A few days ago I called an old friend that I hadn’t seen at church in a while to ask if he was OK.
He told me that he hadn’t been in a while because he was visiting other churches. For those that don’t know, “visiting other churches” is Christianese for “You suck! I’m out of here!”
Whatever man, I love you too. People change, their needs change. Lots of things cause a person to decide to leave one church and join another. It’s not always a bad thing and doesn’t always have to be traumatic. Sometimes it’s a very good thing. As long as you’re not walking away from God, joining another church is fine.
What concerned me most was his parting comment: “You guys need to do something about the cliques at that church or it won’t turn out well for you.”
Just a member
My first thought was, of course, “I don’t know what he means by ‘you guys’”. I’m not in leadership and have never been. I’ve never been a deacon, or an Elder or one of the pastors so it’s not my problem. After consideration though, I decided that it WAS my problem. So, I reached for my faithful Sword of Justice** and went looking for these cliques. I found them.
Here There Be Cliques
a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.
The Band: I despise contemporary music but our church loves it… so I looked here first because I’m a sinner too. These folks work hard all week long to lead us in worship on Sundays and for special events. I went to some of their practice sessions and listened to them choose songs. I watched over several months as people auditioned for the band, were accepted, sang and then moved on to other things. Hardly exclusive… I heard the heart behind the work that they’re doing and I listened to them pray for humility and for our church. The only people they seem to have a problem with is the group of Engineers that sit in the A/V booth.
The A/V Team: I’m a geek by trade so infiltrating this nest of vipers was easy. What I found were people that were passionate about making sure that everything was perfect on Sunday morning because that’s one of the places that the beauty of Christ is shared most openly. They’re there for band practice and for sound check early on Sundays. They stay late every Sunday to make sure that media gets uploaded to the various places that it needs to be. They meet at random times during the week when they have time to work on things. They love one another and work together closely to make sure that all of the tech is working together. They will accept help from anyone but it takes work and training to become a part of the team. The only people they have a problem with are the band.
(These two groups trade jokes and bible scriptures like lawn darts thrown from the church balcony but, in the end, they love one another… you can even get them to admit it sometimes)
Moms: There’s a group of young moms that get together irregularly around town or at the church. They are excited to meet other moms but do a terrible job of being inviting. They try hard but seem to always end up with the same crew. I suspect that this has something to do with having someone else’s poop on you occasionally or with having to deal with humans that remove all of their clothes and streak through the church. I mean… busy, right? It’s more like a support group than a clique; a support group at an insane asylum. They’d love to have you join them but you have to be aggressive about chasing them down… they’re usually the ones chasing a naked human.
Ministries (GSM, CRO, LOTC, Rhythm): These folks are constantly posting to Facebook announcing plans and asking for volunteers. People filter into and out of the groups as interest and time demands but there tends to be a core group that’s always in service somewhere. These are the people that get it. They are love. If you’re thinking that they’re exclusive you’re not paying attention. Ask them if you can help. Tell them that you’re going to help. Show up and actually help. Keep doing this. They will appreciate it.
Men: I found several instances of men getting together outside of church to have breakfast or a beer after work. I went to a few of these events when I heard about them and was welcomed. They talked about wives and children and ministries. Occasionally, they realize that a widow’s house needs repair or a benefit golf tournament for a local kid would be useful. When that happens they work at getting the work done. Other times these men meet in twos and threes for serious conversations with someone who is struggling or needing direction. They talk openly about their own sins and the ways that they work around them. They talk about Gospel and how to share it with others… they talk about how to LIVE the Gospel.
Others: There are tons of other interest groups and “cliques” around the place. There’s the Kids team and the Youth team and the Life Groups. They’d love to have your help. A lot. They’re exclusive because what they do is important. Sometimes you even need a background check.
What To Do About Them (Tough Love Starts Here)
With all of that said, here’s the action plan:
- Decide if you are being excluded or if you are excluding yourself? I get it, it’s totally easier if it’s someone else’s fault. Maybe your “clique” is just a group of friends that get together for breakfast occasionally. It’s not regularly scheduled so it can’t go on the Church calendar. In fact, it’s not ministry at all. It’s just people being people. Maybe you should ask if you can join them rather than wallowing in exclusion. They’ll say yes.
- Are you plugged into the places where people share and organize things? Whether it’s Facebook or The City or PCO or… whatever. A group of 300 people probably shouldn’t change the way they work together just to meet your needs. Don’t use Facebook? Fine (laudable even). Find another way to get updates. Join a Life Group and ask for help in being involved. Figure it out, get involved.
- Do you think that Life Groups (small groups) are cliques? They’re not. They’re a method by which the church organizes itself and disciples people. They’re not “party” groups or “lunch” groups. A LOT of serious work goes into putting Life Groups together, pruning them and keeping people in touch. If you believe that “if you’re not in a life group you don’t matter” you’re being very selfish. If you can design a method of training the entire church for discipleship I’m sure that leadership would LOVE to hear about it. Here’s a tip though – don’t send them something that has failed a dozen times before.
- Maybe you have forgotten the times that someone has helped you? It’s easy to feel jealousy when you think that you need something that is being given to someone else. Really easy. Take a minute to recall all of the times that people have loved you specifically. Maybe take the time to try helping someone else.
- Maybe your need got missed? Did you ask for help specifically or just post on Facebook about how hard life is. If you did that then I probably clicked “Like” on it and posted something encouraging. Did you post, “The van is broke again “ or did you post “The van is broke again and I don’t have the money to fix it!”… Those are two VERY different needs and likely to get very different responses. But, still, I have like 1200 friends on Facebook. They post more drama than a room full of teenagers (that’s an actual comparison… way more (sorry friends)). If you call someone and ask for help, especially in my circle of friends, you’re very likely to get it.
- Do you personally have knowledge of a clique or have you only heard that they exist? Have you tried to join these groups and been excluded? If so, see the next point. If not, read: 1 Peter 2:1-3, Romans 1:28-32, James 4:11, Ephesians 4:28, Ephesians 4:31
- Do you, personally, have knowledge of a group that is being purposefully exclusive? Have you talked to leadership about it? Have you given them specific names, dates and events? Leadership in the Church has the job of discipling (and disciplining) the flock. They can’t be expected to do that with nothing but hearsay and gossip to go on. Heck, they’re supposed to be fighting AGAINST hearsay and gossip, like actively. Give them the tools to do their job.
I Still Love You
Look, I get it. Really I do. Maybe you’re not a social butterfly; many of us aren’t. It’s hard when you feel excluded and it sucks to feel jealousy. Especially when you know it’s not totally deserved. I’ve been there.
The people that I’ve seen these last few months have been doing everything they can to get the Gospel of Jesus into the hands of those that need it. Most have full time jobs. They have spouses and they have kids. They have extended families, annoying relatives, a church full of sinners, their neighbors, the homeless and the poor to serve with love. It is likely the same in your church.
Put bluntly: If the clique that you see is trying to glorify God in their actions (even if they’re failing), then you’re the problem.
To be clear, it’s OK that you’re the problem. It really is. I’ve been there too. I’m happy to talk to you about it.
Maybe we’ll create our own clique… be warned though, it’s entirely possible that you’ll find yourself 50ft under a house in the middle of the night in January with a propane torch and a smile while thawing a widow’s water pipes.
Cliques are hard work.
** Figuratively speaking. I don’t have an actual Sword of Justice. That actually belongs to God alone. I can use the Sword of Truth though, which the bible says is the Word of God. It’s unfortunately, not a real sword. I mean, figuratively speaking and all.