You can't have opportunity without opposition. One of the great tests of leadership is how you handle opposition. Do you panic under pressure? Do you get uptight, lose your temper, blow up, become discouraged, or give up? Part of the job description of leadership is dealing with people who oppose you and your vision for the church.
To find out how to handle opposition, we're going to look at Nehemiah 4. You probably remember the story. Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall around the city – a very big project for his team of Jewish exiles! And it didn't take long for Nehemiah to start getting opposition. People were ridiculing him and his vision.
Here's what we can learn from Nehemiah:
1. Rely on God.
"Then I prayed, 'Hear us, O our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in the presence of the builders'" (Neh. 4:4-5 NLT).
Nehemiah is upset. He's letting off steam. When you're being ridiculed, you don't suppress it, you confess it. Nehemiah doesn't get caught up in a name-calling game. Instead of calling names, he prays.
The greater the opposition, the more you need to pray. Don't take it out on other people; talk it out with God. That's what Nehemiah does.
2. Respect the opposition.
"But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves" (Neh. 4:9 NLT).
How do we know that Nehemiah respected the opposition? His people guarded the city and protected themselves. He was prayerful and practical. It's fine to lay in bed at night and pray, "Protect me from the burglars." But you also need to get up and lock your door! Petition without precaution is presumption.
3. Reinforce your weak points.
"So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows" (Neh. 4:13 NLT).
Nehemiah reinforces the weak points, the lower points. These low points left people vulnerable to attack from the enemy. You don't have to worry about fences that are 10 feet high. An enemy couldn't get through a wall like that. But the shorter walls were a different story, so Nehemiah placed guards there.
Do you know where your church is most vulnerable to attack? Good leaders know where they are vulnerable, and they reinforce that area.
4. Reallocate resources, but don't stop what you're doing.
"But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The officers stationed themselves behind the people of Judah" (Neh. 4:16 NLT).
When his people were attacked, Nehemiah had three alternatives: give up, leave the wall and go fight, or build the wall and arm everyone. Nehemiah knew he couldn't give up building the wall and couldn't leave the wall to fight. He really had only one option.
Leaders must build and battle at the same time. You never leave the wall to fight the enemy. You could spend all your time putting out fires and never complete what God has called you to do.
5. Reassure the people.
"Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the leaders and the people and said to them, 'Don't be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes!'" (Neh. 4:14 NLT)
Nehemiah rallied the troops. He relieved their fears and reinforced their confidence. That's the task of leadership. When your church is under attack, your job is to raise people's morale.
Nehemiah pointed people to the Lord. That's where true confidence comes from. In American history, many wars have been fought with slogans that started with "Remember..." The Spanish-American War had a slogan of "Remember the Maine." In World War I soldiers were asked to "Remember the Lusitania." In the Mexican-American War, the slogan was "Remember the Alamo." Troops in World War II were told to "Remember Pearl Harbor." All of these battle cries were based on defeats.
Nehemiah does the exact opposite. He points people to God and the future he has planned for them. When you're under attack, if the devil can get you to focus on the opposition, he's won a major victory. You either focus on the opposition or you focus on the Lord. When you're facing opposition, it's your job as the leader to help your people "remember the Lord."
6. Refuse to quit.
"When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall" (Neh. 4:15 NLT).
Leaders like Nehemiah model persistence. They are the last to give up. They are the last to jump ship. They refuse to quit.
Persistence is the ultimate test of leadership. How do you handle ministry when the going gets tough? The secret of success is to simply outlast your critics. There is nothing the devil would rather do more than make you stall on what God is calling you to do. Don't let him do that. You've got to be persistent.
You'll face opposition some time in your ministry. How you handle that opposition will go a long way in deciding whether or not you complete the task to which you've been called. Nehemiah completed his. Will you?
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.