By Luke Holmes
John McIntosh had a problem. He heard there were other Native Americans like him who hadn’t yet heard the gospel.
McIntosh had been ordained shortly after his baptism in 1866, and Baptists in Texas asked him to go to unreached Native American tribes. But as he recounted in his own words, “I began to count the cost of undertaking such a long journey from my country to the Witchita Tribes. There were no roads; in fact, I did not know how far it was.”
Eventually the call was too great, and McIntosh began the 200-mile journey on horseback. It would’ve been much easier for him to stay and preach to his own people, but he wanted to take the lead in reaching these tribes.
He found out moving forward for God always comes with difficulties. Or put another way, good leadership creates problems.
We see this in the Bible. Nehemiah was burdened for his homeland of Jerusalem that sat without walls and without protection. That burden drove him to prayer, and that prayer drove him to action.
Before long, Nehemiah was back in Jerusalem leading a group to rebuild the city’s walls and gates. The group wasn’t made up of all stone masons either, but instead consisted of perfumers, government officials, priests, goldsmiths, and others. More than 40 people are listed in the beginning chapters of Nehemiah, and together, they came together to build the city walls.
But the project wasn’t without problems. Before long Nehemiah faced external opposition from Sanballat and Tobiah, leaders from neighboring towns and nations that envied and feared the Jewish people.
With a sword in one hand and trowel in the other, the walls were rebuilt. But then, opposition came from within Nehemiah’s own people as they took advantage of each other through usury and even slavery.
I’m sure Nehemiah wondered at times why he’d gotten into the work he was doing. His life before as a cupbearer in the palace of King Artaxerxes had to have been much less stressful.
Still he followed God’s leading to Jerusalem to build the walls, but problem after problem arose. Nehemiah likely wondered what many other leaders have asked themselves: If God called me to do this, why isn’t it easier?
Necessary change necessarily brings problems
Good leadership creates problems. Anytime you leave the status quo behind there will be new challenges to face.
It’s always easier to leave things the way they are, because change always brings new problems. A church that’s reaching its community might have some members balk at new or different people coming to the church.
A church that stands up to racial inequality might get resistance from inside and outside the church. Any pastor who has sought to move the church away from a sacred cow knows what Nehemiah felt. The pain of moving forward can be greater than the pain of standing still.
As Nehemiah led the people to rebuild the city walls, the work they did created new problems. The only way Nehemiah could have avoided these problems completely is by staying in exile. The moment he took on leadership, he also took on problems.
Every leader inherits problems from the past, but good leadership will also create problems. It can be as simple as trying to find new space for a Sunday School class, or as thorny as addressing a church’s racist past.
Problems can be a warning or a sign you’re moving in the right direction
When problems do come, the first step is to make sure our decisions are based on God’s Word and not our own wisdom. As leaders, we get in trouble when we mistake our strategies for God’s wisdom.
Just because something seems right to you doesn’t mean it’s God’s will. The wise leader must constantly be seeking God for direction, always making sure they stay on the course God set them on.
But like with Nehemiah, the presence of problems might actually be a sign you’re moving in the right direction. If that’s the case, don’t give up when problems arise.
Experiencing conflict when we think we’re following God often makes us doubt our calling or wonder whether we’re following God correctly. But it’s in these moments when we need to turn and focus on the work, not on the problem.
When the enemy plots to distract and destroy Nehemiah, he tells them, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3).
Nehemiah fought potential discouragement by keeping his focus on the mission at hand. The problems created by good leadership led Nehemiah to help the people remember what God called them to. In the same way, leaders must learn to focus on the task, not just on the problems at hand.
A heart for the work of God
What enabled Nehemiah and the people to focus amid problems is a heart for the work God gave them. Nehemiah records that, “the people had a heart for the work” (Nehemiah 4:6). The love the people had for the work God gave them allowed them to overcome obstacles in their path.
As Nehemiah led the people of Israel to rebuild the city, problem after problem arose. But Nehemiah simply returned to the mission God had given him.
Just because you face problems doesn’t mean you aren’t doing what God has called you to do. Proof of this can be found in the chapters of Nehemiah devoted to solving the problems that arose while he led God’s people.
If problems came to Nehemiah, we can be sure they’ll come to us too. Pray for a heart for the work so you can stay with it, no matter what problems come your way.
LUKE HOLMES (@lukeholmes) is husband to Sara, father to three young girls, and pastor at First Baptist Church Tishomingo, Oklahoma since 2011. He’s a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and can be found online at LukeAHolmes.com.