my baby brother died in 2002. he was an alcoholic/drug addict, and he often proclaimed the virtues of “the big book” and the people in alcoholics anonymous. he once described the relationships at aa to me this way, “i can go anywhere in the world and if i get in trouble, i’ve got family there…somebody will care about me.”
not long after gary died, i visited an evening meeting at the aa chapter near my church. i determined not to tell them why i was there (“i’m not an alcoholic…i’m just here to see what you guys do”), but just to be one of the crowd and absorb the experience. since that evening, i’ve often said that aa meeting was the best church service i’ve ever been to. i took away several powerful things that we (the church) ought to incorporate into our gatherings and over the next few days, i plan to share several of them with you, my bloggy buddies.
the first thing i noticed (and appreciated) about the meeting was that there was not a designated leader; at least not as far as i could tell. perhaps some chapters have a leader, but there wasn’t one at the meeting i attended. we sat around tables (set up in a square) facing each other, and the meeting began with one guy saying, “okay, i guess i’ll start. my name is bill and i’m an alcoholic.”
please don’t jump to conclusions. this post is not a blanket indictment of our methods, and i’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have church leaders–we should. established church leadership is a scriptural principle (and, besides, i are one). i would argue, though, that we put far too much emphasis on the pulpit (stage, platform, etc) and this creates a couple of significant problems.
first, we have created (and preachers perpetuate) a “superstar model” where the one who speaks for god should be a dynamic leader, a passionate communicator, and a person of superior intellect (hair like joel osteen helps, too). these “gospel superstars” seem to command a great following and congregations, quite naturally, seek these kinds of men and women to be their leaders. but what of the god-called man or woman who might happen to be homely? or handicapped? the apostle paul was said to be “A man small in size, with a bald head and crooked legs…with eyebrows that met and a rather prominent nose.” (from The Acts of Paul and Thecla). obviously, we would never elect paul to lead one of our churches…he could never be a “superstar.”
secondly, having a designated leader who is appointed (and paid) to do ministry actually takes ministry out of the hands of the people who really ought to be doing it. our leaders are charged in scripture (ephesians 4:11-12) with the task of resourcing and equipping us to do ministry. how frustrating it must be to be gifted and compelled by god to do a certain ministry, only to have the institutional church hire someone else to do it.
finally, our traditional method of having a designated leader who does all the talking prevents conversation. i want to find a way to create an open forum at our meetings so people with genuine questions can ask them. yesterday, i showed a powerful video clip on which chonda pierce said, “we’re worried about what kind of cream is on the coffee bar when people are dying in the pews to be heard.” so true.
it seems to work at alcoholic anonymous…why couldn’t it work at church?