The Insights of Mean Girls
One of the quintessential movies of my high school years was the high school comedy “Mean Girls.” Written by Tina Fey back in 2004, and so successful they actually created a broadway musical based on it. In the grad tradition of films such as “10 Things I Hate About You” the film explores the trials and pitfalls of navigating high school life with all of it’s pressures and clicks. Some people loved it, some people hated it - but the important thing was that so many high school students CONNECTED to it. It was a film that described life as a high schooler in a funny, somewhat cynical tone - but it also had a biting ring of truth to it. If you’ve never seen the film, here’s a 30 second explainer..
Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is a transfer student to a new high school. She quickly befriends a trio of popular girls known as “the Plastics.” The Plastics are known to be beautiful and superficial, but also incredibly cruel - and yet they are the most popular girls in the school. They have a lot of rules (we wear pink on Wednesdays), but to be “in” with the Plastics is to be high school royalty. At the same time, Cady is also a brilliant student in mathematics, but choses popularity over grades. Cady and the leader of the Plastics (Regina George, played by Rachel McAdams) become bitter rivals, and for a brief moment Cady herself seems to rule the school before it all comes crashing down around her. At the end of the film, as a bit of punishment, Cady finds herself joining the Mathletes and attends the regional championship with them.
Now at this point you might be wondering WHAT ON EARTH am I doing talking about a high school comedy from 20 years ago?!? But stay with me on this - I promise I actually have an insightful point to share. At the Math competition at the end of film, Cady finds herself going up against another female student - Caroline. As she approaches the podium to square off, all of her judgmental instincts rise to the surface. She finds herself mentally criticizing the other girl’s clothes, her hair, her makeup - and even her eyebrows. But then Cady has a horrible realization - none of that is going to stop this other girl from beating her in the competition. As Cady says in the voice over, “Calling somebody else fat won't make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier.” This is what I call the “Mean Girls Moment.”
Now, as a Pastor I have been blessed to work in churches that happen to be near other churches who have incredible pastors. I’ve always enjoyed getting to work together with other Pastors. When I’m on vacation, I love to worship at other churches and watch my colleagues in action. In fact, some of my pastor friends also have children roughly the same age as my own - and during the summers we would trade kids for the various VBS programs. One week I would drop my kids off at their VBS program, and then the next week they would drop their kids off at our VBS program. I truly believe we are co-workers, and not competitors. And yet - no matter how much we say that, there is always an undercurrent of competition between pastors and between buildings that have Christians in them on a Sunday morning.
I’ll never forget the first time I met my one Pastor buddy - let’s call him Shawn. When met for lunch (or breakfast or something, I can’t recall) - I remember my first impression was that he was such a Jesus dork. He was a lovely person, but just a very goofy guy. Whether it was his clothes or the way he gushed about how we were both pastors to the waitress or whatever - I definitely started off from a place of judgment when I first met Shawn. Fast forward a few months, and I was at Shawn’s church - and I heard him present the gospel for the first time. It was stunning. It wasn’t judgmental or harsh - but it was a crystal clear call to come and follow Jesus with your life. And it was so obviously born out of a love of Jesus and a love of the people he was talking to. He wasn’t aggressive, but he wasn’t timid either. He truly just wanted everyone to know the incredible feeling that comes when you know and are known by Jesus Christ. And I had a stunning realization in that moment. Shawn was better at sharing the gospel than I was. Just, at every level - he knew how to do it better.
This was my “mean girl moment.” I could have easily written him off with a couple judgmental phrases. I could have critiqued his clothes (he was wearing that one plaid button up shirt that apparently every single pastor on the planet owns - it’s sort of a dark blueish color? You know the one I mean - and it was tucked in too). I could have made fun of the fact that his sermon was way too long, and was a lot less funny than mine would have been if I was the one preaching. But none of that would change the simple fact that he was sharing the gospel in it’s most authentic form. and no amount of cool clothes or funny, personal stories could change that.
I wonder - have you ever had a “mean girls moment”? Have you ever realized someone was better than you at something, and so you tried to tear them down (even just in your mind) to make yourself feel better? I know I have - and not just with my buddy Shawn. So when I realized where my heart was, I decided to let him know. I reached out and told him what was going on in my heart. I told him how I had judged him when we first met, and how I thought he did an amazing job sharing the gospel. I told him that he was an inspiration and I hoped to learn from him and grow in my ability to share the gospel and let people know about the love of Jesus. It was humiliating, and we laugh about it now - but it was what my heart needed in that moment.
I think in the church we are often drawn to superficial criticisms. It’s so easy to make fun of the church down the street because they have really old music, or the nursery is in desperate need of a paint job or because the pastor doesn’t dress in the trendy clothes of the mega church pastors over on instagram. But the truth is none of that matters to the Holy Spirit. God makes a habit out of working through boring, normal, unimpressive people. (And boy, am I relieved by that!). The only thing that actually matters in a church, or in the life of any Christian, is our ability to share the love of Jesus Christ with the people around us - regardless of how trendy the music or the paint job is.
Mean Girls is a ridiculous, slightly inappropriate, slightly hilarious comedy about high school students. Who knew there was an insightful moment lurking behind all the pink and the plastics? At the end of the film, all the students move from Junior year to Senior year. Suddenly all the petty competitions that tore the student body apart in 11th grade seemed absurd, and they find their way to a mutual respect. It’s a balance I look for in my interactions with my Christian co-workers, and I hope it’s something you find in your life as well.