Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.
41% struggle with addictions to activities such as gambling, pornography, and gaming. Globally, addiction affects one in every five people.
As the church we need to get real and take our heads out of the sand. Addiction is real and it's real in the church. Here’s more stats.
In 2018, Lifeway Research surveyed a thousand Protestant pastors to understand their congregations’ experience of the opioid crisis. Two-thirds said a family member of someone in their congregation had been personally affected by opioid abuse. More than half had someone dealing with opioid addiction in their congregation.
According to Barna Group research, 12 percent of youth pastors and 5 percent of pastors say they are addicted to pornography. Among the wider church population, 21 percent of men and 2 percent of women say they are “addicted” to pornography.
How should we respond? How can we prevent addiction and promote recovery in our churches?
We the Church Need to become Addiction-Aware and Recovery Sensitive
First, we must acknowledge that addiction is not just a problem of the world but a problem in the church. Yes, we should be aware of and recommend medical and psychological professionals, but it should also be a concern to us, the church. We can’t always outsource our problems and consider them as a purely “medical” or psychological issue beyond the church’s purview.
I am a church leader, and I should along with other leaders, particularly those leading small groups, who preach, teach, and work with young people, be addiction-aware and recovery-sensitive. We need to think about addiction, learn about addiction, talk about addiction, and pray about addiction.
We should turn to those in our communities with experience with addiction and recovery for help so that we can learn from them. We need to seek out those with personal experience of addictions of all types, and all degrees of severity, along with family members and specialists, such as therapists and recovery mentors.
We must go Deeper with God
Our default as the church is often a Christian life characterized by event attendance, superficial relationships, performance discipleship-as- intellectual-exercise, feel-good sermons, easy answers, and low expectations. That’s good unless you are in a battle to stay sober, “just for today,” knowing the next fix is just a phone call or text away. People, Christians, emerging from an all-consuming relationship with drugs, alcohol or pornography, addictions need an intimate personal relationship with the living God and a true spiritual home among others who also know Him and who do not judge. In fact we all need that personal relationship with the living God.
Those in recovery need a sense of God’s abiding and active presence in their lives. They need to daily, hear God’s voice, feel His love, and experience His peace, comfort, grace, and mercy. They need to know that the fruit ot the spirit is available to them to provide the peace they seek.
Galatians 5:22-23 NIV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Churches must be God-connected communities that lead everybody into a, genuine, life-giving relationship with God. Many churches are characterized by anemic spirituality and superficial relationships and provide little genuine value to those fighting off the siren call of addictions to a bottle, syringe, a dating app, an online gambling app, or a pornographic internet site.
It’s not about singing the right praise song or praying the right way. It’s a matter of substance.
Those recovering from addiction need a church community that practices what it preaches. Those spiritual habits or disciplines include quiet time with God, rest, fasting, a pattern of prayer, worship, confession, and meditation on Scripture.
Addictions are immersive, focused, and consistent. Spiritual disciplines provide us with a new set of spiritual habits that can become immersive, focused, and consistent. Spiritual habits focus on our relationship with God.
For those not battling additions these spiritual habits or disciplines will prevent us from developing unhealthy relationships with the substance or activity that appears to offer the best solution to our problems.
The Church Needs to Teach and to Pursue Richer Relationships
In his recovery memoir, Coming Clean, the attorney Seth Haines attributes his ability to find lasting freedom from his addiction to alcohol to the support he found in his church community.
Many people, even those in the church, feel isolated and disconnected. God’s people need to pull together, moving closer and going deeper. Not just for the sake of those walking the path of recovery from addiction. But also, as a means of “addiction-proofing” ourselves, particularly our young people. We the church need to pursue richer relationships with one another. This means pursuing relationships with people who don’t look like you or travel in the same social or political circles. In other words, the church must become more diverse.
The church we need is a community where we see every person’s gifts expressed. It’s a body whose every part is vital to the well-being of the whole.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 NIV Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
This is precisely the kind of community each of us—addicted or not—needs to protect and sustain us.
The Church Needs to Build Partnerships in the Community
We need to establish healthy partnerships with addiction specialists and services in our communities. As I have said before in this post the church does not have all the answers, God said in His Word that He has provided all that we need,
2 Peter 1:3-9 NIV His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. (Emphasis mine)
This includes government services and those provided by private and charitable organizations.
We can effectively engage with the needs we encounter both in our churches and the wider community. Let's be quick to see opportunities to use our resources generously, for example, as some churches do, offer a comfortable meeting place to organizations working with recovering addicts and our leaders and members to to support the work of Christian charities working in the addiction field.
Addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, pornography, shopping, and others are problems not just for the world but are problems in the church and we have ignored the problem and swept it under the rug for too long. Too many "saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost” believers are bound by addictions and need our help in recovery. Let’s bring it out in the open and with the help of God do something about it.