Intentional Leadership Lessons from the Book of Nehemiah

Christian woman educator encouraging her student in class | Intentional leaders

By Becky Meyerson

Remember me for this, my God, and don’t erase the deeds of faithful love I have done for the house of my God and for its services. Nehemiah 13:14 HCSB

Nehemiah is the hallmark book in the Bible on being an intentional leader. 

It is the story of Nehemiah’s journey from the palace of a foreign king to the city he yearned to rebuild. 

Nehemiah writes his memoirs in this book, chronicling his intentional leadership style and strategies as he humbly acknowledges God’s gracious hand on his life.

Being an intentional leader is never easy. 

Self-doubts and discouragement weigh heavy on our thoughts and hearts, and to add more ammunition, the enemy hurls lies and sets subtle traps that dishearten the best intentions. 

Be encouraged! The same God who enabled Nehemiah to finish an extensive project will also equip you to lead with intentionality and success.

Am I a Leader?

You may not consider yourself a leader, but I believe you are.  

Every woman leads herself first, leads within her home, leads within relationships with friends and co-workers, and leads in ministry areas and every space God calls her to serve.

Look behind you and beside you…

Who looks to you for care, comfort, love, advice, direction, inspiration, and wisdom?

Brene Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas and has the courage to develop that potential.”

By this definition, we are all leaders in one way or another. 

God equips us to be the kind of leaders who know what to do, where to go, and can get up and get things done. 

soccer team gathered in a huddle on the field | How to be Intentional Leaders

How to be an Intentional Leader

Leaders get things done because they are intentional. 

Intentional = in·ten·tion·al /inˈten(t)SH(ə)n(ə)l/
adjective: Done on purpose; deliberate. Chooses to make decisions and act on what is really important. Sets an intention to achieve a specific outcome or result in the future.

Nehemiah was an intentional leader who, through his actions, attitude, and behavior, set the tone for the improbable to be accomplished: rebuilding the city wall in 52 days. 

Here are four intentional steps Nehemiah made that will empower you to make good decisions and act on what is truly important. 

1. Intentional leaders own the problem and feel the feelings.

They said to me, “The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned down.”  When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. Nehemiah 1:3-4a HCSB

We are not called to solve every problem. Our hearts can not carry the weight of the world’s concerns or every ongoing problem we face day by day.

Our first step as intentional leaders is to ask God, “Is this my responsibility to carry, or is it someone else’s problem?”

If God calls you to solve this problem and lead yourself or others through it, then bring action, not avoidance. 

It is so much easier to avoid leadership than to step into it and be intentional. Have you found yourself in any of these scenarios?

  • At your job: There is a deadline at work, but you use a lame excuse not to stay late even when you have an idea that might increase speed.
  • With your physical health: You hear the alarm, but instead of getting on the treadmill, you hit the snooze button.
  • With a friend: In a phone call, you can hear the worry in your friend’s voice, but you just do not have empathy for this situation.
  • In your social life: A neighbor’s invitation to dinner waits in your inbox as you tell yourself you will decide later – or not.
  • With your spiritual life: Mornings are already consumed with the craziness of preparing for the day. Your spiritual growth can wait, right?
  • With your finances: Bills sit in a stack on the kitchen counter. You push them aside again, even though with online resources it would only take you ten minutes to complete the task.
Earn your leadership every day. - Michael Jordan Click to Tweet

Let the issues and situations that God has allowed in your life move you into intentional leadership. 

Yes, own the problem, feel the pain, and then earn your leadership.

Christian woman teaching her children about the Bible | How to be Intentional Leaders

2. Intentional leaders pray for favor and opportunity.

O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me. Nehemiah 1:11 NLT

Nehemiah prayed for favor with the king and for an opportunity to speak with him. 

What is favor?

Luke 2:52 tells us that Jesus grew in favor with God and with man. We also need favor in both of these areas. 

The favor of God is what God can do for you that you cannot do for yourself. - Mark Batterson Click to Tweet

The favor of man is the goodwill that comes from others because they see in us a life of respect, love, courtesy, and compassion. 

What is opportunity?

Opportunity is not just waiting for an open door but requires holding back for God’s timing. 

It is essential to pay attention to the timing of events in Nehemiah’s story. 

He received the news of Jerusalem in late autumn—in the month of Kislev—which would be November or December on our calendar. 

The following spring, four months later, in the month of Nissan (April or May), he finally had an audience with the king. 

Four months! He had to wait four months. I often have trouble waiting four minutes.  

I keep putting things in the microwave, and Jesus keeps moving them to the crockpot. - Bob Goff Click to Tweet

When God calls us to intentional leadership on an issue, we want to begin the work and solve the problem immediately. 

But wait. Is this God’s timing? 

Remember, God usually does not move at the same speed we would like to move.

Keep praying for favor and opportunity, and while you wait for God’s timing, start dreaming about possibilities and solutions. 

woman's bible study group  | How to be Intentional Leaders

3. Intentional leaders take inventory and look at things realistically.

After I arrived in Jerusalem and had been there three days, I got up at night and took a few men with me. I didn’t tell anyone what my God had laid on my heart to do for Jerusalem. The only animal I took was the one I was riding. I went out at night through the Valley Gate toward the Serpent’s Well and the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that had been broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Nehemiah 2:11-13 HCSB

Nehemiah did not make any public announcements until he had done his homework of inspecting the damage and the work to be done. 

Just like Nehemiah, do not assume that you know all the answers. Come into every leadership situation with humility and start by accurately assessing the problem. 

Nehemiah was appalled at the rubble, and we should be too. 

  • It is not normal for friends and co-workers to be at odds with one another.
  • It is not OK to fight continuously with your spouse or listen to hateful words from your teenager. 
  • Churches should not split over the trivial, and neighbors should not avoid each other because of differences.

Take inventory of your own heart first—look at each situation realistically—then ask God how you can be an intentional leader.  

To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart. - John Maxwell Click to Tweet
women colleagues  | How to be Intentional Leaders

4. Intentional Leaders build a team and put together a strategic plan of delegation.

 So I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.” I told them how the gracious hand of my God had been on me, and what the king had said to me. They said, “Let’s start rebuilding,” and they were encouraged to do this good work. Nehemiah 2:17-18 HCSB

Nehemiah 3 describes a master, strategic plan of delegation. 

It is a model example of teamwork and accomplishing much in a short time.  Each verse describes a group of people working in front of their homes or ministry areas. 

It reads like this: Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests began rebuilding the Sheep Gate. . . the men of Jericho built next to Eliashib, and next to them. . . and next to them. . . and next to them the repairs were made. . . and next to them they rebuilt and installed doors. . .

And on and on it describes how they rebuilt every square foot of the wall!

Leadership and teamwork have a direct impact on our ability to accomplish goals.

Intentional leaders make sure everyone on their team is going in the same direction and working toward the same goal. 

Don’t do it alone. You need to build a team and then lead with a strategic plan that involves everyone. 

Your team is the vehicle that helps you reach the goal. 

The first job of a leader is to define reality. The last job is to say thank you, and in between, to be a debtor and a servant. - Max Dupree Click to Tweet
sunday school class  | How to be Intentional Leaders

Move Forward in Intentional Leadership

May God give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 NLT

As women, we handle many plates simultaneously, but that does not mean that life needs to be stressful or without intention. Take a closer look at your time, values, balance, and choices and you will be able to identify what steals your intentionality.

Here are four questions to ask yourself as you seek to move forward in your leadership journey:

  • Are you still trying to discern if this is the problem God is calling you to step into? Pray. God’s promise is that He will liberally give you wisdom when you ask for it. And if this task is yours, He will also give you the heart to carry it (Jam 1:5).
  • Is this God’s timing for movement on your part or time for continued prayer and fasting? During the four months that Nehemiah waited for an opportunity to speak to the king, plans and ideas developed in his mind. So, when the moment came, and the king asked how he could help, Nehemiah quickly responded with, give me letters for safe travel and timber for the construction (Neh 2:4-8).
  • Are you taking inventory of the situation and asking God for clarity and the next steps? Take the time to learn and access. As you do, you will begin to understand the order that issues need to be addressed.
  • Who do you need to bring on your team? Just as God is preparing your heart to lead, God is preparing others to volunteer beside you. Keep your eyes and ears open, and these people will become apparent.

As you write your intentional leadership memoirs, as you tell your story, as you chronicle your accomplishments, do they tell the narrative of God’s amazing favor in your life? Be the intentional leader who always gives credit to God’s power at work in and through you. 

-Becky Meyerson

Becky is a 60-something wife, mom, Nana, coach, writer, teacher, organic garlic grower, live in the City but farmer-at-heart, Jesus follower. She encourages women to live a Flourishing Life through 1-on-1 coaching, free Bible reading plans, E-courses, and Bible Studies. She loves to champion women who feel stuck in a life season or lost in a transition, empowering them to confidently take the next step on the path forward. Connect with her through her website and on Facebook and Instagram.

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