Gathering the AA Way

Christianity Today has published a fantastic article on AA and transformative small groups. There is so much thought provoking content here. Here are just a few quotes I am taking away from it.

“AA has what the contemporary church, or at least a large portion of the contemporary evangelical church, seems to lack: a clear theory of personal transformation codified in practices and traditions that are easily accessible to those who would like to be transformed.”

“The absence of both desperation and anonymity prevent small groups from fully capturing the ethos of AA.”

“AA meetings are oriented not around a sermon or a study but rather around what I call a confessional liturgy: a ritualized way of centering one’s life on the practice of the steps. The liturgy is simple: a reading about one of the steps from the Big Book is followed by personal sharing about the setbacks and breakthroughs encountered in attempting to practice that step.”

“AA is not a study group on addiction. It is a support group for spiritual practice. More small groups might be revitalized if they were conceived as support groups for Christian practice. In fact, some small groups already do this; in one model, the gathering’s central focus is on participants’ daily struggles to carry out key Christian practices. What AA shows is how a simple confessional liturgy can center a group on spiritual transformation over the long haul.”

“And it is a reason that AA meetings require no particular leader. Leadership rotates among the regulars and carries little onus because the meeting schedule is always the same. Gather, open with a time of silence, read out the Serenity Prayer, invite everyone to introduce themselves, read “How it Works” from the Big Book, read one of the Twelve Steps, open the floor for personal lsharing, pass the donation basket, pray the Lord’s Prayer, gather around the refreshment table, go home. Night after night. This is the AA recipe for sustainably frequent meetings centered on working the steps as a daily discipline.”

“Sharing is always completely voluntary.”

The author, Kent Dunnington, also offers a suggested model for Christians:

  • Gather a group of local Christian friends.
  • Meet weekly for an hour over coffee and tea, rather than monthly for an evening over a meal.
  • Settle on a sustainable set of daily practices that group members believe would vitalize their spiritual life, instead of a book or a Bible study. Four or five practices will do, certainly no more than 12.
  • Assign group members the task of building a one- to two-page reading on one of the practices—drawing on passages of Scripture, lives of the saints, the church’s great theologians, and written prayers—that can remind the group why the practice matters, how it should be performed, and the setbacks and breakthroughs to be expected as one practices it.
  • Rotate leadership of each meeting, with the leader announcing an opening time of silence to be followed by a group prayer that can be memorized, followed by the arranged reading and a time of voluntary sharing prompted by that reading, concluding with a time of simple petitionary prayers (also completely voluntary) and a closing group recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

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