Coping with Groupism in the Church


As a pastor responsible to oversee Christ's church, I often go through times both of delight and pain. One of the things that aches my heart and feel responsible to address is the issue of groupism.

Groupism is not a new problem that we face in the church today. It was there centuries ago in the early church. For example, the widows of Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) were neglected by the Hebrews in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6). There were groups in the Corinthian church that claimed to follow their favorite heroes (1 Corinthians 3). The rich in the church despised the poor by having the Lord's Supper without waiting for them (1 Corinthians 11).

Clearly, groupism is neither a new problem nor an uncommon problem. Yet we cannot ignore the problem of groupism or pretend like it does not existbecause it causes an immense damage to the unity of the church. It must be addressed with the authoritative teaching of God's Word.

Having said this, I must also mention that there is a possibility to misunderstand compatible groups in the church as groupists. Compatible groups aren't bad; they are natural and good. But groupism is evil.

Let me explain what compatible groups are, which I call "healthy groups", and what "unhealthy groupism" is.

Healthy Groups

In living as a community of Christ, it is unwise to suppose that we live in the same intimate relationship with everyone in the church. Even though there may be some people who may not feel inclined towards any particular persons, in most cases, many people are more attracted to one another based on the following compatibilities.

1. GENDER COMPATABILITY: It is natural that men associate closely with men and women associate closely with women. It is foolish to suppose this to be groupism.

2. AGE COMPATABILITY: It is needless to mention that similar age groups closely associate with one another. Children, teenagers, youth, middle-aged persons, and old-aged peoplethese generally attract each other towards an intimate relationship based on their respective ages. When youth are closer to each other than with middle-aged persons, it is irrational to call that as groupism.

3. HOBBIES COMPATABILITY: Some people get close to each other based on their interests and hobbies. For example, an ardent reader would easily connect with another bookworm. People who are passionate for prayer spend more time together to intercede. Those who love cooking or a particular sport may quickly get close to each other. Some couples may spend more time together as they may relish certain qualities in each other. In such cases, it is crazy to call them as groupists.

4. MENTORING RELATIONSHIP: In a disciple-making church, it is not possible for one person to mentor all. There are different mentors who mentor different people. In discipleship, mentees may be closer to their mentors and vice versa. It is absurd to call this as groupism, although they must guard themselves against becoming groupists.

The above compatibilities are just a few examples. There may be many. The point is that when people are close to one another based on their compatibilities, it is unreasonable to accuse these as groupists.

However, I encourage compatible groups to develop a healthy and peaceful relationship with other brothers and sisters in the church. They must not just hang around with their own group by completely neglecting other believers in the church. Although the same intimacy may not be possible, they must cherish other relationships as well. They must also make every effort to be a help and encouragement to those in need of them. In short, they must be a channel of blessing to others and not build a wall of isolation from others.

As an illustration, the youth in our church are more intimate with their own age group than with adults and older people. They spend more time together and are passionate to love and serve the Lord. Nevertheless, they take some time to spend with other believers (adults and older people) in the church. They make themselves available to serve them in their need.  Despite their weaknesses and imperfections, our youth group is a great blessing to our church. It is senseless if I call them groupists.

Unhealthy Groupism

Although there are healthy groups, sadly, there is also unhealthy groupism. Everyone must be careful about the ensuing evil behaviors, which are the qualities of unhealthy groupism. Not all manifest all the following qualities of groupism. But all these qualities are pertained to the ugly nature of groupism which different groupists manifest in different ways.

1. SUPERIORITY: In groupism, one group feels superior to others. They brag about themselves and their acts. They create the atmosphere of better-than-thou attitude.

BIBLICAL ANTIDOTE: Study Philippians 2:1-11

2. COMPARISON: In groupism, people compare themselves with others or others with themselves. They make critical and despising remarks on each other based on their differences and disagreements. They manifest discriminative behavior with other people who are unlike themselves.

BIBLICAL ANTIDOTE: Study Romans 15:1-7

3. ISOLATION: In groupism, people tend to think and act that they belong to a particular group and refuse to associate themselves with the rest. Although intimacy with everyone is not practically possible, they completely ignore considering others as a part of their relationships.

BIBLICAL ANTIDOTE: Study 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

4. CYNICAL ATTITUDE: In groupism, people judge the motives of others with their own assumptions. They become too critical of almost everything that happens in the church. They associate themselves with similar personalities, gossip, slander, and become troublemakers in the church.

BIBLICAL ANTIDOTE: Study Colossians 3:12-17

5. CULT FOLLOWING: In groupism, a group of fans is highly devoted to a specific person. They raise cultic heroes for themselves, just like the Corinthians who claimed, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos" (1 Cor. 3:4). Aligning themselves with their heroes, they become hostile towards those who are not in their cult following.

BIBLICAL ANTIDOTE: Study 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

I am sure there are a few more qualities of unhealthy groupism. All believers in the church must be careful of these attitudes and acts, because they are sinful and bring unhealthy divisions in the church. All these features entertain sectarianism and stirs up disunity in the church.

We must pay attention to the caution made by Paul to the Corinthian church, who were living with a divisive spirit: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

A pastor friend of mine shared about a group in his church. There was a person who was critical and cynical about what was happening in the church and leadership. He subtly sought to get people into his group who were with a similar attitude. Their association with one another was driven by gossip and repulsive conduct, though seemingly giving an impression to others that they were concerned about the church. They did not transparently and humbly address the issues directly to the concerned persons. They were different before the leadership and something else behind them. Their attitude and behavior brought a great damage, disrupting the unity of the church.

O, such troublemaking groupists potentially exist in almost every church! But God, who bought His church by His blood, would not spare them but bring His judgment upon them. How good it is for them to repent of their sin and work towards the unity of the church!

Final Words

Compatible groups are common and healthy. We must not be quick to misunderstand and accuse them as groupists. At the same time, we must be careful of unhealthy groupism.

We must constantly examine ourselves in the Holy Spirit and in accountability with others for the purpose of keeping ourselves from falling into the trap of groupism. Whether in word or deed, let us make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the church and avoid every form of divisive spirit among ourselves.

The Scripture exhorts, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:1-3)

"May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5)

Recommended Reading: "If You Bite and Devour One Another" by Alexander Strauch
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C. Stephen David is a child of the Living God, a husband to Chaithanya, a father to two children, and an elder/shepherd of Ekklesia Evangelical Fellowship (www.eefchurch.org). He lives with his family in Hyderabad, India.

Enquiries:

mailekklesia@gmail.com

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