By Jolene Underwood, Crosswalk.com
When people share their Christian church experiences with me—particularly those not actively connected in a local church community—I hear stories of pain. Some caused by professing believers. Some not. Often, they include a mixture of life experiences which include pain from multiple sources.
Clique isn’t usually the word used, but their stories depict a sense of not fitting in. Of not being noticed. Of feeling like it’s high school all over again because only the popular and charismatic ones make it to what’s perceived as the in-crowd.
This perception can include:
- incidents with individuals who are closed off to a select few
- people not noticing how they come across to others
- inaccurate perceptions of what’s actually happening (due to an observer’s past pains, distorted belief systems, and unhealthy expectations)
And even though it’s a perception, the reality is: small changes can make a world of welcome difference.
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Loving Others Well Fosters Community, Not Cliques
Of course, just because something feels cliquish to someone it doesn’t mean it is. We are only responsible for the things we can be responsible for, not how everyone perceives our best efforts.
Even so, we are part of the body of believers, created in the image of God (as is every other human on this planet). So, consideration for how we impact others matters. Our actions, and inactions, play a part in whether or not we engage in healthy connections with believers and seekers.
Sometimes small adjustments in our part makes space for large change in someone else’s life.
It’s not our job to make anyone feel a certain way. Rather, it’s our privilege to join God in the mission to love others well. By doing so, Christianity may feel less like a clique to those who are seeking community and relationship with the God who loves them more than anyone could.
The following 10 tips include ways we can increase awareness to see beyond ourselves:
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1. Pay Attention to Christianese
When I first heard the term Christianese, I was taken aback, assuming others were frustrated about something I didn’t do. As I listened further, I realized I participate in something that unknowingly distances me. Using words that are familiar with other believers but not commonly used in society may be considered Christianese.
It’s a language primarily understood and used by Christians. I’ve used a lot of it.
Phrases like “hedge of protection” seem to have hidden meaning. Seekers and non-believers may not know what it means when people say it. This can lead to feeling excluded because everyone else seems to know something they don’t.
We don’t need to fret about everything we say, and how it might be perceived, but paying attention to Christianese challenges us to engage in richer, clearer, genuine conversations with seekers.
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2. Consider Hyper-Spiritual Language
Believers have a propensity to use phrases that sound good, but they’ve lost meaning and impact. In addition to Christianese, hyper-spiritual language is off-putting. It keeps us from living integrated within ourselves and disconnects us from meeting the needs of others beyond a spiritual quick-fix.
For example, the phrase “God is in control” is commonly seen as Christianese. When used as a short response to someone who is hurting it doesn’t provide comfort. Instead of helping, it can hinder. We can say things like this without connecting to real pain, which prevents others from experiencing God in the moment—through us.
Consider words that sounds spiritual but aren’t appropriate for the situation. Perhaps they’ve lost meaning even for yourself. Could you use different words that convey a heart of care? Of truth and grace? Are you quick to respond with platitudes? Have you considered why? What actions accompany the words?
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3. Notice Reactivity
Social media reveals our reactive tendencies. When someone disagrees with what another person says or does, it’s common to see quick responses with harsh words. In real life this sometimes happens in subtler ways.
If a new acquaintance says something opposing what you believe and value, notice what happens in you. Do you make quick judgments? Are you quick to decide they aren’t worth further conversation? Does your initial reaction come across judgmental through words or body language, even subtle facial changes?
One reason we respond reactively to others is due to our own unhealed pain. Another is because we assume everyone should look, say, do, feel, and believe the way we expect. We might not notice these assumptions until we react strongly to others. When we do, we give the impression they can’t be accepted or welcomed in our world unless they conform.
Notice reactive patterns in real-life and in social media. What do they look like? How do they impact others?
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4. Deal with People-Pleasing Tendencies
At some level, we all deal with an uneasiness of being fully ourselves. We look to others to make us feel less alone and part of something. By pleasing people, we miss out on the beauty of who we truly are (as defined and loved by God) and how God wants to use us the way He’s created us. Even in our weaknesses.
Our people-pleasing tendencies move us to focus on gaining value from others. Which deters us from resting in our value from God. We may feel more important by being accepted by certain people. People-pleasing fuels idolization of leaders and achievements.
God wants us to find our value in Him. To live fully as the person He’s designed us to be and experience more of Him in the process.
When we focus on people-pleasing, we are not focused on Christ. It sends the message that some people aren’t as important as others. And that others are more important than God.
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5. Seek to Understand, Listen, Learn, and Serve
Does everything have to be your way? Do you expect others to conform to your understanding of God and the world? Most of us would answer no, but our actions indicate we hold these assumptions anyway.
Consider the possibility that despite your best intentions, opposing underlying beliefs and assumptions leak out. We seek to be understood more than seeking to understand another person’s perspective, pains, and realities. We want people to listen to us and see us as important when God calls us to listen to others, learn what matters to them, and serve those who may have nothing to give in return.
It’s natural to seek to be understood. It’s supernatural to seek to understand others. To listen. To value their voice. To learn how they see the world. And to serve individuals who don’t believe the way you do.
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6. Seek God’s Way of Viewing Others
At my first writers’ conference several years ago, I was scared, in emotional pain, and felt alone. There were speakers with large platforms, agents who help writers get published, and editors at publishing firms.
It’s tempting to seek out those who are seen as important, rather than anyone whom God puts in my path. Awareness of this caused me to pick lunch table seating before people gathered. This way, I didn’t choose to sit next to someone based on self-driven inclinations.
No one person is more valuable than another. Yet we assign value based on how a person behaves, what they do, and whether or not they can do something for us. It causes us to distance ourselves. (Note: This is not the same thing as recognizing when someone is unsafe and limiting our exposure to them.)
The way we see people is influenced by what we value and how much we’ve received our value from God. We tend to look for others to reflect our value back to us rather than letting God’s reflect through us.
Ask God to help you see others the way he does.
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7. Remember You Could Be Wrong, and Still Be Okay
An attribute of cliquish behavior is when a group assumes they’re right and others are wrong, then refuse to engage with anyone whose views are different. One reason this happens is because we fear being wrong, being seen as wrong, or admitting we could be wrong. Rather than choosing vulnerability, we choose to stick with others who agree with us.
Seeing beyond ourselves and being aware of cliquish behavior means we must be ready to admit that we don’t have it all figured out. We aren’t always right. Someone’s differing perspective may reveal our misconceptions and judgmental thinking. God’s truth doesn’t change. But our understanding of God’s truth is limited. We need input beyond ourselves.
Admitting we could be wrong takes a lot of courage. It also creates space to value another person’s perspectives and realities. You’ll be okay even if you’re not right.
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8. See Beyond Behavior
When we fostered, we dealt with significant behavioral issues from multiple children. It was tough to deal with, and our previous parenting methods were ineffective. I couldn’t demand change without finding ways to connect with underlying pain.
Behavior is an outward sign of internal realities. It’s necessary to notice behavior that’s harmful and address it. However, when our quick judgments of another person discount them based on how they act we’re likely to dismiss someone whom God wants us to engage with.
We don’t have to tolerate damaging behavior, but we can consider beyond behavior to see more of the whole person. Doing so allows opportunities for relational connection which fosters kingdom work.
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9. Let God Change You from the Inside Out
A common cry among those who’ve been hurt by Christians is hypocrisy. When what we do doesn’t line up with what we say, it diminishes our trustworthiness with others. Particularly when we try to cover it up and pretend we’re better than we are.
Don’t settle for band-aid fixes, short-term solutions, or fake presentations that make it seem like you have it all figured out. Recognize that every one of us is fallible. Our weaknesses reveal areas for healing and growth, as well as our deep need for Christ.
Vulnerable living allows God to change your life from the inside out rather than managing outward behavior. With God’s impact reaching our souls, healing our hearts, and shaping the way we see the world, we provide opportunities for genuine connection with others.
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10. Remember You’re Part of a Bigger Picture
Don’t look for others to make you feel good, remember you are part of a bigger picture.
God is in the business of redeeming and reconciling all of creation back to Him. Not just each of us on an individual level. We are part of God’s story, but just one part. God’s full story includes all of creation. He sees others as part of His story, too.
We need God’s help to see beyond ourselves and those in our close circles. May He help us play our part and value all the parts that others play.
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