Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please help me! My family and I belong to a church where cliques are always formed - even the leadership seems to be encouraging it. I've held on for years but it's getting worse. I have decided to leave for a church where God's love is being practiced.
I do accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world but my 10-year-old daughter has been feeling the negative impact of the cliques as well. I need her to understand that God is not like that and hence my decision to leave. My husband on the other hand, demands I stay with him in the church.
I need biblical advice as to what to do. I didn't go church last week and the thought of being in that church gives me shivers down the spine. Sunday is approaching and I need help. I don't want to stay at home this Sunday. Please help!
I am so sorry you are experiencing this pain and stress. Church is supposed to be a safe place. This may help you in deciding what you should do.
First, I’m glad that your husband wants to attend church. Many women long to have a spouse who wants to be the spiritual leader of the family and take them to church. Peter wrote a letter to wives desiring to evangelize their non-Christian husbands, but the principle is still effective when you and your husband are at an impasse regarding choosing a church home:
“If you are a wife, you must put your husband first. Even if he opposes our message (the gospel, in this case) you will win him over by what you do. No one else will have to say anything to him, because he will see how you honor God and live a pure life.” (1 Peter 3:1-2 CEV)
Pray for God to protect your marriage, your family, and your husband during these difficult times. Keep your family worshiping together. Don’t make negative comments about the church in front of your child. Discuss these quietly with your husband. I’ve had many experiences where children leave the church as soon as they can because Mom and Dad complained about church issues in front of their children.
Take the opportunity to have a dialogue between you, your husband, and your daughter. If your daughter is shy, or has trouble verbalizing her feelings, you might ask her some questions about her experiences at church: Do you feel accepted at church? Do you feel overlooked? Do you feel others say unkind words about you? Tell us what you are experiencing.
Be patient. Give her time to express her feelings. Comfort her. Look for those “teachable moments” when she seems ready to be vulnerable.
Remember too that most girls your daughter’s age struggle with low self-esteem and acceptance. The “mean girl” preteens she encounters are probably as insecure as she. Every child needs affection, attention, affirmation and approval from his or her parents. The more you and your husband minister to the needs in your daughter’s life at this fragile juncture, the more confident she will be in any social setting. You can’t always control your daughter’s environment. You can only give her the tools to survive and succeed.
People need each other, and God's design is for our aloneness needs to be met within the context of a healthy church body. God abhors cliques because they leave too many people feeling isolated and alone. This aloneness is antithetical to the principles of God's plan. Here is what God wants a church to be like:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47).
People tend to associate with others who are most like themselves. While this behavior ministers to their aloneness, those outside the “inner circle” leave others alone and hurting.
One possible way to deal with a clique is by asking for prayer. Here is a suggestion: Approach someone in the clique and say to them that you are really hurting and struggling. Most people like to help those in need, and that may be the crack that opens the door. Some groups are just dysfunctional. If they don’t respond with compassion, don’t wait for them to meet your needs. Look elsewhere.
Every church is full of hurting people. Some are hurting more than you and could use your kindness, prayers and mentorship. God can meet so many needs in your own life as you serve someone else. Search for those in the congregation who need your help and support. Serve somewhere in a church ministry. Rock the babies or bring meals to the homebound.
I will pray that God sends you a trustworthy, mature woman who can pray with you about these matters. You need a safe place. Midweek Bible studies in the community may also help those aloneness needs to be met.
Ideally, your husband would agree to look for a place where all of you are happy.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
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