Many of us are aware that Bill and Bob started AA in 1935. Their fellowship originated in a faith-based understanding that those beset by similar problems are best suited to help each other. It wasn’t until 1946 and the adoption of the “Traditions” that AA distanced itself from overtly Protestant theology.
The objective of this essay is simply to share a range of scriptures that, taken together, prescribe how Believers should meet in small groups devoted to seeking help and healing from common afflictions.
Seeking help is an essential Christian trait.
Pathetic helplessness is very often our path to Christ in the first place. And seeking help from others is essential in fellowship; asking for help invokes humility, sincerity and authenticity in a way no other interaction will. Asking for help promotes Godly living and obedience.
We regularly hear comments from pastors and elders averse to “self-help” groups. Recently a favorite pastor complained that while alcoholics and addicts have meetings, gossips and busy-bodies don’t. With too many afflictions to name, many people need a group that doesn’t exist. Therefore, in the opinion of some church leaders, the 12-step / small group system “must be flawed and has no merit.” Sometimes we encounter “control issues” — outright distrust of anyone other than appointed elders to counsel the suffering. Sometimes leaders simply dislike the source of program material. Almost always, such objections haven’t been fairly researched, and so, by definition (the Berean one) such glib opposition lacks sufficient basis. Primarily “source material issues” boil down to Church prejudice and denominational politics. Truly “The traditions of men.”
“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” 1Timothy 1:5-7
By the way, there are self-help meetings for meddlers (gossips and busy-bodies.) Some belong in meetings for co-dependents. Others have issues that take them into meetings for over-eating, gambling, grief, debt, pornography, anger and elsewhere. Gossips and meddlers are often survivors of various kinds of abuse.
So, zoom out. Frame the bigger picture. Unfocus on 12-step programs. (Not many are willing to work a rigorous 12-step program anyway.)
What is the biblical basis for Recovery Community meetings?
For starters, we should be aware that “God never wastes a hurt.”
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Obviously, our experiences are meant to benefit our brothers and sisters. Christ came and suffered all so that His comfort would be perfect in every situation. Since we have not suffered all, our experiences empower us to comfort primarily those who are enduring trials similar to our own. For example, a recovering gambler isn’t well-suited to comfort someone who’s lost a child.
Compassion as a response to suffering is quintessentially Christ-like.
“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” ” Matthew 9″36-38
Jesus responds by relieving the agony of those who approach him. Jesus is moved in the presence of messy, defiled and diseased people. Ancient (and current) Pharisees avert their eyes — are repulsed and avoid, shun and drive away the needy. Picture the story of The Good Samaritan.
We should question our faith when our spirit doesn’t respond similarly. Criticism and condemnation have no place in our fellowship.
Jesus takes compassionate action in situations where people seek help. Churches are beset with busy-bodies, who in their own eyes think they know what’s best for others. As it turns out, meddling in another’s trouble and unsuccessfully “fixing them” is a common origin of resentment, gossip and condemnation. We hear things like “Well, maybe they just aren’t really saved.” The presumption is that salvation leads quickly, if not immediately, to freedom from chemical abuse and other painful behaviors — a premise which is simply erroneous! All sinners have “found” Jesus. Phillipians 1:6 : God won’t fail to complete the good work in His children, despite a meddler’s failure to “fix” them.
Jesus himself says it clearly:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
“Don’t presume to council me on my woes if you haven’t overcome similar issues yourself!”
Seeking God acts opposite the “work” attempted by busy-body fixers. Chasing and browbeating offenders harms the church. The suffering believer needs to ask for help.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8
Sinners (all of us) are called to confession and prayer to seek healing. But … here’s the big qualifier:
Self-help does not mean self-actualized. Recovery groups provide a safe place and framework to diligently seek God’s will.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
We can’t do this on our own. It’s all Jesus, really.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16
Whatever it is that confounds us — this compulsion, that habit or some hangup — we should seek spiritual healing. The notion is that the outward behavior is only a symptom of an inward problem. For instance: Drinking numbs pain.
Paul nails this by instructing:
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16
But the pain of passing through trials isn’t something that, once prayed over, we blithely set aside and pretend to be moving on. Perseverance is required. That means recovery takes work!
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Pilippians 2:12-13
When I set my heart on living rightly that is one thing. Next, I need to hear from God how, when and where to move.
A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:19
A primary way God speaks to his children is through others.
It takes a community. Fellowship is essential.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Gal 6:1
One-on-one at times, and yet, recovery is our collective responsibility. Paul purposefully uses plural pronouns:
“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1
Perhaps there isn’t a more clearly stated purpose for faith-based small groups in scripture than the notion from Solomon:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Eccl. 4:9-12
We have advocated elsewhere in this blog that MOST churches aren’t balanced in ministries. At a minimum we look for:
- Sunday – Full exposition (Teaching the whole, unabridged Bible.)
- Regular Small Group studies on topical doctrine or particular chapter focus
- Weekly Applicational studies – for seekers of healing, and for other needs (Financial Health, Volunteerism…)
Application of scripture and the sharing of collective “experience, strength and hope” are the foundation of Biblical self-help groups. Put another way, our testimony is distilled to: “What it was like, how it changed and what’s it’s like now” to quote AA literature. Whatever we choose to call our groups, we need them. It should be obvious that this applies to everyone. Use the 12-steps, or another process (we recommend the 8 Beatitudes taken in their proper, given order. Contact Us for an outline.)
Begin the study. Work the study. Pray, read scripture. Confess. Pray together. Finish the process! And then? Start over! Help someone else. God’s word is bottomless. We are asked to meditate on it constantly. This is, in effect, “Working the program.” This is, in practice is “Creating Disciples.”
Meetings need leadership.
Mattew 9:38 includes Jesus’ remark “The harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few.” A special burden exists for those called to guide others. Our authenticity must be confirmed outwardly, however. Thoreau said “What you do speaks so loudly we cannot hear what you say.”
“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.” Hebrews 13:7
Sharing our “Experience, Strength and Hope” is an instruction we must follow and practice doing; Recovery meetings help us learn to do so gently! Small groups are an excellent, safe place to learn how to witness to unbelievers.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” 1 Peter 3:15
A final note for those who’d claim the simplistic notion of the “Single Step Program: Jesus Saves, and that’s all I need to know.” This is perhaps the single biggest impediment to genuine, authentic fellowship. It’s too easy and convenient to take the one step of confessing Christ and then live as a Believer in isolation. Beware! Solo Christianity is a cop-out. There are many who confess Christian faith whose only interaction with other Believers is vapid (and often prideful) chit-chat, tepid worship and sitting through a brief Sunday morning message.
And so we declare in opposition to copping out, that the weight of scripture prescribes transparent, honest, confessional relationships. Is your Church unsupportive of like-minded small groups establishing themselves simply out of organic need? Are Jesus’ children “weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd?”(Matthew 9:36), in effect, left with “No one to comfort them?” (Ecc 4:1) You might question if your Church is teaching the full spiritual depth of the verses we’ve outlined in this essay and if something the congregation is doing – or is NOT doing – is getting the way.
Make no mistake… working with actual sheep is messy and difficult. Weak leadership cultivates the sanitary conditions “Churchy Hypocrites” enjoy on Sundays.
Proverbs 24, Saying 25
If you falter in a time of trouble,
how small is your strength!
Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?