Where does an organizer’s power come from?

Anyone who has ever attended a community organizing training in the tradition of Saul Alinsky can tell you the answer without hesitation – the sources of power are: organized people and organized money.

While we speak of the many ways to organize both (force, bribery, coercion, inspiration, fear, hope, and best of all– self-interest, properly understood) – perhaps there is another way of conceiving of the source of power that draws understanding from deeper within the Christian tradition.

Dr. William Turner spoke in his class “Holy Spirit in Ministry” about the inter-penetration of two sources of power: authority and charism, that is, the presence and gift of the spirit.

Authority: the badge a police officer wears, a priestly collar; it’s the title, recognized by the world. In many ways it is a temporal authority, providing necessary and important credibility for human beings as we seek to act in the public arena (world). As an organizer we encounter this as we do the most basic of practices, setting up 1-1 meetings or recruiting a new congregation into membership: “what authority do you have to meet with me?” “Why should I pay you dues” Authority is the credential we wear, our track record, our word and reputation.

Charism: the distinct manifestation of the spirit in your action. It’s God’s movement in and through you. It is the only way that “ministry” can be authentic and effecting. It is the animating force – it’s why we offer an invocation at the beginning of our meetings.

We are our practice, not only our position. We are not just what we believe, but we are the way that belief comes to live and breathe through our action in the world.

So many questions are stirred up for me: How does this concept of authority & charism thicken or deepen our understanding of the sources of power we are seeking to build, wield and leverage? What might be unleashed if we learned to fully reflect the power offered by our distinct charism in the life of the church for the world? To know that our authority is as effective as our ability to let the spirit move through the work of our hands, blessing it, making it fruitful.

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