Are you a member of the "in crowd?" Are you always "in the know" concerning local trivia? Do you relish hearing the latest piece of juicy information on someone and passing it on? Do you peg others by application of information available only within your circle, your elite group known to outsiders as the "in crowd?" Do you "control" your relationships through the selective use of friendliness versus rudeness, even at times without consciously knowing it? If you are a member of the "in crowd," then you have lined up with a dangerous group. Christian, take heed, and remove yourself from the "in crowd," or you are certain to receive God's rebukes and judgment.
by Jerry Gentry
"A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
Once there was a family who discovered a church congregation far away, through the tape outreach ministry of that church. Eventually that family makes the long trip and visits church services on a weekend there. It is an enlightening experience on many counts. The song service soars in praise and worship; public prayers pour forth from the heart; and the preaching is stirring, inspiring and based on the Bible. Afterwards, fellowship is mostly warm and friendly, except. . .
. . . except, during the afternoon, later. You see, the mother of this family is a shy person. She has to push herself forward with conscious efforts in public gatherings, in order to meet people and be friendly. Open conversation does not come naturally for this shy woman. During the afternoon of their visit, she notices that a group of local women are seated in a group and visiting, in one section of the meeting hall. Her children are all playing with others at the church playground. "What an opportunity," she thinks. "I don't really know any of these ladies, but I think I will join them and try to get acquainted."
This shy lady walks forward and sits down next to one of the ladies in this group of about 8 or 10 members. The shy mother does not want to be intrusive, so she merely sits and waits for someone to notice her. Conversation continues among the other ladies, but no one ever turns to the new comer and asks her name; no one says hello; no one in the group acknowledges her presence or makes her feel welcome. From the conversation, which is open small talk on various newsy topics, the shy woman can tell this is not a private meeting. So she sits for a while, some ten minutes, waiting for someone to ask her name, or say hello. Yet, not a single set of eyes connects with hers; not a single voice welcomes her or says, "hello."
After what seems like an eternity, the shy woman rises, turns and walks back the same way she came in, quietly, unobtrusively. She disappears out the back doors of this church hall, as if she had never entered it, wondering if she is in the wrong place, thinking about the verse: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebr. 13:2). "I am certainly no angel, by any means," she thinks. "But is that fact so obvious to all those ladies!"
Have you, friend, ever had such an experience, whether you were called upon to welcome the stranger, or as a stranger yourself, waiting to be welcomed? Have you ever wanted to be accepted, wanted to gain friendships, yet somehow you were always excluded from the "in crowd."
Everyone has had such experiences, at one time or another, in school, in church, even at home, especially in large families. At home, older siblings sometimes exclude the younger ones, as too immature for participation in the more "grown up" activities that interest the "in crowd" of older children.
Yes, think about it. Like almost everyone, you have probably been excluded at one time or another from someone else's "in crowd." We all remember what it was like to feel rejected, to feel that awful pit in our stomach. We remember how we wanted so much to be accepted and feel a part of the larger group. Yet, we were excluded.
The Bible gives us some practical instructions on how to develop our relationships with others and avoid the "in crowd" mentality: "A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
The very first admonition for anyone who wants friends is that he must show himself friendly. Perhaps the shy woman in the story above could have made her presence known better. Perhaps she could have caught a moment of silence during the conversation (would that be possible among 8-10 talking women??!!) and said something like, "Excuse me, but I am new here. And I would like to introduce myself. My name is so-and-so, and my family and I are visiting here from such-and-such. I really enjoyed church this morning, and I'd like to get to know as many of you as possible, before we leave and go home tomorrow."
Surely, that would have broken the ice and left the shy newcomer with a wholly different impression of that group of ladies. Instead, however, since she had not found the courage to take the aggressive approach of breaking the ice herself, she left feeling excluded, from the "in crowd." Could we also rightly say that the 8-10 ladies who failed at least to say, "hello," and welcome the shy woman, showed their own cliquishness, their lack of concern for a stranger in their midst, even their rudeness and lack of civility? Yes, the comfort zone of being an accepted member of the "in crowd" does at times allow for such wholesale inconsideration of others.
The Bible clearly teaches that we are to develop a simple, friendly attitude, even an open sensitivity, to the needs of others, and especially to strangers.
Speaking to all in the church, the apostle Paul teaches: "Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good" (Rom. 12:9).
"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" (v. 10). Now when we "prefer" someone, we treat them by the Golden Rule: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Mat 22:39).
The Bible teaches:
"For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil" (Rom. 16:19).
Certainly, the very idea of there existing an "in crowd" within a church goes against the grain of the Christian message: "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3). Showing favoritism in friendships through exclusive fellowship and select socializing leads to familiarity, contempt and a breakdown of Christian responsibility.
"My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons" (Jam 2:1). The "in crowd" mentality depends on special respect afforded only to the members of the "club." Such "respect of persons" is forcefully rejected and stoutly condemned here by the apostle James.
"For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment" (v. 2).
"And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool" (v. 3).
"Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?" (v. 4).
"Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?" (v. 5).
"But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?" (v. 6).
The ultimate end of cliquishness, the ultimate expression of the "in crowd" mentality, is warned against in the chilling words of the prophet Isaiah:
"Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren [the "in crowd"] that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed" (Isa. 66:5). Yes, that "in crowd" mentality, that cliquishness within churches, causes some Christians even to go so far as to cast out those who fear God, reject the local gossip mill, and declare with their lives, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). For such genuine Godfearing believers, that juicy telephone call will not be listened to; that whisper of gossip in the ear will not be heard; that wink of the eye and damaging piece of information will not be received, even at the price of being cast out of the church. Yet such allegiances and shunnings play themselves out daily in churches all over the world.
The "in crowd," when fully developed, is an extremely dangerous element within local churches. Some "in crowds" are made up of zealous gossips and tale telling tattlers whose secretive and seductive tidbits tingle and seduce the itching ears of all who will listen. Other "in crowds" are comprised of snooty "better than thou" members, "Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou" (Isa. 65:5). These "quasi-believers" know the local culture well and speak the special buzz words familiar to their favorite "in crowd." They fit in well with their outward gift of gab and friendliness. But behind your back, these whispering murmurers and snooty "exclusivites" lay their snares and plot their crooked paths of evil. Of the "holier than thou" bunch, God says "These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day" (Isa. 65:5).
It is this element of the church that the Apostle Paul warns young Timothy about:
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come" (2Ti 3:1). "In the last days," there will be people who are "covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers. . . false accusers. . . Traitors, heady, highminded" (v. 2-4).
"Having a form of godliness [it is the church, not the world, to whom Paul issues this warning], but denying the power thereof: from such turn away" (2Ti 3:5).
"For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2Tim. 3:6-7).
Thus Paul describes the "in crowd" within every Christian church. This crowd of itching ears focuses on learning the latest hearsay, gossip, and damaging report; yet these very people are never actually able to "to come to the knowledge of the truth." Whatever the label, or particular bend of persuasion, these groups within churches know little about Jesus Christ, who is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). The ultimate "in crowd," whether the ones who look down on everybody else, or just the common gossips, they are all little concerned with the great truths of the scripture. They are more concerned with whatever vain glory can be found in fulfilling their sly, cunning and exclusive instincts.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" (2Tim. 4:3).
Of course, such hearsay spreaders and gossip mongers, when left unchecked, will ultimately destroy the spiritual growth of a church body. Their insatiatable desire to hear something new leads them further and further into gossip, lowering of Christian standards, and even doctrinal error.
How do you avoid the "in crowd" mentality? How do you keep free of committing the sin of "respect of persons?" How can you expand your relationships within the church? Here are three steps you can take to assure you are will not receive the special judgments levied on the "in crowd."
1) The "in crowd" always begins with an invitation for you to join, either in person or on the telephone. Don't. The invitation to join will usually go something like this: "Did you know that . . . . " or "Have you heard about . . . ." or "So and so told me that, . . ." etc. The alert Christian will immediately feel a little uncomfortable. That feeling of something being wrong is your signal that something is wrong with this person and conversation. Your first response is very important. If you comment about the gossip, or engage a response, you have joined the group, which requires a minimum of two members, but usually more. If you wish not to join this budding "in crowd," all you have to do is say something like, "Sorry, but I'm really busy right now, could we talk later," or "Excuse me, but I have to check on little Johnny out in the back yard. I think he needs me."
2) Once you have closed the door against joining various "in crowds," you will have the time and emotional freedom to take the positive step of inviting newcomers home for dinner and fellowship. Seek out visitors, who may be needing just your very own personal interest in fellowship and encouragement, along with some homemade hospitality. You will be amazed at the interesting people you will get to know when you are not burdened with the emotional pressure and negative baggage of the "in crowd" mindset.
3) Pray for discernment in the spirit of Galatians 6:1: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal 6:1).
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (v. 2).
When we follow the apostle Paul's admonition to Titus, and we are wise:
"But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine" ( Tit 2:1).
"That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience" (v. 2).
"The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things" (v. 3).
"That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children" (v. 4).
"To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed" (v. 5).
"Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded" (v. 6).
You do not have to cut off friendship with those who wish to burden you with their juicy stories, snooty attitudes and special "in crowd" knowledge. Once you have established yourself as an incorrigible outsider to their cliquishness, you can then reach out through kindness to members of the "in crowd" who need deliverance and freedom in Christ.
Go slowly and walk carefully, knowing that you are walking through a minefield. Any misstep can cause an explosion. But be assured that some of the greatest Christians that walk planet earth today were once enslaved to the "in crowd" mentality, until they recognized the limitations and burdens they were living under, and removed from the exclusive groups. Yes, even members of the "in crowd" have seen the light, and through repentance, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, these former club members have yielded their lives on the altar of a living self sacrifice, not to the gossip mill or snobbish lot of church goers, but to God and fellow man.
Christian, when you are approached with special information you know you could never openly repeat; when you are tempted by that uncomfortable feeling of special damaging information; when you feel the pressure to join into a conversation you know is destructive to someone, remember this: all members of the "in crowd" will fall under special judgment from God. Stay on safe ground. Treat everybody with equal respect. If you receive confidential information treat it confidentially. If you are targeted with special "in crowd" gossip, do not receive it. Forget that you heard it and don't repeat it. The "in crowd" thrives on cooperation and dies in the face of quiet resistance. Remember the advice of Jesus, our Saviour: "And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Matt. 10:42).
The "in crowd" will disband from your presence unless you voluntarily befriend that crowd on its self made terms of personal oppression. The "in crowd" will dissolve in the face of genuine Christian fellowship and hospitality. The "in crowd" has no special "in" with God, other than a special place in His divine plan for judgment and chastisement.
Christian, always avoid joining the "in crowd." and you will be free to serve God and fellow man with a clear conscience.