7 Secrets to a Healthy Tribe

October 3, 2017 | Michael Schwartz

What comes to your mind when you think of the word “tribe”? I immediately think about Native American or native African groups that depend on each other for survival, complete with bows and arrows and war paint. The dictionary defines the word “tribe” as, “A social group existing before the development of nation-states, or outside them.” Together, let’s explore why our friendship communities should mirror a tribe, and how to cultivate a tribe within your own circle.

Philippians 2:1-4 (The Message)

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

Paul is speaking to the church in Philippi in these verses, but the ideas are easily translated to modern friendship circles. Paul makes it clear that, as Christians, living in community is not only encouraged — it’s necessary! People within a tribe will always look out for those within their circle., they care deeply for the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of every member, and they will encourage the growth and development of their “deep-spirited friends.”

As a millennial, I obviously don’t have the market cornered on friendship. Christian people my age go through seasons, whether that be a season in college, missions, exploring the world, or being intentional with romantic relationships. As I transitioned into adulthood, I quickly realized that I had to fight to spend time with my friends. Busy schedules, crazy hours at work, family obligations, and other important events pulled our time. Through my seasons of transition, and having made multiple friend groups in far-flung countries and states, I’ve noticed a few common threads in every friendship group (which I call “tribes”) that indicate a healthiness and a sustainability.

Secrets of a Healthy Tribe:

  1. No one person is the source of every conversation or story.

    An equal contribution isn’t always possible, but giving everyone permission to have the attention of the room is crucial. 

  2. No one is excluded from group plans.

    This is CRITICAL to maintaining a healthy tribe! This isn’t to say that you can’t hang out with a smaller group within the Tribe, but if you are intentionally excluding specific people from plans, it’s time for a heart check!

  3. Everyone talks, or feels the freedom to talk about themselves sometimes.

    Vulnerability and intimacy are so important to maintaining healthy and long-living relationships. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing what is on your mind, or what you are struggling with, this might need to be addressed.

  4. Cell phones are used minimally.

    This is always a hilarious topic in my friend groups. People whose top love language is quality time NEED everyone to be attentive and engaged. Unplugging for a few hours to connect with those around you makes a real difference, and it can make people feel important and loved by you!

  5. Always be a Tribe that laughs!

    Laughter (not sarcastic humor) is the glue of friendship. It heals, it is universal, and it makes everyone more comfortable.

  6. Comparison is not allowed to creep in!

    Comparison is the ultimate killer of Joy! We will never be content while living in a community if we are constantly comparing our circumstances to others.

  7. Exclusivity is kicked out the door.

    The “clique-mindset” is not welcoming. Remember, there is a multitude of Tribes within a healthy church, and some people will be members of multiple Tribes. Be open to inviting new people in! Adding new friends doesn’t negate from the relationships you have already built, and you might find a new best friend.

Friendship is a necessary foundational aspect to Christian living. We can mirror the early church by being intentional about growing our Tribe, and choose to not isolate. Living within a Tribe can be challenging at times, but pushing through the awkward moments and hard conversations will always produce worthwhile, life-giving relationships. While talking with God today, ask Him about your Tribe (or future Tribe), and what your next steps are. I’m confident that you will be blessed by these intentional friendships you make!

Phil Coffman

Michael is the Coordinator of Worship and Prayer. In this role, Michael assists with Student Worship and Chapel Worship as well as all prayer teams. He has been at Vineyard since 1997 and on staff since 2017.