Millennials are leaving the church in droves (or so some say)—they’re tired of the passionless, go-through-the-motions, infotainment form of Christianity that promises a good time but doesn’t change the world.
So how do you get them to stay?
Caleb Breakey offers Millennials a compelling reason in Called to Stay: if you’re fed up with playing church, if you want to be part of a church moving toward love, unity and a deep longing for Jesus, you need to be part of the solution to fixing it.
He calls this infiltration.
Infiltration and intentional discipleship
“Infiltration is about using your power and influence to the fullest inside the church,” he writes. “If we want to make a difference in this world, we must become Infiltrators of our churches” (25-27).
What Breakey calls infiltrating is simply a call to intentionality in your faith—essentially he’s saying if you say you’re a Christian, be in it to win it. Be engaged in your church, be involved in the lives of others. Actually live out that whole “spurring one another to love and good deed” thing.
Breakey repeatedly gets this exactly right—if we want to see people grow in their faith, if we see our local churches struggling, we need to invest ourselves there. Don’t go searching for the perfect church, because it’s not out there (and you’ll ruin it if you find it). This is definitely a message all believers—young or old—need to hear, again and again.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is Breakey’s understanding of the need for empathy. “If we are ever to sharpen each other as one sword sharpens another, we need to be willing to step into the minds of others, think as they do, and then use what we’ve learned to push both them and ourselves to deeper commitment to Jesus” (140).
This is so critical to discipleship—trying to figure out where others are coming from, so we can bring them forward.Those who consider themselves stronger in their faith need to put aside their preferences to address the needs of others. Only then are they actually in a position to help the “weaker” grow. I remember my earliest discipleship relationships were too focused on the ways I learn and grow; they weren’t addressing the needs of the guys I was walking with. Had I taken the time to figure out more of what they wanted to do, how they wanted to interact, then those relationships might have been stronger as a result.
There’s a lot to like about this book, but it’s far from perfect. Of the critiques many have made of millennials is their tendency toward a naïve triumphalism—because they’ve grown up being told they can be anything they want—they can even change the world!—they really believe they can. There’s definitely a necessary strength to this optimism. Frankly, we don’t need another generation wandering around like Charlie Brown after he’s been shot down. But in many cases, this optimism becomes distorted by hubris.
Jesus is faithful to bring His bride home
While he avoids coming across as arrogant (or at least he does his best)—he readily acknowledges the task he’s calling people to is going to be difficult—but this sense of triumphalism runs deep in Called to Stay. The infiltration language itself is symptomatic of this, but where I felt it most strongly is in the seventh chapter of the book, specifically the story of Justin, Christi and Haley. Here’s how it breaks down:
Justin learns his wife, Christi, has been cheating on him. She’s given up all pretence of keeping it a secret and is flaunting her adulterous ways. She wants Justin to divorce her—instead, he pours himself into loving and serving her. He wants to win his wife’s affection back, but she continues to reject him. Finally, while she’s out for a jog, he picks up Christi’s phone and calls her friend, Haley, and spends the next several minutes unloading his love for Christi to her.
“Please… would you just tell her that for me?” he asks. Haley did—and slowly things began to change. Christi started opening up, eventually breaking down and asking for Justin’s forgiveness, and their marriage began to heal. Why did Haley help, they asked?
“Because I could see what you were missing out on…and I wanted you to have it,” she tells them.
If Justin represents Jesus and Christi represents the church, then we are Haley and Christi’s friends. We have a great constant influence on the church. We either misguidedly encourage her to go against her loving husband, or, like Haley, we see things for how they truly are and show the church that she’s slandering her husband.
It’s not popular, and others in the church might not like us for a time—or ever—but it eventually leads to making the bride beautiful for Christ. (117)
I get the intention behind this—Breakey sees Infiltrators as “prophetic” voice in the church, calling back her back to her husband. The concern here, though, is Breakey inadvertently makes Jesus appear impotent. He keeps trying to love and serve His wife, but she keeps turning away, so He needs a bit of help from her friends.
Hosea is a far more powerful analogy for Jesus and His bride: the prophet is commanded by God to marry a prostitute, one who will continue to run from him and give herself to others again and again. Finally she’s sold into slavery and what happens? Hosea redeems her. Hosea relentlessly pursues his wayward bride, even to the point of paying a great cost to bring her home. Jesus does infinitely greater for His wayward bride—He relentlessly pursues her all the way to death. It’s Jesus who saves His Church, not us. When we see ourselves as “Haley” in the story, we forget that we’re also “Christi.” Jesus doesn’t need us to fix our relationship issues—in fact, we need to remember that WE are part of the problem since we’re all part of Jesus’ bride. We all stray from the Lord and we all need Him to call us draw us back to Him. Thankfully, He is always faithful to bring us home again.
What the Church needs
So what does the church need? In Called to Stay, Breakey is right that the church needs people committed to investing. People willing to live intentionally, to live sacrificially, and to live uncompromisingly for the good of others, and trusting God for the results (160). But we don’t need more triumphalism—when we see ourselves as on a mission to “save” the church, we’re inevitably going to get off track. Instead, we need committed, faithful Christians are in it to win it in their local churches. And when we’ve got that, beautiful things can happen.
Title: Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church
Author: Caleb Breakey
Publisher: Harvest House (2013)
Buy it at: Amazon