Why the Church and the Academy Need Recovery Ministry

Grid of unidentified people for FULLER magazine

ONE: Addiction is a big problem. According to the World Health Organization,1 consumption of addictive substances is one of the largest public health problems on the planet. Alcohol, tobacco, and other mood-altering substances contribute roughly 13 percent to the Global Burden of Disease—twice the next largest contributor. It is a bigger public health problem than cancer, AIDS, malaria, or heart disease.

TWO: Christians are not immune to addiction any more than we are immune to the flu, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, or heart disease. Any doubts about Christians and addiction should be settled within the pages of this article. The videos from which these stories are drawn share more at fullerinstitute.org.

THREE: Addiction is a systemic problem. In an addicted family system, that “problem” never belongs only to the addicted person. People who love an addicted person often develop lives just as unmanageable as those of the addicts they love. There are parents, spouses, children, and siblings of addicted persons in every faith community who come to church hoping to find support for the central struggles of their lives. Being a faithful community requires us to develop practical, helpful resources for all of those impacted.

FOUR: Millions of people participate in 12-step fellowships. In its latest survey, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) reported 114,000 meetings globally. That’s just AA groups. There are dozens of similar programs for addictions of all kinds, fellowships that are commonly mislabeled as “self-help” groups, though the first of the 12 steps makes it clear that self-reliance cannot solve the problem. AA does not recommend “looking within” for solutions. Rather it urges people to seek a relationship with God and to engage daily in a set of spiritual practices like self-examination, confession, making amends, prayer, and meditation. These are all spiritual practices with long histories in the Christian tradition, employed by people seeking to improve their conscious contact with God. There is a natural kinship between followers of Jesus and those who participate in 12-step fellowships.

FIVE: Spiritual practices at the core of the 12-step movement have been marginalized, or in some cases abandoned, by the Christian community. There was a time when the Christian community took confession, making amends, and repentance far more personally than we do today. Now, if we want to do these practices in a way that leads to a more faithful and fulfilling life, we can learn from participants in 12-step fellowships, who have a great deal of practical experience. This would require sufficient spiritual humility to be teachable; however, the spiritual benefit could be substantive.

Fuller prepares men and women to function in a global context that is profoundly impacted by addiction. We are committed to recovery ministry because we ourselves and our families are not immune, and we believe that the local church could be part of a solution for addicted people and the ones who love them. We cannot ignore the profound reality of addiction if we hope to be faithful to our calling because, at Fuller, “those people” are us.

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1. Stephen Lim, et al. “A Comparative Risk Assessment of Burden of Disease and Injury Attributable to 67 Risk Factor Clusters in 21 Regions, 1990–2019,” The Lancet 380, no. 9859 (2012): 2224–60.