Church Anonymous

Mission San Luis Obispo. Photo by Josh Benton

Mission San Luis Obispo. Photo by Josh Benton

One of the things our church does which I love is that we host Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) a few times a week. Because of the need and desire for privacy and confidentiality I go out of my way to make sure that those who come have that respected. There are times when we have meetings at church (sometimes in my office) on the same nights that AA meets. And there are times when a church meeting actually gets done on time or even early (weird, I know, right?) wherein I go to my office to get some work done and AA is still meeting. When I’m in my office, I can hear them talking.

I want to be clear: I do not try to listen in on the meetings. In fact, I try very very very hard to tune out what’s being said, even putting in headphones sometimes. Even though I do all I can to block out the words traveling through the walls into my office, I still feel the emotions that come from there.

These emotions flow like a river, constant with a whirling and swirling of different currents inside the same river. I do all I can not to hear the voices from my side of the wall, but I can feel the emotions and the tone of voice for each person speaking though I don’t hear the words. Each tone is different. Each tone has its own history, its own life lived, its own journey. Its own story.

Not just that though, it’s the whole rooms emotions that I feel coming through. When one person speaks, I can hear the tone of voice, feel the emotion of what they’re saying (again, I do all I can to block out the words). Sometimes it’s joyous and the whole room erupts in gladness and applause and warmness that overwhelms even me. Sometimes the tone and emotion is that of guilt, that of pain and hurt, of lives destroyed and the whole room becomes embracing, a different warmness, a comfortable warmness (like being in a blanket in front of a fire on a chilly winter’s night kinda warmness) and then I’ll hear a new voice with a tone of comfort and consolation, a tone of experience and reassurance. Then the whole room joins in with that. They all have been there. They all know the brokenness and pain.

Through the walls I can feel the acceptance, I can feel the acknowledgment of pain and hurt, I can feel the encouragement of the group, I can feel the warmth of love, of the I’ve-been-there-too-ness. What a group to belong to. And to think what others had to go through in order to begin the journey with this group.

Sitting in my office last night after a meeting ended early, I was trying to get work done, doing all I could to block out the words wafting through the walls. But I couldn’t block out the emotions. They were overwhelming. I didn’t know what was going on, but I did receive the tone and emotions that something bad had happened and in response the group gave that warmness to the person. No judgment. No condemnation. Pure warm acceptance.

I began to wonder why the church isn’t seen as a place like this. I began to wonder why the church over the years has been seen almost like the opposite–instead of being welcoming and accepting because we’re all broken by sin, we appear judgmental and condemning; instead of being a place of warmth to those in need of Christ’s divine embrace we place up barriers and prevent people from truly knowing Jesus; instead of being a place to run to, the church has become seen as a place to run from (and fast).

What happened here?

The church hasn’t caught up. Or, in some cases, it’s struggling to catch up to the 1990’s.

Many Christian scholars on culture and missiologists (those who study the hows and whys of mission and evangelism) have stated that we are living in a post-Christendom world. The church was once the center of people’s lives, yet our lives have become fractured. The center no longer holds. And with the church not catching up (even more so circling the wagons and holding on to what once was) we no longer have our first love, our first passion, our original job of being the body of Christ.

The church exploded on the global scene in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries not because of good strategies or programs or buildings or worship services. No. It exploded because of living the welcoming embrace of Jesus. They brought people in as they were yet they didn’t expect them to stay there. They early church went out of their way to give of themselves regardless of who the person was. In fact, in the early 2nd century, a whole Roman city was won over to Christ because when a plague hit and people were chucking sick loved ones out the doors of their homes, Christians were bringing them into theirs at the cost of their own lives to tend to the sick. Not just that, but the very people who were persecuting, ostrisizing from community, chasing away were the same people that the early church ministered to by helping the sick. This act showed the love of Christ in ways that can’t be expressed.

Just one act. Just one thing done. Just one warm embrace changed the Roman world and the world forever.

Now, what if the church today was like this? What if church acted like AA instead of unintentionally pushing people away (or in some cases intentionally)? What would that look like today?

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