Why Not Just Send Them to AA?

Blog Post

It’s not a unique story.  A family presents themselves to a pastor with a combination of fear, sadness, and anger. What did he do wrong? Nothing. They want to talk about a family member who won’t stop drinking. They have begged, pleaded, threatened, and offered incentives, and at times he seems to get it together a couple of days or even weeks before relapsing for no once again. They are desperate and their eyes are begging their religious leader for answers.

Addiction treatment is difficult. Even when all the right books have been read, classes attended, and podcasts reviewed, there isn’t always the best answer. For too many churches, offering an addiction recovery ministry is beyond their scope, and outsourcing the person to a local AA group seems expedient. They have a reputation in the culture of attempting to tackle alcoholism for almost a hundred years. 12-step groups addressing many different types of addiction to a wide variety of drugs of choice (DOC) are just a few clicks away and available 24/7 in most big cities. Millions of people through the decades claim success and credit these wonderful people for helping them find it.

With such a well-worn path, why not use it and move on to another of the zillion challenges that confront a pastor every week?  The Dunamis Initiative does not wish to denigrate anyone in the 12-step community, and frankly, if all addiction treatment opportunities quadrupled tomorrow, there would still be a monumental need. The origins of AA were Christian teachings written by Christians for Christians, but some people approach sobriety with trauma that was inflicted upon them by broken people claiming to be Christian, or by overt church hurt, so they softened the language to “higher power” and God as you understand him.”  Over the years these groups have become at best secular, and, at times, semi-hostile towards Christianity and especially religious communities.

In an ideal world, the person would immerse into a community of folks who know how to navigate the pitfalls common to addiction recovery, and then slowly return them to a more integrated Christian life. They should forever stay away from their DOC and have a heightened awareness of other potential cross-over addictions(we’ll discuss these in a future blog). Nevertheless, most 12-step groups push permanent lifetime attendance and shame those who attend infrequently. The AA“big book” however doesn’t talk about this at all, and in fact, it states, “We have a daily reprieve contingent upon maintenance of our spiritual condition.”In other words, we need to reestablish a healthy relationship with our Creator, working on developing good habits with regard to daily prayer, time in the Word, physical self-care, and finally reconnecting on a deep level. Learning vulnerability and accountability with other believers is key. This isn’t a quick process but there’s no reason most people have to spend decades in the same support group learning to do it either. Often after a year or two, many people are well prepared to rejoin mainstream Christian life freed of their addiction, but not from its threat.

One warning to this frustrated pastor though: Sending a person to a secular program for recovery can allow just enough relief of the pain to lessen the need for a deep connection with our Heavenly Father. This very pain God could have used to draw someone back into His arms has been lessened, and the supporting community reinforces complacency in religious life and the need for a solid Christian church family. An opportunity to connect the lost soul to the body of Christ might be lost for good, and that is a tragedy. The unstated answer to this desperate family is that Jesus isn’t necessarily the answer to healing.

Adopting a robust Christian recovery program like The Dunamis Initiative can help ensure that recovery is achieved while offering an opportunity to dive head deep into the Living Waters of our savior Christ Jesus. Anything short of that is simple abstinence, not true physical, emotional, and spiritual sobriety, and not living God’s best in this short time on Earth.

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