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Helping Your Congregation Create an Accepting Attitude for Recovery Ministries


Helping Your Congregation Create an Accepting Attitude for Recovery Ministries



By Mary-Kate Brissett (Sagamore Institute Faith in Communities, 2004)



Bill Morris’s Complete Handbook for Recovery Ministry in the Church (Thomas Nelson, 1993) gives a thorough account of how to create a recovery ministry in a church.  The Handbook is comprehensive in scope and yet easy-to-read.  Morris covers both broad organizational topics as well as more subtle issues involved in recovery ministries.  His overall focus is on helping congregations to achieve koinonia fellowship, a biblical principle that refers to the deep, caring community of believers in Christ.  This community is marked by the presence of Christ and His healing power.  The chapter on “Congregational Acceptance of a Recovery Ministry” guides churches to an attitude of acceptance and support of both recovering individuals and the recovery program. 


Morris believes the key problem in most congregations where recovery is not being addressed is denial.  Some churches are marked by an unwillingness to admit problems. This, Morris suggests, comes from a fear of one’s own sinfulness. Congregations that do not own up to imperfections and confess sin cannot follow the biblical mandate to support one another in the struggle against sin or offer genuine help to addicts.  In other congregations, there may be willingness to admit that problems exist, but with an attitude that diminishes the significance of the pain. This type of denial is marked by the refusal to see the extremity of the problem; failing to acknowledge how troubled people are deeply hurting and recognize how much they need help in recovery. 


Morris urges church leaders to consider their congregation’s attitude in relation to recovery ministry and to troubled individuals in general.  The support of the congregation is necessary to a successful recovery ministry. Without a climate of acceptance, grace, and humility, the church will not provide fertile soil for ministries that bring hurting individuals real relief, healing, and transformation.


The pastor can play a central role in helping a congregation to eliminate denial, Morris argues. The pastor must take leadership by being the first to stop denying his own humanness and imperfection and by turning to Christ for grace and strength.  As frightening as this can be for a pastor, it will allow the congregation to feel safe to be vulnerable and honest with their sin.  The pastor should encourage and support the congregation in their truthfulness in this area.  The congregation must embrace the freedom from shame and condemnation that all believers in Christ share.  Morris urges congregations to struggle against the sin but to love and accept the sinner (i.e., each person) as he or she is. 


Morris suggests that the pastor can also foster the growth of recovery ministries in the church by announcing such groups from the pulpit.  Information about group meetings should be available in print in the sanctuary or church building. And, Morris adds, asking members of the support groups to share their testimonies with the congregation is an excellent way to support the recovery ministry. Public conversation about the recovery groups will increase congregational awareness of their existence and help members to see how the groups are helping their co-congregants


In addition to the pastor’s effort, Morris says, the support group members themselves can help raise awareness in many ways.  Eventually, part of the healing process must be an ability to share your story with others.  This can take place formally or informally, in small or large groups.  In Morris’s church, support group members sometimes lead seminars on topics important to their recovery or their support group.  They also help train those in leadership in their church who desire to better know how to minister to those participating in support groups addressing various issues.


Another idea Morris offers is having a recovery ministry awareness month (or Sunday) during which the recovery ministry is publicized and information on the various support groups offered is available to the congregation. Group literature and books can be prominently displayed in the church’s common areas. Support group members can educate the congregation by sharing their stories, answering questions, and/or giving their testimonies during the service. 


These are all ways in which the congregation will receive the message that the church is a safe place to hurt and a safe place to be struggling with sin. For recovery ministries to flourish, church members must believe that koinonia fellowship is real and available and that the church’s ethos is one of support for all sinners in their walk with God.


Morris also offers helpful suggestions for individuals reading the Handbook who wish to start a recovery ministry in their church but do not yet have the support of their pastor:


·    give the pastor this book,

·    get permission to start a recovery ministry and make an evaluation (hopefully the pastor will be supportive once he sees the ministry at work), or

·    become involved in the recovery ministry of another church (without leaving the current church) and return with a better understanding and experience to share, thereby hopefully receiving more support for the idea of a recovery ministry. 


Related Articles
Curriculum Review of Celebrate Recovery

Organizing and Starting a Recovery Group

Related Books
The Complete Handbook for Recovery Ministry in the Church

Healing Places: How Faith Institutions Can Effectively Address Chemical Dependency

Related Links
Christian Recovery International

Conference Calendar
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