By Jacqueline J. Holness
There is a tendency to assume that the people you go to church with week after week have had similar experiences as you. However, it is only when you really get to know people behind their “Sunday best” persona that you learn that there are different experiences that have drawn you to the same sanctuary.
Recently, during my church’s prayer request portion of the service, a longtime member shared how someone in her family is struggling with drug addiction and how the addiction is tearing the family apart. Following her prayer request, a well-dressed young man, a first-time visitor, stood up and said that he had been out of drug rehab for two weeks and how hard it is to be sober. Another man who has been coming to our church for a few months stood up and shared how he had been on drugs for years and how his children and grandchildren shunned him until he got sober a few years ago.
I was stunned because I had no idea what these people had been going through. Their personal revelations got me thinking about how churches can support members and visitors who have suffered or are suffering from drug and other addictions.
Centers for Disease Control reported the sobering fact that drug overdose deaths have been on the rise and now even surpass traffic accident death tolls. In March the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 which enables “the attorney general to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use,” according to congress.gov. Among the act’s findings is that “faith-based, holistic, or drug-free models can provide a critical path to successful recovery for a number of people.” Also in the act, a 2015 membership survey conducted by Alcoholics Anonymous revealed that 73 percent of its members remained sober for a year or longer, and they attended an average of 2.5 meetings a week.
Christian 12-Step Programs
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, encourages churches to support 12-step recovery programs. “A gospel-centered recovery ministry must first engage with the traditional 12 Steps, which have saved millions of lives and pulled people out of all sorts of destructive behaviors and addictions. However, evangelical Christians can take the 12 Steps and use them as a foundation upon which they may build a more gospel-centered means of recovery,” said Stetzer in an article for Christianity Today.
Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-step recovery program, started at Saddleback Church in 1991. According to the program website, over 2.5 million people have completed the program at 20,000 churches worldwide since its founding. Saddleback minister Rick Warren outlines how and why Celebrate Recovery is different than traditional 12-step recovery groups: “While undoubtedly many lives have been helped through the twelve steps, I’ve always been uncomfortable with that program’s vagueness about the nature of God, the saving power of Jesus Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So I began an intense study of the Scriptures to discover what God had to say about ‘recovery.’ To my amazement, I found the principles of recovery, and even their logical order, given by Christ in his most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount.”
Michael P. Botticelli, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy director and a former drug addict, spoke about how a local church was vital in his recovery. “While we all know this is a disease that we can study and look at brain scans, for me, I was spiritually bankrupt. It was my pastor, and my congregation, that supported my healing process,” he said.
However, some recovering addicts believe that Christian and traditional recovery programs can coexist. Dominica Applegate said both approaches are valuable. “I think both groups aim to help us achieve the same goals—unconditional love and support among each other, freedom from our guilt and past vices, and peace of mind in our new life” (“Church or AA: Is It One or the Other?” on soberrecovery.com).
Considering the ongoing epidemic of drug addiction in this country, I hope Christians and churches as a whole realize that getting involved in fighting drug addiction may be key in saving the lives of those in the pews or chairs next to us.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).