Having recently read the story of Ezra and Zerubbabel I feel inspired to share these few thoughts.

Ezra was a priest, scribe and great leader who most likely wrote this part of the Bible that centres around the return to Jerusalem of God’s people who had been in exile for many years. The book features Zerubbabel, another leader who was a descendant of David and who led the first wave of people home to rebuild Jerusalem for God. The significant thing about Zerubbabel’s leadership is that his first actions were not to rebuild the city walls in order to address defence and security, but the rebuilding of the Temple altar, enabling them to worship God and feast together.

This intentional choice has a profound impact in that, under the inspiration of Zerubbabel’s leadership, they established strong spiritual foundations before natural foundations. After the altar was rebuilt, the temple foundations were quickly established. However, problems arose when some of the older members of the community remembered the previous glorious temple built by Solomon and mourned. The new Temple was much smaller and more humble than the old one, and people began to grumble. Not only that, but some enemies were infiltrating the workforce, sowing negativity, fear and political division, causing the work to grind to a halt for a significant period of time.

We pick up the story in Ezra 3 v12 “Many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.”

So why am I sharing this story?

Every sphere of leadership must continue to learn, redefining ways of working in this new season.

As in this story, It’s difficult to distinguish what it is to be in this moment, living in the tension of the joy of what’s ahead while mourning and letting go of our memories, ideals and preferences. It’s a rollercoaster of challenge and change, and the differing sounds and emotions are hard and challenging for leaders to navigate.

So how do we manage this all-change moment for our leadership roles, whether they’re in a church, business, charity or any other area of responsibility? There are three healthy stages of change that we need to take ourselves and others through:

  1. Letting go of the old – the former, the memories and the ideals
  2. Living in the messy middle – The emotion and the anxiety of wondering if it will all be okay. Are we going the right way?
  3. Laying hold of the new – accepting and building towards the new despite the understandable fears and concerns that might bring.

I wonder where you are in these stages? How do you handle leading the change for your teams, congregations and workers?

The story of Ezra, Zerubbabel and God’s people reminds us of two things:

  • Build with God in mind – often leaders scramble to protect and rebuild in an obvious order, building according to our priorities and needs. Keeping a God-first attitude as we rebuild is key to our success. Be God’s people – aim to build a hopeful, prayerful and worshipping cultural expectation, and, like Zerubbabel, make the rebuilding of God’s Lordship the priority.
  • This story illustrates what it is to be a community that thinks and feels differently about issues, but can find ways to love and listen to each other anyway. It’s important to make space to do this journey with people, while having the courage and integrity to build in the way God directs, rather than bowing to the pressure of people’s expectations and the cultural norms they have lived with.

I pray that we can all remain steadfast to God’s plan as we rebuild in our various leadership contexts, leaning into faith, trusting the process, and leading people through to be closer to Jesus.