Mutual aid fellowship

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Many people’s experience with church is spending an hour on Sunday morning or Saturday night worshiping God in music and listening to someone teach from the word of God. Contact with others is limited and entirely up to you to decide how you want to extend yourself. You can slip in the back and slip out untouched if you want to and say you’ve been to church, but that is questionable.

To be sure there are active members who are involved in other activities during the week — many of them probably closer to what people in the early church experienced than what happens on the weekend — but the larger the church, the more chances there are that people attend a church service and call it “going to church.”  You might shake the hands of a greeter at the door, but that will be it.

This much I do know about the steps of AA is that they do not work in a vacuum. You don’t sit there alone with your Bible and the 12 Steps and aim to better yourself. Nor is an AA meeting by any stretch a performance. That’s not the way it works. Remember this is a “mutual aid fellowship.” That means these principles only work in the context of a group. That’s why the meetings are paramount.

When the Bible says: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16), it is definitely talking about a kind of intimacy that can only be found in a group. You can’t do James 5:16 by yourself. Nor can you do it on Sunday morning in church. Although I’d love to see what would happen if a pastor got up on Sunday morning and said, “Instead of a sermon this morning we’re going to do something different. I’d like you to get into groups of no more than 5 people around you and take the next 40 minuses to confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you might be healed.” I wonder how many would get up and slip out the door.

Actually, James 5:16 is precisely what happens at an AA meeting minus the prayer, (although the serenity prayer will probably be prayed at the end by everyone). But confession is the name of the game. And so what if you confess to yourself or to God if there’s no other living, breathing human being there to hear you? “Confess your sins to each other.” Once again, an AA meeting is closer to the early church model than most evangelical church services today.

Here’s a disclaimer. I probably have no business talking about what I’m going to talk about in the next 12 weeks. I am not an AA person. I have been to a couple AA meetings and more than a couple Al-Anon meetings, but more as an observer than a participant. But I am also a prophet and a writer who makes a living sticking his neck out where it sometimes doesn’t belong, for the purpose of telling the parts of the human story that we can all relate to. I know there will be much here to tell, but this is where I solicit your help. We have already had comments from a number of you in recovery, and I hope there will be many more. This is one time when we all would benefit from the comment section of these writings. That’s where you will tell your stories, and we need those stories. I need you to confirm and refute what I am saying because I am speaking from limited experiential knowledge.

I have a friend or two who I can imagine rolling their eyes right now and probably would discourage me from even attempting what I am going to try here, but I’m already over that. I am willing to be the chopping block or the punching bag for these ideas because I know we will all benefit in the end. Just don’t let me twist in the wind. Assist me. Take part. Give us your comments when you can. I will say some things and make some conclusions, but I will also be the lightning rod for what you want to say too. Say it, and especially if you have experience with AA, Al-Anon or the 12 steps.

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14 Responses to Mutual aid fellowship

  1. Loreta says:

    Love AA and alonon. Alonon saved my family. Dad was an alcoholic, but my mother stayed with him because of Alonon. She knew Jesus was her higher power and she worked the steps. She changed and found a freedom in the midst of a dysfunction. She was an example to me so that after she died, I later had to care for my alcoholic father and once again after 30 years attend alonon just to be his caretaker for 3 years. They are both in heaven now. My brother is in As and has been for over 15 years. He didn’t want to turn into our dad. He never goes to church but averages 4-5 meetings a week. He mentors young men and knows his calling. He too loves Jesus. The honesty in an AA meeting is so refreshing after being in a church where people wear masks. Just learning to share your triggers and temptations to fall bring strength to not fall. If only the church would take notice.

  2. John A Fagliano says:

    Look at the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. In step one,change the word alcohol to sin and in step 12 change alcoholics to sinners. By just changing those two words you have 12 steps every Christian should follow. I hope by the end of these 12 weeks a lot of people will see just how much all of us benefit from following them.

    • Loreta says:

      Yes, we all have a disease called sin, however my only conflict is we are forever forgiven and are no longer sinners, we are saints who sin sometimes. AA members never forget where they came from and remain in a state of humility which is good but never seem to see that it is Jesus who is the one that gives us victory through relationship. They are more about a program, which I love, but it’s really all about a person, Jesus. Anyway these are some of my thoughts, but I will always love AA and alonon.

      • Sandie says:

        I kind of feel the same Loreta. There is someone I’ve known for years – they attended AA and walked away from alcohol. Unfortunately, they never really dealt with the underlying addiction – it went from alcohol to cigarettes. When COPD raised its ugly head, the addiction moved to junk food and they now weigh almost 400 lbs – unable to exercise because they can’t breathe, and breathing is an effort because of all the weight. They attend many meetings, but I have a gut feeling that attending the meetings has become an addiction also. I have watched this for over 40 years. Has anyone else seen this happen? I have to admit that I feel uneasy about seeking a Higher Power…because without Christ and The Holy Spirit, Satan, whom Jesus called The Father of Lies, is a higher power compared to us, and he comes disguised as an angel of light to deceive and destroy. I pray constantly that the person I speak of finds Jesus in all this, so they can truly be free before it’s too late. Please accept my sincere apology if I have offended anyone – that is not my intent ever.

    • lindastapleton7 says:

      Brilliantly said, John, I believe we could all have better lives and relationships following that principle.

  3. Christina Tuffin says:

    The first step of the 12 step program has as part of its qualifying test, not only that you are powerless over alcohol, but that your “life has become unmanageable.” In this world in which we live most can qualify on that second portion of the test alone. I have been a faithful member of Alanon for 12 years. I have come to believe that everyone should embrace a 12 step program and just adapt it to the areas of life that are particular to you. The 12 step program did not prevent my husband from leaving this world, but it did surround my children and I with love and peace and the ability to move forward in a positive fashion. God works through the program. The lack of judgment in a healthy group allows people to catch their breath in the middle of insanity and hear God’s voice through the other members. We call members “God with skin on.” For a type A overachiever like me it was a relief to admit that God did not need or want me in control of the world. Instead I was to focus on me because I was a sick as my alcoholic husband. My intentions might have been good but my behavior was just as illogical and counterproductive as his. Others have walked the same road as us and if we are quiet long enough to learn, we need not repeat the painful lessons. I am a better Christian, mother, daughter, friend, worker and person because of the 12 step program. Lie it down on any situation and watch God use it to bring order and clarity to your life and soul.

  4. Carole Oglesbee says:

    John, everyone in AA/Alanon/CODA, or any number of other “mutual aid fellowships” based on the 12 steps was a newbie at some point, and I bet more of us than not went to that first meeting intending to observe only and then get out the door as quickly as possible so we could say we gave it a shot, but something drew us back (and it wasn’t the stale donuts and really bad coffee!). It was the lack of condemnation we felt there – most of us had already condemned ourselves; we didn’t need any help in that department. In order to REcover, we first have to UNcover and come clean with ourselves, others in the group, and with our HP. People have to feel safe from condemnation and judgment to do that and that is the environment AA seeks to provide. When folks there say, “Keep coming back,” you know they mean it.
    Now, your sponsor, once you choose one, may take you aside outside of the group and seek to help you “adjust your attitude” every now and then, but that’s the reason we HAVE sponsors!

  5. lindastapleton7 says:

    What great responses so early on. I think it is a wonderful project and count me in. I’ve been in AlAnon, then OA and am a strong candidate for CoDA. I am following a Christian programme for codependency online, broadly based on the 12 steps. I joined the fellowship in 1989 and became a Christian in 2000; I believe combining the principles has limitless benefits. I spent a season attending open AA meetings as our options here are very limited, but somehow that didn’t work out too well for me, so I am grateful to have this opportunity to connect with followers of Christ with a desire to grow and maybe apply the 12 steps to their lives, whether consciously battling an addiction or not.

    I think one of the key principles that has helped AA survive all these years is that of anonymity and confidentiality, Iif this is going to develop into any kind of ongoing “mutual aid fellowship” it might be worth looking into how that could be set up down the road.

  6. Sandra J Campbell says:

    Good for you for sharing this way!! Sometimes you need to think outside of the box and do things differently. Our church is starting a new series and will be addressing some very sensitive subjects such as homosexuality. It’s time people realized they aren’t perfect but God still loves them!! We all need to understand how to reach out to those who need the help and you’re doing g an awesome job of helping is cto do that. God bless you, Marti and all the family!!

  7. Keep up the thread. It’s a good and valuable resource. I referred to it on my blog today and it affected many people. Dallas Willard said that the church is the hardest place for people to come to confess their sins. Lately my church seems more and more as a social spot (like the old frontier, I’m in Ohio) than a healing and evangelical place.

  8. TOM says:

    WOW!! Love all the comments so far. As I had written to you before- 20 something years ago a women told me to read your book Real Christians ….. She thought it might help me after what I had shared in the AA meeting. I have given copies of your book Twelve Steps for Recovering Pharisees to some of my fellow members. The part about confession of sins comes in the 5th step where I sit with God and someone I trust to keep my confidence. And again in the second part of Step 10 when I promptly admit my wrongs. AA is one of the only places I know where you can claim to be the worst person in the room and have to fight for the title LOL.Thanks again for playing such a big part in my recovery. Apparently after reading the comments I’m not alone.

  9. Great comments! I’ve not been involved in any groups like this. I am a bit of a loner. However, the few times I’ve been part of a group at my church where it’s an accountability group, of sorts, it has been really meaningful and strengthening. Ironically I’m in a book club, consists of all Christians but we read across the board. However, faith almost always enters into the conversation when discussing a book, even the fiction ones that make up the bulk of our list. It is a bit crazy when you can get that boost of friendship, discussion, etc from a non-church-related group than you can in a church. I’ve always felt like I was standing on the outside looking in, more than not, at my church.

  10. rudytome says:

    In our church we called such people mentors. Not that they were better than ourselves, or had it all together, but that they were rooted a little deeper in their faith and walk with God, that they might be someone who stands outside of ourselves and able to help us to see ourselves more accurately. They were accountability partners, if you will, that were there to help us walk the walk we professed to want to walk.

  11. Carole Oglesbee says:

    Love that term, “accountability partners”!

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