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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2010 Archives > September-October 2010 > Shane Claiborne: Fusing Faith and Practice

Shane Claiborne: Fusing Faith and Practice

Shane Claiborne (right) talks with Brad Fiscus, director of young people’s ministries for the Tennessee Conference.
In 1998, at the age of 21, self-described “ordinary radical” Shane Claiborne co-founded a small monastic community, The Simple Way, in a row house in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Today the community includes six houses. Binding residents are a statement of faith and core beliefs and statement of practices and core values. Community members minister to human needs and spiritual hungers in the world around them.

Raised in a United Methodist congregation in east Tennessee and a frequent speaker at United Methodist events, Claiborne began learning to see the gospel through the eyes of the poor while a student at Eastern University in Philadelphia, where his mentors included Tony Campolo. He has studied at Princeton Theological Seminary and is part of The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia. His experiences range from spending 10 months serving with Mother Teresa in India to interning at Willow Creek Church in Illinois.

He made several trips to Iraq as a member of International Peacemaking Teams.  He wrote or co-authored The Irresistible Revolution (Zondervan), Jesus for President (Zondervan) and Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (InterVarsity). 

Interpreter editor Kathy Noble interviewed Claiborne in April. Featured here are excerpts from that conversation.

Kathy Noble: How are young people effecting change in the church?

See and hear more from Shane Claiborne

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Mission keeps the church alive.

"Talk about real stuff."

"Find people where they are."

On making disciples. 

"The church is like Noah’s Ark."

Reform in the church. 

Shane Claiborne: A whole generation is saying, “We want to be the change that we want to see in the church. We’re going to stop complaining about the church that we’ve experienced, and work on becoming the church that we dream of.” Across this country, and really across the world, there’s a generation that’s aware that the world we’ve been handed is very fragile and that our faith has to affect the way that we live in this world. Our faith is not just an excuse to ignore the hells around us and to get into heaven, but to effect change in the world that we’re living in. Jesus’ invitation is about the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven.


KN:     How does The United Methodist Church play a role in facilitating young people’s desire to make those changes?

SC: The more I studied my own tradition in the Methodist church, I saw what a wild guy John Wesley was. John Wesley capped his income off at a very poor, very simple wage and then gave the rest away. When he started generating tons of money, he still lived off this little sum of money and gave what’s the equivalent of millions of dollars away. He had such compassion and zeal for social justice and for seeing our faith interact with the world that we live in.

The invitation that we have in the church right now is to reanimate and study, and bring alive our own traditions again. There are young people that may not just fit into the easy compartments of denominations. Part of what we see is that each of our histories in the church has something to offer the rest of the church. Jesus is not coming back for a harem, but a bride, so we’ve got to seek what Jesus sought, that we be one as God is one.

KN: What should older people do to understand young people better and the ways that they want to serve?
SC: One of our tendencies, when it comes to relevancy or reaching young people with the gospel, is that we think sometimes that we have to mirror the culture. (We think) we’ve got to have drums and drama on stage, but I am convinced that if we miss this generation, it won’t be because we didn’t entertain them, but because we didn’t dare them to take the words of Jesus seriously in light of the world that we live in.

They’re talking about real stuff, and, we’ve got to be talking about real stuff in the church. We’ve got to be talking about how you deal with terrorism, and how you deal with poverty, and how you deal with abortion and homosexuality. Young people know what’s happening with the invisible children in Uganda. They know what’s happening in Haiti. We’ve got to say, “God cares about this stuff.” Our faith is not just about going up when we die, but about bringing God’s kingdom down. It starts with a genuine desire to learn from each other and humility, not to invite people in just (to) do it like we’ve always done it before, but to come in and build sincere, genuine friendships and to pursue Jesus together.

KN: What is the draw of small groups and the growing interest among young people in monastic communities?
SC: In the last few decades, our infatuation has been with the big, the mega church, how to draw a crowd. A couple of things have come out of that. One is that you can draw a crowd and lose the very essence of community and intimacy that makes people want to come. Half the curriculum coming out of mega churches right now (is) how to get people into small groups. Look at the Book of Acts where people were meeting in each other’s homes. Where two or three of you are together, I’m with you, Jesus said.

The other thing we’ve seen is indicated in the desire to see monastic communities, or communities where there’s a fusion between our belief and our practice. In the past few decades, Christianity has really become about a statement of belief. The scripture doesn’t call us to make believers, but to make disciples. When it comes to spiritual formation and discipleship, small groups, that’s how it’s done. That’s how Jesus did it. It’s how we learn our faith in the sense of how it works itself out in everyday actions.

(In) our fervor for evangelism, we’ve created a Christianity that’s a mile long and an inch deep, because we haven’t done the work of discipleship and formation to where people are really becoming fully devoted followers of Christ with all of our lives, and with our economics, and with our sexuality, and with our pride in our community, and our creation care, and all these other things we believe are at the heart of the scripture. These communities and congregations that are beginning to think through how we do discipleship and formation are really on the cutting edge of what it means to be about forming people into the way of Jesus.

KN: What rules and orders does The Simple Way follow?
SC: In our community and in many of the Christian communities that we see forming, there is a statement of faith, of essential core beliefs that we share. There’s also a statement of practices and core values that we share. Those are things like simplicity, living in a simple way (so) we don’t need more than our daily bread. And then a commitment to nonviolence, beginning inside our own hearts, but also in our neighborhood and in the world, caring for the creation. Some of them are really, really simple things like we talk directly with each other as Matthew 18 says. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis, right belief and right practice, have to go together. What we’re trying to do is to marry those things together to where we can say, “This is what we believe, and if you want to see it, then this is what it looks like.”


KN:  How are young people going to change the institutional church? What is it going to look like in 10 or 15 years?
SC: (Church historian Phyllis Tickle) says, “Every few hundred years the church needs a rummage sale so we can get rid of the clutter a little bit.” But you don’t want to throw everything out. You want to make sure you cling to those things, which are really central to our faith. (Young people) haven’t given up on the church, but they have at times felt like the church has given up on them. There’s an exciting opportunity right now. The church is kind of like Noah’s Ark. That old boat with all the stuff inside must have gotten pretty stinky, and the church stinks sometimes, but if you get out, you’re going to drown.

KN: Talk about reform in the church today.
SC:      Sometimes what we end up doing, if we don’t get at the root of what’s become unhealthy, is we just keep over-correcting ourselves. We keep making Jesus disciples without justice, or justice disciples without Jesus. Jesus and justice have to kiss. Our faith has to connect with the world we live in. Yeah, there’s life after death. We’ll party like there’s no tomorrow, and there won’t be. But, this is not just about Jesus promising us life after death, but life before death, too. There is good news right now, and an aching impoverished oppressed world is dying to hear that good news, that God loves you now, and cares about this situation you’re in right now, and we’re going to embody that good news in a way that can be felt, and seen, and heard, and believed.

This July 4th, Let’s Celebrate Interdependence Day,

The New Monastics: Meeting Shane Claiborne,

How to Derail the New Monasticism,

Monasticism Old and New Library,

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