Friday, March 07, 2014

Recovery at Church

Celebrate Recovery is a 12 step program birthed at Saddleback Church in California. It has spread to churches worldwide with great success...and lots of struggle. That's because recovery and church don't always play well together.

It is my experience that church is actually a very effective addiction incubator, particularly for those who work in the church. I've met my fair share of pastors and professional church workers who are addicts. This includes addiction to drugs, alcohol, work, power, sex, and all the self-protective mechanisms to which addicts fall prey. Often under the guise of Christian charity or grace the church, in reality, becomes a place where there is little or no accountability or discipline.

Recovery is about admitting your life has become unmanageable, acknowledging that only God has the power to restore us to sanity and establishing rigorous accountability, discipline and transparency with God and people you trust.

This makes recovery programs at church hard to maintain.  People in recovery need rules that don't change. That are fairly and evenly enforced. They need the protection of a disciplined environment where all the stated rules are upheld. Where realistic expectations are expressed and maintained. 'Graciously' bending the rules or allowing 'flexibility' or not expecting rigorous honesty and transparency may seem 'Christian' but these are the death knell to recovery.

I've seen it time and time again when church people in charge of recovery groups...Celebrate Recovery in particular...decide that the rules are malleable. Meeting weekly is 'usual' but can be adjusted. Following the prescribed meeting format is 'typical' but not guaranteed. Holding people to strict adherence to the guidelines is 'preferred' but not insisted upon. This is the sort of approach that is both dangerous for those in recovery and fatally undermines the long term success of the recovery program.

Add to that the typical attitude of the larger church that their recovery ministry is one small part of their overall ministry and primarily for 'those people'. An attitude that completely misses the point that the core principles of recovery are crucial and should be practiced by everyone...without exception. After all addiction is simply a manifestation of sin and, as St. Paul tells us, 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'

Elsewhere we read, 'If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.' That's not just addicts, that's everyone. The difference between church and recovery is that in church we admit we are sinners. In recovery we admit our sin in enumerated detail.

So the next time you attend a church based recovery program and they start playing fast and loose with the rules, challenge the leaders to get with and stay with the program. Otherwise go find somewhere that does.

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