Church Cliques (part 2 of 2) – Trust, Distrust, or Misunderstanding

It was humbling to me that one of the revelations I received while reading through the four gospels would be the Circle of Trust that Jesus surrounded himself with; however, it was also just as revealing in that Jesus did not support Cliques, which can sometimes develop and evolve from Circles of Trust (He actually detests Cliques). 

I have heard it said that if Jesus were here today, He would need to learn how to do church. If He were physically with us, what would He say to us directly/vocally about the church? I believe that one of the things He would tell us is that people need each other, and God’s design is for our aloneness needs to be met within the context of a healthy church body. God abhors cliques because they leave too many people feeling isolated and alone. This aloneness is antithetical to the principles of Gods plan. Here is what God wants a church to be like:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer……….. All the believers were together and had everything in common…………… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Unfortunately for some, after being welcomed with open arms they are kept at arm’s length. The church gives an impression of being a near-impenetrable bunch of passionate believers. They are very selective about who they let into their Clique. Cliques repel new believers who are seeking to establish themselves in fellowship. Even worse – Cliques appear to validate the reasoning of some who say they are not Christian because of so many hypocrites in the Church. The cancerous effects of church cliques marginalize many members of the body, and in the worst case, will force members out. When trying to get plugged in, little else can be as frustrating (or even aggravating). So eventually you leave, looking for a place that will not only welcome you with open arms but really embrace you. 

A study by Balswick and Layne revealed that there are generally 4 types of cliques within a local church (they refer to them as clusters): the Conjugal cluster, the Christian Education cluster, the Established Member Cluster, and the Prominent Member cluster.

It was somewhat surprising that Balswick and Layne found that theological differences were not a factor in clique formation. Those within these cliques generally have a very weak theological and doctrinal foundation. They are not interested in having the most knowledgeable or capable people but rather the most capable clique members. The depth of Bible studies, for example, does not progress beyond the popular teachers of the day. The theology of these clique members, generally, is representative of the feel-good, narcissistic culture we see around us. Many of those that are the informal leaders of these cliques may also be the “showman/woman” – those that look for attention or influence by their actions rather than their spiritual value. 

Jesus caught flack from the Pharisee’s (the cliques) because He was hanging out with those considered to be socially unpopular. One example is his relationship with Zacchaeus the taxman (Luke 19:1-10). This successful tax collector got assurance of his spiritual restitution because Jesus saw a change of heart and his commitment to make financial restitution where/if called for. Jesus doesn’t ask him to quit his lucrative career (or sell all he had and give it to the poor), Zak was just elated to be accepted by Jesus and pledged to operate honestly. I believe this to be the same of most church members who simply do not understand how to fit in. 

People tend to associate with others who are most like themselves. While this behavior ministers to aloneness, those outside the Clique are alone and hurting. Every church is full of hurting people. Some are hurting more than you and could use your kindness, prayers and mentorship. God can meet so many needs in your own life as you serve someone else. Search for those in the congregation who need your help and support. Serve somewhere in a church ministry. 

In the case of a clique, the first response must always be prayer. We need to lift up these individuals in prayer, and seek God’s will to be done in the situation. Praise God for his sovereignty because as we are told in Romans 8, He works all things for good for those who love him. Many times these cliques will be lead by one strong alpha-type individual; pray for that person particularly, that God would open his or her eyes to submit to His holy Word. The Pastor or Elders may not even be aware that there is a problem. Oftentimes there are others who recognize the problem, but fail to speak up.

Finally, if one finds themselves falling victim to a clique culture that is bringing discomfort, bitterness, hurt/offense, or aggravation/frustration, it is encouraged to follow the rules outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. First speak with the individual one on one. If that does not work, then speak with the individual with one or two witnesses. If that still does not work, then take it to church leadership. In some cases, it is possible that the individual does not realize the harm they are causing and the issue is resolved with humility and civility. This is what we should be praying for.

 


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