Cliques, or the less offensive “friendship groups,” are natural and based on common interests and experiences. We all form them and they feel right. They can regretfully become exclusive. Most, however, are not intentionally exclusive, but neither are they intentionally inclusive. Herein lies our challenge as student ministry leaders.
Paul tells us in Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
We have all had seasons in our ministries where our students “got it.” They looked for the students outside the circle and created space for them. No one had to say a word.
We have all had seasons in our ministries where our students didn’t “get it” and students came and went without a peer connection and we never saw them again or they battled for a while and disappeared.
The actions to put on love and protect unity are only demonstrated toward others, never focused on the self. As Paul called the early church toward this selflessness, we can take steps toward training, eliciting and celebrating a unity that makes cliques inclusive and edifying.
The challenge is clear in James 2:8: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.”
Here are five ideas that will work – if we work at them:
1. Create culture that celebrates, acknowledges and identifies the presence of individuals joining us in the journey. The way to remove differences as defining the group is often done by highlighting what we all aspire toward.
2. Establish your student leaders as hosts of your gatherings by training them in acts of inclusivity for the purpose of encouraging their peers to know Jesus more fully and develop spiritual friendships. All of us can be reminded regularly to make it about those around us, before we make it about ourselves.
3. Informally interview new participants by finding out who they are, where they are from and what they are interested in. Then as the entire group comes together, you or the one who invited them, bridges the gap by introducing them and welcomes them to the community by celebrating their presence. Create three to five fun, but non-threatening, questions to ask each new student to identify commonality. Make them a safe right-of-passage that all students go through and that will create a common experience.
4. Be willing to address exclusive cliques and challenge the individuals to put away distinctions and to be kind, encouraging and to serve those around them. Give them safe guidelines to remove the walls around them so they can experience it without threat or judgment.
5. Pray that “the unity of the faith” would be the binding element of what we are doing with and for our students (Ephesians 4:3).
Mark Christian is the senior pastor of Christ’s Church of Oronogo (MO) and a member of the chairman of the board of trustees for CIY. To contact him, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.