Missional leadership

/ 9 October 2008

We talk a lot about missional outreach at Luther, about missional leadership and what it means to share the good news and get out and tell people about it. But I don’t think we have much sense at all of what that can mean in practical terms. Lately I’ve been trying to get religious folk to wake up and pay attention to the kind of organizing that the Obama campaign is involved in. I don’t think there’s any better way to practice basic outreach activities than to get involved in a political campaign, and this year the Obama campaign has taken these strategies to a whole new level of community organizing effectiveness. Check out this wonderful essay by Zach Exley about it:

A well-run organizing campaign is the most beautiful thing in the world: people know what they're working for; they have little successes everyday; they prepare for problems ahead of time and have great fun attacking them when they happen. Everyone is in a state of constant euphoria. In the end, win or lose, you have built something that gives you hope for the future—hope that humanity can, as it turns out, work cooperatively towards a better future and succeed.

In the middle of a good organizing campaign, volunteers will stop and tell you that they are becoming better people. That's sounds cheesy, doesn't it? But I'll tell you, I wrote that line in a first draft of this article while waiting for my own neighborhood team meeting to start in Westport, Kansas City, Missouri. I looked at it and thought, "People won't buy that." I figured I'd delete it.

Then, at the end of our meeting, my neighborhood team leader, Jennifer Robinson, totally unprompted, told me: "I'm a different person than I was six weeks ago." I asked her to elaborate later. She said, "Now, I'm really asking: how can I be most effective in my community? I've realized that these things I've been doing as a volunteer organizer—well, I'm really good at them, I have a passion for this. I want to continue to find ways to actively make this place, my community, a better place. There's so much more than a regular job in this—and once you've had this, it's hard to go back to a regular job. I'm asking now: Can I look for permanent work as an organizer in service of my community? And that's a question I had not asked myself before the campaign. It never occurred to me that I could even ask that question."

Can you imagine what it might be like if being involved in religious community led to such statements?