Rebuilders let go without letting up (Neh. 3)
Nehemiah has been teaching us some valuable lessons on rebuilding. We have looked and learned as he started right, and built a team spirit. We left him and his people in Part Two saying, “Let us rise up and build” (Neh. 2:18). This is not simply a lot of pumped-up mental attitude or a bunch of hype. These are not idle words. In chapter three of Nehemiah, we see the people “setting their hands to the work.” The walls are going up. Rebuilding is on the way.
In reading the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament, many people skip over chapter three. It is described as boring by some. On the surface, we see endless names that are hard to pronounce and, for the most part, unknown. For example, consider these names found in one of the verses: Hananiah, Shelemiah, Hanun, Meshullam, Berechiah. These are not your basic household names, even in the Old Testament. Most of the names in the third chapter of Nehemiah are never before, and never again, mentioned in scripture. It has the appearance of all the excitement of a lifeless genealogy table. In fact, some writers and devotional commentators completely ignore chapter three when expounding on the message from Nehemiah. One famous Bible teacher and successful author of our day, in his otherwise fine book on Nehemiah, made no mention of chapter three. He deals with it as though the chapter does not even exist. One popular publishing company has a discussion guide that accompanies its commentary on Nehemiah. At the beginning of Nehemiah chapter three it says, “If your time is limited, this is a better chapter to skip than others.” Many pay no attention whatsoever to this chapter and either skip it completely, or skim it quickly and turn the page to chapter four as the story of rebuilding the walls continues. However, I contend that the third chapter of Nehemiah is one of the most important chapters in the whole book. In this chapter, we discover one of the real secrets to Nehemiah’s success. We discover his secret that will enable the work to be completed in just 52 days. What is it? It is the art of delegation!
Nehemiah let go without letting up. I want to repeat that. He let go without letting up! He came back to Jerusalem to be the rebuilder of the broken walls, but he knew he could not do the job alone. So, after getting started right, and building a team spirit, he now delegates the task to others. He lets go of ownership in the project but does not let up on his passion or his commitment to see it through and to hold others accountable.
Delegation is the real secret to success, no matter what we are attempting to rebuild. In preparation for the writing of this volume, I read several motivational and business books on today’s market; however, the Book of Nehemiah is by far the best of them all. Long before the modern success gurus wrote about the need to delegate, we read these time-tested principles here in Nehemiah chapter three. He teaches us the importance of letting go without letting up.
Nehemiah, no doubt, learned these principles of delegation from the Jewish Torah. Moses spoke of it and put it into practice. He was perplexed with the children of Israel in the wilderness, and spent his time judging and advising the people all by himself (Ex. 18). Jethro, his father-in-law, came upon the scene and watched men and women stand in line all day to seek counsel from Moses. He watched his son-in-law deal with each one of them, and saw at the end of the day that not only was Moses drained, but the people were drained themselves. Jethro gave him some great advice. He encouraged Moses to select from the people men who feared God, men of truth, to delegate this task. Moses began to let go without letting up. He “chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Ex. 18:25). And as a result, the job was done better and much more efficiently. Three thousand years have not lessened the importance of delegation. Our Lord Himself was a master delegator. On a Galilean mountainside, He did not personally feed the multiplied thousands. What did He do? He had the people sit down in rows, and distributed to the twelve, who distributed to the people. The rebuilder who does not discover this principle of delegation, who does not let go without letting up, will never be all that he or she can be.
An interesting thing happens when we take the time to read all of the names in Nehemiah chapter three. There are dozens mentioned, but Nehemiah’s name is not one of them. He is the master delegator. He lets go but he doesn’t let up. Many never get started in rebuilding because they never discover this principle of delegation. Quite honestly, some confuse the issue. Some think to delegate means to dictate, so they bark orders and keep people under their thumbs. They always insist on their way. These are the types of leaders who can’t let go, and can’t let up. The result is lower morale for all involved. It happens in the home. It happens in the office. It can happen on a team; it can even happen in a church. In the home, dictators leave no room for team efforts. At the office, dictators give ultimatums and squelch innovation and creativity. They must control everything; they can’t let go and they can’t let up.
Others think to delegate means to abdicate. That is, they assign a task and not only let go, but they let up. There is no passion of follow-up. They never hold anyone accountable. Thus, things never get done nor finished. Abdicators are quick to place the blame on fellow workers to whom the task is assigned. While dictators don’t let go nor let up, abdicators let go, and they also let up. They abdicate their place of leadership.
Look at Nehemiah as he steps on center stage. The effective leader does not relinquish his responsibility for exercising control. He may let go, but he never lets up. To delegate does not mean to abdicate our responsibility, nor does it mean to dictate to others. One of the things that distinguishes true rebuilders from those who only talk and never seem to get the job done, is the secret we find in Nehemiah chapter three – the ability to delegate, to let go without letting up.
For over a quarter of a century, I had the wonderful privilege of pastoring some great churches. Quite honestly, there were a number of jobs around that I could have done full time. Studying to preach was a full-time job; pastoring those in need of comfort and care was a full time job; counseling those who were troubled or confused was a full time job; contacting those in need of Christ and the church was a full-time job; administrating multi-million dollar budgets and ministerial staffs that numbered in the scores was a full-time job. I could dictate. I could abdicate. However, I chose to delegate. The only way the rebuilding process works in life is through delegation. This is true no matter what we may be rebuilding.
How did Nehemiah do it? How did he let go without letting up? Better yet, how can you and I let go without letting up? Nehemiah chapter three shows us the way. He lays out five important principles to accomplish the task of delegation. He says, “Set clear objectives with specific tasks, pick the right person for the right job, be an example yourself, hold people accountable, and give a genuine pat on the back.” He faced an awesome task. Jerusalem had been deteriorating for scores of years. However, Nehemiah knew…it’s never too late for a new beginning!
I. Set clear objectives with specific tasks
Nehemiah has been clear about his objectives throughout his book. His primary objective was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and repair its gates. There was no doubt about this. He had returned to Jerusalem, shared his vision, and the people adopted it, and said, “Let us rise up and build” (Neh. 2:18). Now, in Nehemiah chapter three, he assigns some specific tasks. Some of the workers were to hang certain gates. Others were to work on certain sections of the wall. It was to be a team effort, so Nehemiah set clear objectives with specific tasks. He was letting go without letting up. Each person knew exactly where he or she was to be along the wall. They each knew their own responsibility and what was expected of them. For example, “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel” (Neh. 3:1). On and on as the verses of chapter three unfold, we find Nehemiah setting clear objectives with specific tasks.
There was no one person who could rebuild the over two miles of broken down wall. But when Nehemiah divided the sections into about 40 segments, and delegated the work to dozens of leaders along the wall, the work was done in record time. Nehemiah set clear objectives with specific tasks. He let go without letting up. He was letting go of the ownership of the project, but not letting up on overseeing it to completion. One of the reasons so many of us have unfinished business in the work of rebuilding relationships, or homes, or self-confidence, is because we have no clear objectives with specific tasks.
There is a phrase we find recurring in nearly every verse of Nehemiah chapter three. Over and over again we read, “Next to him,” “Next to them,” “After him,” “After them.” All along the wall men and women had clear objectives with specific tasks. The words form a striking picture of unity in the midst of diversity. All along the wall men and women were working together with one accord. They were all going the same way, with clear objectives and specific tasks.
One of the all-time great television sitcoms was among the pioneers of that medium of media. Many of us remember The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason. Gleason played Ralph Kramden, the bus driver. His friend and neighbor was Ed Norton, who worked in the sewer department of the local municipality. In one episode I remember seeing as a youngster, Ralph was trying to get a big piece of furniture through his apartment door. Ed walks by on his way home from work, lunch pail in hand. “Hey Ralph, can I give you a hand?” asked Ed. Upon the affirmative reply, Ed Norton, clad in white tee shirt and vest and rumpled hat, takes hold of the furniture outside the door while Ralph has the furniture inside the door. They strain and pull and push, but the furniture doesn’t budge. It’s still right there in the middle of the doorway. This goes on for several minutes. Finally Ralph stops, wipes his brow, and exclaims, “I don’t think we’re ever going to get this furniture in the apartment.” “Get it in the apartment?” questions Norton. “I thought we were trying to get it out of the apartment!”
How important it is for Nehemiah and his workers to be moving together, to have clear objectives with specific tasks. And how important for any of us who are in the process of rebuilding. We are all “next to” someone in the rebuilding process, and we all need each other as we work together in the business of rebuilding.
Setting clear objectives with specific tasks is the first principle of delegation. It’s a very difficult thing to delegate a task to someone else if they do not have a clear objective regarding it. Along Jerusalem’s walls were specific jobs to be done by specific people. Someone was responsible for each section of the wall. Those who worked in groups had someone over them (Neh. 3:13). The power to make decisions was delegated to each group. Nehemiah let go, but he didn’t let up.
We never rebuild relationships without clear objectives with specific tasks. This is certainly true in the husband-wife relationship. Each of us has a specific task. It’s also true in rebuilding our lives, our businesses, or our churches. Somewhere there is a place on the wall that no one can fill like you can.
Look at Nehemiah. He is letting go. He is not trying to do it all, but he is not letting up. How does he delegate? First, he sets clear objectives with specific tasks.
What is your objective in rebuilding? Are you trying to rebuild a marriage, or a church, or a business, or a life? Do you have a specific task upon which to work? This might be at the very core of your problem. How do we let go without letting up? We begin by setting clear objectives with specific tasks. It’s never too late for a new beginning.
II. Pick the right person for the right job
Picking the right person for the right job is essential in the task of delegation, of letting go without letting up. Nehemiah was a master at seeing the need for this. He placed people near their own homes (Neh. 3:23, 28). This was a family effort. Think about it. If you were working close to your own home you might take more of a personal interest. You might take the task of rebuilding those walls a little bit more seriously than you would if you were somewhere else. You might be a little more highly motivated to see the job to completion. This way no one had to commute to the other side of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was saving valuable time and energy. Where there appeared to be no residents living nearby the wall, Nehemiah stationed people from the outlying towns like Tekoa and Jericho to those particular places. He was wise. He knew the best place to start to rebuild was at your own home.
Nehemiah let go without letting up. How? He set clear objectives with specific tasks, and he picked the right person for the right job. Some removed the rubbish. Others cut the stone. Some stacked the debris. Others laid the stones in place along the wall. Somewhere there was a job for everyone. There was a specific place to use the gifts and abilities of everyone. All the way up and down the wall this principle played out. There was even a place for “the priest.” One might think they would bow out of work and be about the duties in the temple, but to their credit, they led the way in rebuilding. And note the job that Nehemiah gave them. They were to repair the Sheep Gate (Neh. 3:1). This was important to them, for it was the gate through which people brought their sacrifices to the temple. Nehemiah picked the right person for the right job. Some never learn to delegate because they have the wrong person in the right job, or the right person in the wrong job.
There were also “goldsmiths” who worked with intricate details, and yet they had a place to lay large stones in the wall. Nehemiah 3:23 said there were “bachelors” working on the wall. Even though they had no family to protect, they were in their place. There were single adults on the wall who had the task of rebuilding a section of the wall that no one could build like they could. It is also important to note there were men from Tekoa and Jericho, as much as twenty miles away, who had nothing to gain personally, but were there in their place. There were also “politicians” along the wall (Neh. 3:9, 12), the big wigs, the VIPs of Jerusalem. Everyone got their hands dirty. There were women who were doing their share. There were those who had failed marriages. In Nehemiah 3:11, we are introduced to a man that Ezra tells us had been previously married to a pagan wife. Now he and his family surface again. He didn’t drop out. He found forgiveness, and there was an important spot there on the wall for him. The mistakes of the past didn’t keep those men and women in Jerusalem from rebuilding the walls, and they shouldn’t keep us from rebuilding our broken down walls.
In Nehemiah chapter two, he had talked about how “the hand of God” had been upon him. Now God is at work through the “hands of the people.” They “set their hands to this good work” (Neh. 2:18). There was a job for each of them to do. Nehemiah set clear objectives with specific tasks, and picked the right people for the right jobs.
Somewhere in the process of rebuilding, there is a job for you that no one else can do quite like you. Somewhere along the wall is a section that God has assigned to you. Nehemiah let go without letting up. How? He began by setting clear objectives with specific tasks so that everyone would know exactly what was expected of them. Then he picked the right person for the right job because he knew…it’s never too late for a new beginning!
III. Be an example yourself
We will never get others to follow us in the home, in the office, or anywhere else, unless we lead by example. This is exactly what Nehemiah did. He was “hands on” in his leadership style. Even though he omitted his own name in this exhaustive list, he was as active as anyone was, and even more so. He was a true leader. He led by example. Nehemiah inspired those people to work by getting his own hands dirty. He was right there with them. He was working. He was sweating. How do we know? Because when we come to chapter four we will read Nehemiah 4:21,23, which says, “So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared …neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.”
If we want people to follow, we must lead by example. This is one of the great principles of leadership. We see it all through the Bible, and outside the Bible, when anyone rises to the level of effective leadership. The most poignant leadership statement to be found is the one made by Gideon when, about to face the Midianite hosts, he turned to his men and said, “Do as I do!” (Judg. 7:17). As a young man, my pastor, Dr. W. Fred Swank, always ingrained in me that I should never ask my people to do anything that I was not there doing with them.
Nehemiah was wise enough to know that he would never be able to delegate effectively if he was not in the trenches himself. He let go, but he didn’t let up. He set clear objectives with specific tasks; he picked the right person for the right job; and he led by example. It’s never too late for a new beginning.
IV. Hold people accountable
Talk about accountability…Nehemiah knew who worked next to whom. He knew who did what work. He knew who did not do what work. He even reports for all posterity that “the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord” (Neh. 3:5). He also took note of who did extra work. “The Tekoites repaired another section” (Neh. 3:27). He held his people accountable. Accountability is essential if we ever expect to learn the art of delegation. There will always be those who will not want to get their hands dirty. There will always be those who will not support the work of rebuilding and will refuse to participate in it. This was true with Nehemiah. After recording the neglect of some of them in Nehemiah 3:5, he just went right on with his task. He moved with the movers! He stayed on track and remained optimistic in the task of rebuilding. He did not let those who faltered along the way discourage him. He worked with those who caught the vision, and held them accountable for their assigned tasks. This enabled him to succeed in what many thought was an impossible task.
Many never rebuild because accountability is a lost word in the process. Perhaps this is the single reason why so many marriages are never rebuilt. It is the reason so many relationships are broken. The lack of accountability also explains why some businesses falter while others flourish.
I drive a car that wonderfully accomplishes the primary purpose of getting me to my destination. I took it back to the shop recently for a regular checkup. There was nothing wrong with it, but it was time for a checkup. My wife and I are fortunate to own our own home. Some time ago, we had some repairs done to the roof. It wasn’t leaking, but some of the eaves were beginning to rot. I live in a body that is deteriorating with age. Fortunately, there is nothing wrong with it, but I go every year for a complete physical. What generally goes wrong with my car, my house, or my body, does so because of one word – neglect. No accountability. If accountability is good for cars, and homes, and physical needs, it is essential for the process of rebuilding. In fact, rebuilders let go, but they don’t let up. They hold people accountable.
Nehemiah is the master rebuilder. He got started right, and built a team spirit. Now he accelerates the process by letting go without letting up. He sets clear objectives with specific tasks, picks the right people for the right jobs, leads by example, and holds people accountable. He knows…it’s never too late for a new beginning.
V. Give a genuine pat on the back
Nehemiah took note of what was going on and went up and down the wall patting men and women on the back. There is a recurring expression throughout chapter three. He continues to say that certain individuals “repaired another section” (Neh. 3:11, 19, 21, 24, 27, 30). He not only knew who they were and where they were, but what they did. He recorded it for all posterity, especially those who went the second mile and repaired another section besides the one assigned to them. In so doing, he rebuilt the walls and developed a tremendous amount of loyalty and team spirit with his people. He saw the importance of giving a genuine pat on the back.
Nehemiah did not play favorites. Some had bigger tasks than others. However, he complimented each of them on the accomplishment of their assigned task. For example, in verse 13, we find a group of men and women working together and rebuilding 1500 feet of broken walls. This is equivalent to the length of five football fields. Right next to them, (Neh. 3:14) there was a guy hard at work on the Refuse Gate who singlehandedly repaired it alone. Nehemiah also makes note of the fact that some of the people did what was required, and “then some”(Neh. 3:11, 19, 21, 24, 27, 30). He gives them a pat on the back for the extra effort that was above and beyond the call of duty, and he records it for all posterity.
Nehemiah especially singles out a man by the name of Baruch in verse twenty. He noted that he “carefully” repaired his section. I can see Nehemiah stopping by his side as he moves along the wall, kneeling down. “Great job!” He makes a note to record for all posterity, and here we are, 2,000 years later, talking about Baruch today. I am sure when Nehemiah encouraged him, patted him on the back, and noted that he “carefully” worked on his particular task, Baruch went above and beyond the call of duty. Nehemiah was building team spirit, and letting go without letting up.
Perhaps there is no greater motivation for those to whom the work is delegated than genuine appreciation and encouragement. We live in a day of increasing depersonalization. Many of us are nothing but a number to a mammoth, centralized government. We are simply a social security number. To the census bureau, we are nothing but a statistic. Nehemiah is showing us the need to take a personal interest in those on our team at home, in the office, in the church, or wherever we may be. He knew their names. He treated them as valuable coworkers. He let them know he believed they have worth. In his mind, each of them was as important as the next one in line. They were not a group to Nehemiah. They were individuals. And he knew the importance of giving a genuine pat on the back.
Each of us needs to feel we are worth something. This was certainly true in Jerusalem. They had been dejected and defeated for years, and had passed by the rubble of the broken walls every day knowing something should be done. Has anyone reading these pages been walking that way today? Do you keep telling yourself that someday you are going to do something about the broken walls around you?
Affirmation is the single most effective way to rebuild. It is the greatest motivating factor I know. In the home, every child needs to know that dad believes in him. Every student needs to know the teacher believes in him. Every worker needs to know the boss believes in him. Every wife needs to know the husband believes in her.
After reading chapter three, it dawns on us that Nehemiah never mentions himself by name here. He doesn’t mention where he works or what he did. He’s not looking for praise from others. He is too busy going up and down the wall, helping here and there, giving encouragement, a pat on the back here, a pat on the back there. “We can do it!” “Keep it up!” “You’re doing great!” He knew how important it was to let go without letting up. Nehemiah is the master delegator. He didn’t dictate to his people and go up and down the wall with a whip in his hand, berating or criticizing their tasks. Nor did he abdicate and simply leave them to their own. Look at him. He’s letting go without letting up!
Those in the process of rebuilding will do one of three things. They will either delegate, dictate, or abdicate. Those who are successful let go without letting up. How? They learn from Nehemiah. They set clear objectives with specific tasks. They pick the right persons for the right job. They are an example themselves. They hold people accountable, and they give a genuine pat on the back.
We have learned how to get started right by making an honest evaluation, identifying with the need, taking personal responsibility, and leaving our comfort zones. We have learned how to build a team spirit by starting with our goal in mind, seizing our opportunities, making a careful analysis of our situation, motivating our people to get off dead center, and staying on track. Now it’s time for those in the process of rebuilding to find a place on the wall and do the job that no one else can do. Not everyone was supposed to work on the Sheep Gate, but some of them were. Not everyone was to hang the gates, but some of them were. There is a place on the wall for each of us.
In the process of rebuilding, delegation is the key. This is exactly the way the Lord Jesus Christ builds His church. How? He delegates. He assigns tasks and delegates duties. He appoints pastors and under-shepherds. He appoints deacons to stand by the pastor. He assigns some to be teachers, and gifts others to perform the works of ministry. He is interested in rebuilding our lives today. We are not puppets. He does not dictate to us, nor does He abdicate. He lets go, but He doesn’t let up. He wants us to know…it’s never too late for a new beginning.