Mike, Bart (not their real names) and I would hang out on the golf course every Monday morning. We did this about 25-40 times a year. Afterward, we went down to a local restaurant and had lunch. During those times together, we shared intimate details about our lives. We often ended in prayer with each other. After a couple of years, our wives became close friends as well. We even took a couple of weekend vacations together.
But I remember distinctly the day when a young lady in our church came and told me that I was sinning because I was part of an exclusive “clique” that left her and her boyfriend out. She had wanted to be friends with the wife of one of my golf partners, and felt rejected because this woman decided to go camping with us instead of going to this girl’s shopping trip.
I asked around to some of my other friends in the church to see if they noticed I was part of a clique. A couple of them said they did feel I was in a clique and the rest said they hadn’t noticed. My wife asked some women and almost all of them expressed concern that our clique was harming the church.
We decided to disband our golf group. I was very sad to do so. Now, I am thinking that I may have been too hasty to break up a good thing. Let me explain and then propose some middle ground on this issue.
What really is a “clique”? It is hard to define, because it often depends on whose viewpoint you are seeing the group from. If you are someone who wants to be included in a group, or at least invited to participate, a clique can seem like a walled-off group of people, resulting in (at the very least) a marginalization of others. However, if you’re a member of a small group of dear friends, this group can be a lifeline and a refreshing break from the mundane existence of living in a broken world.
Think of some of the groups in the Bible that you might call a “clique”. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus spent most of his time with just 12 guys to the exclusion of many others. Mark chapter three makes it clear that Jesus was deliberate in wanting to be fairly exclusive with his time. And then, within that group of 13, there were four people (Jesus, John, James and Peter) that formed an “inner circle” clique.
Remember, this is Jesus we’re talking about here; the healthiest human that ever lived. He pulled it off, but he’s not the only one.
Paul and Barnabas left on their first missionary journey with a small group of guys (and probably a few gals). This did not include the entire church and was certainly intended to be somewhat exclusive.
King David had a group the Bible calls “His mighty men”. Among that group were 30 men he hung around with a lot and in that group was another exclusive clique called “chiefs among his mighty men”. He also had a best friend, Jonathan, to whom he devoted more love than to his wives.
I could keep going at this idea, but you probably see the pattern. In and of themselves, cliques are not necessarily a bad thing. Personally, an exclusive group of friends can do the following things:
- Meet the need for deep, intimate closeness. You can’t have that with everyone or even with crowds of people.
- A small group can accomplish a lot more than an individual or a big group. If you’ve ever tried to plan an event with a committee of 20, probably you will never attempt it again. On the other hand, if you’ve ever tried to execute a large event by yourself, then you will remember how demoralizing it can be. A small group of friends can often achieve amazing results.
- It meets the God-given need to have friends. And we can only give ourselves to a limited amount of people.
- Only a small, trusted group of friends are safe enough for us to open up with and share ourselves completely. Therefore, only in a small group of people will any of us be held truly accountable with our actions.
But I can hear someone saying “Mike, you know that’s not what the problem is. In any group (be it church, community groups, clubs or 12 step programs) some people are popular and some are isolated. Some make friends easily and others do not. The popular, friendly ones get invited to join small, intimate groups and the less popular, perhaps awkward people, do not. And yes, (especially in Church), that can be so devastating and cause people to exclaim , “I’m never coming back to that unfriendly place”.
What can be done to prevent a healthy small group from becoming a demoralizing clique? I think there are some very simple guidelines that will help.
1. When your small group is in public, make a point of not talking just with each other. Actively seek out the marginalized, forgotten, extra-grace-required people. Look for the introverts, the socially awkward and the disabled to let them know you care. If the public meetings are truly public, then the entire group needs to be embraced. You have more intimate times to connect with your friends.
2. Make a point to include at least one or two people in your group who would never have found their way in. I don’t mean to have “token introverts” among you. But I think it is healthy to be deliberate in how you approach friendships. Jesus deliberately included Judas Iscariot and Simon the Zealot among his 12, even though both of them must have been a pain in the butt.
3. Don’t tell the whole world about your small group. Disarm jealousy before it starts. Most people dislike cliques because the groups are so “in your face” about it. They post all the pictures from their camping trip on Facebook, pepper every conversation with “Jane and I were talking the other day” and are always invited to every social event with each other. Do whatever it takes to be known as a group that is close but doesn’t flaunt it in front of others.
4. Challenge members of your group to occasionally do things with other people in the church; especially the shy and marginalized. Make that a goal of your group – to reach out individually and let others know they are loved.
I believe if a small coterie of people follow these guidelines, no one else will really mind that you are getting close to each other.