My Experience Finding a “Tribe” with Tony Campolo & Red Letter Christians

Most Christians in America (and much of the world) are familiar with the life and work of Tony Campolo.  There is his infamous “curse word teaching” that asks his audience whether they are more shocked at the fact that he said sh&% or at the fact that there are thousands of people dying each day in a world that has more than enough resources to care for each of them if only we were willing to care for the “least of these.” There are the pictures of Tony embracing with decades worth of Presidents as they seek his council and he inevitably finds a way to offer a prophetic word into an institution that desperately needs it.  There is his constant reminder that “Sunday is coming” and that while “We may live in the best Babylon, it is still Babylon!”  

More than anything, Tony is marked by his call of Christians to take seriously the red letters of Jesus in the gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  The red letters aren’t simply to be read as an other-worldly euphoria, but as a framing ethic through which God’s people are empowered to embrace their vocation as salt and light.  If taken seriously, the life and teachings of Jesus allow us to be a living reflection of Good News for the sake of a watching world.  

There began a revolution.  Not a revolution around a charismatic speaker, but a revolution around the person of Jesus.  

Seeing the remarkable impact of a ministry that pointed people back to Jesus, Tony felt it important to mentor, train and come alongside the next generation(s) of authors and speakers who advocated this life and message.  A few years ago he invited a handful of influential leaders into a cohort that would gather once a year and remain networked throughout the rest of the year to support, encourage and come alongside one another as they live and taught the red letters of Jesus.  

This past year, I was invited to join this tribe of radicals, intellectuals, advocates, pastors and all round Jesus-y folks.  I thought, “I’m just a little dude from the town of Prunedale; how did I get invited into a community alongside Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Margot Starbuck, Richard Twiss, Shane Hipps, Brian McClaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, etc…?”

I quickly accepted the invitation and boarded a plane to the East Coast to attend the annual gathering. If I’m honest, I was both honored and a little bit concerned that it would be three days of high-powered leaders posturing and offering subtle promotions of our “stuff.” Rather, it was a time of generative conversation, collaboration and shared vision. It was an experience of being “known” among a tribe of radicals who are crazy enough to live into the story God has for them. It was friendship and soul care. 

Although we were sitting in informal circles rather than auditoriums, every once in awhile Tony would start to crank up the volume and start “preaching.”  We all smiled, looked at each other and often ended up breaking into applause as we continued to learn at the feet of one who has spent his life learning at the feet of the King.  It was red letter leadership being passed down to a generation who isn’t finding their identity in a message, book or program, but in a Resurrected 1st century Rabbi who instigated a revolution that continues today.  

May the revolution continue and may all of God’s children choose to take part. 

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