Among those in society, struggling with drug use and addiction in general, there may be some in your congregation. I am not aware of statistics re: addiction in CRC circles. One social worker assured me that the numbers are more favorable than the averages in society, but there remains cause for concern.
Google will provide you with a summary of the many kinds of drugs presently in use as well as national and regional statistics of distribution of use. Though drug use has slightly decreased this last year, it remains a huge drain on national resources, and brings untold suffering. In 2013 marijuana use was thought to be as follows: 7 % of ninth graders, 18 % of tenth graders, and 22 % of twelfth graders. Related to drug use is the consumption of alcohol. Last year 26 % of twelfth graders reported having used alcohol during the past month.
This is just the tip of the ice-berg. Addictions come in a bewildering array of forms: pornography, betting and gambling, eating disorders, sexual addiction, and more – each with its own bitter price to pay. Addiction affects health, physical and mental, in many negative ways.
You, as an elder, cannot be expected to be an expert in this complex area of drug use. But chances are considerable that there are some addicted people in your district. No, you cannot treat them, but you can be of help.
Some steps you may consider.
The elders should discuss addiction and drug use in a special meeting. Invite an expert who may advise you. As an individual elder, discuss this challenge with your pastor. Perhaps you have among your membership some who are informed about addiction. They may also help you in the difficult task of finding out who of the members of your district are addicted.
Drug users will probably be in their teens, but some may be older. Here the importance of regular visiting shows its beneficial importance again. If you have earned the trust of the members of your district, it is more likely that somewhere along the road you will pick up a hint that a near relative is struggling with this problem.
You cannot begin trying to give advice, let alone providing treatment. But remember one important thing: addicts are extremely lonely. So visit them. Visit regularly. Even the most frustrating visit is better than no visit at all. Assure this member of your unconditional friendship. Their family members have their own worries and struggles. Seek them out too, and listen to their story.
Remember also that addicts tend to be manipulative. Their inner life is focused on satisfying their craving for the next fix. Conscience may become nearly non-functional. You may assure them of God's love and grace, but mentioning sin is not helpful. The addicted members of your district have condemned themselves over and over. Assure them of God’s forgiving, accepting grace. None of this ministry you can do without some guidance of experts.
And, yes, pray for them. Pray for all those who struggle with illnesses of one sort of another
Thanks for raising this topic. I appreciate your call to visit and stay connected to all people, regardless of any kind of struggle they may know in life. I think we have much to learn from the fellowship of AA in this regard. It is interesting to observe that they as relatively 'unschooled, ordinary' people are able to address the roots of addictive behaviors while we with our formal ministry training often cannot. I find it helpful to think of addictions on a continuum ranging from the ones that may be easy to spot because they have a concrete substance, to the ones that are also destructive and more easily hidden, pride, or self-hatred for example. When we are willing to reach out for the help that we ourselves need, and especially make good use of those time tested 12 steps we may find that we have the personal resources of strength from God, and compassion for people as well as wisdom so that we don't need to send addicts away, but may minister to them and they to us.
Thanks for this excellent article. I would be happy to conduct educational sessions for Elders who are interested in learning about ministry to addicted persons and their families.
Minister of Congregational Life and Recovery
EverGreen Ministries, Hudsonville, MI
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