Book Review from Dr. Henry Virkler, Palm Beach Atlantic University: “The Recovery-Minded Church: Loving and Ministering to People with Addiction by Jonathan Benz with Kristina Robb-Dover, (2016, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois)
Rarely have I read a book that articulates God’s will for the church so well that I wish every pastor and church leader (e.g., elder, deacon, etc.) would read it. Drawing from the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 16, Jonathan reminds us that we are all Prodigals in need of saving, and the church’s response should be modeled after the Father’s heart as he warmly embraced his son and welcomed him back into the family.
While the book is primarily addressed to helping the church develop a set of attitudes and practices that love and minister to the person who is recovering from alcohol addiction, Jonathan also describes the other kinds of addictions that Christians struggle with–prescription or illicit drug abuse, sex and love addictions, compulsive exercising, food addictions, shopping and hoarding addictions, technology and Internet addictions, and workaholism. By some estimates, these various addictions affect as many as 30% of the population, and so a recovery-minded church could minister to many of these others as well.
Ministering to substance abusers is much more than allowing an AA meeting to occur in the basement of the church. Many of the people who attend these meetings would never feel comfortable coming upstairs and joining in the worship of the church, and the response of many of the members upstairs, especially to those in the early stages of recovery, might more closely resemble that of the older brother than the response of the Prodigal’s father.
Benz draws from deep personal experience. Many years ago his father, a pastor, attended an AA meeting even though he was not a substance abuser, and was so struck with the message of the 12 Steps that he realized that he, and every Christian could profit from working those steps, and he fostered a church that encouraged practicing the 12 Steps for everyone, becoming a church body that embraced those who were struggling with recovery. Both Jonathan and his co-author Kristina have been involved in pastoral ministry. Jonathan is also a trained professional counselor who has been involved in substance abuse treatment for many years, an experience from which he richly draws.
This book draws extensively from Scripture, and helped me to see how frequently God calls us to become a recovery-minded church that is open to and welcomes those who are struggling with various addictions and other life-controlling problems. It begins with changing our and our fellow church-member’s attitudes. Jonathan then gives highly practical steps that allow the church to demonstrate those attitudes through ministries that allow those who are struggling to become honest and transparent about their struggles. He gives clear guidance on what not to say and do, as well as equally clear guidance on the variety of ways churches can become a church that is seen as welcoming to those who are returning prodigals. He does not spell out one program for all churches, because he realizes that different churches may find one kind of program more appropriate in their context than another.
The book is thoroughly documented so the reader knows the writers and research that Jonathan and Kristina are drawing from. It also has appendices that give much helpful information about programs from which any church can obtain further information.
This book reminded me again about what God calls the church to be: unfortunately I think our behavior and attitudes more closely resembles that of the self-righteous older brother (whom Jonathan reminds us needed saving as much as his Prodigal brother). As a result, many of those with any of these addictions would never feel comfortable sharing the fact that they are struggling with their church family. As I said at the beginning of this review, I wish every pastor and church leader would read this book and re-think their ministry in light of what they learn. I believe by so doing we would help our churches to become closer to the ministry God calls us to be.