[The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter offers this response to the new book The Recovery-Minded Church for our Book Club roundtable discussion this month.]
The Recovery-Minded Church by Jonathan Benz with Kristina Robb-Dover is a thoughtful, loving look at ministering to addicts in our midst. My concern with the approach detailed in this book is that it is really two, separate books in one cover: a book about churches and clergy reaching out to addicts in their midst so as to help them enter or maintain recovery; and a book about churches that act as addicts and are in need of recovery themselves.
My concern is that many churches and pastors are unconsciously functioning in addictive and dysfunctional family systems that render them rather limited in their attempts to help others until they learn to help themselves and/or to accept help from others. For example, this book talks about churches doing interventions on addicts. I have often wished that people in recovery could do interventions on churches.
To its credit, this book does encourage churches to “work the steps,” such as Step 4: “taking a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” That section was well-written and logical. My discovery, having come to seminary at 43 as a “self-help” book writer with a particular lens on adult children of alcoholics, is that church folk are reluctant to do the interior work required for successful recovery. They are more outwardly, rather than inwardly, focused. They are willing and even eager to minister to addicts in, let’s say, a soup kitchen, but they are less willing to sit with such persons in a pew on Sunday morning. And even if they were, they would not necessarily be able to identify with them, even after having read this book. Why?What is missing from this worthwhile and thoughtful book, I think, is a reflection on the emphasis on an addict having to “bottom out” on their addiction and lifestyle in order to achieve sobriety AND a discussion on how churches and their pastors will also have to bottom out on their many hollow or archaic attempts to reach people.
Churches that have done the deep, soulful, painful and sometimes joyous work of seeking recovery as if their very life depended on it will, perhaps, become a church that is able to minister to individuals with addictions in a way that is authentic and believable. Until then, the church would be more useful in simply referring people with addictions to 12 step meetings that are better suited and tailor-made to meet their recovery needs.
Dwight Lee Wolter is the author of Forgiving Our Parents; Freedom Through Forgiving(a Workbook); My Child, My Teacher, My Friend and Forgiving Our Grownup Children. He is also the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York.