Creating a Christ-centered culture of recovery

By the Rev. Dr. Morris Stimage-Norwood

America has been fighting a losing war against drugs for more than 100 years. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids — including both prescription opioids and heroin — killed more than 33,000 people in 2015. Tragically, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Addiction shatters the lives of people in every socio-demographic category. Youth, aged 12–17, are the fastest growing drug use group. The highest at-risk population for opioid dependence is white males 18–25. Surprisingly, the elderly account for 15 percent of all substance users. The worn-out stereotype of the poor African-American heroin user from the inner city has been replaced by the new face of the white, suburban female who may be addicted to heroin or a number of opioid-based drugs. With the problems of drug addiction running rampant in urban, suburban and rural communities across the nation, God is calling the Church to minister to those souls who are caught in the grip of this deadly disease.

In response to the drug crisis, Greater New Life Christian Center (GNLCC) of Springfield, Mass., an American Baptist 2010 New Church Plant, has created a comprehensive, Christ-centered ministry of recovery. Guided by the mandate of Christ found in St. Luke 4:18: “ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken- hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (KJV), Greater New Life seeks to bring hope and healing to the drug addicted and the spiritually afflicted.

Through its New Life Center for Recovery, Indian Orchard, Mass., GNLCC has opened the only church-owned and staffed outpatient mental health and substance abuse counseling clinic licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The clinic is also nationally accredited by the Joint Commission.

GNLCC also owns and operates separate sober homes for men, women and families. Since 2011, more than 100 men and women have received treatment, support and the love of Christ through the recovery ministry.

Based upon personal experiences of addiction, best practices in counseling, and the liberty that Christ alone gives, GNLCC approaches recovery by these biblical principles:

  • Grace is fundamental in Christian recovery work. By grace, Jesus Christ died on the cross to save fallen humanity. Among the fallen are you, me and those who struggle with addiction. Thanks be to God that we sinners are saved and set free from drug abuse by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8).
  • Hope creates a sense of optimism in both the addict and the clinician. God-given hope reminds us that God can and will deliver people from the ills of addiction (Romans 8:24).
  • Prayer is essential to a ministry of recovery. There will be more defeats than victories, more pain than pleasure and more poverty than prosperity. Without prayer, the ministry cannot guide people along the pathway of sobriety and freedom in Jesus Christ (James 5:16–17).
  • Love within the context of a recovery ministry demonstrates respect, care and concern for all people. Christ-centered love is a powerful antidote to criticism, judgmentalism or indifference to the pains suffered by the drug user. As Christ has loved us, we are to love each other (1 John 4:7).
  • Healing happens because God is able to heal. Regardless of how long one has been using drugs or how often he or she has relapsed, God’s healing cures the ills of addiction.

GNLCC’s ministry context is unique; however, any congregation can do recovery work. The following are suggestions to help you begin:

  • learn about issues of addiction by offering a workshop on recovery;
  • preach sermons on deliverance and healing;
  • host an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous group;
  • hold a prayer vigil for the addicted; and
  • praise God for the power to create a Culture of Recovery within your church.

The Rev. Dr. Morris Stimage-Norwood, whom God freed from a life of drug addiction, is senior pastor of Greater New Life Christian Center, Springfield, Mass., and chief executive officer of New Life Center for Recovery, Indian Orchard, Mass. He has worked for more than 25 years as a drug counselor, masters-level clinician and recovery coach. He is the 2017 recipient of the Edward H. Rhoades Urban Ministry Award for exceptional effectiveness in urban ministry.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.