Hanging out on Rob Bell’s Live Stream page is a special book event he did at the Viper Room in Los Angeles last year. The replay includes nearly an hour of Q + A from the audience and some interesting gems in Rob Bell-ian fashion.
One gem in particular stood out to me and caused me some pause. Near the beginning of the replay Bell talks about his early days in ministry and a formative experience with a recovering alcoholic in his congregation who suggested to Bell, “Church should be like an A.A. meeting.” Bell decides to see this for himself. So, he enters into the sacred space of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to experience the vivid transparency, the brokenness, the struggle of the men and women in the room. Bell resonated with the A.A. meeting and agreed with the man, ‘this is what the church should be like,’ and that’s what he strove to create with Mars Hill in Grand Rapids.
This is a beautiful story–an ideological story–but a beautiful one nonetheless. In fact, due to Bell’s engaging communicative fashion it’s extremely inspirational in the telling. So inspirational that I believe there will be a cadre of undercover pastors and church planters visiting A.A. meetings in their neighboring towns and cities to see exactly what it is that Rob Bell is talking about. And that’s unfortunate.
As someone who worked for a couple of years in a drug and alcohol rehab center as a Residential Counselor, I can tell you from first-hand experience that an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is not what the church needs to be like, because it already is like that.
Let’s not be so quick to idealize/idolize Alcoholics Anonymous.
Now before I go any further, for the sake of clarification, A.A. is an amazing organization, and it’s spin-off groups (Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, etc) have created an environment where life transformation happens because of vulnerability and transparency. But the same can also be said of the church. Yes, it’s true. The church, despite its flaws, actually has many bright spots of life transformation. But here’s the kicker: A.A. is full of people, just like the church is full of people. And people aren’t very good letting you in on their secrets. And in an A.A. meeting there is just as much showmanship, lying, secrecy, pride, arrogance (read: the dark side of humanity) as there is in the church.
Now let me state for the record: I’m not bashing Rob Bell and I’m not bashing Alcoholics Anonymous. That is not the point of this post. The point is for you Mr/Mrs Church Planter/Pastor/Church Leader. Let’s not look at A.A. as the next great model for how the church should do small groups or relationship in general. The model is not the secret ingredient for life transformation. Rather, it is in the people. It is a group of people who are simply willing to be vulnerable with one another. A people who are willing to trust, a people who are willing to forgive, a people who are willing to own their own junk, that is the key. I have seen this happen in A.A. and, yes, I have even seen this in the church.
Here’s the kicker. If this is what you want in your church community, then model it–embody it. Don’t spy on an A.A. meeting, don’t be a spectator to people’s pain and brokenness (in a place you have no business being in the first place). Instead, be the one to take the first step in your own church community. You want to see it happen, then make it happen. Going to an A.A. meeting won’t accomplish that for you. And if it doesn’t work, hey at least you tried… and in the process you didn’t destroy someone else’s safe space.