The Praying Leader: The Leadership Trait of Humility

As most of you know, I am a resident fellow with B. H. Carroll Theological Institute, but my full-time job is as an associate professor in the Department of Christian Ministries at Williams Baptist University, where I teach practical theology and ministry skills. 

Our Church Administration class includes a major component in leadership development. Students watch and reflect on fifteen short leadership videos. One video I chose featured Dr. Jeff Iorg of Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary. He spoke on the leadership trait of humility in “What Makes A Humble Leader.” I liked the video but after I read my students’ reflections, I realized it was very meaningful for them.

The Book of Nehemiah is my favorite book in the Bible dealing with leadership. Nehemiah is one of my favorite biblical personalities; he was a great leader and he was a leader who depended on the Lord as demonstrated by his praying. Nehemiah was a humble leader. Let’s see how he demonstrated three concepts identified by Dr. Iorg. 

First, Nehemiah was a humble leader because he chose to use his leadership to better others. He enabled people toward their potential. In Nehemiah 3 we see how Nehemiah helped people toward their potential as they worked to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. He approached people to help by connecting the need to rebuild the wall with each group of builders’ own interest. For instance, the priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate. This was the gate through which the sacrificial lambs were bought into the Temple. 

An illustration of this concept is found in 2 Samuel 23:13-17. In a review of David’s mighty men, we find a story about how three of David’s men heard David wishfully desiring a drink from the well in his hometown, Bethlehem. Bethlehem was under Philistine control. Wanting to please their leader, these three men found their way into Bethlehem, drew the water from the town well, fought their way back out of the town, and then presented their gift to David. David was so impressed with the courage and possible sacrifice of these men that he poured out the water as an offering in recognition of their bravery. Imagine how this blessed and called these men up to even greater service.  You can serve as a humble leader as you choose to use your leadership for the good of others. 

Second, Nehemiah was a humble leader as he placed appropriate value on his own leadership. Nehemiah 2:5 reads: “And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves that I may rebuild it.” He said this immediately after praying for wisdom. Paul told us in Romans 12:3 to not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. John the Baptist said of his role in John 3:30, “I must decrease and He [Jesus] must increase.” Every leader must consider how he or she can decrease so others coming behind us may increase.  You can serve as a humble leader as you place appropriate value on your leadership. 

Third, Nehemiah was a humble leader as he practiced gratitude for the people he served. Nehemiah 5:14-19 shows how Nehemiah was grateful for those he led. He served them, literally at his own table and out of his own personal finances. Paul expressed thanks for those he led nine times in his letters. You can serve as a humble leader as you practice gratitude for those you lead. 

This is an unusual time, but every time calls for extraordinary leadership. Have you ever had a time when you thought, “Here’s a good time for poor leadership?” Of course, not! We are all leaders, every one of us. At its most basic level, leadership is simply influence. We all have influence with someone. The best expression of leadership is service. Serving others is an opportunity open to all of us. If we serve as humble leaders, then we can pray as Nehemiah prayed in Nehemiah 13:31, “Remember me, O my God, for good.”

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