At The Village we are often asked about the differences between our Recovery Groups and other secular or church-based programs. Rather than answering that question directly, I believe it is most profitable to share a bit about our story in how the ministry here evolved and what we believe distinguishes a healthy recovery ministry.
I was saved in a secular, non-gospel treatment center. I entered Alcoholics Anonymous as part of my treatment plan, where I spent three years becoming intimately familiar with that culture. At the same time, I returned to school to obtain a Master’s degree in counseling, learning much in terms of the various theories and therapies of men.
I landed at Highland Village First Baptist Church after hearing that a fiery young pastor named Matt Chandler had taken the position as lead pastor. I began to pray and felt led to inquire about starting a ministry that would provide help to the broken. If you know Matt’s heart to provide “a place where it is ok not to be ok,” then you will know that he quickly affirmed the direction. He said that they were praying someone would come along with the heart to start this ministry.
After surveying the landscape, it seemed clear that Celebrate Recovery had done the most in terms of resourcing other churches to get a ministry like this off the ground. Within three weeks I was on a plane to their Summit in California. We are forever grateful for their foresight and practical help.
On January 1, 2004, we launched our first meeting as Celebrate Recovery, but almost immediately, God began to shape us and give us our own identity. A well-established biblical counselor in our area came and shared about the heart-focused biblical discipleship he was doing down the street. He told us that true discipleship should be rooted in Scripture and aimed at the heart, exhorting the greatest command with the gospel of Jesus Christ. That truth laid much of the foundation for our ministry that stands today.
We began to shorten the studies with the understanding that we were teaching principles within a gospel context that would be applied well after the study was finished. We began to add resources that better spoke to the gospel’s implications for the specific struggles people were coming with.
We also made the decision to be very missional in our cultural engagement of AA and secular psychology. As a pastor at another church said, “What you have done is developed a gospel apologetic toward the 12-steps and secular psychology.” He got it exactly right, and this is an important element of our program today.
In April 2007, I joined the staff at The Village. The day before I started, I got a call from Celebrate Recovery, asking us to return to the year-long format for their curriculum (we adapted a six-month format at that time). This request, along with a new understanding of our purpose and direction as a ministry, led to the mutual decision to stop using the Celebrate Recovery name. We developed our own bible study, small group discussion questions and inventory guides. We now call our program Recovery Groups.
What distinguishes a healthy recovery ministry from a secular recovery organization is the belief that the gospel is both sufficient and supreme in finding freedom from addictions and other forms of slavery. Where other church-based recovery programs present the gospel as solution, we stand aligned, though there may be theological or logistical differences. Regardless of programmatic differences, we believe the following distinctives mark a healthy, gospel-centered recovery ministry:
- Programs don’t heal people. Programs are inventions of men. Elevating a program above the person and work of Jesus is sin. We are not here to exalt a program but make much of Him!
- Recovery is not just for addicts. If understood biblically, recovery is needed by anyone affected by the slavery of sin and suffering. That suffering can be the result of the person’s own sin, the sin of another or the result of living in a fallen world. Since we struggle with all three, our ministry is open to and offers redemption through Christ to all!
- Redemption cannot be isolated to those in a program. We are either enslaved or in Christ.
- Sobriety (or marriage reconciliation, etc.) is not the goal. The goal is a reconciled heart to God and sobriety is a byproduct.
- It’s a ministry of movement. We want people to connect relationally, understand their problem biblically and apply the gospel practically, while walking in wisdom horizontally and faithfulness vertically. This is so they might experience the healing power of the gospel and live on mission for God, not tethered to a program.
- It’s not about a single issue. It is dangerous to reduce our walk with the Lord to one issue. If we haven’t sinned in a particular way, we then believe that we are “ok” with God. Abstinence is not the way to God—Jesus is!
In the end, what sets apart Recovery Groups from secular programs is the truth of the gospel. Only one Healer can deliver us from the suffering of our addictions, our fears and those things that bind us—Jesus Christ.