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Would you go to church if you were struggling?

March 5, 2019 by Eric Stillman 2 comments

Today's post is adapted from the December 5th, 2017 post.

“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)

This past year, I finished my Master’s of Professional Counseling degree through Liberty University. One of the classes I took was on substance abuse counseling, 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 view of the gospel 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, or to hide your flaws, 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.


i was thinking that the church building has a lot of open time that the building is not being used and might be a good place to have a weekly AA / NA / CA or Alanon meeting . the cost would be minimal (a pot of coffee and some cookies) and many people could possibly benefit . to get a meeting started is not a difficult process . i would be available to help out with it .
craig wolfram on Mar 7, 2019 at 11:51am
Congratulations on attaining your Masters Pastor!! How I can testify to that observation! Even though my issue is not substance abuse but emotional trauma, it works the same.
I often observe in the world system, as opposed to God's system of doing things (since the the children of the world are wiser than.....) I often observe how the injured and wounded are treated, where medical personnel rush to the scene to help restore health. The various specialties coming together. The patient goes back into the system only after health is restored. There are many wounded in church.My prayer is God use me to bring real and deep healing to others, having gone through a multitude of events, if it is His will.
Love you Pastor. hope I make sense.

Andrea on Mar 7, 2019 at 2:05am

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