Reclaiming Power in Congregational and Community Ministry | Fritz Ritsch

Reclaiming Power in Congregational and Community Ministry

The following is an excerpt from Reclaiming Power in Congregational and Community Ministry by Fritz Ritsch. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

To understand the decline of institutional faith and the success of right-wing political Christianity, one must understand power. In my view, the failure of faith institutions to understand power, and partisan Christianity’s lust for power, have created this troubling turn of events. If faith institutions reframe power and its purpose, they will do greater good for their communities and the world and better represent their faith to a disaffected and disgruntled populace. They will also offset the extraordinary damage that power-hungry Christian nationalism is doing to our nation’s better angels.

This book is a guide to faith leaders to identify and deal with power dynamics in their congregations and communities, and to engage their own power as well as the power of their congregants. We can empower the people in the pews to become leaders with a deep investment in their faith, congregation, and community.

Community organizers speak of two types of power: shared and dominating. Dominating power has framed political Christianity’s rise to power. Shared power, in contrast, seeks to unite. Regardless of their faith tradition, religious leaders and congregations who value unity, diversity, bridge-building, compassion, and love of neighbor can develop the skills to create shared power.

I use the word “power” unapologetically. For many, that is jarring. Most of us are uncomfortable with the word power, which we associate with domination and abuse. But power simply means the ability to act. I hope to connect power with positive associations so that religious people recognize that they have the God-given ability to act, individually and corporately, in their lives and their ministry, to create communities of shalom—health, wholeness, togetherness, mutuality and peace.

“Gifts” and “talents” are words we use in church but are often associated with passivity. Gifts are received and talents are innate. These words are rarely connected with intentionality, responsibility, and accountability. That we experience them as nonthreatening reveals their purpose: they are meant to tame us.

Power, by contrast, is wild, untamed except by the will of the person who wields it. It has far-reaching consequences. It can even get out of control. That’s why things that have power are often more amorphous than skills or talents. They can be emotions, attitudes, unconscious systemic norms, character traits—even faith itself. Power, of course, properly directed, is in Christian theology a gift of the Holy Spirit, who is described as untamed. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with the Holy Spirit” (John 3:8).

Many of us believe that faith is best conveyed by persuasion and action rather than subjugation, and that people don’t have to share our faith for us to love, respect and work with them for the good of everyone. We believe that a key purpose of faith is to make the world a better place for everyone, not just our group, and that serving others and building up the community where we live is a holy calling. If you believe that love is God’s overarching purpose for life, then this book is for you.

But to build the power to do this, we first need to build up our congregations. In post-Covid America, congregations are smaller and poorer, have fewer staff and less institutional clout. They face justified cultural cynicism. There is need for an alternative witness of community leadership emphasizing service, reconciliation, and “being there for others.” These challenges require the democratization of faith institutions. The people in the pews must take responsibility for implementing the mission of their congregations. The only way for many congregations to survive is for their congregants to become less dependent on clergy and more dependent on their own God-given power. This book is a resource not only for clergy but for lay leaders seeking to empower themselves and their congregants.

By reframing and reclaiming power as good and necessary, the leadership of pastors, priests, and rabbis will be reinforced, and our congregations will be reinvigorated. Our ministry to our communities will be more effective and the nation’s justly cynical view of faith institutions will be counterbalanced by a new and more faithful narrative of positive religious citizenship.

Most importantly, though, we will be living more fully into the values of our faith traditions and of the truest meaning of servant leadership.

Praise for Reclaiming Power in Congregational and Community Ministry

“Fritz Ritsch has done congregations a huge favor by laying out strategies to engage their communities effectively and faithfully. Using the types of strategies Ritsch lays out in this book, congregations can engage Gen Zers and millennials (together they are 52 percent of the US population) who love to do community service work and advocacy on issues such as protecting the environment and racial justice. This is a ‘can do’ book!”
John Wimberly, Congregational Consultant

About the Author

Fritz RitschFritz Ritsch is a PCUSA pastor and church consultant in Greensboro, North Carolina. He cares deeply about helping congregations thrive and empowering interfaith community efforts.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.