Grassroot campaigns and the Church

“The Kingdom of God is like a grassroots political campaign,” said Jesus, never. If I were a betting man (and I’m not) I would be willing to wager that had Jesus known about grassroots campaigning that’s exactly what he would have used. His campaign manager, Peter, would have loved the idea. It would have made for some excellent stump speeches.

We’ve been told that we’re not supposed to mix politics and religion. Yet, that’s exactly what I did — sort of. From the beginning of September through Election Day, I worked on a U.S. Congressional campaign. I use the past tense because we lost. We made an impressive showing in a red district, fairing better than anyone imagined. “Losing” in politics is a relative term.

I’m not the first ordained Baptist minister to work on a political campaign. I found myself curiously at home in the world of politics. That might be because I’ve spent my entire life within the Baptist tradition, arguably the most political of all denominations.

Into politics I ventured with my knowledge of Pastoral Care, theories of Providence, and the inspiration of James Dunn. We engaged a grassroots campaign, one that refused to take Super PAC or PAC money. We focused on the people, meeting them where they were and learning from them.

After spending two months in the political trenches I came out learning more about the church than politics.

I learned that churches all too often seek the big donors rather than many small donors. In politics you want people to donate for more than fiscal reasons. If someone donates only one dollar they’re more likely to volunteer, support, and most importantly vote for the candidate.

Also, I’ve started wondering why churches fail to run coordinated campaigns within their communities. Often times candidates will sign agreements with other candidates to pool money for advertising or events. What if churches decided to coordinate with other congregations for community events and development? They don’t have to agree on everything, but only a shared belief that the community and movement extends beyond their own preferences.

Grassroots campaigns rely upon meeting with people, engaging them, and developing common self-interest. Churches could learn a thing or two from grassroots politics. We must get out of the church and pound the pavement. We must go into places we might not normally venture.

Our constituency belongs to a kingdom that doesn’t depend upon gerrymandered districts or Voter I.D. laws. Rather, every person has been decreed to be loved, worthy, and desired by God. If we want to see the church grow than perhaps we have to start acting like we have a movement worth sharing.

In the end, no politician runs for office without seeking change or transformation. They have some idea of the change they want to see. Maybe, in the end, the church has yet to engage in a campaign of unity and transformation because we don’t know what we want. We can’t engage in grassroots campaigning because we don’t even know what we’re organizing around.

Politics and religion; perhaps they can teach us more than we thought. Love, hope, change, and grace are more than stump speech buzzwords. They are realities that can transform this world.

“The kingdom of God is like a grassroots campaign,” has a nice ring to it. Let’s put it on a t-shirt, print out a sign, and pound the pavement.

Zachary Bailes

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Bailes holds a Master of Divinity from Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is the Editor of Crazy Liberals and Conservatives, a website dedicated to engaging the intersection of faith and public life.

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  • PastorAlex McGilvery

    What Jesus did was exactly a grass roots campaign, what he didn’t do was promise anything other than God’s Kingdom. Yes, the church needs to get out of the buildings and onto the streets. That shouldn’t be a problem as buildings become unaffordable luxuries and we go back to meeting in kitchens and graveyards.