The Bible clearly states “all have sinned.” It is my nature to sin, and it is yours too. None of us is untainted. Because of sin, we’ve all hurt ourselves, we’ve all hurt other people, and others have hurt us. This means each of us needs repentance and recovery in order to live our lives the way God intended.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression “time heals all wounds.” Unfortunately, it isn’t true. As a pastor I frequently talk with people who still carry hurts from 30 or 40 years ago. The truth is, time often makes things worse. Wounds left untended fester and spread infection throughout your entire body. Time only extends the pain if the problem isn’t dealt with.
Based on the actual words of Jesus rather than psychological theory, this recovery program is more effective in helping people change than anything else I’ve seen or heard of. Over the years I’ve witnessed how the Holy Spirit has used this program to transform literally thousands of lives at Saddleback Church and to help people grow toward full Christ-like maturity.
Most people are familiar with the classic 12-step program of AA and other groups. While undoubtedly many lives have been helped through the 12 steps, I’ve always been uncomfortable with that program’s vagueness about the nature of God, the saving power of Jesus Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So I began an intense study of the Scriptures to discover what God had to say about “recovery.” To my amazement, I found the principles of recovery — in their logical order — are given by Christ in his most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount.
My study resulted in a 10-week series of messages called “The Road to Recovery.” During that series my associate pastor John Baker developed the participant’s guides, which became the heart of our Celebrate Recovery program. I believe this program is unlike any recovery program you may have seen. Seven features make it unique:
- Celebrate Recovery is based on God’s Word, the Bible. When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, he began by stating eight ways to be happy. Today we call them the Beatitudes. From a conventional viewpoint, most of these statements don’t make sense. They sound like contradictions. But when you fully understand what Jesus is saying, you’ll realize these eight principles are God’s road to recovery, wholeness, growth, and spiritual maturity.
- Celebrate Recovery is forward-looking. Rather than wallowing in the past or dredging up and rehearsing painful memories over and over, Celebrate Recovery focuses on the future. Regardless of what has already happened, the solution is to start making wise choices now and depend on Christ’s power to help make those changes.
- Celebrate Recovery emphasizes personal responsibility. Instead of playing the “accuse and excuse” game of victimization, this program helps people face up to their own poor choices and deal with what they can do something about. We cannot control all that happens to us, but we can control how we respond to everything. That is a secret of happiness. When we stop wasting time fixing the blame, we have more energy to fix the problem. When we stop hiding our own faults and stop hurling accusations at others, then the healing power of Christ can begin working in our mind, will, and emotions.
- Celebrate Recovery emphasizes spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ. The third principle calls for people to make a total surrender of their lives to Christ. Lasting recovery cannot happen without this step. Everybody needs Jesus. Celebrate Recovery is thoroughly evangelistic in nature. In fact, the first time I took our entire church through this program, more than 500 people prayed to receive Christ on a single weekend. It was an amazing spiritual harvest. And during the 10-week series that I preached to kick off this program, our attendance grew by more than 1,500! Don’t be surprised if this program becomes the most effective outreach ministry in your church. Today, nearly seventy-three percent of the people who’ve been through Celebrate Recovery have come from outside our church. Changed lives always attract others who want to be changed.
- Celebrate Recovery utilizes the biblical truth that we need each other in order to grow spiritually and emotionally. It is built around small group interaction and the fellowship of a caring community. There are many therapies, growth programs, and counselors today that operate around one-to-one interaction. But Celebrate Recovery is built on the New Testament principle that we don’t get well by ourselves. We need each other. Fellowship and accountability are two important components of spiritual growth. If your church is interested in starting small groups, this is a great way to get started.
- Celebrate Recovery addresses all types of habits, hurts, and hang-ups. Some recovery programs deal only with alcohol or drugs or another single problem. But Celebrate Recovery is a “large umbrella” program under which a limitless number of issues can be dealt with. At Saddleback Church, only one out of three who attend Celebrate Recovery is dealing with alcohol or drugs. We have several other specialized groups too.
- Finally, Celebrate Recovery is a leadership factory. Because it is biblical and church-based, Celebrate Recovery produces a continuous stream of people moving into ministry after they’ve found recovery in Christ. Eighty-five percent of the people who’ve gone through the program are now active members of Saddleback Church, and an amazing forty-two percent are now using their gifts and talents serving the Lord in some capacity in our church.
In closing, let me say that the size of your church is no barrier to beginning a Celebrate Recovery ministry. You can start it with just a small group of people and watch it grow by word of mouth. You won’t be able to keep it a secret for long!