Someone who has been in the church all his life, solid in his faith, active in the congregation but silently struggling with alcohol, begins to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. At first, the support group’s instructions to tap into your higher power meshes beautifully with his faith. But eventually, perhaps after a year or two, he stops going to church.
What did AA offer him that perhaps he didn’t find in his church experience? It’s worth a look. It’s even possible there are some things we should emulate.
Certainly there are some things about AA we do NOT want to emulate. We don’t tap into just another higher power. Our connection is more precise, more direct, and with personality, form and substance. Blurring the lines of who God is cannot, in the end, be a benefit to the recipient.
But this is not going to be a long complaint about AA or conversely, a recommendation of it. There are those out there with strong sentiments on both sides of this issue, and you can go to them for such a discussion.
Instead, I’m simply noting that there are three major components of AA culture that the church would do well to emulate. In fact, “emulate” is not even the right word. I would argue that these components actually started in the church, and somehow, got lost along the way. So perhaps a better word would be that the church should re-appropriate or reclaim these components.
The first major component: All are wounded.
If you’re breathing, you’re wounded. The only reason you’re at an AA meeting is because alcohol has somehow negatively affected your life. Everyone there is in the same boat. In fact at every meeting, someone gets up and tells you just how wounded he is.
This is often missing in our church environment. And yet it should much the same. Everyone is a sinner. Everyone struggles with sin. The things that brought the down-and-out drug abuser or prostitute to this place of needing God is the exact same thing that brought the pastor, or the elder, or you.
Sin has wounded us all. But in some churches, we promote the sense that some folks have so much less to forgive than others. Any ranking of sinners minimizes or even dismisses someone’s need for grace. This does an immense disservice to the sinners (not to mention how it belittles the grace of God.) No one has enough of anything by which they could boast of being more or less acceptable to God. We’ve all blown it.
Yet, there is a pecking order often found within church that is not only unscriptural, but very damaging to those farther down on the perceived order line. I would even argue that this underlying caste system damages those farther up on the pecking order as well. True, they have lots of perks that come with this status. But the more they buy into it, the more damaged and distanced from God they become because of their pride in believing they are more deserving.
People seek out those who will understand their difficulties. When my son had so many surgeries, I naturally gravitated to people who’d been through similar things. It doesn’t surprise me that a drug addict in recovery would appreciate the non-judgmental position of a fellow addict in recovery. Alcoholics, likewise.
So how do we combat this in the church if we are not, ourselves, alcoholics? That’s easy. We need to re-grasp the “we” in sinners. We need to own our own distance from the holy goodness that is God. We need to proclaim clearly and without question that our sins are just as efficient at distancing us from God as those of our prodigals, or alcoholics, or prostitutes.
We are sinners. Each and every one. And if we own that clearly, then it won’t be such an uncomfortable stretch for the alcoholic who wants to be understood while he finds his way.
Tune in next week to find out the second component of AA’s culture that the church needs to re-acquire.
What about you?
Do you think there’s a pecking order within the church?
Do those at the bottom receive any sense of connection with those at the top?
What’s something you could do to change this?