From justice to raising up a new generation of leaders, Christine Caine is sparking change in the Church.
It was January when Christine Caine took the stage at the Toyota Center in Houston during one of Passion’s mammoth conferences for college students.
Notably, she was the only woman on the lineup of speakers (a list that included Francis Chan and Matt Chandler) but that’s a position she has grown accustomed to. She took to the packed-out crowd of nearly 20,000 with a terrific amount of poise and energy, speaking with an irresistible clarity and passion. She’s clever and approachable, but well-spoken and authoritative too.
At times, she sounds like an old-fashioned preacher. “Church,” she cries, “how is God going to get some glory on this earth? Through the people of God doing the works of God that we were put on this earth to do. Not just talking about it. Not just blogging about it. We all want to write a beautiful story, but nobody wants to work and live that story. We need to work!”
She says all this to thunderous applause.
But it’s when she gets quiet that the crowd truly starts paying attention, like when she opens up about her recent bout with thyroid cancer. She’s vulnerable. It’s intimate. She’s speaking in hushed tones, but her voice resounds up in the top seats.
As a speaker, Caine exists in a unique space. She’s an Australian woman leading within the male-dominated American evangelical sphere. She’s gaining an audience in schools, churches and arenas where her predecessors never stood. And she reaches streams of the Church like no other female leader before her.
But if all you know about Caine is that she’s a gifted speaker, you don’t know much about her. She has started two organizations—Propel Women and The A21 Campaign—both of which have made a huge impact even outside the realm of evangelical nonprofits. She’s a prolific author and a whip-smart organizer. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, she may just be one of the most important leaders in the evangelical landscape right now.
But Caine is a deep well of passions that go far beyond the spotlight and the masses. Talking to her, you’re left less in awe of her considerable talents than you are inspired to make more use of your own. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There are a lot of naysayers who love to talk about the declining church,” Caine says. “They need to get out a bit more.”
In conversation, Caine (her friends call her “Chris”) is an incurable optimist. She’s contrasting churches in her native Australia to churches in America, her adopted home over the last five years. She’s well aware of the spiritual energy moving Down Under these days, but she also dismisses any notion that Christianity in America is in decline.
“The decline is only happening in places where there’s dead religion,” Caine says. “There are lots of pockets throughout America where God is moving powerfully. I have great hope for America. There’s no way God is finished with the American church. The naysayers and the doomsday people obviously don’t read their Bibles, because Jesus says, ‘I will build the Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail.’”
Caine talks like someone dyed in the church wool, but she’s not. She comes from a Greek Orthodox background that she describes as “very religious and [having] no real understanding of any kind of personal relationship with Jesus.” She wasn’t proud of it.
“It was before it was cool to be Greek,” she says, laughing. “Now everyone loves feta cheese and olives, but they certainly didn’t back in the day.”
She also spent longer than a decade of early life being sexually abused. And even that did not prepare her for the shock she received at the age of 33: Caine learned then that the family that raised her is not her biological family. She’d been found in a hospital, unnamed and unwanted.
Her experiences combined to make Caine feel “very much full of shame and just very confused in many ways.”
But, on the last Sunday in January in 1989, a friend invited her to what was then called “Hills Christian Life Centre,” a growing church that met in a warehouse in Sydney. (A gathering that later became a branch of Hillsong Church).
“It was the first time I’d walked into that kind of environment where you’re not quite sure if it’s a church or a disco,” she says. “When you come from a Greek Orthodox background, which is very liturgical, and you walk into that—back in the day, it was quite radical.”
She says she took to it the minute she walked in.
“I mean, I didn’t know what that was then, but I now know it as worship,” Caine says. “It was just so compelling. It just drew me in. With all my mess, as cliché as it sounds, I found home. It was so dramatic and distinct for me. I found home and never left.” But of course, just because she found a home doesn’t mean she was content just to sit there.
“I wanted to work for God, whatever that meant,” she says. “My understanding of that was that I would be like a nun. I thought it would be like Mother Teresa. Thank God that didn’t work. I would have never gotten married. I don’t know how great celibacy would have been for me.”
Click here to read more.