the church could use a recovery meeting.

I always say that AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, is the strongest and most transformational church in the world.  Little pockets of love & freedom are meeting all over the place right now in all kinds of shapes and forms. Dear, beautiful, sincere people seeking change not in theory but in real-life. Built upon the spirit of The Beatitudes, the 12 steps are a beautiful path to personal and spiritual transformation.

My experience has been that typical church is not crazy about recovery stuff. So many times over a lot of years, I have heard things like this:

“Oh, but I’m not an addict.”

 “It’s great they are getting what they need.”  

“When are they going to get well?”  

“I’m not that bad.”  

“They need the Lord, not another meeting.”

The reason I am so passionate about the 12 steps and The Beatitudes is because they force me to reckon with the #1 thing that is the hardest for me to reckon with–humility.  

Really, I don’t want to be humble.

I don’t want to need God.  Or others.

I don’t want to come face to face with my self-centeredness & ego & need-for-control.

I don’t want to let go and let God.

I don’t want to be wrong.

I would much rather keep myself protected from what humility requires because it’s easier.

But easier doesn’t mean better.

In Down We Go, I wrote this about the 12 Steps and The Beatitudes:

“Much like the Beatitudes, I found that I love the 12 Steps. And I hate the 12 Steps. They, too, are about downward mobility instead of the upward kind. They are about choosing humility instead of power, honesty rather than pride, vulnerability in place of self-protection, mercy over “right” behavior…Jesus’ words of blessing to the poor, marginalized and the downwardly mobile were not a threat or a coercion technique to force us into a miserable life. His call to go downward is a methodology for the abundant life. It is the easier yoke. If we crave God’s peace and presence, then I guess we have to trust his methods too. It’s easy to think more money, power or status will give us security and a stronger sense of self, yet Jesus says it will be exactly the opposite: to find our lives we need to lose them (Matthew 10:39).”

This is what recovery is all about–losing our lives so we can find them–and oh, that’s a humble path.

When it comes to all-things-church, I really think the missing ingredient in so much of this conversation is humility.

I’ve written before that i think “the church” could really benefit by considering working the steps corporately. Its in some serious need of recovery from our addiction to control, pride, and power–now more than ever.

But it’s much easier to focus our energy on reading the latest or greatest book or starting some new initiative or just-about-anything than enter into “recovery” and come face to face with all of our addictions & compulsive behaviors that are ruining our relationships with not only the world but a bunch of once-faithful followers, too.

People are dropping like flies from church for a reason.

They are refusing to participate in addict behavior any longer.

The first step says: “We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors and life had become unmanageable”

That’s the problem, really. A core part of recovery is admitting that things are unmanageable. It’s not there yet for a lot of churches (and may never be). Even though things are declining, parts are still working.

A chunk of years ago there was a synchroblog about Big-Tent Christianity.  I wrote about my hope for the church to enter into recovery, because if it did, it would be a much wider, bigger, better tent than it currently is.

It would be more humble, inclusive, more welcoming, more focused on restoring dignity and hope than self-protection, right beliefs, and membership lists.

It would become what I think people are dreaming of but don’t think is possible.

The bummer is like some relationships that can’t make it through the recovery process, so many aren’t going to come back to the system no matter how “sober” the church gets. That’s okay. It’s just the consequence of a lot of years of unhealthy patterns.

I’m just glad that even if some churches don’t healthier, people still are!

Many I know are refusing to settle for crumbs, are finding healing & hope in other healthier and more creative venues, are living out their faith and passion without being controlled or limited.

I always believe the church should be centered on becoming Dignity Restorers, people who called God’s image out in all kinds of oh-so-needed ways. Dignity cannot be restored from a place of pride or control or ego, or “over” another.

It is restored through humility, through presence, through confession, through breaking down the divides between us and them, through alongside.

And all of these are core values and practices of recovery.

I do hope more and more churches enter recovery.

Oh, I really do.

But that’s not my work to do.

My work is to play my small part in my own story, in my own community,  trying to ask God to help me and us be people-of-recovery. 

Humble, open, willing, brave, vulnerable, hope-ful. 

It really does seem like that’s what the world needs more of.

There’s no question, I can always can use a recovery meeting.

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

12 Comments

  • Thank you so much for this. I agree completely. In the recent past, I’ve been involved with a 12-step program focusing on emotional/spiritual health, and found that to be far more honest and community-building than most of my other churchy experiences.

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  • I love this so much. I became familiar with AA through an internship in college and even more so through my current work as an adolescent residential drug treatment therapist, and I have often thought that AA meetings represent community and vulnerability in such a powerful and tangible way that is sadly missing for many in “the church”. Thank you for your writing and for leading a church that is rooted in this!

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    • thanks, ashley. yes, it is such a beautiful reflection of what can happen in a safe and brave and transforming space.

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  • Thank you, this is amazing. I read Reba Riley’s book and your book at the beginning of this calendar year. Your two books brought me to a landing after three years of faith shifting , which I did not then know as a real term / thing. I read so many scholarly works on the bible and the church by critical scholars , the content of which I recognized as being sound, yet the education was a painful journey from my evangelical churchy past. Thank God for you both. It’s amazing the Godiverse as Reba calls it. My wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary using a peacock motive for no apparent reason. A few weeks later I discovered Reba’s book and learnt about the meaning of the peacock in her writing and in general of that being a symbol of resurrection. Thank God that He is beyond religion. Thank God for your book.

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  • The first part of the recovery is to realize our weakness, and need of Jesus in our life.

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  • This of course is heresy as the Church is infallible. Jesus proclaimed the “gates of Hell shall not prevail against her”. I suppose there’s a strong case to be made that what Jesus ACTUALLY meant was not that the Church would not be overcome by demonic forces but rather that some time later in the future, demonic forces within the Church would infiltrate and that it would need a “recovery meeting”.
    That the people in the Church need recovery is true as the Church has sinners in it. However, the Church itself, being the divine body of Christ that the people who form this body create in perfection is perfect in doctrine.
    I’ve only read two of your posts right now but you sound like one of those oddball “armchair” Christians. Kind of like those armchair quarterbacks. Not really appreciating the involvement and the investment that the quarterback/Christian has spent putting into the game. Instead, just spot-lighting the weaknesses and saying “HA! He was terrible that game because he made that really terrible throw!” Even though the quarterback/Christian has spent much time behind the scenes going out of his misery to get things right as much as possible.

    Reply

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