The last Sunday in June is “Leadership Sunday” in our church. Each year, we ordain and install new elders and trustees on the last Sunday of June. This is because their term in office begins the first day of July. The congregation elected the officers we are ordaining today at our annual meeting last December. Since January, they have been coming to monthly training sessions and attending at least some Session and Trustee meetings. This week, their term in office begins.
As I was preparing this sermon, I read the story of a woman that I’ll call “Donna.” Donna grew up in a church located in a growing city in the Midwest. She has wonderful memories of church dinners, Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, Youth Group, and Youth Choirs. She went to a church camp in the summertime. When she grew up, she stayed in her parent’s church. For a long time, her close connections in the church and her memories blinded her to the reality that the church was shrinking.
As her parent’s generation grew older, new young people were not joining her church. One morning during the worship service, she realized that her little church was dying. For a time, she went through denial. “Things will get better,” she said. They did not. As a leader in the church, she began to talk about the problem during church board meetings. The church tried a few things, but they didn’t work. When her children got to high school, they wanted to attend a local mega-church. Reluctantly, Donna agreed. When the children were grown, she never went back. Her home church closed a few years ago.  The church could never create the kind of leadership that would adapt to the changing environment of America.
It’s interesting: there have never been more books about leadership for public service, business, churches and other organizations. At the same time, in every area of American life, people remark that we do not have enough good leaders! Increasingly, in our culture, we need transformational leaders but we seem incapable of developing them.
Nehemiah: A Servant Leader.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen that Nehemiah was a special kind of a leader. He had a deep faith in God. He had a soft heart. He cared about people. He prayed. He thought. He planned. He had courage. He was willing to face opposition. He was a good administrator.
Last week, we saw the kind of servant leadership demonstrated by Nehemiah. When other people were taking advantage of their wealth, power, and position, Nehemiah refused to take advantage of his position as the governor of Jerusalem. He paid his own expenses. He took care of the common people and the poor. Instead of serving himself, Nehemiah served the people of Jerusalem.
In this blog, we’re going to talk about biblical leadership. Our text comes from Nehemiah 8:
All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra, the teacher of the Law, to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, …. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra, the teacher of the Law, stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion…. Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law (Selections from Nehemiah 8:1-
Prayer: O God: Please come into our hearts and help us to see what true Biblical, servant leadership is all about. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Three Transformational Servant Leaders.
As we began our study of Nehemiah, I mentioned that three leaders provided special leadership for the Jewish people as they returned from captivity in Babylon: Zerubabbel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
The first of the great leaders was a man named “Zerubbabel.” He was a descendent of King David and led one of the first groups of people to return from Babylon (Ezra 2:1-2). He began rebuilding the Temple. He’s mentioned in the books of Haggai and Zechariah. We don’t know a lot about him, except that he seems to have been both a religious and political leader of great ability. He was loved by the people and respected by the prophets. Despite delays and orders to stop, eventually, the temple was rebuilt (Ezra 6).
A few years after Zerubbabel, a man named “Ezra” brought another group of people from Babylon. We don’t very often study Ezra, but he was one of the most important people in the Old Testament. It is almost certain that Ezra is the author of both the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In addition, a good many scholars believe that he is the author of First and Second Chronicles. He may also have been the final editor of the book of Esther. Finally, there are those who believe that Ezra edited a good bit of what we call the Old Testament, which was put in a form while the Jews were in captivity in Babylon. 
Not only was Ezra a great scholar, he was a good leader. Like Nehemiah, Ezra returned during the reign of King Artaxerxes. Whereas Nehemiah’s duty was to rebuild Jerusalem so that he could be defended from its enemies, Ezra’s job was to renew the culture of Jerusalem and of the Jewish people. The people of Jerusalem had rebuilt the Temple, but they had not rebuilt the culture from which the Temple emerged. God sent Ezra to rebuild the culture.
What is a culture? A culture is composed of all the human creations that characterize a people. Jewish culture for example includes Jewish history, Jewish law, Jewish poetry, Jewish music Jewish wisdom, Jewish prophetic literature, Jewish food, Jewish lifestyles—everything that makes something Jewish and characterizes the way Jews live.
In the same way, American culture is not just American politics, or American business, or American history, or American law, or any individual creation of Americans, it is the sum total of the way of life we create by all of our decisions and creations. When we renew our culture, we are talking about each one of us renewing that part of the culture that depends upon us.
Six Qualities of Rebuilders.
If we look at Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, we see common traits that we must also have if we are to rebuild our culture. I decided to focus on six qualities in this blog:
- First, transformational leaders are biblical. There is no rebuilding American culture from a Christian perspective without transformational leaders who are Biblical. To be Biblical is to be more than a person who respects the Bible. It involves more than memorizing a few Bible verses. It means becoming so familiar with the Bible that our view of the world, of God, and of other people is shaped and formed by the story the Bible tells. Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah were clearly such people.
- Second, transformational leaders are prayerful. Transformational, Christian leaders must be prayerful. There is nothing that can substitute for a deep prayerful relationship with God. One thing we emphasize in our church is making major decisions in a prayerful way. No leader can lead in a spiritual manner without a deep, abiding prayer life.
- Third, transformational leaders are wise. Wisdom is the practical ability to make good decisions in complex circumstances. Wisdom does involve knowing a few things. A wise person has to know how things work. Nevertheless, wisdom also involves experience. It’s almost impossible to be wise without experience. It is experience, good and bad, success and failure, popular and unpopular that makes a leader wise.
- Fourth, transformational leaders are loving. In America, we normally think of love as a feeling. Love is not a feeling. Love is an activity. Love is doing what is best for another person or group of persons and accepting whatever suffering may come as a result. There is no servant leadership unless the leader is doing what is best for those he or she is serving.
- Fifth, transformational leaders are moral. In the American church, we place so much emphasis on grace that we sometimes forget that we are saved by grace so that we can live the Christian life. In addition, our culture is so amoral that it is easy for Christians to forget that we are bound by the moral law of the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments are not “Ten Good Suggestions.” They are God’s instructions for life. The Ten Commandments are also not the only moral lessons contained in the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is filled with instructions as to how to live a good life. Good leaders live according to the teachings of the Old Testament in every area of life.
- Finally, transformational leaders are energetic. Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and every other transformational leader in history had a kind of energy to keep working even when results are hard to see. Energy is related to the quality of perseverance. Transformational leaders must persevere.
Jesus as a Transformational Leader.
Prior to the 1970s, there were relatively few Christian books on leadership. In particular, there were not very many books on church leadership. Pastors were not thought of as leaders. They were thought of as caregivers with special gifts in preaching. A few pastors of large churches were thought of as managers or administrators, and every denomination produced a few books about administering large congregations.
Then, in the 1970s, a few very large mega-churches developed. Their pastors became known as leaders. In addition, it became obvious that the mainline denominations were declining. The result has been an explosion of books on church leadership.
Unfortunately, the explosion of books on leadership has not created an explosion of leaders. America, and especially American churche, needs leaders. America needs all kinds of leaders, in business, government, private charities, local communities, etc.. America especially needs Godly leaders who try to emulate Christ in their leadership. Unfortunately, we do not seem to be creating such leaders.
I am not a tremendous fan of leadership books with titles like, “Jesus: The Greatest Leader Who Ever Lived.” Many, if not most, of these books portray Jesus as a kind of extremely nice modern business executive. Jesus was, however, a transformational leader. His life, death and resurrection, and his continuing activity by the power of the Holy Spirit in the church, have resulted in the greatest possible transformation of human society.
Nevertheless, generally we cannot look to Jesus for techniques of leadership. Instead, we look at Jesus to understand the spirituality of a servant leader. The disciples remembered that Jesus told them that in his kingdom the last would be first at the greatest the servant of all (Mark 9:35). To be a Christian leader is to serve others after the example and in the spirit of Jesus. There is no other kind of Christian leadership.
If a Christian is a leader, in the church, in business, in government, in private charities–in every area of life– that Christian needs to bring their faith to bear upon the leadership they exert. This is a matter of being sure we act in a loving and wise manner to serve the best interests of all people as we lead. This is not easy or automatic. It is easier in the church and much harder in areas outside the church. Nevertheless, servant leadership is not just for pastors. It is for all leaders, even those in politics and business.
In First Peter, the apostle writes the following:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (I Peter 5:1-4).
Transformational Christian leaders watch over the sheep, serve the sheep, are good examples to the sheep, and cares for the sheep. In the church, the leaders we elect to serve our congregations must make important decisions. They must manage a significant budget and often an endowment. They must sense how to grow our congregations in the midst of a general decline of faith in our culture. This requires a special, servant attitude. Loving people is hard because it involves not always doing what people want. It means doing what is best.
Worship + 2 Leadership.
Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah were not empowered to be leaders by magic or by their genes at birth. Of course, they had the genetic capacity for leadership. Bet their is more than physical and mental strength to being a Godly leader. Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah worshiped God daily, weekly, and at the high holy days of their people. They read and studied the scriptures of their time. They were filled Holy Spirit as the prayed regularly and opened up their hearts to God Finally, they were not satisfied with “head knowledge.” They put their faith to work.
They might have stayed in Babylon or Persia all of their lives. Zerubbabel might have been satisfied to live in the court of Cyrus of Persia. Nehemiah might have been a cupbearer to Artaxerxes all his life. Ezra might have been happy translating Scripture, studying Scripture, and memorizing Scripture. Instead, they undertook to travel to Jerusalem, live in more primitive surroundings, face opposition, also that they could serve God and the people of God.
Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 This is a composite story from several of which I am aware. In preparing the story, I looked at Mike Foss, A Servant’s Manual: Christian Leadership for Tomorrow (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002) in which he tells a story similar to many. My own home church, which is still open, has undergone a similar change.
 See, Mervin Brenaman, “Ezra, Nehemiah, & Esther” in “The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1993), 15-59.