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Monday, April 2, 2018

Community Organizer

Of all the opportunities in the work world, I’ve never heard a little boy or girl dream of being a community organizer. I certainly didn’t dream of such. And neither did any of my friends. Frankly, no high school counselor I’ve met encourages a young person that direction.

In one sense, that is a bit surprising. Community organizers are people of influence. Or at least they hope to be. A person might even pursue this in college once it’s known as a viable profession. I learned this from the website, Social Work Degree Guide. (Link below)

In response to the question, “What does a Community Organizer Do?,” we read, “After earning a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) degree with a concentration in macro community practice, some graduates choose to pursue their interests in community empowerment and program development by becoming a community organizer…. In short, community organizers are responsible for uniting people to work together to solve social problems and make the world a better place.”

Sounds useful. But what do you actually DO on a daily basis? Apparently, the skill set involves being a good listener. You would need to focus on building social organizations. Creating options and alternatives. The community organizer must be a strategic thinker, a good recruiter, and fundraiser. There are member meetings and training sessions requiring attention as well. The objective end is to build a group of people or an institution to “work toward a common goal through collective action.”

Now that the stage is set, who is the most well known community organizer of the last thirty years? I would hope one name would immediately come to mind: Barack Obama. Some have called him the “Community Organizer in Chief.” 

In December 1995, reporter Hank De Zutter of the Chicago Reader wrote a definitive lead in an article entitled "What Makes Obama Run?" He stated, “Lawyer, teacher, philanthropist, and author Barack Obama doesn't need another career. But he's entering politics to get back to his true passion–community organization.”

In Barack Obama’s own words, “It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago and became a community organizer that I think I really grew into myself in terms of my identity. … I connected in a very direct way with the African-American community in Chicago.” This was quoted in David J. Garrow’s book on the former president, Rising Star.

Regardless of your political views, it is certainly apparent that President Obama learned this trade. He developed a mastery of building relationships and connections. It helped him build a team that took him on quite a journey.

What sparked my interest in this topic? A recent guest on my talk show. Reggie McNeal is a long time pastor and church leader. He is currently working with a group out of Minnesota that thrives on making a difference. McNeal’s bio reads, “Currently, Reggie is working with community leaders around the country to build cross-domain collaborative efforts that can move the needle on big societal issues.”

What does this sound like? To me, it sounds like a variation of the theme of being a community organizer. Reggie’s latest book is titled, Kingdom Collaborators: Eight Signature Practices of Leaders Who Turn the World Upside Down.

As I discussed his involvement in community change and his passion to help the church look at a bigger picture of living out the Kingdom of God, I saw a powerful way to revisit spreading the Gospel. What began in the first century church and became a movement made much more sense.

In my next blog, I want to share the eight practices he mentions. I think they offer far reaching possibilities to live out the Great Commission, “Go and make followers of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to do all the things I have told you.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLV)

For all I know, this may inspire you to become a Kingdom-driven community organizer. I hope so.

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Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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