Mom holding toddler son and both laughing

It’s never too early to start teaching leadership skills to your children. Our sons need both of their parents to demonstrate godly leadership and encourage them to rise to the occasion, persevere through obstacles, and give glory to God. Michele Morin outlines three lessons from Nehemiah that can help us as we teach leadership skills to our boys.

The nursery worker who met us at the door was beaming as she reported her Sunday morning observations. Apparently, our son had lined up all the chairs, assigned seats and roles to each child, and then presided over a “church service” right there in the nursery.

“You’ve got a little leader there!” she pronounced.

Ever blessed with a spirit of realism (and remembering his behavior at home), I asked, “Are you certain he wasn’t just being bossy?”

Therein lies the challenge of parenting the world’s future leaders. The person who shows up in the room with ideas and a plan of execution can be appreciated as “a mover and a shaker,” or they can be denigrated as “bossy, controlling, and overbearing.” 

As a woman who has held various leadership roles, I may be particularly sensitive to the “bossy” brand, and perhaps that is your story as well. Or maybe you feel the blood leaving your head and start looking for the exit when leadership is mentioned! 

Regardless of our personal style or our leadership resume, as mothers, we sit in the seat of influence with our sons. How we respond to their initiative, their creativity, and the all-pervasive boy-energy in our home goes a long way in defining our sons’ confidence. 

How we talk to and about their dad teaches them about the role of men in the home. It’s also important that moms expect and train for obedience and then address disciplinary issues, so their son will learn from the beginning that he must listen to and respect women. 

When we give our sons age-appropriate responsibility and then expect them to follow through on their duties, we teach them accountability and perseverance. 

Whether your son’s personality leans more toward the “naturally gift leader” profile or they’re more the type to lead out of necessity; whether they marry and lead a godly home or remain single and become a workplace- or community-influencer; whether their skill set is more oriented toward driving a nail into a board than sitting on a governing board, our fallen and chaotic world, our churches, and our families need men and boys who are godly and biblical leaders. 

As I learned in that long-ago Sunday morning nursery, leadership can show up in surprising places! Nehemiah was a most unlikely choice to lead Israel’s rebuilding of the devastated city of Jerusalem. His role as King Artaxerxes’ cupbearer had provided zero experience as a general contractor, and furthermore, born in exile, he had never even visited Jerusalem. 

Nonetheless, he was God’s man for the job, and under his leadership the city wall was rebuilt in a stunning 52 days! Nehemiah’s story is well worth sharing with our sons, for he provides a leadership model based on rising to the occasion, persevering through obstacles, and glorifying God in the process.

RISING TO THE OCCASION

If the Old Testament book of Nehemiah were an action movie, it gets off to a pretty disappointing start. When our hero learns about the sorry state of his homeland, instead of springing into decisive action, he sits down to weep and pray for four months. However, don’t miss this key detail: Nehemiah didn’t know what to do, but he knew where to go for help. 

It just so happens that 11% of the book of Nehemiah consists of prayer. It’s the home of the longest recorded prayer in the Old Testament as well as numerous arrow prayers in which Nehemiah “checks in” with God on the regular. His prayers paved the way for a hefty Persian sponsorship of the building project, and we discover that Nehemiah’s ongoing leadership is characterized by communication with God. 

Oswald Chambers stated this succinctly and well: “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” Let’s share this truth with our sons:

When a leader doesn’t know what to do, he knows where to find help. Leaders pray!

 

PERSEVERING THROUGH OBSTACLES

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem and had surveyed the scene, it’s likely that he thought his greatest obstacle would be the physical task of cleaning up the rubble in rebuilding a walled city for the people of God. 

At first, the opposition from surrounding nations was annoying, but had no ill effects upon the work. Eventually, however, when heckling gave way to military threats, Nehemiah issued swords along with construction tools, and the work continued. 

Keeping his trumpeter nearby to sound the alarm or to summon soldiers to battle, Nehemiah exercised perpetual diligence alongside his faith, assuring his workers, “Our God will fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:20).

In Scripture and in our present day context, the principle stands: When doing something good for God, you may be attacked. Jesus went straight from baptism to temptation. Elijah bested the prophets of Baal only to be threatened by the evil queen. Godly mums will be quick to encourage our sons to persevere in spite of obstacles or opposition. 

Little people who handle little problems by faith are being equipped to handle middle-sized problems in middle school, bigger obstacles in high school, and adult-sized challenges as faithful church members, husbands, and fathers. Let’s set the example first, and then teach our sons this encouraging truth:

When a leader faces opposition, he keeps on working. Leaders work hard!

 

GLORIFYING GOD IN THE PROCESS

Old Testament stories have a sad tendency to end with longing. Even to the very last verse, Israel’s status is unresolved and the nation’s faithfulness rests on shaky ground. 

Nehemiah learned the hard lesson that reform was not a once-and-done affair for Israel. Over the course of his 20-year-long leadership endurance contest, Nehemiah guided his people through regular seasons of repentance and reform.

That endless cycle would continue today except for Jesus Christ. 

The cycle was broken with the resurrection that secured our New Covenant resources for fighting sin. A gracious and godly leader leans into those resources because he knows his own toxic sin tendencies, and, therefore, is able to view the sins and failures of others through a lens of grace, and then to point them to the same Fountain that refreshes his own thirsty soul. 

He knows that any measure of success he might achieve is directly attributable to God’s good work in and through him.

At the close of Scripture’s written account of Nehemiah’s ministry, we find him, once again, in prayer:“Remember me with favor, my God” (Nehemiah 13:31, NIV).

Because of Jesus, we are assured He will, and so we teach our sons this truth:

When a leader is successful, God is glorified. Leaders point others to Jesus!

Nehemiah’s surprising career prepares our mother hearts for the blessing and the surprise of our own sons’ growth into leaders. In the never-ending battle of staying the course of obedience in your own life, as you become a woman of prayer, as you persevere through obstacles, and as you make the glory of God your primary motivation, you are training another generation of godly leaders—your great privilege and your gift to the Kingdom of God.

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15 comments
  1. Practial, inspiring and biblical. We like things done and done, but the ongoing-ness of our faith is illulstrated in Nehemiah and in parenting. Thanks for another excellent piece. Will share w/ my friends who are boy-moms.

    1. I have learned so much from God’s servant, Nehemiah! And how true that our parenting and our faith journeys are an on-going thing. Perseverance is the key in both, and I have so much work to do in that spiritual discipline.

  2. Love your writing Michele! I have two grown sons and while I have tried to lift them up and encourage them to be godly leaders I know I could have done a much better job with examples like this one! I will use it now when I get the chance. Thank you!

    1. Susan, thanks for reading. God does have a way of filling in the blanks around our imperfect performance, so we are safe in trusting our grown up sons to his tutoring for any of the ways we feel that we fell short.

      And I sure do appreciate your kind words. So great to connect with you here!

  3. It really does seem like a fine line between leader and bossy doesn’t it?! I want my boys to be leaders but have definitely taught them that good leaders also listen. I think the bossiness comes out more at home because they refuse to listen to one another and like to dictate but I know at their jobs and at school they are more willing to lead and compromise.

    1. That’s a really great observation, Joanne. It does seem that listening is key to arriving at a compromise. We so need to set the example that leadership is not simply having the loudest voice in the room.

  4. Moms of boys often have the role of both parents these days…so yes, it is up to us moms to instruct our sons correctly in the way God would have us teach them.
    Thx for this lesson from Nehemiah.
    Jan

    1. Another discouraging trend is the idea that mums take a back seat to dads with their sons. Relationships and interactions will be different in every home, but mums don’t get a pass from sharing sound leadership principles with our sons AND our daughters!

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Michele. I never thought about the fact that Nehemiah had no experience as a general contractor … I love your point that he didn’t know what to do, but he knew where to go for help. 🙂

  6. What great principles to bring out from Nehemiah. I love learning that 11% of the book is prayer. Nehemiah’s quick send-up before he answers the king is one of my favorites.

    1. The lesson that comes to me with every reading is the way Nehemiah springs into action via prayer. Nothing LOOKS less pro-active or productive than praying, and yet it puts us in touch with all the power in heaven and earth.

  7. The lesson that comes to me with every reading is the way Nehemiah springs into action via prayer. Nothing LOOKS less pro-active or productive than praying, and yet it puts us in touch with all the power in heaven and earth.

  8. Michele, what great points you share here. I’ve always marveled at Nehemiah’s consistent faith and belief that God was with them. Prayer was definitely his mainstay.

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