Nehemiah as a Biblical Example of Community Development

Robert Linthicum in his book Transforming Power provides a description of how Nehemiah engages the Jewish people to take action and solve their problem of a crumbling Jerusalem. He makes the case for Nehemiah as a powerful Biblical example of Community Development. This example is one that For the Love of Missions tries to follow in our work in Guatemala.

Here is a brief excerpt from his book:

The Nehemiah approach is a radically different way of doing ministry in a community or a larger society. Rather than conducting ministry to the city, the Nehemiah approach is one of doing ministry with the city. Nehemiah did not conduct a survey of the people. Rather he listened to them, learned from them and built relationships with them. Out of those growing relationships of trust, Nehemiah could then work with the people to identify the issues for themselves (rebuild the walls of Jerusalem) and to create and implement their own strategy to substantively address those issues (including dealing with and, if necessary, confronting the ‘principalities and powers’).

Thus Nehemiah’s approach to ministry was to bring together the previously marginalized, powerless people of Israel, so that

  • they could analyze the issues
  • they could determine their own solutions
  • they could implement the actions to carry out those solutions
  • they could evaluate the results
  • they could celebrate their own victories
  • they could move on to tackle the next (and more substantive) issue before them

The approach to ministry being suggested here is one in which a church or mission agency – both its leaders and its people – perceive themselves as being a part of a larger community sharing common hopes, issues and problems that cannot be successfully addressed either by each group doing its own work or by appealing to the largess of the systems. Only organizing together around the common issues of those church members and the people of the community- whether it’s broken-down church walls or crime or education – and requiring the systems to be responsive will bring about substantive change in that community. And such organizing together cannot happen unless considerable time has been given to building relationships of trust with each other as people share the struggles of their lives, the values they hold in common and the issues that are making life miserable for them. Only by building relational power can the lives of people be changed and their communities socially transformed. 

Nehemiah 6:15 tells us that it took 52 days to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem – once the people put their mind to ‘this great work.’ The reconstruction of those walls and their subsequent dedication was completed by October 2, 445 B.C. But in the midst of the joy of a work well done, it is easy for us to overlook the fact that those walls had been demolished for 141 years!

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