Thursday, August 16, 2012

How Do We Handle Addiction in the Church?

Question: I have really enjoyed learning more about addiction and recovery this past month through your social media outlets. I would like for myself, my family, and my church to get more involved in fighting addiction, but, to be honest, I have no clue where to start. We don’t talk about addiction at all in our church or family. So, my question for you is how can we get involved?

Answer: That is a great question! I am so happy to hear that the Lord has used our social media focus this month to open your eyes to the stronghold that the enemy has in the church through addiction. I think that your feeling is one experienced by many Christians. We see the problem, we see the devastating effects of the problem, but we feel lost because we don’t know how to combat it. So, where do we start? I think that there are three main areas that church needs to experience growth in in order to better fight addiction: education, transparency, and addressing addiction from the pulpit.

The place where you must start when attacking any issue is to become educated about it yourself. Some ways to do this is to read books about the addiction cycle, study how addiction affects the family, and, most importantly, learn about the recovery process. We don’t want to just be a group of people that knows a lot about addiction, we also want to know about the road to freedom from that addiction. Study the tenets of the twelve-step programs, visit an open celebrate recovery group, and/or talk to people in your life that have experienced freedom from addiction and learn from their experience.

When looking at education on addiction, I really believe that it needs to be a church-wide effort. It needs to start with the pastors educating themselves on addiction and recovery. Then the pastors need to be pouring that knowledge into their elders and small group leaders, who are most likely going to be the ones on the front lines when church members confess their addiction struggles. One idea is to create some kind of document that lists recovery resources in your area (i.e. 12-step groups with meeting times and locations, counselors in the area that specialize in addiction and residential treatment centers for addiction). This will hopefully help your elders and small group leaders feel even more equipped with practical ideas for those struggling.

Another tool to be used in the fight against addiction in the church is vulnerability between the church members. If we have all of the best education and resources to fight addiction in our church, but no one feels safe enough to confess their struggle, we will not get very far at all. Again, I think the needs to start with the church leadership. If the pastor is honest and vulnerable from the pulpit, this will encourage the elders and small group leaders to do the same. When they model transparency to their small groups, the entire church will experience freedom to follow God’s command and, “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” (James 5:16).

Not only is it helpful for the pastor to be vulnerable and honest about his past and current sin struggles from the pulpit, but it is also beneficial for the pastor to actually preach about addiction. This shows the church body that this church and the people in it are not afraid of the tough issues. It also reminds those struggling with addiction that they are not alone and, most importantly, that recovery is possible through Christ.

 *This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.
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