Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Non-Christian Community Outreach - Dale Marsh

“An excellent new article by one of our International Christian Recovery Coalition speakers who is out in the field harvesting

and articulating a valuable approach to all who need help from

Christian leaders and workers.” Dick B.


Dale Marsh

Global Evangelism ORT-2013

Project Proposal

Non-Christian Recovery Community Outreach

   The purpose of the paper is to suggest ways to reach people in the recovery community with the Gospel. This is sometimes done in a hostile environment. However, it is also a great opportunity to meet people at a point of brokenness in their lives, in a time when they are receptive.

    There are a wide variety of recovery groups that use the 12 Step (see attachment A) program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), originally developed by Bill Wilson, Dr Robert Smith and others between 1935 and 1939. Due to the success of the 12 Step methods it has become the standard for self help in recovery from addictions of all kinds. Although the 12 Steps are biblically based, in many ways the programs today do not reflect the original intent or methods of the groups begun in Akron and Cleveland Ohio between 1935 and 1939. As a matter of fact in many cases you risk ridicule or worse with the mention Jesus Christ or the Bible at many modern 12 Step meetings.

     One of the first off shoots of AA was Narcotics Anonymous (NA). NA was begun due to a tendency in AA to not understand the needs of those addicted to narcotics and other drugs. As our culture has changed, most people entering AA today are dually addicted. Other off shoots from the original program include; Gamblers Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and others. With the addition of these variations in the program came more changes to the original intent of AA’s founders.

       Many other changes have occurred in the treatment of addictions since those early days. Treatment facilities have practically become an industry. The options include palatial mansions with doctors and therapists on staff for celebrities and other wealthy people, to programs designed for the poor and those coming out of prison.  Fees range from free to five and even fifty thousand dollars a month. The method of delivery of treatment options is as varied as the price ranges available. These include intensive inpatient treatment, sober living environments, and out patient services. Although I cannot go into in depth descriptions of each method in this paper, most of these methods are 12 Step friendly. Although some facilities are not 12 Step friendly, they tend to use the same principles without actually using the 12 Step of AA. The principles that have the most effective results, although many in recovery have no understanding of this, are biblical.

     Let’s take a moment to look at the original AA program as developed in Akron Ohio between 1935 and 1939. The following is an outline of the program taken from the book, “Dr Bob and the Good Old Timers.”  In these early days there was no misunderstanding what the original AA’s thought about who God was. Without exception they were all Christians. The outline below was laid out prior to the publishing of the AA Big Book.

The Actual, Seven-Point, Original Akron A.A. “Christian Fellowship” Program

Summarized by Frank Amos for Rockefeller

·         An alcoholic must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never drink anything with alcohol in it.

·         He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope.

·         Not only must he want to stop drinking permanently, he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and others which frequently accompany alcoholism. Unless he will do this absolutely, Smith and his associates refuse to work with him.

·         He must have devotions every morning–a “quiet time” of prayer and some reading from the Bible and other religious literature. Unless this is faithfully followed, there is grave danger of backsliding.

·         He must be willing to help other alcoholics get straightened out. This throws up a protective barrier and strengthens his own willpower and convictions.

·         It is important, but not vital, that he meet frequently with other reformed alcoholics and form both a social and a religious comradeship.

·         Important, but not vital, that he attend some religious service at least once weekly.

(DR. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, p 131).

It is important for those of us in the Christian Recovery movement to understand this history if we are to be prepared to witness within the non Christian recovery setting.

Recovery Community Culture

    The message about God has been distorted since those early days of the 12 Step movements. This can be distressing to the Christian in recovery, or it can be seen as an opportunity.  The simple fact is that AA has changed no more then our American culture has changed over the last seventy-six years.

   These changes can be seen throughout our society and AA as well. There has developed a clearly visible drug and alcohol culture which has also shaped the culture in the rooms of AA and NA. With the advent of New Age thinking, we can see this influence in the recovery movement as well.

    Some people in the recovery community have had bad experiences with the church. Others have been misled by pop culture and other influences to believe many untrue ideas about the church. Some have legitimate concerns due to highly publicized failures in the church. Others are just angry at God for the way their lives have turned out. Still others want to be sober but do not want to give up other sins they like, sins which are forbidden in the Bible. There are a myriad of reasons why Christians can find a hostile environment in a non Christian recovery meeting. Sometimes Christians have literally been shouted down for expressing there views on spiritual matters.

      Other cultural issues in modern recovery include things that Christians find distressing such as, foul language, anti-Christian bigotry, sexually suggestive behavior, lewd joking, 13th Stepping (entering romantic relationships), and odd conceptions of “a” god. AA misconceptions of God include: the group, a light bulb, a door knob, and many others. This is an out growth of the phrase “God as we understood Him” in Step3 and Step11. “God as we understood Him” came from an Oxford Group saying, “Give as much of yourself as you understand to as much of God as you understand.”  This is just another thing that has been distorted from the original meaning. With this knowledge the Christian can point out the true intent of “God as we understood Him.”

      These things are considered perfectly normal to many in recovery. However it can be very confusing to the new comer and frustrating to the Christian.  These issues and more have left a vacuum and an opportunity into which Christians stepped with the advent of the Christian Recovery Movement.

      Since the origins of the twelve step programs were Christian in nature, it is easy to make connections between the programs and the teachings in the Bible. With a little knowledge of these historical origins, Christians in recovery can have a great impact on the lives of fellow recovering persons on the journey to wellness. The question is: How do we go about outreach to the recovery community? Do we attempt to mold recovery to the church culture or do we come along side in the rooms of AA and NA and work within that culture? I believe the answer to these questions is “Both!”

Christian Responses to Twelve Step Recovery

There are many responses by Christians to Twelve Step Recovery. They are as varied as the denominational differences we see throughout Christendom today. Some are very wrong, and some are just differences in the approach each Christian community takes in the ministry to which God has called them. Some take a mold recovery to the church culture approach, and others come along side the existing recovery program and work within the recovery culture. Some methods are a blending of both.

       I will not spend much time on the Christian approach which is totally against twelve step recovery programs.  In this approach you will hear things like the twelve steps are against God, God is not present at AA and NA, or AA and NA are a cult. This approach drives AA and NA folks away from Christ and encourages Christians who have had their feelings hurt at AA or NA to be completely negative and legalistic about the two programs. In my opinion this destroys a testimony that could have been leading people from AA and NA to the Lord.

     Taking a more middle ground on this are ministries that tend to get AA’s and NA’s to conform to church culture. I find that these ministries can be quite successful and that this is not a huge detriment to helping folks in recovery find Christ. Since there are many options, the net result is often positive.

     Here are some of the things I think can hold us back in Christian recovery ministries. Referring to AA and NA as secular. First of all in the strict definition of the word, secular refers to anything devoid of reference to god or spirituality. For many Christians, the word secular simply means non Christian. This tends to be a general understanding in the church. However those outside the church such as AA’s and NA’s do not have this understanding and can find it demeaning and insulting.  

      Another controversial issue is How AA’s or NA’s introduce themselves prior to sharing at a meeting. Hi I’m __________ I’m an alcoholic (or addict). I understand the theological reasoning behind the Christian dismissal of this introduction. I do believe we are new creations is Christ. But I am also reminded of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Although this is not necessarily always controversial, strict enforcement of how people introduce themselves can make AA’s and NA’s feel unwelcome.

     The last one I often hear is this “You can’t get sober without Christ.” Personally I know many people who have done just that, people with many years of sobriety who don’t know Christ as their personal savior. As a matter of fact these folks tend to be one of my top priorities as I witness in the recovery community. It is true that one will not have a life as joyous and free as he or she could without Christ; and, of course, in the end, not knowing Christ is disastrous. But to say that you can’t get sober with out Christ simply is not true. There are not many things more exciting to me then leading a brother in sobriety with many years of clean time to the Lord. All of a sudden ten or more people will have a Christian sponsor. What a blessed impact this has on the lives of people in the recovery community. When we say “You can’t get sober without Christ,” we look either ignorant or dishonest to those in AA or NA. This again hurts our testimony in the recovery community.

Working within the Culture

1Corinthians 9:19-23 19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings.

    “In Paul’s cultural flexibility he never compromised the absolutes of the gospel message. Some scholars have felt that there is a disparity between Paul’s principles and his practices as recorded in Acts. However, it was only in cultural matters that he was flexible to avoid offense to the gospel and totally consistent with his principles as stated above.”  (What in the world is God Doing p.276).

    The basic principles of AA are governed by the 12 Traditions (see attachment B). These principles tend to be followed to greater and lesser degrees at any given meeting. The idea of the Traditions is to regulate to some degree the method and management of the meeting environment. These loose regulations leave much room for interpretation and confusion. The Traditions do make it clear that all are welcome no matter what they believe, or what religious background they come from, including none.  This is attractive to many seeking help. If we are to operate within the Traditions, which is conforming to the culture, it becomes inappropriate to be preaching Jesus constantly in the AA or NA setting. 

     Using a good working knowledge of the history of the Christian foundations in the early recovery movement and following Paul’s example we have an excellent opportunity as Christians to have an effective witness. As one of my early Christian mentors in AA still reminds me, “AA is the best fishing hole in town!”

       The following list of AA slogans and sayings came directly from the bible or were heavily influenced by the bible. As we witness within the confines of the Twelve Traditions these slogans and sayings can be leveraged into conversations about Christ.

Just for Today / One Day at a Time ------------ Matthew 6:34

First Things First ---------------------------------- Matthew 6:33

Faith with out works is dead. -------------------- James1:20

We were reborn. ----------------------------------- John 3:3

Thy will be done.  --------------------------------- Matt 6:5-13              

The Lords Prayer ---------------------------------- Matt 6:5-13    

    Not only do we have these and many other sayings inspired by the Bible, we also have the founders’ own accounts of how AA began--such as the following quote from Dr Bob. “But we were convinced the answer to our problem was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians and the book of James.” (The Cofounders of Alcoholics Anonymous / Biographical Sketches / Their Last Major Talks / Pamphlet P-53 p13).

Also, in the same publication, we find: “I didn’t write the twelve steps. I had nothing to do with the writing of them. But I think I probably had something to do with them indirectly. After my June 10th episode, Bill came to live at our house and stayed for about three months. There was hardly a night that we didn’t sit up until two or three o’clock, talking. It would be hard for me to conceive that, during these nightly discussions around our kitchen table, nothing was said that influenced the writing of the Twelve Steps. We already had the basic ideas, though not in terse and tangible form. We got them, as I said from out study of the Good Book.” (The Cofounders of Alcoholics Anonymous / Biographical Sketches / Their Last Major Talks / Pamphlet P-53 p14).

      The list of AA slogans, and the two quotes from Dr Bob, are just a small sampling of the biblical influence on the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are many more to be found throughout AA literature. Another excellent source of information about AA’s biblical history is books by AA historian Dick B in his over forty publications about AA history.

The Practical Application

    Now let’s consider the practical applications of this knowledge. First of all let’s discuss Christ Centered Recovery. At Serenity Group we constantly use the knowledge of our AA roots to connect people to Christ. We teach AA history classes at least twice each year, and I use AA history throughout the opening devotionals each week. In our small groups we instill the value of the recovery movement and use of the Bible throughout the discussion. Our Serenity Bible is an excellent way to help those interested in Jesus to see how their recovery fits with the Bible and God’s church. Many have come to know Christ and become able to relate their relationship with Him to their healing in the recovery process. Recovery is so much more fulfilling with Jesus, the true higher power personally involved in our lives.

    One of the other values that helps us be more effective is our desire to instill the feeling of being “ok” to be at a Christ Center recovery program. We want the newcomer to feel comfortable. We do this by making Serenity feel like AA or NA with extras. We do not tell our folks how to introduce themselves, and we don’t lay a lot of church culture on them. One example of this is cussing. We don’t even mention that we don’t cuss at Serenity. It has just never been a problem. If I need to confront someone about cussing, I do it privately so as not to embarrass them. In the twenty years we have been doing the ministry I can count on one hand the number of times I have had to deal with the cussing issue. Most of the time, people who have attended a few times let folks know that we don’t cuss in church. About the only inappropriate behavior I deal with publicly is when someone begins to bad mouth other recovery programs. We simply do not allow this and all our group leaders are trained on this issue. We cannot have rumors starting in the community that we talk against other recovery efforts.

    An often heard criticism of AA and NA is that it is all a bunch of whining. Let’s face it; people are dealing with very difficult issues if they have entered a recovery program. There will be much discussion of some depressing circumstances in people’s lives. We counter this with a time of praises during the opening devotionals before we break into small groups. This is sometimes the most inspiring part of the evening. Here is a little example of what I am talking about. One evening there were two lady newcomers. Of course, there are always new comers at the meeting. During the praises, they got up and walked out. One of them was clearly quite upset. Once we were breaking for small groups, they came back in and emphatically demanded to speak to me. I was a little nervous as I thought we had offended them. I was surprised by her question that followed.  The lady asked, “Is this real? Are these people really this happy?”  At this point, a sense of relief came to me as I could see the Holy Spirit was working on them. As one of our small groups leaders passed by, I asked her to share a bit of her testimony. I am a strong believer in ladies sharing with ladies. I stepped back for a few minutes and let them interact. Shortly our ladies group leader was praying with her. As the prayer came to a conclusion I asked the newcomer if she would like to accept the Lord. She answered “Yes.” We prayed again. If we can help folks to relax and understand that we are not at odds with others in the recovery community, folks seem to be more receptive.

     One other thing we insist on is taking announcements for any and all recovery events in Oroville. Although AA and NA will not announce Serenity events, we take that in stride and just love on them. The next thing you know people are telling everyone what we’re doing out of a sense of fairness. A supreme value is that we love God and love others especially in the Recovery Community of Oroville.

      Next let’s consider participation in AA and NA meetings. One thing we always do is respect the rules (The Twelve Traditions). Even though in my heart I want to stand and shout about Jesus from the roof tops, this would only destroy my ability to reach those I am trying to reach. It is quite easy to intertwine scriptural principles with the program. It is also easy to use quotes from AA approved literature which proclaim Christ. As long as it’s AA approved, there is not a problem. Although some don’t like it when I do this, I am acting within the spirit of the 12 Traditions.

     There are other little things we can do as Christians to reach our brothers and sisters in recovery. I like to say things like “I finally decided to just go with the same higher power at Dr Bob and Bill Wilson”. That one always gets someone asking questions after the meeting. Likewise I can say something like “I always like to use the same book that Dr Bob always read when he did his 11th step work”. You might have guessed, that book is the Bible. It is not hard to be a bit creative and loving to make great strides for the kingdom.

       I will never forget one of the finest compliments I ever got at an AA meeting. This grumpy old time AA guy who was as tough as nails came up to me and stuck his finger in my chest. I didn’t know what was coming next. He looks me in the eye and says “Hey, you’re the guy who leads the Christian meeting that respects us.” Only a short time later he became very ill. Before he passed, one of our Serenity guys lead him to the Lord in the hospital. I am so glad that I get to see him again on the other side of eternity. He was a member of AA for over twenty years before he accepted Christ.

Vision for the Future

    When our people know our recovery history, it gives them a sense of empowerment to operate within the meetings throughout the community. In the past many Christians abandoned AA and NA because of the treatment they received for their opinions about the Bible and Jesus Christ. Our goal is to teach them to couch their discussion of Christ and the Bible in the historical context, and to do so with humility. When we do this, things change.

     It is our desire that everyone in the recovery community of Oroville gets the chance to hear about Jesus. We want them to know that in truth He is the author of the recovery movement. We want our lives to represent Him to them. My friend and Mentor Brother Al who likes to call AA the best fishing hole in town also likes to tell me that Christians cannot give up on AA.  He reminds me that we may be the only Jesus that many in recovery may ever see.

   The results are impressive. At Serenity we are usually around 150 in attendance on a regular night. On our dinner / speaker night we usually run over 250.  We draw from at most a population of about 27,000. It has been estimated that Nation wide statistics claim that about ten percent of the population is in active addiction. If half of them are seeking recovery, which I doubt, that means we are reaching over ten percent of our local recovery community on a regular night and over twenty percent on our dinner / speaker night. The other impressive result is that at any given AA meeting. half of the folks in the room will be Christians. Only a few years ago almost no one in the room was Christian. Without our trying to change the culture of AA, the culture changes when half the people there are Christians.

 We love to use this little motto from St Francis of Assisi.

 “Preach the gospel everywhere you go, if necessary, use words.”

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