The Living Free Program provides curricula for a series of Christ-centered support group meetings designed by and for people raised in addictive, emotionally repressive, or dysfunctional families. After attending secular support groups, the developers of the Living Free Program recognized the need for similar groups within the church. Consequently, they created this ministry to provide a Christ-centered recovery program for those who recognize Christ as their Higher Power.
The program provides a way for churches to become part of the growing recovery network. It is designed to help pastors and other church leaders support hurting people in their congregations. The program offers help to those in the church who, despite their best efforts, continue to battle painful issues stemming from past or present circumstances.
Courses offered through this program create a safe environment where participants can learn to establish and maintain a loving relationship with God, themselves and others. Living Free Program materials emphasize the importance of God’s healing grace as part of the recovery process and provide a comfortable way for wounded Christians to discover areas in their lives that require healing. The program involves four levels. The Primary Level consists of an open meeting format for individuals who prefer to share in a manner similar to open meetings in codependency, adult children of alcoholics and drug or alcohol recovery support groups. The courses offered in Levels One, Two and Three begin with an introductory meeting to familiarize participants with materials, course format and specific procedures. Program materials incorporate an adapted version of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with scripture and prayer. Using these tools, participants can develop behaviors that promote a healthy, positive lifestyle. The course format includes group communication, which allows individuals to share their experience, strength and hope with one another. Involvement in this program prepares people to use the Twelve Steps as a spiritual discipline, with emphasis on Christ-centered recovery. A suggested program calendar is included at the end of this chapter.
An important element of any recovery ministry is that people must feel secure within their group. Consequently, the group meetings outlined in the Living Free Program offer participants the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings in small sub-groups or "family groups." This style of interaction allows group members to develop close relationships with a limited number of people in a trusting and safe environment. A small group atmosphere encourages healthy, nurturing, family-type communication among participants. It provides a safe atmosphere where trust can be developed and serves as an arena for quality sharing. These small family groups are similar to sponsorship in secular Twelve Step support groups. They provide an opportunity for participants to develop a special relationship with at least one other person.
As individuals share their early experiences of growing up in an emotionally repressive or troubled family, they begin to identify the damage that has been done and recognize the need for healing. After a few meetings, they may be able to express long-suppressed shame, anger, fear and guilt, opening a pathway for God’s healing grace.
Living Free Curriculum
Living Free Program sessions are offered on four ascending levels. The curriculum includes materials for individuals just learning about recovery, as well as for people in recovery who are familiar with twelve-step programs. Each level helps individuals increase self-esteem and effectively cope with various issues that negatively affect their lives. Program participants can gain valuable insight about themselves, while learning how to identify and confront significant issues in their lives. With the grace of God, hurting Christians participating in the Living Free Program can gradually move from pain and denial toward healing and wholeness.
Primary Level: Open Meeting
The Primary Level meetings are conducted weekly on an ongoing basis. Individuals are invited to attend these meetings before making a commitment to the more structured meetings in Levels One, Two and Three. These meetings are helpful for individuals who are just beginning recovery. They may still be identifying codependency or adult child issues from their family of origin and are not ready to make a commitment to participate in the more structured program. Primary Level meetings are also helpful for those who wish to attend more than one meeting weekly. The meeting format is included in Chapter Six. This course is offered on a different day or at a different time than the other courses to allow participants to attend other meetings.
Level One: Introduction to Recovery Issues
Level One of the Living Free Program introduces participants to fundamental issues common to individuals in the beginning stages of recovery. Each Level One course emphasizes relying on God’s healing power as part of the recovery process. Participants are gently encouraged to examine many of the painful issues common to adults reared in addictive, emotionally repressive, or dysfunctional environments. These issues include codependency, denial, shame and grief.
Each Level One session includes writing exercises and an opportunity for individuals to share their experiences within a small family group setting. Time is allotted during each meeting for prayer requests. Completion of one of these initial courses is required before participants may enroll in Level Two. The materials used in Level One are:
The Twelve Steps – A Spiritual Kindergarten by Dale & Juanita Ryan
This book introduces the Twelve Steps as a way for Christians to improve their relationship with God, themselves, and others. It explains the function of the Twelve Steps and applies their principles in a Bible Study format. The reader learns how to apply the Twelve Steps and Scripture in combination to support their life journey. It is designed to be use for a 12-week study.
When I Grow Up…I Want To Be An Adult by Ron Ross
This introductory 12-week course was designed for Christians reared in an addictive or dysfunctional family. It offers participants a gentle way to begin the healing process through Christ-centered recovery. Based on the author’s personal experiences, the workbook for this course provides hope and direction for working through the pain and frustration resulting from a traumatic upbringing. It clearly defines the characteristics of adult children and guides the reader toward a healthier lifestyle. The book also outlines methods for identifying symptoms of emotional pain and helps individuals bring healing home to family, friends and loved ones. Instructions for facilitating and conducting these meetings are included in the book’s Appendix.
Level Two: Introduction to the Twelve-Step Recovery Process
Level Two materials introduce the twelve-step process as a spiritual discipline and clearly illustrate the compatibility between Christianity and the Twelve Steps. This course also offers participants an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings in a support group setting, and it does not include writing exercises. Level Two repeats every 13 weeks with a one-week break and can be attended while enrolled in Level One classes. This course is offered on a different day or at a different time than the other classes to allow participants to attend each meeting. Participation in this course is recommended prior to beginning Level Three. The book used in Level Two is:
The Twelve Steps for Christians by Friends in Recovery
This 12-week course provides an important foundation for completing Level Three. The main objective of this material is to examine the healing power of the twelve-step process when applied within a Christian perspective. Written by and for individuals who have experienced childhood trauma or deprivation, the book includes scriptural passages that illustrate the compatibility between Christianity and the Twelve Steps. With God’s grace, this course helps participants maintain balance and order in their lives through the use of the Twelve Steps.
Level Three: The Twelve-Step Journey To Wholeness
Participants in this course learn to use the Twelve Steps as a tool for examining their self-defeating behaviors and as a basis for making positive changes in their lives. They also receive an opportunity to deepen their relationship with God and develop a better understanding of themselves and those around them. The book used in Level Three is:
The Twelve StepsA Spiritual Journey by Friends in Recovery
This extensive 28-week course presents the twelve-step process as a spiritual journey toward healing from childhood traumas and self-defeating behaviors. Participants are encouraged to read each chapter and complete written exercises prior to attending each meeting. The book contains weekly exercises to be completed within small family groups during the meetings. Biblical references aid Christians in confronting their past and surrendering their lives to God as part of the recovery process. Instructions for facilitating and conducting these meetings are included in the Spiritual Journey’s Appendix
Principles and Guidelines for Recovery Support Group Meetings
Christ-centered recovery support groups should establish certain principles as part of their pattern for conducting meetings. The following five principles should be honored each time the group meets:
- Provide a non-threatening system of mutual accountability.
For example, one member can call another each day for prayer and support in abstaining from a harmful habit. The person being supported can both give and receive strength and courage by reporting the results to the whole group.
- Minister to specific areas of need with directed group prayer.
Openly sharing thoughts and feelings with trusted and supportive friends helps to clarify specific needs and focus prayer on problem areas.
- Minister to each person in the group according to his or her own needs.
Participation in recovery support groups can help people free themselves from the past, live honestly in the present and develop realistic expectations, plans and goals for the future. Recognizing another’s needs helps people to be supportive and understanding when others are sharing their experiences.
- Encourage one another to progress from a state of physical, emotional and spiritual sickness to wholeness of life.
Individuals need others to support them as they move from a comfortable place to a less comfortable place where change is possible.
- Aid one another in applying biblical truths to personal and relationship needs.
When group members openly share their faults with one another, honesty, trust and healing occur.
- When clear guidelines are established for group participation, members know what to expect during meetings. This is an important factor for people who were reared in addictive or dysfunctional families where agreements were vague, rules were unspoken, or boundaries were absent.
Experience has shown that the following guidelines aid Christ-centered recovery groups in promoting integrity, maintaining consistency and ensuring a healthy supportive process.
The facilitator guidelines are to:
- Support open communication among participants by:
- truly listening to what is said,
- encouraging expression of ideas and feelings,
- exercising patience and empathy, and
- rewarding honesty and openness with affirmation.
Promote a sense of unity within the group by:
- encouraging members to rely on Jesus Christ as their Higher Power, focusing on harmony as a priority in the group process, and
- encouraging appropriate trust and loyalty.
Demonstrate recovery-type sharing by:
- relating to group members at their level of recovery,
- promoting sharing on a feeling level, and
- using personal experiences as a means to communicate ideas and feelings.
Make an effort to resolve conflicts by:
- confronting in a loving way,
- encouraging honest and open communication,
- providing a non-threatening atmosphere in which individuals can share their discomfort, and
- openly discussing difficulties that may arise when individuals do not honor group guidelines.
A facilitator should also be particularly sensitive to group members who may experience stress or discomfort as a result of group participation. When people touch on painful issues, especially for the first time, they may become emotional and begin to cry. The facilitator and other group members should be patient, accepting the participant’s sadness as a natural and appropriate part of the healing process and allowing them to release their emotions. Rather than interrupt the session, the facilitator should ensure that sharing continues. If the situation appears serious, the facilitator should urge the individual to seek professional help.
Group participant’s guidelines are to:
- Come to each meeting prepared and with a prayerful attitude.
Before each meeting, read designated materials, complete any written exercises, pray for guidance and a willingness to share openly and honestly and communicate with at least one other group participant.
- Maintain confidentiality.
Keep whatever is shared within the group to ensure an atmosphere of safety and openness.
- Refrain from gossip.
Feel free to share your own needs, but refrain from talking about a person who is not present.
- Encourage comfort and support by sharing personal experience, strength and hope.
Support others without attempting to advise or rescue them. Often at least one other person in the group has worked through a similar struggle and can offer hope of success.
- Make a point of ministering love in an appropriate manner.
Respect the needs of others by asking permission before communicating concern with a hug or touch. Many people are not familiar or comfortable with expressions of love or affection that involves physical contact.
- Refrain from criticizing or defending other members.
Lovingly hold others accountable for their behavior only if they ask you to do so. Otherwise, recognize that we are all accountable to Christ, and it is not our place to defend or criticize others.
- Limit talking and allow others to share.
Keep your comments brief, take turns talking and don’t interrupt others.
- Recognize that the Holy Spirit is in charge.
Realize that the leader is merely a facilitator. Gratefully acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s presence and pray for His guidance and direction.
- Refrain from "crosstalk".
Crosstalk occurs when two or more people engage in a dialogue that excludes other participants and becomes advice giving. Accept what others say without comment, realizing it is true for them. Assume responsibility only for your own feelings, thoughts and actions.