Star Article
David Livingston
A Pastoral Appeal to Participate in the Shepherd Group (Small Group) Ministry This Year
Date Given: 
September 13, 2011

As each of your three lead pastors preached at his own campus a few weekends ago, I focused on lessons from Nehemiah for worship, nurture, and witness.

Five centuries before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Nehemiah, the exiled Jewish cupbearer to the King of Persia, was promoted to become the governor of Judea and Jerusalem. And in that office, God elevated him to a place among the Old Testament heroes, as a partial and imperfect embodiment of what our Savior would fully and finally become, our Builder and governing Lord.

Nehemiah’s best-known service to God and to the Jewish survivors of captivity and exiles returning to Jerusalem was in acting as the human catalyst for rebuilding the city’s shattered walls and burned gates. In the short span of just 52 days, from start to finish (6:15), this apparently impossible human feat of engineering and re-construction was accomplished.

How did God lead Nehemiah in motivating a near unanimous enlistment and cooperation of the city’s inhabitants to “rise and build” (2:18) among men who were for the most part formerly emotionally despondent, relationally disorganized, and morally defeated?

We recognize God as the ultimate Inspiration in giving the people “a mind to work” (4:6). While knowing that, consider this bit of human counsel from Nehemiah for rebuilding the wall: He challenged each person to be responsible for the part of the wall closest to his own house.

Verses 1–32 of chapter 3 list as examples the names of 41 clan leaders, trade guild overseers, and tribal chieftains in geographical order who lined up side-by-side to join the work. The New Living Translation Bible’s note on this strategy (in Nehemiah 3:28) points out that because every family leader was called out to build in front of his own house ...

  1. he would be more motivated to build it quickly and properly,
  2. he wouldn’t waste time traveling to more distant parts of the wall,
  3. he would defend his own home if the wall were attacked, and
  4. he would be able to make the building a family effort. Nehemiah blended self-interest with the group’s objectives, helping everyone to feel that the wall project was his own (p. 747).

My appeal is that you take the ancient cupbearer’s charge to “arise and build” (2:20) and join a Bethlehem Shepherd Group this Fall.

With your leaders’ help …

  • You can build quickly and properly,
  • If you join (or start) a neighborhood group, you won’t have to travel long distances to the work,
  • Knowing that our enemy is on the prowl for your heart and those of your household, you will be better armed and guarded in a home-group, and
  • If you enlist your entire family with other families, your household’s effort becomes a working part of why the whole church exists.

What could Bethlehem do to build and rebuild this Fall?

The official kick-off of the Shepherd Group Ministry is the weekend of October 1/2, plenty of time for all of us to band together in this way, especially as we pray (like Nehemiah so fervently did) for the hand of God to be on him in order that the people would strengthen their hands for the good work (2:18).

What will you be doing by the middle of October? Working on the wall ... and being built up as a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4, 5), I pray!

David Livingston
Lead Pastor, South Campus

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