I’ve given this a good deal of thought, and here’s what I think.
I think church should be like an AA meeting.
Not AAA, as in the Automobile Association of America (not that I’m trying to knock whatever meetings they have, mind you… I’m sure they’re lovely, and feature many helpful travel tips). I’m talking about Alcoholics Anonymous.
Yes. THAT AA.
Though I’m not an alcoholic myself (I just have other more culturally acceptable addictions to things like sugar, social media, and self obsession), I have been to several meetings as the guest of a loved one. And let me tell you, if it’s not on your list of things to do, it really should be.
Of course, they won’t let just anyone in. You can’t have your life all together. No perfect people allowed, sorry. That group’s down the hall, with the #Blessed Scrapbookers Club. (not that I have anything against being blessed, or scrapbookers for that matter… they are fine people with some #madskillz that I greatly admire)
And of course, I can hear some of you, my dear Church friends, raising concerns about me and my salvation or at least my theology, at the mere suggestion of such heresy. But stick with me. I may not be the heretic you think (or maybe I am, in which case, you need to keep reading if only to verify your suspicions). And for you non-Churchy types, you already think I’m crazy. And yet, you’re still here. So you’ll stick with me, too, won’t you?
Now, I have been on a church staff for a number of years, and while it did not drive me to drink, I do think there are a number of things AA meetings can teach those who plan church services.
And because everyone (especially church staff) loves lists, here you go…
7 REASONS CHURCH SHOULD BE LIKE AN AA MEETING
1. Brokenness is the only price of admission.
Check your mask at the door, cause if you’re here, there’s a reason, and it’s out there. In the open. You know it, and they know it, too, cause they’re there for that same reason: Everyone’s brokenness has brought them through the door. Yup. Every. Last. One.
Look around you, cause the whole room, from that throwback hippy dude with the salt and pepper dreadlocks in the faded tie dye Grateful Dead Tshirt, to the fancy shmancy lady with the fancy shmancy Louis Vuitton bag (it’s not even a knockoff!), has one thing in common: they’re all a hot mess, whether you can see it on the outside or not. And the best part is, everyone knows it. No pretense here. It’s not a social club or a networking opportunity. It’s not a competition to “outgood” each other. It’s just a bunch of people who know they have a need. And because everyone’s in that same place, there’s no room to get all judgy on each other. I’m screwed up, and so are you. Halleluiah.
So they show up. And that’s the beauty of it – just a bunch of people getting together, admitting they don’t have it all together, looking for help outside themselves. Together.
Which brings us to…
2. FORREAL Community in the House.
What if there was a place where you could just for once STOP. THE FREAKING. PLAY. ACTING? Where, when people ask “How are you?”, you can actually give an HONEST answer?
Yeah, this would that place. And as we’ve established, everyone here is in that same place. It’s a little thing we who love Christian contemporary buzzwords like to call… COMMUNITY. From breaking bread in the book of Acts to Settlers of Catan Marathon Game Nights, we Christians LOOOOOVE the idea of Community. And we should. The Bible’s chalk full of it. “Doing life together”, as they say. Gettin real. Being transparent. That’s what it’s all about.
Let me tell you, friend, there aint nothing like the reality of doing life with a bunch of people who don’t have the time or patience to play around. They mean business.
Don’t misunderstand. Here you are accepted, just as you are. But you don’t come here to stay as you are. Somehow these people are able to love each other and hold each other accountable to a standard at the same time. They listen without judgment and with great compassion, and yet have this mysteriously weird dynamic where they can also call each other out. And they do.
It’s almost as if they’re speaking the truth… in love! So weird. And so wonderful.
In fact, one of the ways they cultivate this little community of theirs is through…
3. Mentors for Everyone!
You actually get connected with someone who actually cares enough about you to actually stay connected with you. Encourage you. Challenge you. On a regular, on-going basis, even.
They’ll meet with you one on one, check in with you, even be available if you need to call them at 2am. I mean, who does this??? Apparently they do. It’s something they call Sponsorship. It’s like a really committed Mentor. We have a term for it in the Church, too: Discipleship. And sometimes we even do it! But I wonder what it might look like if more churches took this approach? And not just in a “check you off my list of projects” kind of way, but because we actually wanted to invest in someone that way… like, voluntarily?
It might get out of control. It might even lead to raucous…
One of my favorite type of meetings is the one where they recognize anniversaries of sobriety. See, they pass out these little medallions, commensurate with the time you’ve been sober. Twenty four hours. One week. One month. Three months. Two, three years… decades… all there. All representing the hardest decision made, one refused drink at a time, one better choice at a time, one day at a time, day after day. All with the help of a Higher Power. And all the emotion, trial and triumph that go with it.
And the testimonies. Oh, the testimonies. Not a dry eye.
It’s incredibly inspirational. But it’s more than that. One of the reasons it’s so celebratory is that everyone in the room knows what a big deal this is. It’s not like “oh, well that’s great for them… glad it’s working out, for them…” No, they’re not on the outside looking in, they are living it out, too, as if it’s their own victory. Because every milestone, no matter how big or small, is a celebration for everyone.
So, yeah, we DO do this in the Church. But I think we need to do it more. Much more.
5. SAFETY ZONE
Not to get all Snow Flakey on you, but it really is a safe place. That awful side of yourself that you dared to reveal in a “Did I just say that?” way? Sure, it might get a little awkward dealing with it there, but it stays there; i.e., no one’s gonna be gossiping about it under the guise of “concern”.
Again I say, hallelujah.
6. FREE COFFEE!
Oh wait, lots of churches do this. OF course, if you want the good stuff, you’ve gotta pay. Maybe there’s room for both to grow here; ditching the 6 ounce styrofoam cups and shelling out for actual half and half might be a good start. But that’s just me. I’m a harsh critic.
7. No “graduation”. Just continuing education. (At least, in this life)
This might sound like bad news, but actually, it’s really, really good. Every week, at every meeting, they begin by reminding themselves that they need to be there. “Hi, I’m Suzy (why do we always say Suzy?), and I’m an alcoholic.” Now, understandably, some of my church friends are not comfortable adopting this language – theologically speaking, the whole idea of Christianity is that we get a NEW identity in Christ and are no longer slaves to the things that well, enslaved us. But, even my Christian friends would agree that we never arrive at the place where we can say “I got this, I’m good, see ya!” We are continually dependent on our Higher Power (that would be Jesus… https://isleofmisfits.com/about/) and each other. For the rest of our lives. That’s just how it works. We may not be the same person we once were, but we can never forget where we once were, lest we get a little cocky. And no one likes it when we get cocky.
There’s so much we get right in the Church. And there’s so much we can learn, at the same time. I love how God has set the world up, that we can find truth and beauty in all sorts of places, if only we would keep our eyes open.
Hey… Maybe that should be one of our Core Values here?
(oh yeah: https://isleofmisfits.com/about/)
So there you have it, friends. I’m sure there’s more I could add to the list, but seven seems like a nice odd number. By all means, though, feel free to add your own in the comments!