What do culture-shaping leaders do? It’s no secret that leaders use their influence to mobilize people toward a vision or a goal.
But what exactly do leaders do who want to leverage their influence to shape culture?
The book of Nehemiah describes the devastation of Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile and provides powerful leadership lessons in capturing vision and inspiring people. God prompted Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to reshape culture by restoring dignity to the city, and removing disgrace, through the rebuilding of its wall and gates. No longer would other leaders or nations be able to ridicule the condition of the city.
As Nehemiah’s story unfolds, we quickly discover that the needs of Jerusalem are deeper than originally anticipated. Not only is the city in ruins, but its leaders are a disgrace. Chapter five describes an extraordinary abuse of power. The leaders are overtaxing the people. Interest rates are out of control. Families are mortgaging their fields, vineyards and homes just to get enough food to survive the famine. Worst of all, parents are selling their children into slavery to get money to live.
Nehemiah’s response to this situation is remarkable.
From his example, we learn four practices of culture-shaping leaders that we can apply today.
1. Culture-shaping leaders wisely confront injustice.
When Nehemiah heard the complaints of the people, he was angry. But he didn’t let his anger dictate his response.
Nehemiah 5:7 says, “After thinking it over, I spoke out against these nobles and officials.” Careful thought preceded deliberate action.
He called a public meeting and said, “‘We are doing all we can to redeem our Jewish relatives who have had to sell themselves to pagan foreigners, but you are selling them back into slavery again. How often must we redeem them?’ And they had nothing to say in their defense” (Nehemiah 5:8).
Nehemiah teaches us a crucial lesson: When leaders see injustice, they act with wisdom rather than react with wrath. Nehemiah was courageous without being careless. Careful contemplation prepares culture-shaping leaders for courageous confrontation.
2. Culture-shaping leaders raise a new standard.
The second thing culture-shaping leaders do is raise a new standard that rights wrongs. Nehemiah 5:9-11 says:
“Then I pressed further, ‘What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations? I myself, as well as my brothers and my workers, have been lending the people money and grain, but now let us stop this business of charging interest. You must restore their fields, vineyards, olive groves and homes to them this very day. And repay the interest you charged when you lent them money, grain, new wine and olive oil.’”
Nehemiah didn’t allow political favors or personal preferences to define his response to the cries of the people. He didn’t define his standard of right and wrong according to opinion polls. The driving motivation behind Nehemiah’s response was the fear of God. To walk in the fear of God implied reverent commitment to God and upright compassion toward people.
Culture-shaping leaders have a deep, unwavering, inward devotion to God that delivers a profound, outward compassion toward people. This “fear of God” shapes the definition of the standard they use for restoring and redeeming culture.
Zach Hunter is a great example of a young leader confronting injustice and raising a new standard. At the age of 12, Zach was moved with a powerful blend of anger and compassion as he read the stories of abolitionists like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. But his greatest challenge came when he discovered that slavery was more than a history lesson, but a modern day epidemic affecting more than 27 million people.
Most people in the seventh grade would feel helpless tackling a monster like slavery, but Zach mustered up the courage to face it head on. He launched “Loose Change to Loosen Chains,” a student-led movement to raise awareness and funds to help eliminate slavery. Through his efforts, he supports several abolitionist and human rights organizations.
Today, Zach is 21 years old. He says he’s a “painfully normal guy” who refuses to sit on the sidelines and do nothing about the injustice in our world. He’s a culture-shaping leader who used what little influence he had to confront injustice and raise a new standard. As a result, his influence has grown as he challenges others to pursue their passion to make a difference in the world. Zach says, “There’s hurting everywhere, and we can be the solution.”