Why The Church Gathering Should be Like a Good AA Meeting

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AA has become the single best expression and most alive form of church in North America.

The other day, I tweeted that “the Eucharist can be likened to a good AA meeting intensified by the Real Presence.” What did I mean?

I had just had an impactful cup of coffee with a recovering alcoholic. We talked a lot about the daily/weekly rituals of being an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) member. One more time, I was struck by how much like a church (or what a church should be) the AA community is. I asked myself, “Why could this man enter an AA meeting so easily, yet found it so difficult to connect with our gathering?”

I contend that a church gathering should be like a good AA meeting. An AA meeting gathers people together who are admitted alcoholics. They bring their full awareness of themselves before one another and engage in a ritual of “being present,” one with another, in their sin. When they gather, they recite the first step: that they are powerless over alcohol. It is not unlike the corporate confession in the Christian gathering. They acknowledge that they must surrender to a “Power greater than themselves” if they are to regain sanity. They hear from one another. Often, like a good sermon, they receive a challenge from the AA Big Book. They commit to a total practice of reconciliation (similar to what Christians do before the Eucharist). They encounter this reality in all its brute force. And then, in this moment, they gain the sustenance to live life faithfully for another day.

To me, this is what Sunday morning is in a nutshell. It should be like this, except intensified by the “real presence” of Christ that locates in the Eucharist. We gather with similar dynamics, to confess our sin, reconcile, commit to this life, hear from the Word of God (his voice, his presence through the proclamation), and then surrender to the Eucharist and receive complete forgiveness and renewal in the Spirit.

The interesting and perhaps problematic issue for Christians is the choice of words in referring to God as “your higher power.” The cultural derivations (specifically in Western North American culture) of this word choice, however, are fascinating. How it shapes our view of God and our posture toward God is even more fascinating. The potential, I would argue, is for both good and disaster. Yet, because of the brokenness by which each person comes to AA, it can easily become the entry gate to an experience of God, whose (I would argue) completion can eventually be found in Christ. But I digress.

David Fitch David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.

More from David Fitch or visit David at http://reclaimingthemission.com

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  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    Church will never be like an AA meeting because church services are stage-driven. AA is group driven. They’re two different things.

    • http://Rickenba.ch/blog/en Ralph M. Rickenbach

      Who says that church has to be stage driven? It will never be a self-help group though, granted.

      • Olen Pancho Batchelor

        AA teaches the fallacy of self-help. Self-help never got an alkie sober. Only God-help.

        • cathcart boy

          Leave the article aside for a moment. What excuses your rudeness in referring to someons as “an alkie’? AA actually depends for effectiveness on group help and peer support.

          • Wandering Aramean

            In his earlier post, you will see that he is an AA participant.

          • Olen Pancho Batchelor

            AA literature uses the term alkie. I am an alkie. Admitting that was one of the first steps towards being honest about myself.

  • Andrew

    If you want to know what the Church of Jesus Christ is and what she is like, then read your Bible, meditate on His Word, and depend on the Spirit to change and obey.

    Don’t learn what the church is from some AA group.

  • http://Rickenba.ch/blog/en Ralph M. Rickenbach

    AA tells its people to keep on confessing that they are alcoholics that stopped. Just like the church tells its people that they are sinners redeemed. But whoever the Lord sets free is free indeed. We have to become less like AA, if anything. And become the church. Finally.

  • Olen Pancho Batchelor

    Upon returning to AA when I moved to the Colorado mountains about 4 years ago, after years in the church, I too found it to be more Biblical than my megachurch or the local tiny church. Minus the Jesus part, of course. I was led to the truth of Jesus through the spiritual practices taught in AA.

  • Mike

    In the Welsh revival of 1905, one of the effects of that revival was a lot of bars went bankrupt, no one wanted to go an have a drink? Why, God came down, and men’s lives were radically transformed! Where is God at today? Is He on the outside knocking at the church door, let me in? Rev 3:20 In the first Great Awakening alcoholism was so rampant in England that one in six owed their livelihood to drink. J Edwin Orr. The number of deaths to drink was staggering. Then Revival broke out, and taverns, bars and pubs went out of business! God came down, and filled men everywhere with His Holy Spirit! That’s the church I long to attend, where God is present and His Holy Spirit is changing peoples lives daily!

  • amos8

    “Church Leaders,” like many forums, puts out some good and not-so-good articles, but this article overtly ranks as one of the worst (from an biblically accurate standard, and from attacking the Bride of Christ … and from attempting to usher in many false ideologies).

    There are FAR too many false teachings to address in one comment.

    The “Eucharist”?? This a decidedly Catholic teaching (remember that whole Reformation thing?) that is now mainstreamed with with Christianity? (or “Protestantism” as many like to say) This powerful falsehood is now deemed good and TRUE?

    AA, while perhaps in the right context, MIGHT be used as a good illustration. But to praise a “movement” or group filled with false ideology is scary, let alone to say that this one group of people with false teachings and many anti-Scriptural notions is better than the Bride of Christ … and to get away with it here is beyond grievous.

    I realize we live in an age of error, but even this article exceedingly too much. The “Church” has many problems–always has and always will. But I hope I am not alone in being fed up with the blatant and subtle attacks on “the church” (as if they were all the same, or one big unified “church”). At what point, CL, do you say enough?

    • Olen Pancho Batchelor

      The program was derived from the Bible. The part where you say, “Hello, my name is blank, and I am an alcoholic” comes from where God asks Jacob his name. The idea of sponsorship, so strongly promoted in the program, is discipleship. The series of steps removing resentments and confessing to a human being is straight from the sermon on the mount. And, so on. The Eucharist part is a whole other error.

      • amos8

        I am aware that many are taught that AA is/was Christian (or “derived from the Bible). However, this is far from the truth. Please look up the Psychoheresy ministry (or other ministries/writings) for the more accurate history.

        • Olen Pancho Batchelor

          Originally, the founders considered using the name James Club, because the AA program is based on the Book of James, Corinthians 13 and the Sermon on the Mount for the most part.

          • amos8

            please research some non-biased history of AA. There is definitely “spirituality” but …

          • Olen Pancho Batchelor

            Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

  • cathcart boy

    I think the article misses the main point whilst making some good ones. Firstly, alcoholism is a disease countered by peer support, often effectively, when people are outside of salvation in Jesus Christ. Secondly, AA meetings in a group setting ensure all are treated equally, demeaned by the common denominator of alcohol abuse. The writer seems to me to be saying that this “common denominator” aspect is often missing in churches, and that “common denominator” comfort is not felt in the same way by those familiar with AA meetings who (then) attend church. Those in my opinion are two good points. The point missed is that in early stages of recovery, the complex needs of the recoverer’s psyche are not likely to permit easy integration into any other group whether sports, religious, educational or otherwise, often attributable to self-esteem issues. A less-dramatic headline would of course see fewer feathers ruffled!

    • oldman2331

      Are you a Christian?

      Are there no alcoholic Christians? So then does it follow that those “in Christ” who are alcoholic remain outside salvation?

      Why have “steps” contingent on a belief in a higher power if all we need is peer support? It is the belief held in common That a power great than ourselves (God) could do for us what we cannot do for ourselves..

  • amos8

    “I contend that a church gathering should be like a good AA meeting. An
    AA meeting gathers people together who are admitted alcoholics. They
    bring their full awareness of themselves before one another and engage
    in a ritual of “being present,” one with another, in their sin.”

    This sounds great, in theory, and in the self-help, anti-church world.

    I have counseled and talked with many people who hate AA and NA meetings because of the people there. They do NOT … DO NOT … bring their “full awareness of themselves,” etc. They are … just like everyone else! There are fakers and hypocrites and sinners in AA, NA, and the church. Wherever we go there are people … people who are fallible.

    Yet this article wants us to believe that AA is some extra-special meeting of real people … where the church is not. How horrible it is to judge and harshly condemn so many people … all while praising another group of people (and anti-Scriptural ideology) as better than God’s church!

    Doesn’t anyone care?

  • Tresha S.

    Funny that I have always casually said, “Church is like an AA meeting in SOME ways. It makes you want to quit sinning and be a better person,” amongst other things. I say this with some trepidation, as Mr. Fitch has been torn apart for drawing any comparisons between AA & the church, gulp. Now I’m going to get responses saying, “The church is not just some social country club!” Eucharist is probably Latin for communion or something, sigh. (Why can’t we all just get along?)

  • Geo43 from Toronto

    In my observation, understanding of community and read of the Bible, the Holy Spirit is present where there is real community which can only happen among authentic people and that usually involves a small group. AA is ahead by opening with and insisting on personal confession of a real fault rather than a general confession of sins in a worship service.

    . Church services become a surface ritual with people pretending all is well with one another. The authenticity needed for community and to attract the Holy Spirit is missing. With the Holy Spirit missing the ‘church’ is not the church what Jesus died for and said that he would build.

    So does the Holy Spirit attend the AA meeting? With all its faults and weaknesses, Jesus would find here ‘those who know they are sick.’ The Holy Spirit would find authenticity and, therefore, genuine relationships and community. I think the Holy Spirit is more likely to attend AA Wednesday night in the basement that Sunday morning in the sanctuary.

  • anon

    I think the point of what the author is saying is that we need to model our churches in a better way to disciple each person on a group or 1-on-1 level. Something that AA meetings try to focus on. I have seen many churches that do not spiritually grow, and I believe its because of a lack of a 1-on-1 discipleship or group discipleship. Just going to a service and worshiping and listening to the word from the bible preached by a pastor is great, a wonderful blessing. However, many people do not grow and overcome sin by worship and listening to a message alone. They grow by living in the culture that Jesus modeled for us. A culture that needs to be lived in every day. Discipleship and being together with other Christians that challenge a person to grow is an important tool to strengthen any persons’ walk.