Everyone Gets To Play – Lessons From Nehemiah
In this article, Kathy Maskell talks about the power of personal ministry and ministry structures to help us bring light to the darkness wherever God calls us.
Steering Committee Member, Vineyard Justice Network
The Story Of Nehemiah
In the Old Testament, there’s a story of a Jewish leader named Nehemiah who really models a way for us to understand the relationship between how our God-inspired ideas should empower us to plan and structure our own lives. It also models how a God-given vision for a community will not come to pass without everyone to do their part in building it.
God calls Nehemiah from his position as a high government official of a Persian King to help rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah senses God’s call on his life to leave his cushy job as the cupbearer and personal advisor to the king, to lead the Jewish people from their exile in Babylon to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem.
Dreaming Of Extraordinary Things
This is a huge project! Some Jewish people had already been allowed to return to Jerusalem 70 years ago, but after 70 years, the walls still had not been rebuilt. And so after four months of prayer and fasting, Nehemiah shares this vision with the king and then with the Jewish people themselves – and everyone gets really excited.
“So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night. …When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. …I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
Nehemiah 4:6-20 (NASB)
After 70 years and four months of false starts, discouragement, and opposition, Nehemiah and his team are able to rebuild the wall after just 52 days!
How do normal people like us, like the ones unnamed in the story, ever dream of doing extraordinary things? How does cooperating with God make us extra-ordinary?
We Are Co–Creators & Co–Laborers
We serve a Creator God, the one whose Spirit hovers over the waters and brings order out of chaos and light out of the darkness. His first call to Adam and Eve were to be his co–creators and co–laborers. They did not just sit around in the garden, contemplating the beauty around them. Instead, they walked with God, talked with God, and God gave them the gift of participating in His work of naming creatures and caring for the land.
God has invited everyone to co-create and co-labor with him by the power of the Holy Spirit, in each of our lives – in each of our cities.
We want to be a church where everybody gets to play. As a church, we also believe that God is calling each and every one of us co-create and co-labor for the sake of building this community. So, God calls us to participate with His Holy Spirit in building our lives.
In our Church, God calls us to build structures that serve all of us to be effective, flexible, and creative; parents, kids, teens, college students, thirty-somethings, 40-somethings, 70-somethings, etc.
We build structures not to box in the Holy Spirit, but to cooperate and be led by the Holy Spirit.
A Biblical Approach To Ministry Structures
So how does the story of Nehemiah reveal a Biblical approach to ministry structures?
“So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.”
Nehemiah 4:6-8 (NASB)
What happens right after God gives a vision, and you begin the work with your whole heart? The insecurity sets in, so you fight against yourself. The critics come to conspire against you. We could all come up with a long list of setbacks!
God has given our Church a vision: to be one that is healthy, one that pleases Him, and we want this with our whole heart. God-sized visions attract big criticism and attacks. You can write that down and take it to the bank.
There has never been a God-given vision that has not been criticized. You have to expect to be criticized.
How can we live out God’s vision, even when we’re criticized? Here is an example:
At Love146, I was the U.S. Advocacy Director for six years. This was the first place where I really took a step into helping to carry a God-sized vision to end child sex slavery and exploitation, with my whole heart. During my first interview, the president, Rob Morris, scribbled notes on a paper napkin. I remember thinking, “This guy talks a really good talk, and man, he’s an incredible storyteller! But how are we going to end modern-day slavery if he can’t even afford a notebook?”
In that first year, people would regularly laugh in my face or smirk, saying, “Really? Selling sex is the world’s oldest profession. How on earth do you think you’re going to uproot and tackle something that has been accepted since the beginning of human civilization?”
“But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.”
Nehemiah 4:9 (NASB)
At Love146, we prayed for God to end modern-day slavery. I wrote a monthly prayer letter to highlight all the injustices happening to children in Southeast Asia and the United States. We learned what it meant to post a guard against the critics and, more importantly, the actual injustice.
We learned that if we were ever going to truly live up to God’s vision, then we would need to provide high quality care for the victims of trafficking. After posting that guard, we began asking the hard questions about what issues caused human trafficking in the first place. We needed to be on guard and begin creating programs that would prevent children from being bought and sold.
Pressing On Through Setbacks
The fruit of pressing on and pressing through setbacks included aftercare and prevention work in the Philippines: Over 47 girls rehabilitated in a safe-home, three babies raised in a loving and safe environment, nine boys rehabilitated and going to school, and over 50 homeless families being fed and resourced every day, so that they experience less economic pressure to sell their children.
In the United States, over 11,000 at-risk teens in Connecticut, Maryland, and Texas have been reached with prevention education in school, group homes, and residential care facilities. There are 358 volunteer task forces around the world, including BRVHEART – people who are using their talents, gifts, and time to raise awareness and fight trafficking locally.
Working for an organization that grew from four friends with a prayerful vision to an international organization that works in six countries, proved to me what can happen when we marry prayer with structures like research projects, hiring the right people with the right skills, and developing programs that anticipate and respond to real needs.
Wimber And A Transforming Vision Of The Church
We see this same audacity with the founder of the Vineyard, John Wimber, who regularly described himself as “just a fat guy trying to get to Heaven” and one of the “walking wounded.” So Wimber, this “fat guy,” has an incredible revelation: What if Christians are supposed to actually live, experience, and do the things that followers of Jesus did in the Bible? What if they’re supposed to heal the sick, cast out demons, care for the economically poor and socially oppressed in our cities? What if churches, neighborhoods, and cities could be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit?
“As communities of the King, we should model what the Kingdom looks like when God has His way with a group of people.” – John Wimber
Some of us here mostly know Wimber as the “Holy Spirit” leader. But he was also was a master planner and coach. Wimber did not just talk about how he could heal people. He created the 5-Step Prayer Model, a training tool that we still use, 30 years later, to help anyone learn how to hear from God and pray for healing.
John constantly drilled into the pastors and leaders around him that ministry is best “caught, not taught.” What that would mean is that if you never had any experience with prayer, healing, or giving a word of knowledge, and John knew that about you, you would be the first person he would pull on the stage at an event to pray for healing for someone in a wheelchair.
Part of the reason I am a Vineyard pastor today is because Wimber decided to follow up with my friend Bill Elander when he planted a church. A couple of years ago, Bill shared with me how in those early days, he would call John every week with a problem or situation, and each time, John coached him through (I.e. Try this, think about the situation from this angle, you need to stop doing that, etc.).
Wimber’s investment in Bill eventually led Bill to move to Connecticut to plant a Vineyard church. Then ten years ago, Caleb and I planted a church out of that church, Elm City Vineyard (New Haven, CT). If John Wimber only had a great vision of his own church being “naturally supernatural” and didn’t create structures that could help facilitate the movement of the Holy Spirit in thousands of churches around the world, the Blue Route Vineyard wouldn’t exist.
Structures Help Us To Give Away Our Best
Our Nehemiah Fund (our church planting fund) reminds us that the wealth of Wimber’s structures are for giving away. We sent out another church plant to Conshohocken, Pennsylvania in 2014, and these new funds will be used to help us pray and post a guard for our next church plant! God calls all of us to be on assignment for particular seasons. Could God be calling any of us to be a part of that next church plant?
“When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon.”
Nehemiah is the master of ordering and figuring out where to station people on the wall, while others have jobs of holding the weapons. Look at how he gets creative in preparing the wall builders. “A plow or shovel in one hand, and a spear or a bow in the other.” In the previous chapter, we learn that all kinds of people have been trained and deployed for this building project: priests, artisans, daughters, merchants, wives. No matter what their day job is, they have all been prayed up and are prepared to be posted as guards, while they are doing the stuff.
The entire time that those rebuilding the wall are working, they are constantly looking up and out, assessing the landscape to see if the enemy is coming.
This rhythm of prayer, posting a guard, preparing for and assessing the horizon, actually helps them to get the work done. Because even when “…the work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
So we have all these different kinds of people – people who already have a strong understanding of what they are made to do, but they also say ‘yes’ to a bigger, greater, and more extensive work. One where Nehemiah reminds them that “…God is fighting on our side! And God has given us the ability to get the work done! To rebuild the wall of our great city.”
How Did Jesus Structure His Ministry?
Is this only Old Testament style? What about Jesus? How did Jesus structure his ministry? Jesus is performing miracles all over the place in the Galilean countryside, slowly building a gathering around him as he shares the Good News that God is drawing near to us, and that there is good news for the Jewish people who live oppressed under Roman occupation.
He’s not calling people to build a wall for Jerusalem, He’s calling people to prepare and build so they can experience what God’s Kingdom is like. He trains and deploys his 12 disciples to do the same thing: proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and demonstrate this through performing miracles.
Then, Jesus decides to transfer and expand his ministry again, this time to no-name nobodies:
“Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way.
Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'”
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
Jesus sends out 70 men and women to to heal the sick, cast out demons. God loves watching normal people do extraordinary things in the power of his name. Jesus has a plan to spread the Gospel and to demonstrate signs that the Kingdom of God is here on earth, as it is in heaven. Then, He checks in with his team. Did the plan work? Proclamation about the Kingdom followed by demonstration of the Kingdom.
We build structures so that Jesus can increase in our lives, and our own kingdoms and walls decrease.
A Ministry Structure Works To Bring Light To The Darkness
John the Baptist said to his disciples who were concerned about Jesus also baptizing people, “For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
A ministry structure in our church works when light can come into the darkness, so our lives look more like Jesus’ life. Christian = little Christ. We build structures in our church so that people are served. So they can experience the goodness of God’s Kingdom.
Every week, we have small groups that meet to help people get connected to each other and to God. We have a structure that invites people to study the Bible together, to pray for each other, to serve one another. Right belief should lead us to right action. We believe that everyone at our church can get connected, so that no one feels alone. We need some structures to make sure that happens! Our actions do the best job of demonstrating, or betraying what we say we believe.
What if Jesus’ disciples didn’t actually go out and pray for people? What if the people on Nehemiah’s team decided to just pray and not stand guard? Lots of people say “I love you” to your spouse, kids, and friends, but if our actions betray or go contrary to that love, it gets harder and harder to believe that love is true. Right?
Right now, there are people in our church who have taken the brave step of taking two days to really dig into their past and set things right with God. Our prayer team could arguably be the most spiritual bunch in our church, but they didn’t just pray that the Lord would simply help their friends get over their past hurts and harmful habits. The prayer team took action steps to help others bring order to their lives. The people attending are not just hoping that God will heal brokenness, they’ve spent the past two days in a very structured way, taking rigorous spiritual inventories of their past. Our prayer ministry team really fights for the person they are praying for by coming alongside, just as they believe that Our God will fight for the person as well.
“Our God will fight for us.”
Let’s take a look again at Nehemiah’s story, and how his approach helps us understand and expect God on the move in our lives:
God On The Move – Lessons From Nehemiah For Us Today
Everyone gets to play: “…for the people worked with all their heart.” Everyone gets to play on God’s team, and the Holy Spirit is eager to help you engage your whole heart for ministry. Everyone should have a ministry. Are you following Jesus? Great! You have a ministry! The word “ministry” simply means work that you do as a co–laborer with God, work that benefits someone else. To be a minister is to be “a person who serves.”
When the Holy Spirit mobilizes us on God’s team, we are led to serve in the way we are gifted and wired, and to connect with the needs and brokenness that God shows us in our families, our church, our schools, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods.
As an ENTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale, I naturally gravitate towards structure and tackling problems to improve the situation. I also have a side-ministry of helping people with their wardrobe problems. It brings me great joy and pleasure to help bring order to a person’s style.
So, how about you? What would it take for you to feel like you were serving with your whole heart? What prayer do you need? What structures do you need to be effective and creative? God will help us persevere: “God will fight for us.” We all have a choice to believe whether or not God is on our side, whether he will be by our side as we seek to serve him. God is in it for the marathon run with us, through every season, and every assignment!
I want to leave you with some practical suggestions.
- Pray for God to bless and fight – for you and for your church.
Post a guard:
- Consider the next action step for your ministry. Serve at your church: Connect, Prayer, Small Groups, Kids, Youth Ministry, etc.
- Expect challenges and discouragement
- Ask “…is the plan still working?”
When we choose to say ‘yes’ to Jesus and to be filled by his Holy Spirit, He commissions us for Kingdom work!
We ask for your discernment and wisdom, Lord. For the ministry of our lives and the ministry of our churches. Fill us with the courage, strength, and discipline we need to pray and post a guard! Jesus, You are the God who does not abandon us. You abide with us. Come and have Your way – and send us out.
[Visit the Blue Route Vineyard here. If you know of someone who needs a church near Media or Mortan, PA, consider sending them this link.]