I have always liked to go through books with my staff. I’m an avid reader and I think being a life-long learner is a necessary component to staying alive and effective as a leader. But, instead of going through a book about ministry or church, I decided to take our staff through the book of Nehemiah. I’m going old school… we’re just going through a book of the Bible. I’m asking them to look for things that we can see about leadership from the life of Nehemiah; and to be honest, the first chapter just blew me away.

Nehemiah 1:1- reads,

1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

At first glance it might not seem like there is much there, but let me just point out one thing that I think applies to leadership and to life in general. What Nehemiah really says is, “I have a picture in my head of what Jerusalem looks like, but I want you to tell me what’s actually going on there.” Nehemiah doesn’t want the caricature of Jerusalem, he doesn’t want the best case scenario, he doesn’t want inflated numbers… he wants to know what’s actually going on. Nehemiah is determined to figure out reality. And in his case, and ours much of the time, reality wasn’t pretty. The city was destroyed, the people were threatened, and the need was great. But he wanted to know. He needed to know so that he could move forward in an informed way.

I think that huge for those of us who are in ministry. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the way things were or the way things could be, but our job as leaders is to come to terms with reality. I think one of the best things we can do as people is come to terms with what is actually going on. The first step towards mending the relationship is admitting it’s broken. The first step towards recovery is admitting there is a problem. The first step towards financial stability is coming to terms with how much we make. The first step for a church/ministry towards vitality is a long inquisitive look in the mirror to figure out who we really are.

See, we will never get to the place we want to go if we can’t embrace where we are starting from. It doesn’t mean we have to like it, it simply means we need to own it. And once we own it, then we can start to move in a definitive direction. Nehemiah knew it… and reality broke his heart, motivated his feet, and defined his ministry. But, don’t miss that it started with an honest, painful assessment of what was real.