I believe that the single greatest deception of my adolescence was being made to believe that acne is something that only plagues teenagers.
Listen friends, it just ain’t true. It’s going to be a thing your whole life. Maybe not in the volume experienced during those teen years, but it’s not going anywhere. Let’s normalize this truth.
And if that was the greatest deception, then the runner-up was that cliques were only a thing to navigate in middle and high school. Again, it unfortunately just isn’t true.
Cliques will probably be around your whole life, and as believers in Jesus, I believe we must actively fight against this sinful tendency in our lives.
How many times have you heard someone say they quit Jesus because they felt unwelcome in the church? For me, many times. This is the age-old problem of people saying no to Jesus because they project the sin of his people on to him. And while we are called to represent Christ to the world, the reality is that we are going to mess it up. In fact, I think it is really important to remind each other frequently that, although I am a sinner turned saint in identity, I still sin, all the time. Expecting church leaders, or even just Christian friends, to be perfect like Jesus is perfect is going to set a person up for some major disappointment.
However, to follow Paul’s line of thought, does that mean that we should just resign ourselves to the reality that we will sin and let that inevitable current sweep us up? Well, of course not. This is the “good fight” we fight with Jesus as our strength and hope (2 Tim. 4:7). As representatives of Jesus to a lost world, we must fight against the tendencies in ourselves to go the way of the world in this area of friendship, as well. If we follow the way of Jesus, how we welcome others into our lives may look wildly different than the world.
How we use our welcome is integral to taking the wild way of Jesus in our friendships. We must actively fight against the tendency to allow cliques to seep into our church culture. I say “actively fight” because I have experienced the tendency toward cliques myself, and it can sneak up on you if you’re not actively seeking to prevent it. I think often when cliques sneak into the church, it’s not from any kind of malicious intent, but what happens is we find the people we love, we get really close, and we hold them really tight. And there’s nothing wrong with that, to a point.
Most of my life I have been an arms-wide-welcome kind of girl. “The more the merrier” really is my slogan, and when I say I want you to come, I really mean it. So when I found myself one time thinking that I didn’t want to invite someone new to hang out with a friend group, because I liked how it was just the four of us and I was afraid of that changing, I knew it was time for a heart check.
This wasn’t me. My arms were locked tight around the few people from whom I was finding my security rather than Jesus. I didn’t want anyone else to come in and change, destabilize, or ruin it. I was afraid what a new person in the group might mean for me and how I felt about the friend group. It was a self-centered fear I felt that day, and we can be sure that this kind of attitude does not honor the Lord. This scarcity mindset toward friendship is the seedbed for cliques, and it reveals that we are relying on people for our security, validation, and acceptance, rather than Jesus.
And as though that isn’t enough, here’s the other reason you should want to keep your friend group out of the muddy waters of cliquishness: those friend groups that you want to keep all to yourself, that you’re afraid to share with your sister who needs people too? They will fail. Be it drama, boredom, bitterness, in-fighting, or someone flying the coop, all cliques eventually end. The very thing we feared and tried to prevent will happen, because like a pond, when our friendships don’t have any fresh in-flow, they become stagnant. Even if we don’t mean to, when we stop reaching out from our friend groups and instead turn our focus only within, we are setting our course to stagnation.
See, we are made in the image of a God who embodied this – literally. Emmanuel, God with us, is a literal example of how the Trinity was so secure in their community that they chose to reach out, to send Jesus to earth to bring humans back into community with God. When we close our friend groups off to the possibility of bringing others in, we act as though we serve a God who didn’t send Jesus to save us. But when we are secure enough in our friendships to welcome a new face, to reach out and serve others, or to recognize that our friends have other friends besides us and that is OKAY – when we can have those kinds of friendships because our security comes from the Lord, not our friends, we image Emmanuel.
This wild way to welcome others into our lives is the most basic story-line of Scripture, and I believe it can be the story-line of our lives, as well. When you throw the arms of your heart wide to the possibility that God might use your friend group to show a lonely sister the meaning of community, you trust God with your friendships, just as we must trust everything in our lives to him.
So this week, I want you to take an inventory. Check yourself. Do any of your friendships feel or even appear as if they could be cliquey? Even if you and your friends would all say that anyone is welcome, ask yourself honestly if you give off that vibe and literal message. And there’s no shame here, because if you don’t, it’s probably just because you really love your people and you’re really close! That’s a huge blessing and gift from God, and there’s nothing wrong with having a tight circle. But what it does mean is that it might take a bit of intentionality to make sure new-comers feel welcome in your circles. The first step toward that is being aware of how a new person might feel in the presence of people who are so close. We want to be serious about making sure that people always feel welcomed into our family, never a beat behind on the inside joke.
Should you realize that either your heart toward your friend group has been insecure and cliquey, or that your group might unintentionally be giving off a cliquey vibe, here are some steps you can take as a group to right the ship and ensure that your sisters are a group that embodies the wild way to welcome that Jesus teaches us.
1. Talk about it. If you’re concerned that your group might be leaning this direction, bring it up. Don’t cast blame, but instead challenge everyone to follow in the steps of Jesus in being people who welcome others into your lives whenever the opportunity arises, rather than people who habitually keep others out or at arm’s length.
2. Be intentional about using your invitation. Invite people to stuff. It could be a bit awkward, I suppose, and it takes some intentionality, but it’s not hard. Invite people over and over, and if they never come, don’t take it personally. Instead, trust God with your invitation. I really believe that he will bring the right ones to you at the right time.
3. Bring people in. When someone new is in your group’s periphery, be proactive about bringing them into the family. Don’t force them to worm their way in! It’s your job to welcome them in, not just by literally letting them come into your house, but by being their guide as they get to know the family you’re a part of. This means that you explain the inside jokes to them. You let them help you make dinner when they ask if they can do anything. You offer hugs. You make sure to follow-up or offer a second invite. You go first in being vulnerable and invite them to follow.
Friends, the way you welcome matters! It matters because God has given you friends with whom you can foster a community that images your Creator, not just people to meet your emotional needs. It matters because he has given you a home to invite people into – no matter the size or state of orderliness. Your welcome matters because it’s a free tool God has given us to use for his glory and the good of his people. We need to use it.
Jesus told us with his last words on earth to go into all the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). What if one of the easiest and yet most powerful ways we can obey this Great Commission is to not just go into all the world, but to invite people into ours?
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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