"Would that the Church were like this - ordinary men and women with great need who have found a great Answer, and do not hesitate to make it known wherever they can - a trained army of enthusiastic, humble, human workers whose efforts make life a different thing for other people!"
- Samuel Moor Shoemaker ("What Voices Do You Listen To?")
"The first thing I think the Church needs to learn from AA is that nobody gets anywhere till he recognizes a clearly-defined need. There people do not come to AA to get make a little better. They do not come because the best people are doing it. They come because they are desperate. They are not ladies and gentlemen looking for a religion, they are utterly desperate men and women in search of redemption. Without what AA gives, death stares them in the face. With what AA gives them, there is life and hope. There are not a dozen ways, there are not two ways, there is one way; and they find it or perish.
AA's, each and all, have a definite, desperate need. They have the need, and they are ready to tell somebody what it is if they see the least chance that it can be met.
Is there anything as definite for you or me, who may happen not to be alcoholics? If there is, I am sure that it lies in the realm of our conscious withholding of the truth about ourselves from God and from one another, by pretending that we are already good Christians.
"The relief of being accepted can never be known by one who never thought himself unaccepted. I hear of 'good Christian men and women' belonging to 'fine old church families'. There were no good Christians in the first church, only sinners... Today the last place where one can be candid about one's faults is in the church. In a bar, yes, in a church, no. I know; I've tried both places." (Jerome Ellison from "Report to the Creator")
Let that sting you and me just as it should, and make us miserable with our church Pharisaism till we see it is just as definite and just as hideous as anybody's drunkenness can ever be, and a great deal more really dangerous.
The second thing the Church needs to learn from AA is that men are redeemed in a life-changing fellowship. AA does not expect to let anybody who comes in stay as he is. They live for nothing else but to extend and keep extending that help.
It never occurs to an AA that it is enough for him to sit down and polish his spiritual nails all by himself, or dust off his soul all by himself, or spend a couple of minutes praying each day all by himself. His soul gets kept in order by trying to help other people get their souls in order, with the help of God.
Recently I heard an AA say that he could stay away from his Veterans' meeting, his Legion, or his Church, and nobody would notice it. But if he stayed away from his AA meeting, his telephone would begin to ring the next day!
"A life-changing fellowship" sounds like a description of the Church. It is of the ideal Church. But the actual? Not one in a hundred is like this. The laymen say this is the minister's job, and the ministers say it is the evangelist's job, and everybody finds a rationalized excuse for not doing what every Christian ought to be doing, i.e., bring people into the redeeming, life-changing fellowship.
The third thing the Church needs to learn from AA is the necessity for definite personal dealing with people... I've heard them laboring with one another, now patient as a mother, now savage as a prize-fighter, now careful in explanation, now pounding in a heavy personal challenge, but always knowing the desperate need and the sure answer.
Are we in the Church like that? Have you ever been drastically dealt with by anybody? Have you ever dared to be drastic in love with anybody? We are so official, so polite, so ready to accept ourselves and each other at face value. I went for years before I met a man that dared get at my real needs, create a situation in which I could be honest with him, and hold me to a specific Christian commitment and decision. One can find kindness and even good advice in the Church. That is not all men need. They need to be helped to face themselves as they really are.
The fourth thing the Church needs to learn from AA is the necessity for a real change of heart, a true conversion. As we come Sunday after Sunday, year after year, we are supposed to be in a process of transformation. Are we?
The AA's... are pushed by their need. They are pulled by the inspiration of others who are growing. They are a society of the "before and after," with a clear line between the old life and the new. This is not the difference between sinfulness and perfection, but it is the difference between accepted wrong-doing and the genuine beginning of a new way of life.
Again I quote Ellison, in his Report to God: "...I began to see that many of the church-goers did not really want to find You, because finding You would change them from their habitual ways, and they did not want to endure the pain of change... For our churchman-like crimes of bland, impenetrable pose, I offer shame..."
There should be a breaking down of our pride and unwillingness to change. We should know by now that this unwillingness, multiplied by thousands and tens of thousands, is what is the matter with the Church, and what keeps it from being what God means it to be on earth. The change must begin somewhere. We know it ought to begin with us.
One of the greatest things the Church should learn from AA is the need people have for an exposure to living Christian experience. In thousands of places, alcoholics (and others) can go and hear recovered alcoholics speak about their experiences and watch the process of new life and outlook take place before their eyes. There you have it, the need and the answer to the need, right before their eyes. They say that their public relations are based, not on promotion, but on attraction. This attraction begins when you see people with problems like your own, hear them speaking freely of the answers they are finding, and realize that such honesty and such change is exactly what you need yourself.
No ordinary service of worship in the Church can possibly do this. We need to supplement what we do now... where people who are spiritually seeking can see how faith takes hold in other lives, how the characteristically Christian experience comes to them. Some churches are doing this, but not nearly enough of them.
As I looked over the crowd of [AA's], ...I said to myself, "Would that the Church were like this - ordinary men and women with great need who have found a great Answer, and do not hesitate to make it known wherever they can - a trained army of enthusiastic, humble, human workers whose efforts make life a different thing for other people!"
Let us ask God to forgive our blindness and laziness and complacency, and through these re-made people to learn our need for honesty, conversion, for fellowship and for honest witness!
Excerpts taken from "What the Church Has to Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous" (From "What Voices Do You Listen To?" by Samuel Moor Shoemaker)