Leaders Create and Maintain Culture.

Leaders Create and Maintain Culture. January 14, 2022

Leader. You create and maintain culture.

If you are a leader in a local church, it is important that you evaluate the culture that you have created, lead, and continue to perpetuate. If you are leading in a Protestant or Evangelical context, recognizing the tendencies that are easy to fall into is very important to reaching those with addiction. If you are reading this and you don’t want to reach those with an addiction, know that nearly half of the people that attend your church struggle with some sort of addiction.

Pastors and leaders so often are easily able to brush these addictions under the rug and turn a blind eye to them. It is much easier to not deal with the pain and the heartache that comes with addicts and their choices. There is a family involved who is often very aware of the addiction. There could be possible domestic issues because of these addictions. It could get messy when someone comes to church completely drunk on a Saturday night service night. There is little argument that it would be easier to not have to deal with these issues head on, and instead sidestep them and not acknowledge their realities.

My own limited experience.

I spent most of my professional paid pastoral career in Evangelical Churches with a ‘Baptist’ flavor. While this is the upbringing that I had and the training that I received, it does not best represent either the theological expression nor my current practice that I hold to today. As I was in the midst of my paid pastoral professional career, I saw a lot of crazy things from the pastoral and leadership side of the church world. I saw a Lead Pastor ask an addict to never come back to church again, because they ‘did too much damage to those around them.’ I saw a Lead Pastor not tell an elder board about the counseling that he had been doing with an addict for fear of reprisal. And in another instance, I did witness a drunk man show up to a Saturday night service, take a front row seat in a multisite mega church, and promptly pass out. In this instance, security quickly and quietly whisked him away, and I never really heard what happened with this person.

More convinced than ever that what I experienced in the church was a culture of judgment, I have long put aside these thoughts in an effort to give grace to one of the least gracious entities that exists in the American Church construct. As an addict myself, I experienced the judgment culture when I was ‘found out.’ I had alot of ‘friends’ that simply gave up on me at this point in my life. It was easier to move on without me in the picture, than to try and help deal with the fallout that I had created. To be fair to each of those people, I also pushed them away, so this distance created between us was from both sides. The church that ended up firing me for drinking was gracious as they fired me. They gave me several months of sabbatical to figure out the things that I needed to move forward, prior to my rock bottom drinking event. But once I was fired, there was no more help offered in terms of recovery or help. It was as if the hands were washed and the church could move on. I don’t hold any ill will toward this church as I cannot imagine the pain that I put them through. But I will try to speak to those of you that are currently leading in a church context where you will (if you haven’t already) deal with addicts and the fallout that they bring.


Know that there are addicts that are part of your staff team.

I was part of a staff team of 30 people at one of the churches that I served at. If statistics rang true to the amount of people that I served with, around 15 of them struggled with some sort of addiction. Some probably struggled with food addiction, painkiller addiction, alcohol use disorder, sex addiction, spending money addiction, or any of the other addictions that you can find prevalent in today’s culture. But one of the things that I don’t recall every doing in a staff meeting was to share our addiction tendency. It’s possible that the reason that we didn’t do this is because the Lead Pastor was completely unaware of addiction being prevalent in the staff team because he had never struggled with an addiction. Or it’s possible that he simply didn’t want to acknowledge that, in fact, his staff struggled at all. Sure, we would share our prayer requests regarding physical ailments and spiritual struggles. I can remember sharing that I didn’t think that I was reading my bible enough and that my friend needed prayer for physical injuries in a car accident.

As a leaders, recognizing that there is addiction present in your staff will go a long way toward cultivating a culture of openness, honesty and restoration with the addicts in the broader church community. If you staff is safe to share their addictions within the staff meeting, without fear of losing their job or other punishment, those in your church may be willing to open up about the things that they are wrestling with day in and day out. It may be that there does need to be a separation from ministry for a time, once an addict brings their issue to light if they are a part of the staff team. But allowing them a process of restoration that is open and honest will breed a culture of authenticity in an amazing way.

One of our staff members had a pornography addiction. He was an intern at the church that I was at and he was trying to be completely honest about where he was at. He continued to seek help and try again. But each and every time he would try harder, he would fail and look at pornography. The church’s response was to require him to have ‘Covenant Eyes’ a software for monitoring online activity, and to not work with people in ministry. It was the best that the church knew how to deal with this issue. Neither prescription was helpful as he simply went around the software and he didn’t get to do what he loved to do, work with people. This sent this intern into a tailspin, which ultimately led him out of the church, and he has not returned to any kind of leadership capacity. He’s an incredibly gifted person, but has a wound from the ‘restorative process’ that the church put him through.

Addicts come to church every week hoping that this will be the week of breakthrough for them.

As a preaching pastor, you should be aware that each week there are a handful of people that sit in the pew thinking to themselves that that they are giving “God” one last chance to change them. They are addicted to something and need him to ‘show up’ for them to change. I can remember sitting in church begging God to take my proclivity to drink away from me. I’m not sure what exactly I was looking for from the Pastor or the church in these moments, but I did know that I didn’t need to hear another sermon about the “unity” of the ‘body’ or the gifts of the spirit. I needed a recognition that the struggle was happening inside of me. The struggle between what I wanted (to not drink) and what I needed (at the time, to drink.) I just needed God to take the physical necessity from me.

I had seen staff member after staff member fired for addiction issues. I had seen church person after church person sent away from the church because of addiction issues. What would make me want to come forward and be honest with mine? There was no culture that had been demonstrated that it would be safe or restorative. I needed a breakthrough and I sat through church service after church service, waiting for this moment.

Families are dying from addiction spiritually.

Addicts often come to a spot where their very soul is bankrupt. They don’t have anything left in the tank to give, because their addiction has robbed them of anything that would be life giving. In many of these instances, it has also robbed their families of their own spirituality.

A wife of an alcoholic for instance, has been praying for her husband to come to his senses for years regarding alcohol and his usage of it. She prays daily, even hourly, that he will not drink today. And then he does. Her faith in God slowly gets chipped away. He doesn’t seem to answer her prayers or do the very thing that is needed to save him or her family. She may become spiritually bankrupt and give up on God, after so many years or even decades of this.

A child of an opioid addict just wants his mom to be sober for a day. He hopes day in and day out that he will come home and find mom fully alert. And she never is. The child’s best example of God is found by looking at his parents. And his parents are not to be trusted, so why should God be trusted. This child may become completely bankrupt spiritually.

If you are a leader, recognize that there is a far deeper pain that your families are dealing with when it comes to the spiritual implication of addiction than you may know possible. Addressing these are complex, and require great grace. It is impossible to address any of this, without a culture that is developed for walking alongside addicts.

Church Culture dictates how you will engage the issue of addiction, across the board.

How you address your staff, families, addicts, and attenders all play into the culture that you are developing or have developed to address this issue. If your church sees a staff that is open and authentic with one another, there may be more openness from the church to share their deep, dark secrets to gain freedom.

Church culture is critical around this issue. It takes patience and time to allow this culture to develop. It won’t happen overnight but happens over a series of decisions and situations that prove that the leadership is cognizant and willing to engage the issue of addiction.

Browse Our Archives