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If you were struggling in life, would you go to church?

December 5, 2017 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

I have been taking a class on substance abuse counseling this fall, and one of the assignments was to visit a couple of AA, NA, and Al-Anon meetings. I had always heard that these groups often succeed in creating the kind of atmosphere and community that the church is meant to display. My experience proved this to be correct, especially in one important way that I think is worthy of consideration.

One of the ways the church goes wrong, especially with young people, is by preaching the “gospel of sin management” (Dr. Kara Powell’s book “The sticky faith guide for your family” explains this well). This kind of teaching and witness leads young people to see the Christian faith as a collection of do’s and don’t’s: to be a Christian means that you go to church, don’t swear, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t sleep around, etc. One of the main problems with this understanding is that when the young person inevitably breaks those rules, their response is often “I can’t go back to church, because I would just be judged and condemned.”

My experience with AA and NA, however, convinced me that if an addict relapsed, they would know that when they returned to AA or NA, they would find fellow addicts in recovery who would understand the struggle, share their own stories of relapse, embrace them, celebrate their return, and help them work again towards getting clean and sober. There would be no judgment and no condemnation, only hugs and a chorus of “I’ve been there.”

The big lesson for me was that we need to be clear what gospel we are preaching through our words and our actions. If we are preaching a gospel of sin management, hiding our own sins and struggles and making it appear that all Christians have their act together, then those who sin or struggle will feel inadequate and not see the church as the place they need to come to for grace and support. But if we are preaching the gospel of grace, that we are all sinners desperately in need of a Savior – and desperately in need of the grace and support of our brothers and sisters – then those who sin or struggle know that the church is the place they will find the grace and support they so urgently need.

I encourage you in your words and actions not to point people to your own awesomeness, but instead to point people to Jesus. Do not be afraid to share your sins and struggles, to say “I’ve been there” to your struggling brother or sister, and to offer one another the hope found in Jesus. And always warmly welcome and celebrate each other for every little step made in the direction of Jesus.

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