Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Are Cliques in the Church the Real Problem?

One of the complaints of people, when it comes to church, is that it is too "cliquey."  Not to say this isn't true, but I think the term "clique" is often used as a buzzword amongst Christians who are dissatisfied with the church they attend. Often the reason of "This church isn't friendly.  It is too cliquey." is heard for a person or family deciding to leave a church.

What is a clique though?  Is this term being used correctly or is it just an excuse used to not have to do some introspection where one might discover the issue really lies with them and not the church?  Obviously you know where this post is going, but bear with me for I believe eyes will be opened.  God calls us to a life of constant change which involves introspection on a regular basis.  Jesus uses the word repent even for those who have excepted him as Lord and Savior because all of us continue to have sins we need to turn from.  So if you are one of those people who have used the "clique" excuse I would ask that you consider what is said here.  Weigh it.  Does it make sense?  Are you guilty?

The term clique, as defined by Meriam-Webster online, is "a narrow exclusive circle or group of persons; especially: one held together by common interests, views and purposes."  All circles and/or groups of people are held together by common interests, views and purposes.  Good friends are such because they find in each other a commonality.  Just because a group of people have the same interests, views and purposes doesn't necessarily mean they are a clique.

A clique is a group of individuals who find themselves feeling superior to others.  They look down on those who do not conform to a standard they have set amongst themselves.  Often these people are self-centered, egotistical, prideful and arrogant (amongst other things).  There is a definite aura (if you will permit me to use that word) about them that exudes distaste for anyone that doesn't fit their standard.

It is true that within the church there are various circles and groups of people who share similar interests, views, circumstances, personalities, purposes, etc...  It is the same for any place.  What makes such a circle or group of people a clique is an exclusive nature.  Many groups within the church are not exclusive.  They may be hard to break into, but they don't go out of their way to exclude others.  There may be an unconscious exclusion, but it differs from that of a clique.  It isn't that a group is unwilling to let others in, it is that they are unaware that there are others who would like to be a part of their group.

When groups form in the church many people are too quick to cry "clique" and don't realize that what is happening is a natural part of social well being.  Humans have been designed by the Creator to form close relationships with a select group of people.  Look at the life of Jesus.  I am sure there were many who cried "clique!!!" when they saw Jesus focusing on his 12 disciples over others, but Jesus knew that he couldn't completely give of himself, in his physical/human form, to every person that came along.  In fact, it is interesting to note that his circle of very close individuals even became smaller.  His closest friends were not the entire 12 but three: James, John and Peter.

Often when people accuse the church of being cliquey what they are really missing is the fact that they don't go out of their way to try and make friends.  It has been in my experience that those who cry clique are often introverted individuals who have not found it in themselves or learned how to be outgoing.  Inside they cry for relationship, but on the outside they portray themselves as being exclusive themselves.  They come across as being "loners" who don't want relationships.

I'd like to wrap this up with two examples.  One of myself and one of my daughter.  I have a tendency to be an introverted person.  Many who go to my church might read this and go "What!!  No way!!", but it is true.  I have learned to appear extroverted, but deep inside I would rather be alone doing my own thing.  You can ask my wife.  Anytime there is a church function I will say at some point "I really don't want to go."  The reason being I don't want to be around a lot of people.  I find such functions as being superficial.  For me, there is no real fellowship or getting to know others.  As a pastor I am forced to go to such functions and appear extroverted.

My oldest daughter is an introvert as well, but she is the type that longs for relationships.  She just has a hard time making friends, at least that is the way it used to be.  In high school she gave the same excuses that others  have.  "No one wants to be my friend.  Everyone belongs to a group of friends."  In essence "high school is full of cliques."  But that isn't entirely true as she discovered.  I kept telling her "You have to go out and make friends.  You can't just expect them to come to you."  During her sophomore or junior year she turned things around.  She stepped out of her comfort zone and she made friends.  She is making friends to this day.  I am very proud of her.  She has overcome a character defect in her life.  She no longer blames others for not having friends.

You might be one of those people who blames others in the church for the fact that you have not connected and/or don't have close friends.  You may be right about the church being cliquey.  I am not denying the possibility, but you need to ask yourself "Is my church really full of cliques or have I not taken the initiative to make friends?"  Believe it or not, quiet/reserved people can be quite intimidating.  If you are one of those people you need to learn how to step out of your comfort zone.  It is up to you to make friends.

Now, some of you might say "Wait!  Isn't the church supposed to be full of people who welcome with open arms, make you feel comfortable, love you unconditionally, etc...?"  The answer is a definite yes!  But you have to remember that the church is comprised of human beings who are imperfect and struggling in their own lives with trying to be like Christ.  If you are approaching a church with this attitude you are forgetting the humaness (and thus imperfect) factor.  Ideally, church should be the place a person can go to be instantly accepted.  Ideally, but unfortunately not realistic.  I am reminded that Jesus said "If you are going to remove the speck of dust out of someone's eye you have to first remove the plank out of your own eye."  It is not fair to cry clique and expect everyone to be loving and open when you yourself are unwilling to make the personal changes in your own life.  First make the personal changes (be more outgoing, less introverted, etc...) and then challenge the church to be more like Christ in its acceptance of people.

It begins with you!!

(On a side note:  This really is a job for Jesus.  Some of us just can't make friends that easily and we need the extra help.  For those of us who are like this God has given us an opportunity to exercise our faith.  Jesus knows exactly how to help us overcome.  Are you willing to put your faith and trust in Him?  Check out this post to get you started.  Faith - What is it and how do you exercise it?)

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