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.