Sometime in the fall of 2010 one of my former youth named McKenna, 19 at the time, approached me after a game of ultimate frisbee and said “Hey, I’ve been thinking I need to get into a program or something.”
At that point we had never discussed his drug and alcohol use but it wasn’t exactly a secret. I didn’t know much but told him I’d look into it. I looked up the Alcoholics Anonymous website and found out about the weekly Barely Legal meeting at a church in midtown Little Rock. He didn’t drive at the time and I wanted to be supportive so later that week I picked him up and we attended together.
In a room of about 60 people we sat in the back and at 28 I quickly realized I was one of the oldest people in the room. And yet that night I heard more honesty and wisdom from people 10 years my junior whose lives were a mess than I’d heard in a while. Since that night I’ve gotten regular updates from McKenna on his progress in the program, and I often think about what we as the church can learn from A.A.
Transparency I was in a room full of strangers but heard their deepest pains and toughest struggles. They knew there was no use in hiding it because they were seeking healing, and healing comes from being honest with yourself. How could the church be transformed if we stop trying to hide our scars but instead put them out there, letting others know they don’t have to hide theirs either?
Humility “Hi I’m Jim and I’m an alcoholic.” “Hi Jim.” Tagging along with transparency, it’s hard to be phony when you start a comment by naming your brokenness. Yet all who do are accepted by the group with a simple return greeting. Call me crazy, but I think worship, business meetings and the like would feel different, and maybe a little more holy, if we spoke this way. “Hi I’m Phil and I’m greedy/prideful/power-hungry.” Hi Phil. “Hi I’m Marie and I’m image-obsessed/unkind/envious.” Hi Marie. You’re both still welcome here.
Accountability It was a rough go for McKenna at first. On the wagon, then off, then back on for 6 weeks then off for 2 months. I was still talking to him regularly but it just wasn’t the same as having someone who had been there before and was available day or night. McKenna got a sponsor who told him to call him daily for the first 30 days, in addition to any other time he was needed. He was serious about the 12 steps and spent long hours going through each one of them with McKenna. He assigned reading and watched over him diligently. In addition he had (and still has) sponsee brothers, a Grand Sponsor (sponsor’s sponsor) and others. It’s a whole family on mission of love and support for each other. Could the church benefit from structures like this? How much are we really willing to be involved in each other’s lives?
Introspection If you get a chance check out steps 4-10 from AA’s website. Whoa. If we’re being honest (see Item 1) this sounds like the least fun thing that has ever existed: “fearless moral inventory”, “removing all these defects of character”, “make direct amends.” Seriously, I’d much rather binge watch my favorite Netflix series for tonight and then worry about those things tomorrow, or never. But as Christians it’s our call to be more like Jesus and allow God to renew our minds and transform our hearts. I hope we can be open to that.
Giving Back For those able to make it to step 12, it’s now their duty to help others along the way. You don’t find healing and keep it to yourself, but instead it’s now your obligation to give others the same support and encouragement provided to you. McKenna learned how to sponsor others well from his sponsor. Same for us: we’re fed to feed, and we’re led to lead.
Songwriter Ross King puts it this way:
Unless the church becomes a place
Where we are safe and free to say
That we’re not ok.
As the church, before we look outside and criticize anyone else let’s take a good hard look at ourselves (see Item 4) and see what needs to change. I know we’re afraid that our transparency, honesty and accountability might be too much and could drive people away from us, but in a world filled with the fake and phony, it might just do the opposite. I’ve seen it work in one life, and he’s four years sober today. Praise God.