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What the Church Can Learn from Alcoholics

By June 3, 2010No Comments

Back in January I wrote this post for my church’s blog, and after someone recently mentioned they had been encouraged by it, I thought I should repost it here. Reading it now, the concept is still challenging and humbling to me, as I hope it is to you.

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled “The Miracle of Intimacy” in which I explored how our pragmatism can limit the work of God. When it comes to ministry, we often limit ourselves according to what’s worked in the past. Our small imaginations result in small movements of God, a reality that challenges us to formulate game plans that actually require faith. I then explored this idea in regard to how we understand the building of intimacy in our churches–no matter how big a group or how new, God can defy our expectations and grant a miracle of intimacy.

However, does the reality of God’s miraculous power let us off the hook? Are we no longer responsible for doing practical things to foster intimacy? Of course not. God can make spontaneous intimacy possible however He wants, but we can too. In fact I’ve actually seen it happen…..but not in a Christian small group.

Several years ago I attended an AA meeting as part of a seminary class I was taking. It was held in the basement of a church in downtown Raleigh. Let’s just say I stood out. As I walked toward the entrance I pushed through a dozen rough looking men who were mulling around outside smoking cigarettes. I was the only female. I looked like a lost sorority girl. I was worried.

As the meeting began, my fears were laid to rest almost immediately. I had to introduce myself because I was new, and I was greeted with a boisterous, “Hi Sharon! Welcome! Keep coming back!” After that, I listened as people stood up and totally spilled their guts, only to be met with encouragement and affirmation over and over again. Everyone was being themselves and even though I was completely different from these men, I felt I could be too. I knew I could share anything with them and be accepted. It was a kumbaya hug fest. It was awesome.

After talking to friends who attend AA I know that not all meetings are like this. But many are. Why? Because everyone knows the reason you’re there. To go to AA is to proclaim your brokenness. There is no pretension or arrogance standing in the way of genuine fellowship. You are free to be yourself without judgment, thereby creating an environment where intimacy and vulnerability flourishes.

In many ways, this is what the church should be like. When we walk through the door, it should be a proclamation of our brokenness. Everyone should know why we are there: we were lost and hopeless until our Savior pulled us from the pit of despair and redeemed us.

But that’s not the vibe a lot of us put out, is it? Many times, church seems to be on people’s “Checklist for Being a Responsible Citizen.” It’s for people who are good and kind and do nice things. Others attend church because of what it offers—maybe your church has a great children’s ministry, or maybe you just want friends. These last two reasons aren’t wrong in and of themselves, but they don’t exactly foster intimacy either. It’s hard to be immediately vulnerable with someone simply because you both like Reformed theology.

Without berating ourselves and glorifying our sin, it’s important that people really know why we’re in church or small group. It’s not because you want more friends who are married like you, and it’s not because you found a small group doing a Tim Keller study. It’s because you were broken and God healed you. When you wear this brokenness on your sleeve, it not only testifies all the more powerfully to the mighty work of God, but it moves pretension aside for vulnerability and intimacy to move in. Intimacy may take time to build, but perhaps that’s only because we’re the ones slowing it down.

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