The Rev. John Cox of St. Philip’s Anglican Orlando believes churches can’t handle the problem of addiction alone. Here, he shares ways we can partner with our communities to address this burgeoning issue.

In the Celtic spirit of incarnating into a culture or people group, we Christians in America share a strong common concern with our fellow citizens. It is the swelling threat and encroachment of a pervasive subculture of addiction. As of April 2014, 21 states and the District of Columbia have approved use of medical marijuana. Now, one can freely walk the streets of Washington and Oregon smoking a joint.

Yet if I, or our church, want to “use” an “addiction or recovery ministry” to “grow” our church, we may need to revisit our motives, mission statements and strategies. Why? There are risks! Here’s two.

1. A tendency to ENABLE in order to retain the person …”Can’t lose ’em!”
Remember that God is bigger than your church, and even your self-contained recovery program. His redemptive options for those who suffer addictions in your city are real.

2. Ministering to “them” for your sake instead of theirs, or the Lord’s.
Remember that co-dependency can religiously lurk in your motives that you may label as “ministry.” The really bad part of this is that the addicted and their hurting families are looking for co-dependents to take care of them.

addiction

Image credit: Right-turn.org

So why must the Church reach out to those who suffer from addictions?

Back in the ’80s, Don Wilkerson, the brother and ministry partner of Teen Challenge founder David Wilkerson, aptly identified addiction-suffering individuals and families, even communities, as a missional people group. It fits. This “people group” has existed throughout history, is trans-cultural, embeds itself as a malignant subculture in its “host” cultures, is socio-economically indiscriminate, includes distorted thinking and behaviors such as manipulation, denial, projection, isolation, rationalizing and lying, and is always corrosive and often fatal to individuals, families and even nations (i.e., current narco-terrorist governments like opium-subsidized Afganistan, drug cartel-ridden Mexico, or the 19th century Opium Wars in China with the offending country being England and their demand for opium).

Today, an addiction/recovery ministry is a core ingredient in the church planter’s ministry recipe and church relaunch strategy. But we do our addiction/recovery ministry as a part of a larger, redemptive recovery community THAT ALREADY EXISTS in our city, especially for Christians. There are multiple models of addiction/recovery ministry out there. The hugely successful Celebrate Recovery (CR) is in over 20,000 churches worldwide. This is dwarfed by a recent AA survey that counted 1,867,212 members and 106,202 AA groups worldwide. Other self-contained addiction/recovery models include Overcomers in Christ, National Association for Christian Recovery, and Reformers Unanimous.

As we labor within these “self-contained” programs, we need not ignore the fantastic resources, helpers, mentors and other Christ-centered environments for the recovering person as they reconstruct and reconfigure their newfound sober friends and families.

There are two simple steps to healthy community-based recovery ministry.

1. Love your city. 

As a minister or lay person, your first step is to get to know your city’s recovery support assets. You can do this by phone first, then repeated live visits with those who have a shared affinity with you.

2. Assess potential partnerships in your city.
You’ll want to be familiar with the following groups, organizations and activities so you can explore partnerships with them.

                         Support Groups:
                        —AA/NA/SA/Al-Anon networks, etc. (contrary to popular opinion, there are many Christians in the 12-Step movement.)
                        —Regional Celebrate Recovery and other Christian recovery support “franchises/organizations”
                        —Local/Regional “Recovery Cathedrals,” i.e., churches with established “street cred” and community respect for               their intentional recovery efforts
                         —Local Christian Counselor Network – you can ask for their referrals
                         —National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) Network
                         —Community-Based Residential/Recovery Housing Organizations, i.e., Oxford House
                         —Christian Residential Organizations

Local Coalitions 
(prevention against drugs, drunk driving, homelessness, domestic violence):
                        —New Life Live referral network
                       —Focus on the Family referral network
                      —Came-to-Believe (overtly Christian AA groups)
                      —Licensed outpatient programs
                      —Court-ordered/approved groups
                      —Service centers for veterans, community mental health, homeless services
 

Throughout this blog, I hope you’ve noticed that I’ve used mostly community-based language. That’s because we need to make sense and quickly connect to our neighbors.

Remember: Loving your city as a church value automatically makes your church an engaged inroad for the betterment of your city (Jeremiah 29)…and it thrusts you into community caring, crisis and enriching events as a citizen stakeholder.

The Rev. John Cox is rector of St. Philip’s Anglican Orlando and also leads The Table, a healing and recovery support-style gathering for the community. He is a Certified Addictions Professional in the state of Florida and has led addiction and recovery support services in many different contexts. Contact John.