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Someone in My Church is Addicted. Now What?

Updated: Sep 20

Someone in your church has confessed a struggle with addiction and a desire for help... What do you do now? How do you begin to help? Your initial response may be to seek the culture’s answers because you don’t confidently know how the church can meet the very real needs of the struggling addict. But the church is more than capable to step into these situations and confidently bring hope and help!

In this article, we will provide you with both practical and biblical steps to walk alongside a struggling addict and help him/her with both physical and spiritual needs.

1) Pray

You will not always have answers for practical steps of obedience to God or know the right encouragement to give. You do, however, have access to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in your time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). You lead by example when you show humility and acknowledge you, too, need the help and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Pray together as you begin, as you end, and even in the midst of the conversation as you see your need. (Colossians 4:2)

2) Encourage

Encourage that God is at work evidenced by his(/her) confession of their need and reaching out for help. An addict that has spent years hiding and protecting their idol of self, comfort and escape, so a confession of need is a big step. Wise evaluation of the sincerity and readiness for change is necessary, but initial encouragement shows that you are not shocked or afraid of the struggle. Recognition of need is a great place to start and you can acknowledge the work of the Lord to get to this place.

Encourage that you will be with him through the process; he won’t be alone. The journey out of addiction is overwhelming, unknown and elicits much fear. Although you will not know every right answer, or know every next step, you are committed to following Jesus together. 1John 1:9 It is the opportunity to ‘walk in the light’ with another believer. Just the assurance that he is not alone brings much comfort and hope. This is a tangible way to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

The best encouragement, of course, is gospel encouragement. Gospel encouragement comes from the truth that sin no longer has control over us. No sin, no struggle is beyond the reach of Christ’s finished work (Romans 5:6-8). With any sin, especially the sin of addiction, it feels to us like it has dominion in the life of the addict. However, because of Christ, sin - truly all sin - no longer has dominion in the believer’s life. (Romans 6:14), Christ has dominion because he conquered sin and death. In him, those who are dead in their sin are made alive in Christ (Romans 6). For those who believe in Jesus, this is true and gives hope for the future. While a new life may seem unattainable, and for the gospel to bring hope, they must see that their issue defined in God’s Word is one of sin and not a sickness or disease as the world would now define addiction. The gospel is the glorious truth that Jesus died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3), and as we see addiction as the sin that it is, we also see that it too is overcome by Christ. Freedom is found in Christ and his finished work (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Personal encouragement from Liz Beck: My life was falling apart as my husband’s addiction spiraled out of control. My pastor was inexperienced in addiction, but he knows Jesus. Along the way, insane situation after another, my pastor did not always know what to do, or even understand all that was happening. He did, however, walk with me. He always prayed with me and anchored me in gospel hope. My life is not the same as a result of God’s work in me and my pastor’s care for me.

3) Assess

Manipulation is a common characteristic of addiction (although anyone will resort to any means necessary to protect an idol and this is not unique to addicts). Data gathering is important to understand the problem and then bring biblical solutions.

  • What is he asking for specifically?

  • Is he asking for money?

  • Is he asking for counseling?

  • Is he asking for accountability?

  • What has happened that makes him seek help now?

  • Is he asking for help to appease a family member (spouse, parent, etc)?

The answers to these questions will help you assess if the request for help flows from a heart to change or simply a means to manipulate. Is he presenting the same need, the same repeated story? Is this godly sorrow or worldly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10)? (This will be covered more in the Cautions to Consider section).

Next, assess the nature, level and effects of the addiction.

  1. What substance is being used?

  2. How much is used, how often?

  3. What are the effects on family/job, etc?

Depending on the answers to the questions above, assess the next appropriate steps: rehab, detox, etc. For some, a 5-10 day detox followed by an accountability plan will be sufficient. For others, a 30-day treatment program is appropriate, followed by an accountability plan. If the struggle with addiction has been many years and he has been through multiple secular treatment programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, etc. it is likely that a longer program is a more suitable option. A discipleship, biblical counseling based program is ideal (see options here). Your role at this point is simply to evaluate the need and make suggestions for next steps. You will guide, but he must do the work. Remember, you are there to help them change, not to change them. You cannot want this more for them than they want for themselves.

A clear understanding of the problem will help guide you to determine the next step toward Christ and freedom. Because there are real physical effects for someone in active addiction, these need to be addressed. For someone who has years of prolonged drug or alcohol use, physical dependence is real. Some substances, alcohol for example, need medical supervision for detox as there can be dangerous reactions. Detox gives needed medical care for the physical effects to be removed and may also show a willingness toward change (some have been through this so many times, that detox is part of the addiction cycle and is not truly evidence that he is ready to change).

“With actual physical addictions, spiritual ministry begins after the person has medically stabilized or weathered the physical storms of detoxification. Biblical approaches to addictions do not deny that the physical body is part of the addictive process. Where Scripture brings more precision into this discussion is in its teaching that the physical body can’t make us sin.” Ed Welch, Addictions A Banquet in the Grave, page 31

It will take some time to determine a genuine desire for change. As you enter into messy situations, wisdom is needed. Help can actually be harmful, so resist the temptation to respond in haste or to avoid confrontation. Loving confrontation is part of discipleship and struggling addicts need honest, compassionate accountability (Galatians 6:1, 1 Timothy 4:2). The situation may feel like a crisis (and it might be a true crisis), but take time to determine if he/she is truly ready to change. Obeying Christ takes effort (Titus 2:11-14) and you cannot walk this journey for him. You are walking with him, showing him what the Bible says and helping him to respond in obedience and repentance. There are no quick fixes and sanctification takes a lifetime. He is ready for change when you can identify:

1. Humility:

  • Is he willing to submit to accountability and listen to wisdom? Or is he trying to create a program or path forward for himself?

  • Does he want you to do things his way? Readiness for change means he recognizes that he does not know what is best and he is willing to follow your suggestions and wisdom.

  • Is he ready to leave the old life behind? (this is described in the next section) or does he want to hold on to certain people or things that are part of his addiction lifestyle

2. Willingness to accept consequences:

  • Is he willing to go to treatment? Or Is he making excuses and demanding his way?

Continue to evaluate readiness for change as you progress through the next steps and increase your involvement. Evaluate his commitment to change as each objective is presented. This is his path, his walk with the Lord; you are simply providing encouragement, biblical guidance and wisdom. As a reminder, genuine heart change comes from God as we see in 2 Corinthians 3:18. This process is important, even essential, but it remains a tool to facilitate change. Keep directing him to the Lord through consistent prayer as he goes through the various steps to rebuild his life. This will help redirect him from finding refuge in his “drug of choice” to finding true refuge in God alone. (Psalm 46:1,2)

4) Next Steps

There is no “one size fits all” approach to caring for people, nor is there one path for every struggling addict. Take time to make a plan for yourself. This will help you provide helpful and fruitful care and protect you from burnout. You must define a clear plan for what you are willing to do and what your help will look like (Example: “I will meet with you weekly,” “our church will assemble a team to help you stay accountable,” “our church will help you get to a treatment program.”) Your help should move him forward, out of his addiction, and give clear expectations of his commitment.

Locate and enter an appropriate treatment or detox, if needed. Give clear direction on what he needs to do (Example: “Call these two programs, get information about the program, financial obligation, when there is availability and call me with the information.”) It is his responsibility to do the work. You may find that he needs support just to make these phone calls and you might have him call while sitting with you. Help him evaluate the program that best serves his needs. Work together to create a list of “to do” items that need to be completed in order to go to treatment (example: make a doctor appointment to get necessary medical tests, get plane or bus ticket, plan/sell personal items to pay for treatment, etc).

In order to ensure he is moving forward, it is important to clearly define what is required of him in order to receive your help. He must be willing to be accountable and follow the plan that you have agreed to. (Example: “you must call your accountability person every day and follow the approved plan/schedule for your day,” “you must call your accountability team if you are struggling to use,” “you must attend church every time the doors are open.”) This is not you controlling his life; rather, this is you helping him regain control of an out-of-control and chaotic life.

Someone who is newly sober, struggling to stay sober, or newly out of treatment, needs daily encouragement and help to think rightly. A weekly meeting or weekly church attendance is not enough. As he gains strength and maturity in the Lord and time away from using, daily connection is not necessary, but for a time, daily communication/plan is vital. With this in mind, a team of people in the church are needed during the first 90 days. This provides the needed support while also protecting church members from burnout or taking them away from family and work responsibilities (see sample accountability plan here).

5) Cautions to Consider

Carefully evaluate financial support. If the main request for help (see assess section) is financial, it is probable that he is not truly ready to change. Financial support that moves him toward change can be helpful (Example: plane ticket to treatment center). Financial support that allows him to stay in his addiction is not (Example: paying his rent when he has wasted his money on his addiction). Financial assistance is not advisable. Rather, help him formulate a plan to sell personal items, give plasma, etc so he has investment in his change.

Discern manipulative behavior and then lovingly confront. Lying is a habitual response for those in addiction. Manipulation gives them what they want and lying protects their idols. This becomes second nature, so loving confrontation is needed. There are times he will lie, even if the truth is easier. While you should believe the best (1 Corinthians 13, Matthew 7:1), you must also be wise to understand the sinful behaviors of addicts and bring these to the light (Ephesians 5). Confrontation will expose motives and help you discern the right path for help. (Example: “I understand that in your addiction, lying was habitual. But in order for me to help you, you must be honest. If at any time you recognize that you lied, I want you to come back to me and confess the lie and then tell the truth.” or “I want to make sure you are being honest and walking in the light, 1 John 1:5-10, will you think about what you just told me and if it isn’t true, will you start again with the truth?”). When you clearly define for yourself and for him, the path of help (Next Steps section), it allows you to revisit this plan and remind him of the agreement. At any point, if he chooses to no longer follow the agreed upon plan, you can lovingly release him to his own plan. In love you will be ready to help when he is ready and able to honestly engage, tell the truth and follow the plan.

You are leading the path to help; this is not his plan or his way. When someone has lived a sinful, reckless, self-indulgent lifestyle, they do not know how to live rightly. Your role in discipleship is to teach them practically how to have self-control, walk in the light, forsake sin and follow Jesus. At the beginning, you will need to be involved in the details. While it may feel like you are trying to “control his life,” you are actually helping him to gain control of his very out of control life and bring order to his disordered life. At first it may seem like the focus is on behavior modification, but you are helping him in tangible ways to unlearn sinful behavior and walk in a manner worthy of Christ (Ephesians 4:1). Remember, his way of doing things got him to this place, at this point he does not know what is wise or right (Proverbs 12:15). You are actually serving him greatly by providing practical and detailed accountability.

It is always preferable that someone enter treatment prior to an accountability discipleship plan. Most churches do not have the resources needed to provide the level of support required by someone in active addiction. If you need help to create a plan or to determine a wise path of support, please contact our team to discuss possible solutions.

The Authors:

Liz Beck is the founder of Hope for Addiction.

Trey Richardson is the counseling elder at Center Church in Gilbert, Arizona. Trey is ACBC Certified and serves as a trainer at the ACBC Training Center in Tempe, Arizona.

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