Many of us may come from different church models and traditions. I am not writing this article to undermine any of these. My desire is to present my thoughts on a model of “doing church” that I have not seen practiced before. I had searched the web, and it took me a while to find an article that was similar to my idea. I say this because I do not believe in original ideas. There is essentially nothing new under the sun. I did find an article by David Fitch which I will share here. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-how-to/168717-david-fitch-church-gathering-should-be-like-a-good-aa-meeting.html my article is in no way meant to be a copy of his, but one expressing my thoughts on the subject. I do love many of the points in which he expressed and will follow a similar format. I will admit I have pondered a model of doing church this way many times. Especially when I sit in an AA meeting and listen to those who speak ill of the church, but find God in the rooms of AA.
This article will not be able to speak to every ecclesiological concern. It is my own personal belief that regardless of how one “does church” we probably are not doing it perfect. Or should I say, there is no perfect church. Or maybe church isn’t supposed to be perfect, after all it is operated by humans. Jesus said, it takes two or more in his name, seems pretty simple, but boy do we know how to complicate things. One of my concerns in writing this article is the enormous task that the current church places on its pastors and leaders. Read the shocking statistics here http://www.pastorburnout.com/pastor-burnout-statistics.html we have all heard of the latest scandals within many of the denominations in the world. I also believe that the body of Christ is the church; which is all of us, is not as active in the world as it could be. The “AA model” for lack of a better name at the present is a basic model that I would gladly see used by church planters across the world. In fact it probably does exist somewhere out there already.
So what is this ecclesiological model that I think may be so great? I am a member of a self-help group called Alcoholics Anonymous. As I have attended meetings throughout the years and I have often thought that this would be an excellent way to have a gathering of believers. I attend many meetings and I always leave feeling like I have been blessed by God. Many times I enjoy going to AA meetings more than church. I guess that doesn’t say much about me. What I will say is that AA doesn’t promote yet is often filled with people every day of the week. It is a very simple model which includes a servant leader not a paid professional, a body of people, chairs, tables, and coffee. Think of how much money would be left over for actual ministry in the community with that kind of set up! No rock star like worship service, flashy lights and videos, not one person who addresses the congregation over and over every week. Just people in unity sharing in the hope of Jesus Christ through teaching, fellowship, and prayer. It probably would not be so far from what the last supper or early church gatherings were like. Let me also make it clear I am not against flashy lights and videos, or minister preaching on Sunday. I am just here to express some thoughts for future church planters.
First I want to address the body of believers who gather together on Sunday mornings. Many churches have a time of fellowship and then sit and listen to the leaders of the church. In an AA meeting there is what is called a chairperson, a servant leader who gives a reading or small teaching that is normally about five minutes in length; sometimes less. The members of the meeting go around the room and give their thoughts and insights on what was read. I suggest that the same could be done within the church. A servant leader a non-professional clergy man or woman gives a small teaching, then allow the body of believers to give their thoughts and insights of the teaching to one another. Often during an AA meeting it is not the actual teaching or reading itself that I learn from, but the thoughts and insights from others. The apostle Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 14:26 “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (NIV) How many times have you been asked in church if you have a word or a hymn, or much less a word of instruction? Yet this is what the church is about. Often times in AA meetings people will say that “God uses people to speak to them.” I completely agree, I have heard God speaking to me through people in many places outside the walls of a church building. Through the words of each believer the body is edifying each other and being edified. The message is given by all of the people not just a single person. The church is the body of Christ, how appropriate that Christ himself teach us. Obviously I do believe even within this structure that competent leadership is needed to guide the body. We still need pastors and deacons, yet the pastors and deacons will be tent-makers. With an emphasis on the priesthood of the saints sharing in the work of the Lord. In AA they have what is called sponsors, a sponsor is someone that takes a new member under their wing and guides them on their journey. The AA model of church would call on its members to be active in the discipleship of new members. The discipleship is not only conducted by the elders of the congregation but by all of the people within the congregation. Everyone serving each other as Christ served his disciples. I believe this is not a new way of doing church but actually a way in which church was done from the beginning.
Fellowship and the Breaking of Bread
Next I want to address one of the most important sacraments in all of Christendom. The Holy Eucharist also known as the Lord Supper, and communion. A side note for my fellow Protestants the word Eucharist has been used since the first century and simply means in the Greek giving thanks, being thankful, or gracious. As an Evangelical Protestant I know there is a vast difference in beliefs from our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters. The AA model which I propose until a better name is given will look at the earliest Christians and examine how they conducted the Lord supper. We all know that the early church loved to eat. Also we the modern church loves to eat. I would never want to change this! Many people have different ideas on how the Lords Supper should be conducted. The earliest writings state that the Supper was conducted on the Lords day. These are non-canonical such as the Didache and writings by early bishops yet have been proved to be trustworthy in regards to the historical record. This would be once per week. Often in our churches we celebrate once per month. Obviously an AA meeting does not conduct a Lords Supper. So how do we implement this commandment into an AA model of church?
Due to the autonomous nature in which I would want each congregation to possess, the churches may receive the Lords Supper how they wish. As long as it is done in reverence and respect. Not a regular meal, or done without inspection of your soul. I suggest a service once per month which is only dedicated to the Lords Supper. A time for reflection and prayer among the congregation. Followed by good fellowship and a meal. The whole meeting being dedicated just for the Lord’s Supper. Fellowship takes place throughout the week, but there is just something about fellowship when we are gathered together. A time to talk, eat, pray for one another, and just enjoy each other’s company. We need each other in many ways and celebrating the Lords Supper and having a lengthy time of corporate fellowship is important for the health of the church. The unity that I believe that will take place within the church through the Lord’s Supper will heal and strengthen the body and keep our eyes focused on the Lord and his soon return.
Cult of Personality
The last section was not so controversial. Unfortunately this next section addresses an issue that I may receive some grief from. The cult of personality of most congregations is the pastor. I do not know the exact statistics of the matter or think that there is any way to really solve the problem of cults of personality even the early church had them. We all love a celebrity preacher. Many of whom are called and used of God greatly. It is we the people who follow the man or woman forgetting the head of the church is Christ. How many times do pastors leave a church to serve another only to be followed by a section of the congregation in which they left? Or many people will find another church altogether. The only reason for their appearance on Sunday morning was for a show and speech from the same guy over and over.
I propose in the AA model that elders selected by the congregation be in charge of the pastoring. These pastors would not be full time professional clergy but clergy whose responsibility is spread out so that no man or woman may hinder the congregation financially. Nor a cult of personality formed. Also no one man or woman would be the only “leader” but all the elders work together for the edification of the church. Essentially the elders may come from all walks of life. None should be forced into leadership but only if moved by the Spirit. The elders are subject to the congregation and accountable to one another. I have not thought far enough ahead if bishops over the congregations would be appointed. I suppose that upper leadership would be necessary if the model caught on. Speaking in this way it seems I am creating a denomination although that is not my intention.
Issues of concern
Obviously this article is very limited in nature. There are many issues involved in church planting and even more when planting a new style of meeting. Or maybe an old style that is rebirthed. Much work would have to be done while the congregation developed. It would be an exciting time for a new church. Just as in AA meetings which have many meetings throughout the week, the AA model would have many meetings. This is truly a family that doesn’t just meet on Sundays. A place of no condemnation, no judgement, a place of freedom and joy in the Spirit. Rich, poor, sinners, and saints, we are all the same.
So many times I have heard in actual AA meetings how they were drove from the church for their behavior and held in condemnation by legalistic attitudes. It truly breaks my heart. I know that there is a major section of society who are not even in recovery that feel the same way. I have often said that recovery, AA, and treatment would be good for anyone regardless of addiction. It would be my desire to see an AA model of church offered to the unchurched or those leaving the “traditional” church.
Some may say, what about sound theological teaching? If you do not have a professional pastor how would sound teaching be taught? Well the early church made due than so can we. In fact all of the body should be able to “pastor” for a day if need be. We created a profession of professional preachers that the early church condemned. Paul went to great efforts to not take any monies from congregations he served. Also out of thousands of denominations around the world that claim the will of God, I know for a fact not a single one has the whole thing right. In a sense we are all a little bit heretical because true orthodoxy is lost. I think that the canonical scriptures and creeds of the early church give us a guide in how we should live out our lives as Christians. That being said none of us will get it 100% right. This was the struggle for the early church and the reason why a New Testament was even put together and creeds developed. The focus should always be on Jesus and his people, the body of Christ on earth. Our salvation through the cosmic action of his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit and his guidance on earth giving the people comfort and power to live our lives as followers of Christ. If we stay submitted to the Spirit in the best way we know how, everything will work itself out.
Vision into reality
I have always felt called to preach the word and pastor his people. Often within my denomination one must plant a church in order to be able to do such. Not planting a church for my sake, but for the people. Especially those in society who are on the fringe and maybe wouldn’t feel welcomed in the current church models. The whole idea would be pointless without a passion for people and a desire to see others come to the knowledge of Christ in their lives. A church without a lot of doctrine which hangs us up, a church that comes together with all our uniqueness. Do I plan on planting a type of church such as this? Yes, I am. I would love to turn this vision into a reality. I am in prayer and waiting for the time in which I believe God will say go, and I will go! If you like this idea and have the opportunity do it. Plant an AA model church or call it whatever you want. Contact me with ideas and suggestions I will humbly receive them all.
The last few articles I have written have been about issues related to society and how we handle these issues as Christians. Yet I think that there is an ecumenical way in which the body of believers can handle the issues of today. The answer, a spiritual awakening. I have been fascinated with spiritual awakenings since I was a teenager. I had a spiritual awaking when I was 16 and it has continued to affect my life. Two words come to mind from scripture saved and perfect. Saved in the Greek is very similar to what we would think it would mean when in the context of salvation, “to save” “to heal” “to restore to health” and so on. Truly having a “saved” experience will start to change our consciousness, the Spirit of God is given to us and by grace we receive. Without this impartation it is difficult to impossible for an outsider to understand Christianity, especially in its inner most works. As Jesus many times spoke of having eyes that see and ears that hear.
Now anyone can say the sinner’s prayer, as preachers often end their sermons with the famous alter call; but does that make them saved? I am not God so I don’t know, yet if some shift in consciousness does not take place I would doubt the person’s salvation. Again I am not an expert or care to be in soteriology, only God truly knows the heart of man. Yet, salvation is a spiritual awakening process. It is the beginning of being made perfect in Christ through the work of the cross. Perfect means essentially reaching the end. Like the Apostle spoke, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. Christians believe this final perfection takes place upon death. For us death is not the end but the beginning. So death in itself is the ultimate spiritual awakening. For we will see him as he truly is.
Many times Christians wonder why some people just do not get it. Why can’t they just believe in God? The scriptures speak of faith being a gift of God. It is also impossible to please God without faith. Just as Abraham was made righteous through faith, so are we. There is no works or good deeds, just faith. Once faith has been used to sincerely believe, and surrender we will have awakened to the spiritual. Now we see, now we hear. All things become new, we see the world in a different light and the scriptures become alive. Since my spiritual awakening I have done what many Christians call, to backslide. This for me is to set aside my consciousness and indulge in my base or profane self. I believe that for the most part our salvation is secure although I am not a complete determinist I ponder how much God effects our destiny outside of ourselves. Being a good Arminian I believe that God has given all humans faith, it is our choice to use it or not. While God may know our destiny we determine it. Many Christians backslide in life before leveling off into a maintenance stage of Christ consciousness. Peter himself betrayed Jesus and digressed to his base self. We are a work in progress towards ultimate perfection. We can have an awakenings continually throughout life. Awakenings are actually much closer than we may think.
While few will have the awakening experience given to those such as the apostle Paul who had a direct encounter with the Lord; who also later was taken up into the third heaven. Why not seek out the deepest spiritual experiences possible. I know I do. I also know that we can stir up awakenings, I believe God desires it. The answer I believe is contained in the act of surrendering. True surrender to God’s will brings about a spiritual awaking. I believe that surrender and salvation are next door neighbors. It takes faith to surrender our will to God. It is probably one of the hardest things in life to do. It is scary, it is uncomfortable, it goes against human nature, but when God’s grace allows us through faith to surrender the results are a life altering spiritual awakening that will last an eternity. For the Christian who is already saved what are some ways which will lead to continued spiritual awakenings? I will mention and explain a few. These are prayer, meditation and giving.
First prayer. Prayer is essential for the Christian. I actually do not know if one can be a Christian without a regular prayer life. In fact I will be so bold as to say no, you cannot be a Christian without a prayer life. We are to be one with the father as Jesus was one. That is at least what the master wished for us. Jesus was a man of great prayer. His life revolved around prayer and the master would spend entire nights in solitude and prayer. We cannot have a conscious contact with God without prayer. God also connects with us through prayer. We are spiritual beings who are designed by the creator to pray. Praying should be as normal as speaking. The desired outcome of prayer is union with God. This is what theologian Friedrich Heiler called mystical prayer. Heiler also considered mystical prayer to be the highest form of prayer.1 (see Das Gebet by Heiler for his work on prayer) This is the elevation of the mind from the earthly to the heavenly. During prayer we will often petition, intercede, praise, and give ourselves to God’s will. Prayer creates a conscious shift in our minds toward God. We begin to see the big picture, it eases our souls. Prayer changes things, and most importantly it changes us. Prayer will also change the world around us. All of us who have had any type of a prayer life will be able to testify to at least one noticeable miracle that has taken place due to our prayers. Do not limit your miracles! If you are looking for a spiritual awakening pray and watch it happen. Let me remind you that prayer is a discipline, and like any discipline it must be worked to see results. While you may have a life altering event the first time you pray, this is not often the case. Quantity and longevity will work in your favor.
Next meditation or contemplation. For myself personally I feel that meditation is the next best thing to prayer. In my own daily routine I spend time in prayer then I spend a time in meditation. I meditate as they do in the East. I sit in silence, using my breath as a guide into the unknown. Not only is it great self-care for your body and mind, it is an opportunity for God to connect with us. It is a time for you to shut up and empty your mind so that God may fill it up. Many have had great revelations as the result of meditation. What are these revelations, well they were conscious shift that create what we call an awakening. Some Christians cringe at the idea of meditation yet I find this foolish. Christians dislike meditation because it is a practice of the East, associated with religions such as Buddhism. Prayer is also a practice of the East and of the Pagans yet they somehow find it beneficial.
Do I believe that Jesus mediated? I would assume he probably did some type of mediation. Okay I will be bold again and say yes I am sure that Jesus meditated especially during his 40 days in the wilderness. Individuals who meditate have been known to go for long periods of time without food or water. They become one with themselves and God. They awake to new insight and a stronger spirituality. I would love to have the time to meditate for such lengths. America would be a much nicer place if everyone prayed and meditated on a daily basis.
My third key to a spiritual awakening is giving. No, and not to the televangelist, they already have fancy suits and cars. Actually when you think about giving in this article let’s just leave money out of it. Yes I believe in giving money to your local church and to charitable organizations but in many ways that is an easy fix. It is easy to write a check it is often more difficult to give of your time out of love. We all have different abilities we can use in order to give to society. Remember Jesus said even if you give a cup of water in my name. The scriptures also say freely you have been given freely give. Read Luke 10:25-37 about the Good Samaritan. I could list literally hundreds of ways in which a person can give. You could be a medical doctor, a lawyer, teacher, mechanic, elected official, business owner, all of these and more. I think you see what I am saying. You have talents worthy of giving. Most importantly in your giving do it out of love. Don’t feel that you must give, give because that’s what you want to do. Love in giving will make all the difference. So how does giving create a spiritual awakening as I have defined it, as a conscious shift in our minds? First it takes you out of yourself and brings you closer to your fellow. You realize that you are not the only person on the planet and the world doesn’t revolve around you. For those that have given it creates a sense of joy and peace. Giving activates the mind. When I speak of the mind I am talking about the spirit of man, not our physical brain. Most importantly giving is what God first did for man. We were created to be like God so we should act like God and give. It is better to give than receive. You will only understand this from giving.
These are not the only paths to a spiritual awakening there is so many more. I will give a few honorable mentions that I wish to write about more in the future.
Alcoholics Anonymous, many look at this self-help group as a way in which a person can stop using alcohol. This is true and is also their stated primary purpose. AA is also so much more than that. I am going to list the 12 steps of this group.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.2
I am not going to get into details yet for more information read the AA book. If you notice, the steps focus on God, prayer, releasing self, meditation, and giving. These same steps or variations of them have been used to help treat people in addiction all around the world. Those in the know understand that alcohol and most drugs hinder our relationship with God. The spiritual person is most of the time a sober person.
On the flip side I will give one last mention and that is the use of drugs, specifically psychedelics. This is not a new concept, but one that has probably been around from the beginning of time. I sometimes wonder if the tree of good and evil mentioned in Genesis was not of the psychedelic nature opening the eyes of man. I am not advocating for the use of drugs yet it is an undeniable fact that if not abused there can be great benefits from psychedelics. Evidence based research is starting to show these benefits in treating certain mental illnesses and addiction. People around the world have been using psychedelics to interact with the spiritual world for thousands of years. This is fascinating and why I give it mention. God certainly created all the plants of the earth. God being God knew of their nature and potential. It is man who abuses and disrespects what God has created for good. Surprisingly the federal government is allowing research into some psychedelics for the treatment of PTSD. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/18/dea-mdma-study_n_6888972.html
Some doctors such as Dr. Dan Engle who practices outside of the United States uses psychedelics to create a spiritual awakening that is needed for the treatment of addiction. http://www.maps.org/research/ibogaine-therapy
Bill Wilson the co-founder of AA was interested in LSD as a possible miracle drug that would bring about a conscious shift to help the alcoholic.
The point to this is not to abuse a drugs, but use drugs such as psychedelics for a better life. Through a spiritual awakening.
Spiritual awakenings have always fascinated me and always will. As I said above I had one when I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ as a teenager. It has totally changed my life. I encourage you to pray, meditate and give, and have a spiritual awakening of your own. If the world was awake which I believe is starting to happen at an accelerated rate we will experience a better world. A kingdom of heaven on earth. Blessings!
- Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker
Book House, 1984. 946.
- Alcoholics Anonymous. 4th ed. New York, New York: A. A. World Services, 1976. 59-60.