Imagine for a moment what church would be like if the Pastor or Announcer began church with, “Hello my name is ___ (fill in with name) and I’m a recovering sinner of ____ (fill in the sin)”. Would he or she be so bold to admit to their church not the mildest of sins such as a white lie but the grander sins of adultery, stealing, or a pornography addiction? Or perhaps he or she would admit to a personality disorder such as narcissism, borderline, or dependant. How different would church be if everyone was expected to be honest about their past and present and not pretend to have it all together?
Record numbers of youth are leaving the church for precisely this reason with some estimates as high as 70% of America’s youth who was brought up in church does not return as an adult. For the youth, they know that they do not have it all together and they do not want to go to a place that expects everyone to act as if they do have it all together. This trend can be changed but it requires honesty at very deep levels with friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers. Here are four things spelling CARE which AA does well in their meetings and could improve the atmosphere of any church.
Confessing sin. One of the essential elements of AA meetings is for an addict to admit their addiction and also admit if they have been tempted recently or given into temptation. Admitting your sin in front of others is hard but by doing so it holds you accountable to everyone in the room. This would be quite a moment in the church if everyone knew of your personal struggles with a particular sin. Just imagine a person struggled with gossip who admits it to the whole congregation, now the whole congregation can work on not gossiping with this person, talk about accountability!
Admitting sin is a life-long battle. Another essential element of AA is admitting that once you are an addict you will continue to be an addict. Yes God can and often does remove the desire for an addiction but He sometimes allows it to continue as a reminder that His grace is sufficient. We are all born with a sinful nature so trying to pretend that we don’t continue to struggle with sin is futile. Instead if everyone in church openly admitted to their sinful struggles, those struggling with the same sin could feel empathy instead of judgment.
Recognizing God’s grace. “I have been sober for 1203 days” is a standard statement at an AA meeting. This statement is designed as a continual reminder that each day is to be lived one day at a time and a reminder of the day they made a decision to do something different with their life. What if every believer said, “I have been saved by God’s grace for 2678 days”? How inspiring it would be for those just starting on their journey.
Exemplifying God’s love and forgiveness. Even when someone falls back into addiction, they are always welcomed back with open arms at an AA meeting. There are no new expectations, no turning away from a person who has fallen, or refusing to forgive someone who has hurt you. At an AA meeting, all is forgiven and asking for forgiveness is the only expectation. After all, we are all sinners and who among us does not need to be forgiven? What a difference it would be in church if everyone forgave one another.
What if church was more like an AA meeting? Most would respond by saying what makes AA works so well and for so long is that the people are anonymous, just first names are used. But as believers of the same God in the same church, should we not desire to show the world a different standard? A standard that welcomes sinners of all kinds, cares for the needs of it’s’ members, and unites even the strangest members. Then and only then will we have a church that embraces honesty, rejects falsehood and truly brings glory to God.