Sounds like me the night I walked into my first recovery meeting almost a decade ago. Defeated, I sat in a circle, deeply convicted by 15 years of substance abuse and suicidal ideations, earnestly groaning at the end of my rope. There, with a small gathering of other broken spirits, I knew I’d have to stand bare before God at some point in those hallowed Twelve Steps — posted on the wall next to my blasted namesake, the Serenity Prayer, of course.
Not many people experienced me at my worst. Most folks saw a successful, driven young media professional who was rapidly updating my résumé with accomplishments in marketing, events and a side gig as the co-founder of a small press publishing company (now defunct, along with my past life). I spent years excelling at everything I did, riding opportunities I’d done nothing to deserve — even extolling some virtues of altruism and ethics while I was at it. Then my life exploded, and I seemed to be the only one who understood why.
After years of “trying” to change, my life actually began to change the night I heard the words rigorous honesty and realized I’d never truly been honest about anything. The turning point in a transformed life can look an awful lot like a simple, practical application of James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
When someone gets honest about something, that changes things. We of the Wesleyan tradition ought to notice special resonance here, considering our heritage of spiritual accountability in small groups.
To be honest (see what I did there?), I never thought I’d step foot back in a church, much less write to you as a minister of one. It’s kinda funny what God will do, when we have the capacity to be honest. Today, thanks to many Spirit promptings and willing, servant hearts, I’m blessed beyond my wildest imagination to be a part of introducing Celebrate Recovery — a church-based, Christ-centered Twelve Step recovery ministry — to our community of Brookings, South Dakota. Seeing the parallels between spiritual recovery and spiritual formation, I’d say John Wesley was on to something.
On the surface, most of us will generally agree that when someone is struggling, being honest is a good step one. This applies for doctor’s visits, counseling sessions, treatment programs and salvation experiences, to name a few. Fundamentally, whatever our hurts, hang-ups or habits, we need to be honest about our problems in order to do something about them.
Where do truth and life in Christ begin, if not through some sort of honest “moral inventory” — seeing ourselves clearly as sinners in need of grace? Moving forward from what recovery groups call step four and pastors refer to as self-examination: how can we be “doers” of James 5:16 without admitting to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs (step five)? What better way to engage in the sanctifying work of letting God remove our sins and reconcile our relationships (steps 6–9) than by continuing to take inventory — when we’re wrong, promptly admitting it (step 10); praying for God’s will and the power to do it (step 11); and carrying the message to others while practicing in our own affairs (step 12)? (Remember that historic unleashing of the Holy Spirit — what we remember as the Methodist movement — forever transforming the way we “do” church, by basic means of confession, prayer and healing in small group settings?)
Although no direct Wesleyan derivative connection can be found, there’s no denying the resonance between the holiness movement and the later rise of spiritual recovery groups. And practices of self-awareness, confession, forgiveness and service to others — originally inspired by Christian disciplines, back when the principles of recovery were drafted in the 1930s — personally brought me straight to the feet of Jesus Christ, “groaning for redemption.”
Yet I was told at one time, when speculating about the application of these principles in church context, “People will never do that.”
Curious, a handful of persons here in Brookings took this opinion under advisement. Then we began to gather anyway, intrigued by the single essential purpose of Wesley’s band-societies: “to obey that command of God, ‘confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another that ye may be healed.’”
After all, we knew people who were already doing that: people active in the Brookings recovery community, many also active in Brookings churches. Could it really be that a pluralist program of addiction recovery was the only setting in which we could be open to “speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls,” before God and one another?
Well, that was then, and this is now. Beginning with a soft launch of a small pilot group early in 2016, God has been putting the pieces into place. For a few years, we’ve been following the promptings, testing receptivity to recovery ministry concepts. At the same time, we’ve seen God working unprecedented developments among other groups and organizations all over town, committed to removing stigma — one day at a time, one step at a time.
We’ve seen folks coming together in our community, stepping into bold areas of vulnerability. We’ve seen broken, hurting, healing people turn around to lead new groups and begin new initiatives. We’ve seen God answering prayers and changing lives.
Along the way, we’ve seen philosophies shifting on the city/county level, influencing our courts and school systems with attitudes of grace. We’ve seen our community making strides toward honest self-awareness, acknowledging our drug/alcohol and mental health problems while seeking better solutions. We’ve seen more and more partnerships, collaborations and willingness to work with church connections, seemingly for such a time as this.
This summer, we have a team of 16 volunteer leaders training to launch Celebrate Recovery Brookings at GracePoint Wesleyan Church (Brookings, South Dakota) in the fall. A year ago, this wasn’t even on our radar. Today, our community is ripe for the harvest. We’re connecting with people in crisis and, praise God, celebrating lives transformed in Christ. Word’s getting around town, and it’s hardly even begun.
As our Celebrate Recovery Brookings leadership team has stepped into the guided process of writing our “moral inventories” together, it’s taken no time at all to draw meaningful connections to our Wesleyan roots. God has spoken loudly and clearly this past year. It’s time to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that we may be healed—together.