Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cliques in Church

A respected member of my congregation approached me a week or so ago.  "Pastor," he said, "You need to say something or do a sermon about cliques."

I waited for further explanation.

"I've spoke to two people recently about coming to church.  Both of them said the same thing.  They both said they won't come to church because of the cliques in the church.  Something needs to be done about that."

Perhaps so, but I am now a veteran when it comes to handling church dynamics.  I've seen how more often than not, when you try to address something, the exact opposite happens.  Harp on people for not coming to church, and church attendance drops.  Harp on people for not giving enough or telling them to tithe 10% of their income, and offerings drop.  Tell them they need to come to Sunday School, and they don't.  Reverse psychology should be the order of the day, but if you go with the intent of trying to change things by doing the opposite, might you get figured out by doing that too?  Isn't that a bit manipulative?  Probably.

And that rightly leads to stagnation and a fear of even trying to address the issue.  That's not good either.

So, the question is: how does one address the issue of cliques without trying to offer a mandate or tell everyone how they should act knowing they are liable to do the exact opposite?

Perhaps what follows is a feeble attempt:

I believe cliques are a part of the way the world and nature works.  I think they are inescapable.  I mean it.  Kids form cliques in pre-school and school without any sort of guidance or compulsion.  They just do it.  In the animal kingdom, cliques are formed in most species.  Fish swim in schools.  Cattle gather in herds.  Lions in prides, etc. etc.  Each has its own hierarchy and social structure.  Most become closed and only open up on special occasions.

These groups form for various reasons: protection, cooperation, feeding, and even socialization.  In my estimation, this means cliques are neither good or bad, they just are.

Even in the church, we have our cliques.  I think we'd like to pretend they don't exist, but they are there regardless.  You have the women's group.  The quilters.  Men in mission.  Youth group.  Choir.  Adult Bible study, and so on.  These groups are organized based upon some commonality shared by all group members--gender, age, interest, ability.  It's how we organize ourselves.  Again, neither good or bad; cliques just are.

As I see it, the problem is not with cliques in and of themselves.  It is when cliques become self-important, refuse to cooperate with others, and become closed that they become a problem.

St. Paul's analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 is instrumental in my opinion:
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Paul does not encourage everyone to be alike.  Far from it.  In fact, Paul encourages the Church to honor it's differences, but with a very important caveat:

We are all one body.

Let that sink in for a moment.  We are all one body.  If various body parts begin warring against one another, really bad things happen.  We actually know what that is called: cancer.  With cancer, a group of cells thinks they are more important than the rest.  They quit doing their job.  They go rogue.  They begin monopolizing resources.  They begin feeding off the rest of the body.  Eventually, if left unchecked, they kill the body.

In the Church, there is an antidote for such things--remembering who the head of the Church is and what He has called us to do.  Remember, Paul is explicit in who he says the head of the Church is:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. --Colossians 1:15-18

To give this a very, local spin: St. John Lutheran Church of Cat Spring is actually ruled and governed by our head: Jesus Christ.  We believe He has given us a vision and a mission: To Live God's Word Daily specifically by Actively reaching out as a strong Christian influence in our community by showing God's love through kindness, caring, and involvement with others inside and outside our community of faith.

All of our various parts theoretically should revolve around the Head and His instructions to us.  Theoretically, everything we do should keep these things in mind.  All of our various ministries and parts revolved around this vision and mission.  If we should lose sight of this, then we face a war between the cliques.  We face cliques vying for power and influence.  Each clique's ministry becomes more important than the overall mission.

If you need evidence of this, look at our current political situation.  Most representatives of our nation are there not to work for the good of their country, but for the good of their constituents.  They are trying to get a piece of the pie for their district, their state, their area of representation instead of looking out for the good of the entire country.  This leads to division and strife, something we are all too familiar with by reading our news papers and news feeds.

Should the Church reflect society or Christ?  Should the Church represent what is going on in society, or should it represent what is going on in heaven where all are focused on God and His reign?  The answer to me seems pretty obvious.

I personally do not believe cliques are necessarily a problem in any congregation, church, or community.  It's how we organize, but it is my sincere hope that any clique that is within the congregation of St. John or any other congregation or denomination recognizes its vision and mission and works for the betterment of our congregation, denomination, and its fulfillment of the Christian mission in society.

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