Monday, February 18, 2013

Sound Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

SUNDAY SERVICE, FEBRUARY 17, 2013 @ 0900 & 1100


Text:  Nehemiah 4:1-15 and Matthew 22:34-40

It has been an interesting week with the first live presidential debate taking place. This is what some of the candidates had to say (paraphrased), ‘It is very easy to deal with the health problem. In my government we will establish the DIDA diet where people will only eat when they are hungry. And even then they will not fill their bellies. A third food, a third water and a third air. And there will be no meals timetable. On foreign policy, the problem of Migingo is easy, I will first deploy the navy there push all Ugandans out then we can negotiate if it is in Kenya or not.’

When I first arrived in the city in 2001, I was full of expectations. My parents had sent me to take computer studies as I prepare for university education. I spent my first year in the city at Pumwani Youth Hostel and attended the Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute (KCITI) in Eastleigh section 1. I ate chapati chafua, which was basically chapati with free soup splashed on it. I walked along conjested streets and sometimes on sewage and severally went wondering what I had just stepped on. This was not the city I had anticipated. Yet it was in this place that I saw diversity in its totality. I saw people from all walks toil in the hot sun to make ends meet. They worked so hard although many earned so little.  Nairobi was and remains to be a city of many faces. There is the city those who are able live in and there is the other Nairobi that many wish that never existed. This is the city where everything goes. But this is the Nairobi that drives the productive engine of the city – the labour, the consumer and the tenants. Same applies to many parts of our country.

Our country has made many strides but the inequalities especially incomes is a matter to worry any person. Poor incomes have left many Kenyans vulnerable, hungry and angry. They are the broken walls and burnt gates of our generation.  The inequalities that abound call for leadership that rises above the parochial interests of ethnicity, class and even the so called analogue/digital divide. A leadership that is courageous enough to turn the narrative and usher in a new story. That leadership is what each of us is being called to. While is mostly on political/public leaders, the truth is that each of us is a leader only that our spheres of influence differ. It is how we lead where we are that will make or break our country. We have a unique opportunity to shape the future. Shall we build or shall we destroy it? Let’s turn to Nehemiah. I encourage us to read the entire book to catch a grasp of this great leader.

Nehemiah is in exile. Despite his odds, he is a privileged man just like many of us. He has risen to serve in the Kings palace as a Camp De Aide. He is a high man but an accessible one. He receives his brothers and enquires about his home country and specifically the city of Jerusalem. He is told it lies in ruins. Its walls are broken and gates burnt. The walls signified the security, protection and community. In their absence the people were vulnerable. He is troubled and decides to do something. He cannot stand to be enjoying a privileged life as his brethren live in insecurity and disgrace from their neighbours. He prays and acts. He approaches the king with a clear plan of what he needs and the amount of time it would take him. Arriving in Jerusalem he assesses the problem, gathers like minded people and gets onto the work of rebuilding. He faces opposition firmly. At one point he arms his people to work and fight, calling on them to ‘remember the Lord who is great and fight for their families’ (Neh. 4:14). He addresses the plight of the poor and ensures that the people’s dignity is respected (See chapter 5). Once the wall is done in 52 days, he invites Ezra to lead the people in rebuilding the spiritual walls and gates. He knows that while the physical infrastructure (hardware) is important, the spiritual infrastructure (software) is more important. Indeed, a society is as strong as the inner strength of its members.

Kenya is at a decisive time in her development. In the 50 years of independence, a lot has been achieved. Much more needs to be done. Especially on improving livelihoods, feeding our people and providing quality education and health care. Ours is a call to be Nehemiah’s of today. Men and women who get disturbed by what disturbs God. People who are connected to God and relevant to the world. I get the sense that as Kenyans, we know where we do not want to go but we have not fully resolved that we won’t go there. Not when we are increasingly operating on fear. Fear of domination and revenge should one who is not our own take power. This fear is what has made many of us retreat to our ethnic numbers as a source of security. Not when we politic with health, security, pensions, food and education of our people. Not when we fail to address the plight of the majority young and educated but jobless people. Not when we glorify those on the wrong and crucify the honest and hard workers.

We do not want to go over the cliff but no one seems willing to stop and turn the car. We want to do things the same old way but get different results. The family is in turmoil, the church is crying for dedicated women and men, and the country needs leaders in all its facets. This is what pains most: That we are not angry enough. But why should you and I care, when we can fly out when things go wrong? When we can afford private services when public health and education systems fail? When we can afford supplies for the next one month especially with elections around the corner? I think we must care because unless we address the plight of the majority who are poor, we will not protect the minority who are rich (paraphrasing John F. Kennedy). Unless we do that, we will build gated communities that we cannot drive or walk out of. We will invest with fear of loosing all should things fail. What then is God’s call to us?

It is to stand and do something. We see this in Nehemiah. While what he did is commendable, the real cracks of it are in the person of Nehemiah. They are in his software so to say. Sound leadership will only stem from leaders who are sound in and of themselves. I hold the view that a leader can only give who they are and what they have. For a leader, being is as important as doing. A leader can only take people where s/he has been to or is willing to go. It is in Nehemiah’s being that we see the fountain of all he did. In Mathew 22:34-40 and Mark 12: 30-33, Jesus is confronted by the leaders of those days. They ask him what the greatest commandment is. In essence they are asking him, what makes a great person? What makes an outstanding leader? Jesus answers that 5 things matter.

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart - integrity
  2. Love the Lord your God with all your soul – conviction
  3. Love the Lord your God with all your mind – knowledge/intellect
  4. Love the Lord your God with your strength – ability/competence
  5. Love your neighbour as you love yourself – compassion/justice

Pastor Oscar Muriu calls them the Five Loves of a leader. They make the hallmarks of sound leadership. They are the software of sound leadership. How did Nehemiah live this attributes in his life? And what lessons can we take with us in leading where we are?

First, sound leadership is one driven by loving God with all your heart. This is what I call integral love. It is the highest mark of integrity. Being undivided in your commitment to God. He has your heart and you will follow where he leads. Nehemiah is totally sold out to God. When he hears of the turmoil in Jerusalem, he turns to God in prayer. He knows his heart is God’s and pours it all to him. He prays in confidence that God will hear and lead him. And even as he rebuilds he constantly reconnects with God. He records that the work got done because the people worked with all their heart (Neh. 4:6). He knew his heart will remain restless unless it finds rest in God (paraphrasing St. Augustine). Our greatest problem is a problem of the heart. Where is your heart today?

Secondly, sound leadership is one based on loving God with all your soul. This is the attribute of conviction that is beyond surface talk. It is a deep conviction in what you have believed. It is this conviction that makes Nehemiah arise and take action. It is the conviction that that binds all your nerves and being in following a cause. It enables a leader to see through a hopeless situation and turn the narrative – from hopelessness to hope, from operating by fear to walking through fear in courage. It is the drive that things can change. That people can change. It is sad to observe that many a Christian are so by association and not by conviction. They have no stand for something and thus fall for anything. Kenya is crying for leaders of conviction not of convenience. Men and women who go for what is right and not just convenient. Men and women who are willing to help us delay certain gratifications so that we can enjoy long term prosperity. Will you be the one? Will I be the one?

Thirdly, it is a leadership grounded on loving God with your entire mind. It is a knowledgeable leadership. Our intellect matters to God. It is a mind submitted to God and plans what will benefit his people. What we saw in the Goldenberg and other scandals is people using their knowledge to destroy a country. Nehemiah understands the work ahead and makes careful planning which he submits to the King. When on the ground he first assesses the problem to clarify his plans and when it comes to work he divides it into manageable pieces. Using our mind to serve God and his people. We have not always loved God with our minds. For starters we have many at times failed to develop our minds. We read popular news but shun from challenging matters. Yet God has given each of us a mind that is creative. A mind that can innovate solutions that will serve many generations to come. Sound leadership thrives on using our intellect to engage our society’s challenges.

Fourth, sound leadership is based on loving God with all your strength. A leader’s ability, skills and competencies are a great asset to a society. God desires that we serve humanity with excellence and legacy in mind. Applying our strength to its best. Shunning mediocrity and laziness. Nehemiah plans the rebuilding and is also there to build. He does what he needs and delegates only that which he must not do. He harnesses the collective strength of the people. In 52 days the work is done. We live in a society where people want jobs but no work. Pay but no pain. People want to reap where they sowed not. Think of all the gambling going on in the name of brand promotion. Think of middle men and brokers who make unbelievable margins by exploiting farmers and informal workers. God is calling us to be leaders who use our strength. Who eat the sweat of our labour. It is also a call to harness the collective strength of the people of Kenya to build this our nation together. To collectively pay the fare and equitably enjoy the wellness fruits.

Lastly, sound leadership is founded in loving your neighbour as yourself. It is being compassionate. It is being merciful, just and gracious. It is in treating others as you desire to be treated. It is in seeing people as valuable creation of God. It is in working for the good of the people around you. It is in protecting the weak and supporting the vulnerable. In chapter 5, some of the wells to do people are exploiting their brothers and sisters. Nehemiah steps in and reprimands them for such unjust acts. He ensures that such oppression is stopped. Today we are faced by a situation where many are exploited by the few who can. While it is easy to blame the government for poor pay of civil servants, think of the working conditions in our industries, commercial farms and factories. Think of the working conditions of many of our house helps and office assistants, cleaners, cooks, watchmen. Take what you we pay them and calculate how long it will take them to get out of poverty. They work so hard yet we pay them so little. They too are children of God and have the same attributes as we have. The love for neighbour has to start in the house of God. It is also the basis of bridging inter clan and ethnic divisions that are threatening our country.

Sound leadership has to start in the House of God. It starts with you and I. It starts with an individual resolve to be all for God. To see what he sees and to be concerned by what concerns Him. To start and sustain the change we want to see. When the history of this country is written, on which page will you name appear? On those who built or those who destroyed. And more importantly, when God asks what you did with you leadership opportunities, what will you answer? In the words of John Maxwell, sound leadership is the call to stand when others are sitting, to stand out where others are standing, to be outstanding when others are standing out and to set the standard when others are outstanding. Kenya shall be transformed when we all practice sound leadership where we are. This calls us to prepare and do our best for it is better to prepare and get no opportunity than to get opportunity unprepared. God bless us and God Bless Kenya.

In Service to God and Our Country 
Abraham Rugo Muriu

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