Celebrate Recovery: How the Church Can Support Those Healing From Life’s Hurts, Habits, and Hang-Ups

By Susanna Tirinato

If we think about church, what do we picture? Stained glass and pure white robes? A cross that means salvation but has somehow lost the cruelty of the death it represents? We naturally think of Jesus, but if we look past the ritual and the comfort of church, what example has He, the author of our faith, given us? If we look to the Bible, the picture we see is a man who offers salvation, not to those “deserving” (because really there is no one), but to those sinners who come to Him. We see a man who let a prostitute wash his feet with her hair and tears. A man who ate with, was even close friends with, tax collectors, the abomination of Jewish society. Sometimes people were suffering through no fault of their own, and Jesus embraced them and healed them. Lepers, who were literally untouchable. Many who were lame or blind. Maybe the hand they had been dealt just wasn’t “fair”. But Jesus cared for them-the orphans, the widows. And the church that we see built in Acts, as well as in Paul’s letters, does the same. All things held in common. Paul correcting his brothers and sisters in Christ. The Corinthians giving even out of their poverty to support the ministry of proclaiming the good news of Jesus. People striving to please God.

Now what does this look like for church today? Churches offer all types of different ministries, although some tend to be the same. Children’s ministry, for example, is almost universal. But we as the body of Christ are called to touch the untouchable, love the unlovable, give hope to the hopeless. We, the church, have the good news. Jesus is alive and there is new life for us in Him. We do not have to be slaves to our sinful selves; there is a better Way. We do not have to be tossed by the storms of life; Jesus can steady us. We have a responsibility to share this good news. In Romans 10:14 we are asked how they will know if nobody tells them. The sad truth is that, sometimes, certain types of people, or people with certain problems, are turned down from our churches or made to feel unwelcome. Or maybe they themselves are welcome but they need to go elsewhere to deal with “that”. This is the problem that John Baker, founder of Celebrate Recovery, ran into. There wasn’t a safe place within the church in which he could openly relate to people struggling, in his case, with alcoholism. Out of his search grew the ministry of Celebrate Recovery, or CR, a Biblical 12 step group in which Jesus is identified as our one and only Higher Power, and which also looks to the beatitudes for its principles.

As with church, when you hear someone refer to “recovery” or “12 steps,” you may make certain assumptions. “I wonder what they’re recovering from, what did they do?” “They must be an alcoholic or drug addict.” “That’s not something I need.” But in Celebrate Recovery, while it is true that sometimes an individual “did something” or is there for a chemical addiction, these assumptions are often false. Celebrate Recovery goes so far beyond the stereotype. It is a place for anyone and everyone to heal from any of life’s hurts, habits, and hang-ups. You may have friends in AA or NA, or even know someone who is in recovery for a different, but still specific reason. So does it really apply to you? If you’re not struggling with an obvious “addiction,” is there a place for you at the table? I used to think not. I was there to support my husband, there was nothing there for me.  But then I came to realize that there is something there for everyone. Jesus was sinless-no habits, no hang-ups. But even He had hurts. So is there anyone who can honestly say they have no hurts, habits, or hang-ups? CR is an avenue through which God can work in ANYONE’s life-if they are willing to give it a chance.

Any church can go through the training to start a new CR ministry. CR meetings are usually once a week and include a time for fellowship (usually over a meal), large group in which you spend time in worship and prayer and hear either a lesson or a testimony, and gender specific small groups in which you share your struggles and victories from the past week. Outside of the weekly meetings, people may participate in step studies in which they dive deep into the steps, prayerfully examining their lives and working to lean into the power God has to help them recover. Even if CR already exists in your area, offering a meeting on a different night of the week could make a world of difference to those who have schedule conflicts or those recently sober who need as much accountability as they can get. If your church does not have the facilities or manpower to pull off this ministry on its own, you can also partner with other churches to form new or support existing ministries. Meals can be donated. Childcare offered. When able, ministries can offer scholarships for the materials (step books and study bibles) to those who may not be able to afford a copy otherwise.

When we look deep into people’s hearts there are really two types of people. Those who struggle alone, and those who struggle but find freedom through the Holy Spirit working in them. Let us do everything we can to tip the scales so that there are more of the latter.

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