By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
Don't let the title fool you. Cliques have existed long before school cafeterias or churches denominations did. In Jonah's day, cliques tended to come in the form of national identity. Now, Jonah had come off the heels of the Israelites recovering some land from the Assyrians (2 Kings 14). Tensions ran high between the two nations, and can we really blame Jonah for not wanting to bring a message of warning to the Ninevites? Assyrians had some of the most brutal torture and killing tactics out there. Jonah had probably witnessed them massacring entire villages and families. Perhaps some friends he knew.
So when God told him to go to Nineveh to preach about God's coming judgment ... Jonah let his Hebrew identity surpass his identity in God. And he ran in the opposite direction.
In this article today, we'll address why Christians still clique, the dangers thereof, and how we can find unity in the body of Christ.
How Do We Know Jonah Was Part of a Clique?
He leads with his "clique" when a storm attacks his ship in Jonah 1. In essence, as soon as Jonah receives the call to go to Nineveh and preach God's message, he flees in the exact opposite direction. God, unchanging in his plans, sends a tempest.
The shipmates cast lots and realize Jonah had caused this gale. They ask him about himself, the land that he comes from, etc.—a typical practice in the Ancient world at this time. We can see similar practices in Homer's Odyssey.
Jonah answers, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land" (Jonah 1:9).
Notice what he leads with. "I am a Hebrew." Jonah makes this his first identity, his identity in God second.
He allowed for national pride to get in the way of his mission.
And before we laugh at Jonah—as it is very tempting to do so at his stubbornness throughout the four chapters of his book—can we really say that we operate all that differently? How often do we let small identities (gender, race, denomination, passions, etc.) get in the way of our larger one? How often have we shut down a conversation about Christ because someone looks or talks differently than us?
So why do Christians even form cliques in the first place?
Why Do Christians Form Cliques within Their Own Communities?
Scripture says we are of one body (1 Corinthians 12), so why does the body like to divide itself so much? Especially when it can stifle newcomers from hearing about the Gospel. According to Crosswalk.com, "Too often, though, otherwise well-meaning believers stifle others from becoming healthy, contributing, loving members of the body of Christ, simply by being unaware of how they’ve formed cliques."
So why do we divide?
First, I think it tends to be the natural way friendships form. We tend not to befriend those with whom we have nothing in common. As a nerd, I tend to gravitate toward other nerds. I have a much harder time having a conversation with someone who hates history, reading, literature, etc. Because what do I talk to them about?
Second, we find comfort in familiarity. I felt extreme discomfort when I entered my small group orientation. I was the youngest one by 11 years and one of the only singles in the group. Same goes for my small group made up of mostly married people. Would I say yes to a group made up of singles quicker than one made up of married people? Yes. Because I feel I can be myself more with people who are like myself.
Even though we are redeemed in Christ, we do tend to fight our older nature. And our older nature tends to like to sink into comfort and to avoid hearing from people who see the world differently from us.
But it makes sense why Satan would divide us in this way (Matthew 12:22-28). The more we divide, the less we can make our Gospel message. The more we get up in arms about trivial matters and forget our main mission at hand—to preach the good news to the ends of the earth.
How Can We Dissolve Cliques in Christian Communities?
How can we avoid becoming Jonah and putting our (i)dentity over our (I)dentity?
Tip One: Intentionality
We won't get out of our comfort zone unless we force ourselves to get out of our comfort zone. Married people, hang out with singles (and vice versa). People of different races and ethnicities should gather together to learn various worship styles and can embrace one another's cultures. Men and women can learn from each other. Young and older can learn from one another. Find someone in your church who is different from you and have intentional conversations.
Tip Two: Listen
Odds are those opposite from you don't feel listened to you. So ask someone how they can feel more welcome in the space of your church. Ask them how they see the world. Mathematicians, writers, businessmen, etc., all see God in a different light. If we want to fully know God, we need differing perspectives from our own. We become more unified when we listen to other parts of the body. When we feel their aches ourselves and find ways to bring healing to the church.
Tip Three: Take the First Step
I'm having a hard time integrating into my small group. Most don't look like me and they have had prior relationships to one another before I stepped onto the scene. It's hard for me to make all the effort to befriend them when some obvious cliques have formed. Don't get me wrong, they're wonderful people who love the Lord. But I can only imagine what a non-believer or new believer feels like when they set foot in a church.
Do people welcome them with open arms? Do they have extra space for them to sit beside them in their pews? Or do they ignore them?
If we want intentional community to happen—and to avoid clique-ing ourselves as Jonah did—we need to take that first step. To ask that first question. To invite them to that church event, and make them feel welcome.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kevron2001
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,200 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.