I am an alcoholic and substance abuser who has been in recovery for thirty-four years (as of Good Friday, which is coming up in a few weeks).
While I deeply respect the anonymity tradition of AA, I discovered that being public about it, as a public figure, offered people that knew me or knew of me from my work in churches, a safe and accessible resource. Eventually it became clear that what I learned and keep learning from addiction and recovery is also the filter through which I read the Gospels. So not only is it futile to attempt a disguise that covers my brokenness or healing in preaching, it is my wound and journey through that is what I know and the gift I have to offer.
Here is the rub.
No one gets sober unless they first admit they are a mess, a broken human being in the most elementary way. Then there is the powerlessness piece, an especially bitter admission for people that alcohol and drugs have ego-tized with an extended emotional adolescence. But people in recovery share this with everyone else in the world, except the contours of our fall and recovery are just a bit more inflated than most.
So every church in the whole wide world should be an advertisement for brokenness and an oasis for recovery.
Every single congregation should have a culture similar to AA in this way, that we look around and recognize our common brokenness and that no one present is there because he or she has a secret knowledge protecting them from struggle.
Instead of declarations and proclamations of doctrinal beliefs serving as the ticket to membership, belonging ought to be rooted in an unvarnished authenticity about our woundedness.
Instead of clergy dressing up in faux-emperor robes, academic regalia, or two thousand dollars suits that echo their prosperity gospel, clergy especially ought to be the lamplight that says, “Yep, you came to the right place because we’re all broken here.”
But also like the culture of AA, in the midst of our brokenness there should be an abundance of humor (including self-depreciation) and joyfulness. People who are struggling with some particular piece of their woundedness should be able to walk into our churches and ask themselves, “How come these obviously broken people can have such a good time?”
I know some churches out there look and feel like what I am describing, but not enough or we would be thriving in every location regardless of how many people are in the pews. Recognizing our common brokenness and celebrating the surprising joy of liberation in the midst of our woundedness, creates a vitality that lifts every group and grounds them with humility.
I have no doubt it is projection on my part, but I imagine Jesus and his community, whose altar was their own dinner table, were far more like an AA meeting than church worship. That is also my vision of church at its best and most promising.