by David W. Fournier, Ph.D.
Presented by Saint Luke Evangelical School Of Biblical Studies
It was April of 1997. In a period of two weeks, I had found out my wife of fifteen years had an affair. The church that I was serving as interim Pastor dismissed me for having issues at home. My secular job laid me off. The house I was renting from one of the deacons suddenly was needed for his brother-in-law. In a very short time, all was lost. Not one fiber of my life was the same. All that I had held important, holy and loyal was gone.
I found myself going to counseling. A dear friend had recommended I get some help to weather through the storm. I went for several weeks, beginning to piece the puzzle together of all that had happened and why. It was very painful; often striking down to the core of who I was as a person and a minister. I found that a lot of the problems were truly about me. I had serious work to do.
Years have passed since then. I still drop by my counselor every six months or so just to tune-up. But I had to ask myself the question: At the moment of my greatest crisis, why did I find it necessary to search outside the church for help?
The truth was simple. The church as an overall picture reacts judgmentally towards those that fall, fail or falter. The overreaction by church leadership and the extremely harsh messages from the pulpit create an environment in which people in the pews fear exposure. This exposure can lead to ridicule, removal and rejection.
We need to offer a full service operation to our parishioners. The fact that people fall, fail and falter is a true fact of life. At this moment of spiritual, emotional or mental derailment, they need to know that the church is a safe place, willing, able and trained to handle the crisis that has consumed them.
The best of the best offerings of the church has been the Recovery ministry. It separates the function of counseling and the regular church program. It grants leeway to the recovery ministry to operate, as it needs. This operation can sometimes be outside of the normal church setting and environment. But the focus needs to be on the hurting hearts of people.
I am a true defender of the faith. I would not condone or participate in any effort that would attempt to dilute the gospel. But I also realize a commitment to present the whole counsel of God and this includes His message of restoration and hope. The Bible is full of the stories and verses that teach us to bear each other’s burdens. Jesus Himself offered up this wisdom when He said, “They will know you are my disciples by your love one for another”.
Recovery ministry needs to be run by people with an absolute heart for it. More to the point, we need “wounded healers”. These are the invaluable people that have been through the crucible of life and came out through the power of God’s redemptive efforts and the restoration abilities of the church.
It is difficult to understand why Christianity kills it’s wounded. These are the times when people need the gospel most. The “wounded healers” can identify and help assist the individual in their path to spiritual health. They have walked this road and are familiar with its uncharted waters. This kind of guided discovery is the difference between success and failure.
It is safe to note here that recovery ministries often do not look like church programs. The people involved will not be giving testimonies or singing very many songs. They are looking for a place of safety. They do not want to be noticed. It takes time for them to begin to trust again and have a desire to fellowship with others. The true goal of recovery is to bring the individual to the point of re-entry in the mainstream church body. But there is much work to do before that is accomplished.
Each and every individual has unique issues to their lives. I tell people that people were not born in bunches, they do not have problems in bunches and more important to notice they will not get healed in bunches. The pulpit ministry can reach the ears of the people, but when the deep needed issues come to the surface, pulpit ministry cannot make the connection. The pulpit ministry is best served encouraging and edifying the congregation through messages of life and hope.
Recovery gives us the opportunity to meet people one-on-one and provide the individual help and attention they need. It also fosters healthy relationships through the efforts of small groups. These groups commonly referred to as “accountability” groups are led by a trained facilitator and promote honesty and accountability. Openly discussed and managed, they build trusting relationships through in-depth and intimate conversations. The groups will select books to read through and discuss.
I have personally seen and experienced the awesome presence of God working in my life and the lives of others. I have seen Christians being Jesus to other Christians. In no other area of ministry have I seen the true work of Christ being performed on a more regular basis with deeper results.
The fact is, recovery used to be the central message of the church. But fear and doubt have pushed the sick and injured out while the church looks for the strongest and smartest to carry it into the next century. It would be my hope and prayer for all the brethren to be found kneeling by the side of the spiritually wounded at the moment that Christ would return. And, I am certain that would be His prayer too.