"What are you doing about the cliques in youth group?"
If you are in youth ministry, you've probably heard that question. It may have come from a tattle-telling teenager, a concerned parent, or a critical church member. In each case, the assumption is this: Making teenagers get along is part of your job. I disagree.
C.S. Lewis writes in his book, The Four Loves, about the difference between lovers and friends. Lovers stand face to face but friends stand shoulder to shoulder, looking at the same thing. Friendship is built around a shared interest for something else and their shared gaze keeps the friends side by side.
D.A. Carson writes that the church is "a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus' sake" (Love In Hard Places). What this means (I think) is that outside of Jesus, we Christians wouldn't necessarily be pals. What makes us a part of God's family is not how enamored we are with each other but how in love we are with Jesus!
We exert a lot of wasted energy in getting teenagers to like each other. The problem is that outside of Christ, you can only appeal to self-serving or self-preserving reasons to get teens to get along. The cruel twist is that the more a group grows to like each other for reasons other than a shared love for Jesus and His mission, the more likely they are to stop caring about both Jesus and His mission!
If you take Carson's thought and combine it with Lewis' thought then you begin to realize that what you really need to do is help teenagers see and appreciate the person and the work of Jesus. That alone will lead to true biblical community. No community is more powerful than a community made up of Christian friendships built around a shared love for the Savior.
The next time someone asks you what you're doing about cliques maybe you should reply: "Nothing. But I'm doing everything I can to help those teenagers grow to love Jesus."
District Youth Director
New York Youth Ministries