There are a lot of books out there on why 20s & 30s are leaving the church and leaving Christianity. Many of them are descriptive of the problem. Of the books that have a prescriptive focus, most are about what the church needs to do to reach this group. “Called to Stay” is different than most because it is prescriptive but toward the young adults. Breakey is an ex-sports writer turned Christian author. This book is Caleb Breakey’s encouragement of Millenials to continue attending traditional church and make a difference.
He calls this approach “infiltration.” Infiltration” seems like Breakey’s way of getting young people interested in his approach. It sounds clandestine and subversive and adventurous. I guess in some ways it is, as change often produces conflict but what Breakey is really describing and prescribing is a lot more tame than infiltration (he isn’t writing this to outsiders…these are disgruntled insiders who are thinking about leaving). The book is actually a guide on how to take their faith seriously among people you disagree with in order to be a catalyst for change. He does an excellent job on describing for young people just how to do that. The problem is, usually trying to instigate real, deep and meaningful change is a slow, hard and near impossible road unless you have fantastic, grace filled, open, loving and patient church leadership. See Frank Viola’s thoughts on How to/Not to Leave a Church. I would encourage any young person who reads “Called to Stay” to also read Frank’s thoughts as well.
The best thing that could be done with this book is to toss all the manifesto language and exchange it for more language about just being like Christ. It is all in there, it just needs repackaged. The reason it needs repackaged is that this infiltration language can easily lead to an attitude of elitism that can be deadly to the very purposes this book is trying to convey. It can easily lead people to an “us vs. them” mentality that makes reconciliation more difficult to accomplish. This elitist air came across most to me in the evaluation he proposes a young adults uses on their congregation (found on pages 118-123) where you are supposed to use a Likert scale to evaluate your church’s love for Jesus with a breakdown at the end of what various point totals mean for the church and what you are probably going to need to do. The problem is, how you could actually rank a church in many of the areas he includes would be difficult to do objectively, especially if you are already frustrated. The book could have done without that section as it gives young people even more reasons to be critical and could definitely hurt the mending process rather than help it.
All in all, good principles and good practices are described. I just think the approach gets cluttered up and confusing based on the terms he uses that could easily be misconstrued by someone who is already disgruntled with the church to become that much more elitist, bitter and frustrated. To be fair to Breakey, he does warn against much of that and if you really did follow everything he says in the book you would likely avoid doing that. Breakey really seems to have a great heart and a tremendous love for Jesus and for taking faith very seriously and he really challenged young adults to personally embrace faith and life transformation in a deeply personal way prior to being any sort of catalyst for change in the church. I really respect that and that is one of the best qualities of this book.
So what does Beakley encourage young people to do? He encourages them to be sold out for Jesus. Things won’t change unless your faith is real and Jesus really is your Lord. He encourages open communication with others. He promotes Christian unity and mission that is initiated through loving and respectful conversation. He is particularly interested in one’s own personal development and being more concerned with our own transformation than with changing others. However, this book is about changing church culture one person at a time. Again, the things he is teaching are really just good principles of how Christians should treat each other in areas of disagreement and frustration.