Talking to Shane Claiborne when I met him last summer, I said: "Six people were living in community at The Simple Way and you became world famous. There are 600 of us in New Creation Christian Community and we’re not! Why do you think that is?"
If you think the question sounds mildly petulant, perhaps it is! But the tone of our conversation had been so very brotherly that I felt at liberty to let out a wee bit of frustration in the question. Here's what Shane said in answer:
"One of my friendly critiques of the Jesus movement in the US – and I sense you’re a bit like some of those communities – is that when they started they were wonderfully counter-cultural, but they also threw out the rest of the Church. I think maybe some of that was necessary – but I think it also minimised the impact they had on the wider Church.
"Learning from that, we are trying to revitalise and restore some of what’s broken in the Church, a bit like Francis of Assisi’s calling to 'repair the Church which is ruins'. Our discontent with the Church is the very reason we engage rather than disengage. We said 'We are going to stop complaining about the Church we’ve experienced and work on becoming the Church that we dream of – but that also means we’re not giving up on the rest of this dysfunctional family.' I think that’s part of why we’re still invited to preach at Willow Creek and other places.
But I think that the gift of the Jesus Army and other radical communities is in preserving the radical spirit of that counter-culture or contrast society. It’s community on steroids. It moves the Church I think closer to where it should be."
Which was both encouraging - I love being described as "community on steroids" even if I wince a little - and challenging - it makes me feel the need for us to embrace our brothers and sisters everywhere, of whatever Christian "stripe", to learn and to share.
Talking of sisters, I met a nun last week, Sister Catherine (@digitalnun of some fame on Twitter), who said of us in the Jesus Army, "I love what you're doing - but your website's rubbish."
I know, sister, I know. We're working on it.
But later, Sister Catherine said, "Be encouraged. You're coming of age as a community." As someone who belongs to a monastic movement with fifteen hundred years under its communal belt, I take that as quite some encouragment.