An Urban Ministry Exegesis of Nehemiah (part 5 of 6)

June 22, 2012

This post is part five of a six part series titled, An Urban Ministry Exegesis of of Nehemiah. This blog series explores the biblical book of Nehemiah about how a leader starts and leads a successful project. Most of the application is tied to inner city ministry.


We now find ourselves in the story of Nehemiah as he announces his vision in a unique way.

An Urban Ministry Exegesis of Nehemiah

Before examining what he says to the people living within and near Jerusalem, we must correctly understand the hearts of the people listening to him. Nehemiah encounters Jews in Jerusalem who are ready for change. They know that 141 years have passed since the Babylonians originally conquered Jerusalem, burned the city and its temple, and took 60,000-80,000 Jews into exile.[1] Turlock, where Enclave Church is located, was actually founded in 1871.[2] If we can imagine Turlock being in ruins and need of restoration that entire time, we will see what these Jews faced. These people were ready for someone to help them change Jerusalem and improve it.

As Nehemiah begins to share his vision, he first sparks in them the desire they already have; he touches on their pain. Nehemiah says to the Jews living in and near Jerusalem, “You know very well the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace.”[3]

As current or future urban ministry leaders there are three key words in that verse worth taking time to examine in their original context.

  1. The first word is “trouble.” Nehemiah talks to them about what hurts. He does not condemn them for their failure or point to their past sins because that does not matter much at this time.[4]
  2. Another word worth examining is “we”. Nehemiah is careful to say, “we are in” not “you are in”. Nehemiah comes to the people living within and near the city of Jerusalem as “one of them” who shares a spiritual connection with this special city. In our ministry at Enclave Community Church, we too attempt to relate ourselves to the poor and needy by seeing ourselves also as sinners. This helps us relate to them, and it prevents us from putting blame on the people of the community.
  3. The final word worth examining is the last word in the verse, “disgrace”. When talking about disgrace, Nehemiah knew what we might call strategy in mobilizing volunteers. Like Nehemiah, at Enclave many people have a desire to see our city and the area we worship in transformed. We just need volunteers to help us do that. “The first thing that needs to happen before a church attempts to mobilize volunteers is to be clear on the mission. Tell the church why it is important.”[5] Nehemiah was crystal clear on that mission when talking about disgrace. The Jews hated that disgrace, so Nehemiah tells them the disgrace will end when the walls and gates are rebuilt.

Now that Nehemiah has sparked that interest and touched on the people’s shared pain and disgrace, he is ready to mobilize the people and cast his vision.

Now we arrive at the climax of all of Nehemiah’s work. Thus far he has heard the news that led him weep, mourn, fast, and pray; he has courageously asked the king and queen for permission to travel to Jerusalem; and he has made the journey of hundreds of miles[6] to Jerusalem. He has seen the torn down walls and burnt gates with his own eyes, and he has shared the vision God has placed in his heart. How are the people going to respond? Are they going to accept him and his bold and courageous vision to rebuild the walls and gates? The Jewish people respond to Nehemiah saying, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!”[7]

But the story does not end there. If you have read Nehemiah you know that despite some internal and external opposition Nehemiah leads the people to complete the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem in 52 days!

Mark R. Gornik who has extensive experience in changing inner cities comments on the remarkable story of the beginning of rebuilding Jerusalem this way, “Once this task of rebuilding the wall and the city had been clearly articulated, a challenging yet achievable project, it created its own energy, enabling people to do more than they thought they could. It would be the catalytic event of their new story.”[8] It was an amazing feat!

Question: How do you think vision should be slowly shared?

                [1] Comfort, Ph.D., Phillip W. and Walter A. Alwell, Ph.D., eds. Tyndale Bible Dictionary: A comprehensive guide to the people, places, and important words of the Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 943.

                [2] Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau, “History of Turlock,” Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau, (accessed March 10, 2012).

                [3] Nehemiah 2:17; emphasis added.

                [4] Mark R. Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 35-64.

                [5] Alvin C. Bibbs, Sr., A Heart for the Community, ed. John Fuder and Noel Castellanos (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 328.

                [6] Broadman & Holman Publishers, Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 122.

                [7] Nehemiah 2:18

                [8] Mark R. Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 137.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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