The Recovery-minded Church: Loving And Ministering To People With Addiction

By Jonathon Benz with Kristina Robb-Dover
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books (2016)

Paperback, 185 pages


“We are the most in debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in US history” (Brown, 2010). This statement made by Brene Brown, social scientist, therapist, and founder of The Daring Way, found in the first chapter of The RecoveryMinded Church, suggests that American society faces a serious dilemma. Add to this statement the Benz and Robb-Dover’s estimate that about 30 percent of Americans struggle with some type of addiction, and the curtain is drawn back, revealing the true condition of many Americans. The Recovery Minded Church is a book written to the attention of church leaders, members, and the faith community at large to challenge the way individuals with addictions are received and cared for by the church.

The authors of The Recovery-Minded Church reference Luke 15:20–24, the prodigal son’s story, and suggest that the church can be a “prodigal church” for those seeking refuge and recovery support. They challenge the church leadership of today to consider if their church receives both those with active addictions, as well as those in recovery, as “prodigal children” returning from the faraway country of addiction to a home of unconditional love and acceptance (versus a spirit of judgment and disdain).

This book asks some important questions: if the church were considered a prodigal church, is it ready to receive addicts into their pews each week? Is the church equipped to love those with addictions through the long-term recovery process? Does the church have the tools to help their congregations receive (with love and acceptance) the prodigal addict who has wandered very far from home?

The authors “surveyed an ecumenical focus group of one hundred church leaders (both lay  and ordained) to discover the biggest obstacles they face in loving and ministering to people with addictions” (p. 14). Each chapter addresses different obstacles, offering church leaders tools to help congregations become a recovery-friendly place for these individuals. The authors stress that this book does not show the church how to set up a recovery program; however, it does offer church leaders methods for how to respond  to individuals with  addictions  in ways other than giving them a pamphlet to a local NA or AA meeting. This book challenges and invites church leaders to go beyond their comfort zone into unchartered territory by offering addicts in their midst real support, not simply a referral.

The Recovery-Minded Church provides valuable insight, as reported by those with addiction, into how the church has failed to respond to the person behind the addiction, leaving many more hurt than healed. It offers a clinically informed, biblical, and theological framework to correct this problem. The authors suggest looking at how the church leader personally responds to addiction. If the typical response is to refer the person for help outside the church, and the dialogue with the person ends there, the first step is to reevaluate. The author suggests that church leaders and members can do so much more by personally including and getting to know the person behind the addiction. They also suggest going with the person to a meeting. More challenging is the authors’ suggestion that to prepare to meet the deeper needs of the addict, and it is first necessary to acknowledge how much alike one is to the addict. The author suggests doing a personal moral inventory (step four in the AA/NA 12-step process), review fears, identify false gods, and look at intimate relationships, both past and present. This process will allow church leaders to be humble as their own addictive tendencies are revealed and the grace of God becomes more of a personal need.

The first pressing concern discovered by the authors’ survey focuses on how to get the addict into recovery. This book provides the reader with the ways to best approach the person with an addiction and discusses what not to do. The next section covers how to keep the person in recovery; this section suggests that emotional resiliency is the best predictor of whether addicts will be able to manage life’s stress without using. The authors suggest that the church can help recovering addicts stay in recovery “by providing spiritual resiliency, which can be the byproduct of a church culture that defines itself in terms of authentic, long term relationships entrusted to God’s care and transformation” (p. 86). They suggest that the church can facilitate this process with mutual responsibility, truth-telling, commitment, acceptance, compassion, and understanding.

The authors explore the issue of shame related to addiction and provide several helpful ways in which it can be deprogrammed. They suggest finding ways to normalize the experience of the addiction; validating the feelings of shame while removing the notion that their shame is warranted; creating safe, confidential settings for honest group sharing; making yourself available for confession; always keeping confidentiality; modeling vulnerability by being honest about your own imperfections and addictive behaviors; connecting recovering addicts with people who are on the same path; and finally, always extending hope.

The one chapter in the book that did not provide a comprehensive or completely accurate overview was chapter three. This chapter examined myths of addiction, including addiction as demon possession. The authors do not provide an accurate biblical understanding of this content, nor do they provide information available regarding how to appropriately/effectively approach this aspect of addiction recovery. In fact, there were several conclusions drawn that are totally inaccurate. This section of the book should be read with this awareness. More is needed in this chapter to provide church leaders with a sound biblical understanding of these myths.

In conclusion, The RecoveryMinded Church offers church leaders a good resource for evaluating if their church is ready to “enter into another’s pain, anoint it as holy and stick around no matter the outcome” (p. 142), as Jesus has done for all His lost sheep. It offers practical and appropriate tools to assist the church in becoming a place where individuals can be accepted just as they are, recognizing that all fall short of the glory of God and need of God’s redeeming love to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.


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