A year ago, Wes and I got involved in our church’s Celebrate Recovery program.
Three years ago when we were first praying about coming to our church and whether or not this was where God wanted Wes to serve as senior pastor, we came to town without telling anyone on the pastor search committee, wanting to check out the church and the community without any pressure and with plenty of time to pray on our own. It was providential that we rolled into town on a Thursday evening at 6pm, noting that the church parking lot was packed. What in the world was going on? A quick search online gave us the answer – Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone struggling with hurts, pain, and addiction. We’d never been a part of a CR group or been in a church that hosted the program, but we knew that it was a good thing, that it was a much-needed ministry everywhere, and that this church’s involvement with CR said a lot about what they valued. Once we did end up coming to Vidalia and Wes stepped into the role of pastor, we visited CR every now and then, fitting it in where we could in all the other demands and responsibilities that we had in the church. After each and every one of these visits, we would say to one another, “Maybe we should be more involved.” But then, we’d get booked up with ten other things and admit that we couldn’t do it all.
Fast forward to last year. We found out that the amazing leaders of our CR’s student ministry were moving to Alabama, and there was no one to step up and volunteer in their places. And when I say there was no one, I seriously mean that. We did all that we could – asking, begging, pleading with tears – to find helpers, all to no avail. No one from the church wanted to step into this ministry. And it wasn’t that we didn’t want to either – we didn’t have many nights that weren’t already taken up with other church activities and couldn’t imagine how we could do it. But, as Wes reminded me, we’d felt like we needed to be involved in some way with CR, despite everything else we were carrying. And with no one else to do it, it became a question of whether or not we could afford to lose this student group.
We couldn’t. I told Wes, “We’ll step in and pray until God sends better leaders.” Because surely the two of us, who had never experienced or worked with people who had experienced the addictions and hurts that CR pinpoints, were the worst people for the job. We were available and willing, though, so we jumped into it with full confidence that God would provide for this ministry by bringing us some better leaders. We were no strangers to hard ministry and the difficult issues that people walk through in their lives, but just a few weeks into being part of CR, we felt like we’d entered a whole new world. I remember long, quiet rides back home after some of those first few meetings with our students, neither of us emotionally able to process all that we’d learned they were walking through and experiencing. We’d have to stay up late and talk it all through with one another those nights, and I remember being in tears more often than not as I realized how inadequate we were to help any of them. But we stayed and kept on, because there was no one else who was willing to step into the role, and as time went by and we got to know our CR family better… well, we stayed on because we wanted to. I joined a step study with a group of adult women nine months later because, as I told Wes, that was my only time to get to know some of the others in CR, ladies that I hadn’t been able to connect with as we were working with students. And again, I’d come home in tears from those nights, telling Wes very simply that God was and is doing something huge through this CR ministry.
In all our years of church work and of sharing Christ with people, I don’t know that we’ve ever seen God showing Himself more powerful than we see Him at work in CR. We’ve gotten to know people who have given up everything to follow Jesus, who will be the first to admit that without Him they’re a mess, and who radiate a joy that only comes from being new and free and whole in Jesus. We should see that every day in our churches, full of redeemed people, but we don’t. We do see it in CR, where people make mistakes and own them, where being a disciple costs something significant, and where you can pray for someone walking through the worst that life can throw at them, watching as the Holy Spirit intercedes and meets them right where they’re at. I’ve never been slapped in the face with my own unbelief as much as I have at CR, where all the platitudes and things I thought I knew working in church ministry get pushed aside as God shows up and does a transforming work in the lives of people, just like He’s doing in mine even now. These are the kinds of moments Wes and I have spent our ministry lives praying for, when we can meet people where they’re at, confess that we don’t have it all together either, and then point them to Jesus, who we all need so desperately.
We’re not the best leaders for this ministry because we need CR just as much as each and every person there. We have church members who come and make meals every week for our CR family, and when they see Wes and me there, they always inevitably make a joke, wondering out loud at what we’re struggling with, why we need CR, and saying that we must be “one of those people.” We are, y’all. We’re loathsome, rotten sinners in need of grace, and we encounter it over and over again at CR, where we see His work in the lives of others, marveling at what He is able and eager to do, thankful that He’s working in us, too.
We’ve stopped praying that God would bring some better leaders to the CR student ministry. Because we want that blessing for ourselves (lol!) and because we need CR. I write all of this to celebrate what God has done in us this year, how He’s changed our hearts, how He’s working through this ministry, and how He’s letting us be a part of it. Our refrain has changed from silent, emotional grappling on those hard nights to this… “Can you believe that we get to do this? That God is letting us be a part of His work here?”
Church friends, if you’re looking for a place to plug in, CR is for you. Come and join us at 6:00pm on Thursday nights for a meal then onto worship and small groups at 6:45pm. We’re all “one of those people” at CR, and there’s a place for you to experience grace and grow in Christ along with us.