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Summary of Building a People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform Their Communities


Summary of Building a People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform Their Communities
by Mary-Kate Brissett (FASTEN, 2007)

Resource Type: 3-page article

Audience: Church leaders desiring to get a fast understanding of the key principles and arguments in this important book on Biblical power and its use in community transformation

The Church is called to follow Christ’s example in ministry by being a transformational agent in the world. Robert Linthicum, in Building a People of Power (Authentic / World Vision, 2005), shows that this call goes far beyond the individual-focused transformation many churches embrace. The Church must be about transforming all of creation. And this sort of transformation requires wielding power: liberating, transformational, relational, and redemptive power.

This book is a follow-up to Linthicum’s Empowering the Poor and includes more about the biblical theology of power and more recent innovations in community organizing as a means of transformation. It includes careful study of Scripture, and Linthicum explains his approach to Scripture in the introduction. He takes each Biblical passage and story and examines to whom it was written originally, the historical context of the passage, and the significance of the passage for us today.

Linthicum opens his first chapter with a discussion of the Biblical concept of Shalom. To embrace it, the Church must grasp God’s intentions for His creation, understand what makes the world so different from this intention, and begin working towards God’s intentions. Shalom, in its biblical sense, is beyond the simple notion of peace. It is the theology of hope of Israel and the early church, and Linthicum explains Shalom in terms of both the haves and the have-nots. For the haves, it is celebration and good management of the blessings of God. For the have-nots, it is deliverance from suffering and oppression. This chapter discusses the issue of public justice in terms of Shalom and what markers indicate Shalom in society – socially, spiritually, economically, and politically.

Chapter two takes a close look at Christ as He is represented in each of the four gospels. Linthicum encourages readers to strive to understand Jesus as the Scriptures describe Him, rather than allowing our own priorities to color the way we understand Him. The historical framework of Israel is essential in understanding Christ. Linthicum takes a look at each picture of Jesus we are given – the “Jubilee Jesus” of Luke, the “Marginalized Messiah” of Matthew, the “Radical Rabbi” of Mark, and the “Counter-cultural Christ” of John.

Linthicum then takes the next chapter to explain how Jesus’ ministry points to society-wide transformation. Jesus was clear about His love for Israel and His intention to redeem not only His people but also His creation, which includes the systems in society. We have proven ourselves unable to create good systems on our own; the redemption of Christ brings not only deliverance from personal sin but also redemption from systemic sin.

Chapter four, then, fleshes out Jesus’ call to His church, the carrying out of His intentions for the world. For this, Linthicum looks at the Israelites in Babylon and God’s purposes for them there. They were placed there to work for Shalom in that city, and Linthicum guides readers to see this as both their circumstance on earth and their call from God. Similarly, all Christians are commanded by God to see their own lives in terms of both their circumstances – where they happen to live – and their call – how they are to go about God’s work where they live. Working for Shalom means becoming God’s presence, praying for the people and the community, putting faith into action, sharing the Gospel, and changing systems of society. Linthicum tells a story of his own life in which he and his colleagues began to realize the necessity of using power – including their fear of this prospect and their eventual understanding and successful wielding of power.

Power itself comes in two different varieties – unilateral and relational. Unilateral power (as of a ruler to his people) can be dominating or constitutional. Relational power, however, is Linthicum’s focus, as it is the power the Church must embrace for transformation. He discusses this relational power in terms of the Holy Spirit and Jesus and what it means for the church in its community organizing efforts.

The next chapter explains the “most radical act” of relational power-–individual meetings. Linthicum delves into a discussion of Nehemiah as he shows readers what it means to build power this way. He begins with more conceptual issues—such as what it means to build relationships, internalize the pain of others, pray, consider the resources of a community, and the value of good timing. He then moves on to the more practical issues of individual meetings-–whom to meet with, what to learn during these meetings, and how to conduct the meetings. Linthicum includes many practical tips and strategies in this section.

The next chapter is entitled “Building a People through the Iron Rule” and focuses on the principle of not doing for others what they can do for themselves. Linthicum explains in this chapter how to empower people to do things for themselves. He discusses strategies for building a people of power, including individual meetings, house meetings, action teams, and research. And he discusses principles for building a people of power, including power being built on relationships, negation and confrontations, the pedagogy of action and reflection, and the significance of building leaders.

Discovering and building up leaders is a crucial part of building a people of power, and the next chapter is dedicated to it. Linthicum first takes a look at the Biblical leaders of Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Paul, and Barnabas. From these stories, he draws important principles involved in biblical leadership:

    • Vision, passion, risk and personal validation,
    • The capacity to trust,
    • The ability to discern and call out potential in other leaders,
    • Having a close relationship with your students,
    • Seeing every situation as a vehicle for teaching,
    • Engaging in ongoing action and reflection,
    • Working alongside the students,
    • Confronting and speaking truth in love,
    • Taking students from the known to the unknown,
    • Pushing students to the limit,
    • Presenting students as leaders,
    • And letting students go!

Linthicum then goes into more detail on the cycle of action and reflection, a concept he has mentioned earlier in the book. Here, though, he explains it more fully and discusses its role in empowering people. He then moves on, in the next chapter, to discuss the strategies of confrontation and negotiation in wielding power. The Biblical examples of Jesus, Paul and Moses set up the discussion as Linthicum explains how these techniques can be used in a Biblical way.

Chapter 10 delves again into the story of Nehemiah and how he built a people of power. Linthicum guides readers through the stages of the Nehemiah story and then explains how those principles can be put into effect in today’s world. He discusses the steps of recognizing and embracing the values of a community, seeking spiritual transformation of the community together, and creating the opportunity and freedom to evangelize in the context of this growing positive spirituality of the community.

Linthicum takes a chapter to discuss the different types of relationships churches can have with a city. Churches can be a church in the city, a church to the city, or a church with the city. A church with the city works toward Shalom in the city, doing God’s work by building up leadership and working towards transformation. Churches accomplish this through pursuing evangelism, social services, advocacy, community development and community organizing.

The next chapter spends some time discussing the benefits the church gains through using power. Churches that wield power biblically and build a people of power in their cities, Linthicum promises, will strengthen the relational nature of their congregation, develop powerful leaders, develop their vision and mission strategy, organize themselves in new ways, enhance their evangelistic pursuits, increase their income, and become more effective in outreach.

The appendices include information on Linthicum’s DVD curriculum on power, contact information for organizing networks, and a list of further training and resources to pursue.

This book is powerfully and passionately written. It provides a careful and thorough study of Biblical power and yet remains accessible for most readers. Linthicum provides extensive Scriptural and theological support for his arguments and gives readers many examples and illustrations from Scripture and from his own experiences in ministry and life. The book is full of philosophical and theological discussions but also guides readers through very practical and hands-on advice and tips. Readers will be challenged, inspired, encouraged, and prepared to put Linthicum’s ideas into action.

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