Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nehemiah: A Lesson in Leading Change

I've been challenged to look for biblical models of some of the stuff I'm trying to do with churches, in terms of working out a vision and strategy for change and mission. Nehemiah, which has always been a stimulating book, almost takes us through the change process step by step:

1. Get uncomfortable: Nehemiah has a steady job in the royal court, but hears a report of the dreadful state of Jerusalem and its people, which cuts him to the heart. Change doesn't happen unless we're not happy with the status quo

2. Get praying: N takes his grief to God, rather than just bathing in his own misery, and in prayer is taken through repentance to a point of action.

3. Get the facts: N surveys what needs to be done to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He can only develop a workable vision if the vision has its feet on the earth. A lot of the literature on evangelism, new forms of church etc. has the same message: don't just copy what is succesful for other people, get the facts of your own situation and respond to those. A lot of Christian outreach is done in hope that it will appeal to people, rather than actually getting the facts of where people are at, and where they are itching.

4. Get a vision: the facts can be depressing. In fact, if they are going to stir us to action they probably will be depressing (see 1), Nehemiah gets together with the Jerusalem leaders and says 'lets build the wall'. His vision has credibility because a) it's based on reality b) N has identified new resources which can help the vision become reality c) there is committed leadership behind it.

5. Get started and keep going: there's no point having a vision if it stays on the drawing board. Nehemiah is not just a visionary, he is a great organiser too. In most cases this would be different individuals: one who has the vision, another who breaks it down into manageable steps and identifies who's going to do what. There is a clear action plan, which adapts to circumstances (opposition from without, and grumbling from within) and a clear vision which N keeps on restating. Sharing a vision once is no good, it needs to keep on being affirmed, otherwise energy and focus will drift. There are other issues for N to deal with: scandalmongering by his opponents, internal wrangling over fair distribution of food, but to his credit he keeps the people focused on their task, whilst dealing with these issues.

6. Get partying: once the wall is finished, there is a celebration. But it's not just a 'thank goodness that's all over' celebration. In it, the people are reminded of the Law, and called to renew their obedience to God. Every vision, if it's from God, is part of a bigger vision called the Kingdom of God, and so the story doesn't end when the vision is realised. How many churches have gone into 'drift' mode after completing some major building project? The final section of Nehemiah is concerned with how the people of Jerusalem are going to serve God, and whether they will be faithful and obedient. Does it take a different kind of leadership to keep people faithful during 'normal' time, compared to the leadership required to lift people to achieve a vision?

Two of the repeated refrains in current books on mission are vision and leadership. We need leadership that not only helps our churches discern a vision, but that will help the church to see it through. The road to Hell is paved with mission statements that never got beyond being framed and put on the wall.

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