A young man or woman sits in church on the back pew so as not to be noticed. They have been there for several weeks now, and even came forth to become a member. After those few weeks, they finally spoke to the Pastor and confessed to being an addict. They expressed feelings of being alone, abandoned, depressed, and spiritually lost.

Do not act as though nothing is wrong

When a member of your congregation comes to you about their addiction, keep in mind the great risk that they have taken in coming to you. Fear of punishment, abandonment, or ostracism is likely what has prevented them from saying anything up to this point. Your first impulse may be to remind them of the severity of their sin, but it’s very likely they already know. Instead, treat him/her as though there were nothing wrong. Take their hand (physically or figuratively), and lead them back into the light with love.

Make a plan to boost their self esteem

If the person starts to pull away, reach out to them with determination. It is not the best practice to wait for them to come forth, as they may never get up the courage to do so again. Ways you can reach out to troubled members include:

  • give the member a responsibility
  • personally invite him/her to weekday church activities
  • ask one or more other member to invite them to join them in Gospel Study or the choir

Once they have integrated with the rest of the congregation, it’s time to encourage the member struggling with addiction to talk. Counseling with the minister is a good first step.

These things will help build the member’s confidence and self esteem, which is likely very low at this time. Do not deliver ultimatums or tell them that they can get rid of that devil easily. S/he may have been trying to stop for awhile with no success. Do not announce their struggles to the entire church. Help them to realize that quitting is a long process, and staying clean often requires a lifetime of effort. If necessary, encourage them to seek help from secular sources designed to help addicts, such as support groups and addiction treatment centers.

Help them make the right choices

In many cases, addicts must leave old friends behind in order to achieve sobriety successfully. Encourage them to attend Sunday School and Bible Study. This will enable them to learn firsthand what God can do, and what is expected from them while making new, positive friends. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point about boosting their self esteem. Helping struggling members integrate with the rest of the congregation helps them establish friendships that will strengthen them as they strive to get back to their feet. The one thing that they really need to hear is that they are not alone, and that they are loved — depending on their family situation, you may be the only person telling them these things.


Additional resources:

Why We Should Stop Punishing Addicts

Religious Groups Transform Addiction from Moral Failure to Treatable Disease

The National Association for Christian Recovery

Mission Viejo Treatment Center