Breaking Molds, Freeing Communities

"There have been other shifts as well.There has been an increasing recognition of the ministry of all the baptised people of God ministering in God's name. We know that we can function as more effective disciples in the world when there is no sharp division between those with different functions within the Church." -- Introduction to the "New Zealand Prayer Book" of the Anglican Church

"The truth is that Adam and I are equally comfortable with a sewing machine as we are with a welder." --Jamie Hyneman, "Mythbusters"

"What is one of the easiest temptations to believe? That you're all alone, that you're 'the only one who has ever...' When you name and organize those assets [of everyone in a congregation], you come to see the beauty of Jesus' 'vine and branches' word picture (John 15) or Paul's description of church-as-human-body (1 Corinthinans 12 and Ephesians 4). When connected to Christ, your congregation taps into the Spirit of God, to Jesus' example. You bond and bridge with one another to create a whole that is always greater than the sum of its parts." --The Great Permission: An Asset-Based Field Guide for Congregations

One of the greatest investments any youth leader can make is to spend whatever time it takes to break down cliques and explode stereotypes within a group. For one thing, they are artificial, and one's place in a clique has very little to do with one's value to the Body of Christ. For another, they isolate people with questions from people with answers. It's actively dangerous to always only be among people who think the way you do, becuase in that situation you will rarely be challenged to approach a new idea within the framework of your beliefs. And third, they break up the community Jesus has commanded us to build. "The leaders of the Jews lord it over them, but it must not be so among you. The greatest among you must be your servant."

Cliques and stereotypes are not only a problem among youth groups, but live in all parts of a congregation.

Harness the power of chaos. Choose teams for small group games and discussions with a random drawing.
Find the influencers in your group and challenge them to greet people outside their own circles of friends for several weeks.
Bend the rules of games to favor those people who might be normally unlikely to shine, and give the group the chance to affirm them.
Model what you ask your youth group to do.
Don't make superstars. Spread responsibilities and praise all around.

One of the great things the Internet has done is to give youth a set of tools to freely and honestly express themselves, declaring their value in the world not based on what any other person thinks, but on the gifts they know in themselves.

At the same time, cyberspace creates only the illusion of community, and is just as harsh a place to exist as any bricks-and-mortar settings. My proof of this comes in the number of hurtful and derogatory comments posted in even the most neutral online forums.

What the church needs to do is constantly challenge its members to live outside the boundaries we find in the world. We need to teach how Christ broke rules to love unlovable people. We need to not allow stereotypes to limit the potential we see in our youth. We need to print in large type the obituary of Mr. Clique, as Jeanne Mayo suggests. In many groups this is a long process, but our ministries will be less effective every day we leave our students in their original boxes.

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