Rather than arm himself with a megaphone, or a radio or TV station for that matter, Shane Claiborne lets his life speak for itself.
He's a "recovering redneck," as he calls himself, who grew up immersed in the church in the Bible Belt. He doesn't own a car, but if he needs one he has a dozen on his block that his neighbors will let him use.
Claiborne, 34, simply lives life convinced that Jesus came to earth not just to prepare people to die, but to teach people to live. That means, taking up the countercultural call of the Gospel to move closer to suffering rather than away from it.
"[T]here is a pattern in the gospel, and the pattern is that when we live in proximity to those who are suffering and spend our lives caring for the 'least of these,' not only does it give life to others, but it also gives life to those who choose this crazy gospel way of living," he states in his latest book, Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical (co-authored by John Perkins).
Claiborne, who's known for his dreadlocks and dressing like a monk, has been residing in Kensington, Pa., also known as "The badlands," for about 12 years now. It's a neighborhood he says he's really proud to be from. There, he mentors kids, cleans up the streets, cares for the homeless, and grieves with neighbors when a kid gets shot. There, he lives as a "monastic" in the sense that he's pursuing God with all of his heart and saying no to all of the things in the culture that would compromise his commitment to God.
It's a way of life he knows many, including Christians, would avoid.
"There's so much in our culture that teaches us to move away from suffering and to move away from people who don’t look like us and to move out of neighborhoods where there’s high crime and things like that," he told The Christian Post. "And yet the heart of the Gospel is that that God hears the suffering, enters into the suffering."
He sees many living in gated communities, separating themselves from their neighbor and even from God, Claiborne noted. "We have to get outside the gates," he said.
The young author, who sews his own clothes with his mother, isn't necessarily calling Christians to take up the same lifestyle he's leading. But he wants Christians to think about this:
"On the final judgment day, as Jesus tells it, we're asked some questions by God and ... it's not a doctrinal test. It's not 'virgin birth: agree or disagree?' But the questions [are] like 'When I was in prison did you visit me? When I was hungry did you feed me?'" he said.
Claiborne, who has been criticized by conservative Christians for promoting the social Gospel, did not commit himself to Christ simply for a ticket to heaven but because he found Jesus to be "good" and "all that my heart longs for."
For him, that commitment entailed not serving as a voice for the voiceless but rather a voice with the voiceless.
"We have to see our faith not as an excuse to get into heaven and ignore the world around us but really a way of engaging the world that we live in," he said.
There are already so many visible and outspoken Christian leaders out there and so many "terrible" ones at that as they stumble over money or affairs, Claiborne recognizes.
The answer to bad leadership, he says, is good leadership. Such good leadership qualities as credibility and integrity can only come "from deep within" a person.
"You can have a lot of ideologies and very little to show from it," he said. "Folks like Mother Theresa, we try to allow our lives to preach the message along with our words. I think that’s really where a lot of leadership has fallen short as it’s been built around really strategic goals and books people have read."
"Too many people try to lead just with writing books or preaching sermons, but they don't realize that's the easy part. anybody can write a book," Claiborne states in his book. "But words on paper ... only come to life when they get lived out – when the word becomes flesh. We lead out of who we are."
Claiborne is the author of bestsellers The Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President (with Chris Haw). He currently leads The Simple Way in Philadelphia and is working on a new book, to be titled Common Prayer.