things the right way. The definition of “right way” is explained in the Words of the Creator.
Looking back: Principles of Preparation
Since some may not have been following our lessons on Nehemiah, let’s quickly note that we have been moving through his journal for a few lessons, and have discovered Nehemiah to be both sensitive and shrewd. We discovered in previous lessons that:
1. A ministry project prescribed by God often begins with a burden in the heart of a man or woman of God – a deep, throbbing kind of urging within that presses action without. (Nehemiah 1).
2. We recognized that faith is NOT a synonym for disorder or substitute for careful planning – and that sustainable ministry has to be prayerfully and carefully planned, as well as artfully presented (Nehemiah 2).
3. We also noted that in any endeavor of the work of God, opposition should be expected (Nehemiah 2:19). It isn’t strange – it is normal to fight to succeed for God in a fallen world.
As we open the work log of the journal, I want you to recognize as we read the passage together, the close detail and familiarity Nehemiah had with each leader, and each team member. The list is FULL of names. Why do I point this out? Because as Howard Hendricks once said, “You can impress people from a distance, but you can really impact them up close.” Real ministry, impacting and life changing ministry isn’t about buildings, budgets and bands… it is ALWAYS about people. There is no greater way to impact them than in intentionally established and carefully maintained relationships.
Read through the record of the work on the wall in Nehemiah 3…If you aren’t familiar with Hebrew names, this may be one of the longest readings of your life! Yet, if you take the time, you will find in the journal some ancient and inspired..
“Laws of TEAM BUILDING”
First, it is essential that leadership invest FIRST before people join. In the case of the work of God, leadership starts with God’s ordained leaders.
Nehemiah 3:1 Then ELYASHIV the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of CHANANAIL.
In the detail of the verse is the teaching, and this verse is RICH! Observe some truths that ooze out of the words of Nehemiah 3:1:
• The first thing we notice that “sweat” and “godliness” go hand in hand! Work should begin with the godly leadership that is willing to work hard to accomplish what God has called the team to do (3:1a). They are not the whole team – but they are PART of the team. They are not ABOVE the team. That doesn’t mean they will always be found doing the wall work. These guys were PRIESTS – so they built because that was what the team was doing, and then they went back to being priests.
• Beyond the fact that God’s call entails work – we should also remember that work is part of worship! The initial focus of the wall work was directed at the place adjacent to the Temple. The intention was to begin with what kept the vital relationship with God open (3:1b; cp. “sheep gate” adjacent to Temple area). Here is the point: if people are working well and accomplishing much, but aren’t growing in their attachment and daily dependence on God – ministry isn’t happening the way God intended.
Churches can swell in numbers, but the size only matters if people are in the Word and on their knees – growing in dependence and surrender before our Awesome God. Don’t get too impressed by big meetings. Both Matthew and Mark remind us that Jesus repeated Isaiah’s words of old: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” It is painfully clear that God has never been impressed with “hearts astray in rooms a-full”. Attendance is the BEGINNING of being challenged and drawn to God – not the end goal of the ministry. We may be too easily impressed with the external statistics, and too little concerned with carefully looking for the marks of inner spiritual growth. An effective team focuses on reproduction, not simply of bodies, but hearts on fire for God’s communicated mission held in their hands. The Temple may have been full the day the elderly widow quietly offered her nearly worthless coin, but she may have been one of only a handful truly worshiping.
• Take a moment and notice the second part of verse one: 3:1b “they consecrated it and hung its doors.” That isn’t an idle phrase. They KNEW the work they did was HOLY. They knew it needed to be especially, deliberately and Biblically set aside for God’s purposes alone.
I am concerned sometimes with the familiarity we all have in doing God’s work. It’s just “our kids” and “our little buildings” – and we forget the magnificent God we are serving, and the wonder of the task to which we were assigned!
The children of this work are the heritage of the Lord for the future of our nation. The students God brings to this place, whether local high school age youth invited by a friend, or college students that give a year to study God’s Word at our Bible Institute – they are a holy stewardship of the Lord. The hurting woman in the hospital is a precious soul entrusted to our flock. The widow or widower who aches from loss is our holy charge. I will keep saying it as long as I have voice – ministry is a holy thing. People are forever, and we cannot neglect them – nor are you to feel that you have hired “us” to do that for the body – that isn’t Biblical. We are to equip the saints TO DO THE WORK OF MINISTRY.
We should see all our work as part of what God is doing through us! The work was seen immediately as part of something God was doing, not simply a good idea of a neat leader! We demean the work of God when we see it only in human terms. It was a WALL and GATES – but it was a passageway to worship and a protection to the people of God.
• A third observation: They did the most important thing first! The work began on the “most vulnerable part” of the project (3:1b; “northern wall”) and the most critical to get done well. 3:1b “They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred [and] the Tower of Hananel.” Jerusalem is most vulnerable on the northern side, and that is exactly where they began.
Let me ask you something: What is the most important thing that we should be focusing on in today’s work of God? If you have spent any amount of time with me, you know my answer – it is training the next generation to face the tsunami of paganism coming to a state near you. Is that YOUR value? Maybe God has a different burden on your heart that our work needs to hear about. Fall before the Lord and ask Him for your burden – then let us know what God is telling you to do. Don’t ask US to do it for you. Nehemiah planned the journey and took the expedition on at great personal sacrifice – and that is what I am telling you a real burden properly grasped will look like in your life.
After leaders have invested and acknowledge the holy work and call of God, what else should mark a team accomplishing the work of God?
Second, the people of God must be led by God to get on board and DO the work.
Look at the next few verses:
2 Next to him the men of Jericho built, and next to them ZAKKUR the son of Imri built. 3 Now the sons of HASENA-AH built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. 4 Next to them MRAYMOT the son of ORYAH the son of HAKOTZ made repairs. And next to him Meshullam the son of Berechiah the son of M’SHAYZABAIL made repairs. And next to him TZADOK the son of Ba’ana also made repairs. 5 Moreover, next to him the Tekoites made repairs…
Did you notice some recurring phrases? You saw the words “next to them” over and over. You also saw the names of people – but in two cases you observe the names of OTHER TOWNS in Judah – Jericho in the Judean Wilderness east of Jerusalem, and Tekoa, southeast of Bethlehem in the Judean Wilderness. Why mention these?
- First, we have to remember that having a burden is the beginning of a ministry, but building a TEAM is a vital prerequisite to get that ministry rolling. We have to get the team on board to distribute the work! Those who understood the need to validate the project as God’s holy purpose got busy first! (cp. “Men of Jericho” in 3:2). 2 Next to him the men of Jericho built…
- Second, there is a detail in all that “next to them was so and so” writing. We know where many of the places they were building can be located archaeologically today. There is stone and mortar evidence of this story that is irrefutable. I have worked on that wall, sat on that wall, and cleaned an ancient floor of a home in the shadow of that wall in my few brief brushes with archaeological study. Here is what I know: NOT EVERYONE GOT THE SAME SIZE PROJECT. In fact, the Tekoites were given work in verse 4, but again in verse 27! They worked double duty!! The teams were given different distances to cover. We aren’t completely sure HOW the locations were chosen, but we are certain that Nehemiah had a hand in the selection and oversight – which is obvious from the passage we are reading.
Effective team work necessitates people getting over the unfairness that workloads are NOT EVENLY DISTRIBUTED! Some will always carry inordinate loads of work (3:2b-4), and it is right that they be specifically recognized for doing so! Some got more prominent towers to build, while others walled the edges of the public latrines. I don’t think I have to make a point about how vital the latrines were to the society – but it is worth recalling that many duties of the work are not glamorous. If you are a very public leader that cannot take time to join a private prayer circle of some kind, you may need to re-think why you do what you do. Just take a moment and really let the Spirit challenge your motives, as I have to do the same.
Third, it is essential to recall that not everyone will be convinced of the cause and willing to “pull their own weight” – though later they will want to full benefits the work creates.
Don’t miss the little “nugget” in the end of verse five: 5b “…but their nobles did not support the work of their masters. The truth is that some people think they are too good to follow leaders – and they miss the blessing of God for their labors. Forever settled in Heaven is this – the eternal Word of the Immortal God – concerning a small handful of stiff-necked Tekoite nobles who couldn’t get on board.
Why do you suppose those men didn’t join in the work? All you need to do is read the record slowly to feel what Nehemiah is trying to say. They were NOBLES and what they couldn’t do was SUPPORT THE WORK OF THEIR MASTERS. Can you see the attitude dripping from the words? If you have ever worked with people like these NOBLES, you know exactly what he meant. They were too good to do what they were told – and they shall ever be remembered thus.
I am in many places where leaders are trained, and I respect a great many leaders. I don’t respect contentious men, and I don’t think they lead well. We need to be men of peace, patience and purpose. Unfortunately, I get tired when I don’t manage myself well, and then I lose my peace, followed by my patience, and finally I can’t recall my real purpose. It is essential that we work as a team to protect one another from going too far without remembering our own frailty.
Let me say one other thing about NOBLES. When the work is done, they will feel equal ownership, even if they didn’t DO the work to get the wall in place. Get over justice, if you want to lead them. God will teach them through life lessons that you may not see. Rest in that, and don’t feel you need to fix people who aren’t asking you to try.
Fourth, the best team leaders can match causes to build coalitions.
Look at the next part of Nehemiah 3:6 YEHOIADA the son of PASAYACH and Meshullam the son of BESODYAH repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars. 7 Next to them MELATYA the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, also made repairs for the official seat of the governor of the province beyond the River.
• Some work can be done in conjunction with others and their objectives without buying into all of their ideas. Did you notice that men from Gibeon and Mizpah, suburbs of Jerusalem, worked on repairs that ALSO related to a governor’s palace from the other side of the Jordan River? These men worked on the wall but had another objective beside the one that Nehemiah brought. They saw themselves as working for more than just one end.
As a history buff, I could point to General Robert E. Lee, and recall with you how he kept the army of Northern Virginia together with the armies of Louisiana, Mississippi, and the other confederate states. It was no easy job building a confederation – but it can be tremendously effective.
If you walk into a local restaurant and see me sitting with a Catholic priest working – it is probably about the pro-life cause that we both support. I don’t have to agree with everything in someone’s life to work on a limited agenda with them for a solidly Biblical purpose. I am not joining their church, nor they mine – but we agree on life and its preservation – so we can work together. This is what Nehemiah was doing collaborating with Gibeonites and Mizpahites.
Fifth, people who have gotten used to the old way things were will be newly inspired when things start happening!
Look for a moment at the wording of Nehemiah 3:9 “Next to them Rephaiah the son of CHUR, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs.” Tucked into the middle of the list was Rephaiah, son of Hur (whose name incidentally is “Ben Hur” for old movie fans). Look at his old job. He has been the official of the half district of Jerusalem. Barring any evidence that he was new to the post, I suspect he was on the job when Nehemiah arrived, and he had let the tumbled walls and humbled streets become normal in his eyes. Nehemiah got the people whipped up, the supplies rolling out – and old Rephaiah saw Jerusalem with NEW POTENTIAL.
Good leadership allows people to feel the future is something to look forward to – and that the mission ahead is both important and attainable. Rephaiah settled for a period in his life – and then he saw things could be different. People like him don’t believe until they see – but later they can be avid fans and strong helpers.
Sixth, the team is made up of the people who SHOW UP and WORK, not the people who think they should have a voice in everything because they have knowledge in that area.
Now go back to verse eight, and continue to verses ten through thirteen. Look at the list of people that came to help and their occupations:
Nehemiah 3:8 Next to him Uzziel the son of CHARCHAYAH of the goldsmiths made repairs. And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. …10 Next to them YEDAYAH the son of CHARUMAF made repairs opposite his house. And next to him CHATTUSH the son of CHASHABNIYAH made repairs. 11 MALKIYA the son of CHARIM and CHASHUV the son of PACHAT-MOAV repaired another section and the Tower of Furnaces. 12 Next to him ShallOOm the son of HALOCHESH, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters. 13 CHANUN and the inhabitants of ZANOACH repaired the Valley Gate. They built it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars, and a thousand cubits of the wall to the Refuse Gate.
• The work is done by those who “show up”! It shouldn’t matter what “class of people” they are; all worked – and followed the directions given! They included priests, goldsmiths and perfumers district rulers and daughters (12) If you keep reading, you will catch a glimpse of some Levites (17) and even some shop keepers (32).
Do you think it mattered that perfumers didn’t know how to build walls, and goldsmiths weren’t particularly good at architecture? Not really. There were people to lead, instruct and check – as in every good team.
We don’t have time to look at everything this great passage on leadership offers. I CAN say a few quick sentences that may help for the passage…
Seventh, not everyone gets to build the glamorous parts of the work.
In verse 14 I see someone got the REFUSE GATE called today DUNG GATE. What does that tell you? some people work on the parts that are more pungent – because some of the most essential parts aren’t the pretty ones.
Eighth, we can never assume that people are working for the right reason.
Look carefully into verse 10 and verse 23. I spotted a few guys who only repaired the part next to their own house. What does that tell you? Don’t assume that because someone does a great deal, they are doing for the right reasons. Some work for personal benefit – but God uses them! (3:10,23).
Finally, let me end on a positive note… in our principles.
Ninth, count on God to supply some people who do it with such fervency that your heart is stirred!
Look at Nehemiah 3:20 After him Baruch the son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the Angle to the doorway of the house of ELYAHSIV the high priest.
Baruch means BLESSING- and the guy lived up to his name. He didn’t just WORK, he WORKED ZEALOUSLY. The Hebrew term khaw-raw’ is normally “with heat or great anger” – but in this case it meant “furiously” in all the best meanings of the word. The guy was a force of nature, a stoneworker on fire for God. They bless me whenever I see them.
I started this lesson with words of John Maxwell on leadership to make you smile. Let me finish with a concept of that same man as I close – not to make the lesson about him, but to help us apply the text about team building. John talks about a “law of five” in some of his works. Simply, the law of five is this: If you want to cut a tree down in your yard, and you get an axe and hit that tree five times every day, what will eventually happen? The tree will fall. The bigger the tree, the longer it will take you to fell it – but it will come down. Now take the lesson. Whatever goal God has put within you to accomplish – take an axe to that tree in daily, consistent, not exhaustive but powerful swings. Chop at it. Our goal is to build a team. Nehemiah’s was to secure a city and worship center and get home on time. It won’t happen quickly, but here is what I KNOW WILL HAPPEN. If we consistently, patiently, diligently chop away – five times each day – a team will be built. A ministry WILL be established. Lives WILL be changed. How can I be sure?