Organizing the Church

My involvement with the Occupy movement this year has given me a lot of insight into the way groups of people unite around a common set of concerns. In my work with Occupy Our Homes, I have seen the power that can be unleashed when a small group of people focus their passion to work together for justice. And in recent months I have spent time studying and testing models of community organizing that could forge our organization into a more effective instrument of empowerment for the 99%.

As I have begun to explore the practice of community organizing, a whole new world has opened up for me. I am particularly inspired by the pioneering strategic philosophy of Saul Alinsky and his successors. While by no means do I agree with the whole of Alinsky’s ideology (especially his abysmally cynical view of human nature), I know in my gut that his model, which has been refined and enriched by successive generations of organizers, is of great value. I feel the need to integrate the wisdom of this tradition into my own life and work.
This will involve integrating my “religious” concern as a gospel minister and my “social” concern as a budding organizer for economic justice. Looking to Jesus, I see that his “spiritual” mission was never separated from his “social” mission. Spiritual liberty and material emancipation from social and economic bondage have always been two sides of the same coin. I serve the Savior who brings not merely an invisible, “spiritual” rebirth, but a genuine refashioning of the whole human community. As Jesus revealed when he was nailed to a cross for sedition against the Roman state, the gospel is dangerously practical!
Is my own faith similarly practical? Does the life of my community reveal the messianic Kingdom of Jesus – the visible, redeemed network of social relationships that God created us for? Does the life of the Church bear witness to the wholeness, justice, mercy and love of the God of Isaiah?

As a Christian in the United States, these questions challenge me. I see how many of our Christian communities have far too little to do with the living power of Jesus’ gospel. So often, we fail to combine the inward work of spiritual transformation with the outward labor of making the Kingdom of God visible.

Rather than dividing the work of spiritual transformation and social justice between religious and secular institutions, how could we embody the dynamic inward/outward tension that Jesus demonstrates? What might the practice of community organizing teach us about building healthy congregations that exist to serve our neighbors?