Why does the NACR commit a week to intensively study the work of recovery?
Because it matters so very, very much!
The day was gray and overcast, matching my ministry mood as we walked through the slick glass doors and rode up the silver bullet of an elevator to the top floors of a high rise in Dallas that housed the Leadership Network offices. Our recovery ministry, along with ten or so others, gathered twice a year for coaching and encouragement. For those unfamiliar with this excellent organization, Leadership Network has a habit (ok, mission) of finding innovative ministries and gathering them for meetings. Their hope is that through this creative process churches will grow in effectiveness and improve their serve.
All well and good, but on this particular trip to Dallas I was secretly planning on resigning my post and taking up basket weaving. Little did I know that before the day ended, I would find my way back home – to my true NorthStar. It happened like this. Liz Swanson (the person in charge of our pod of innovators) recruited a guy by the name of Dale Ryan to come speak to the group. From the moment he walked into the room my curiosity was peaked.
Frankly, I had this funny intuition that this man might just be as discouraged about recovery ministry and the church as I was. I suppose it was some thing along the lines of misery loving company. For whatever reason, it gave him credibility. If he had pranced in like a cheerleader with pom poms, I would have been polite (I’m a Southern girl after all) but I believe I would have left Dallas and handed in my resignation upon my return to Richmond, VA as planned.
Dale began to speak out of the text found in Luke 10, “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” His presentation was vintage Dale – something I didn’t know enough to recognize at the time. Humble. Clear. Challenging. Nothing fancy but somehow brilliant. I left that brief time wanting to hear more (and thankfully I have had that privilege over the years), but also not just clear but to quote Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, “Crystal.” Crystal clear.
I left Dallas with squared shoulders and a commitment to never, ever give up. The scriptures were clear – life in recovery ministry is as it should be… Some days you feel like you are fighting against the powerful epidemic of addiction with a slingshot and two broken arms. There is never enough money. And if you happen to greet people along the way, many aren’t interested in returning the greeting. Running a recovery ministry is a lot like what my lawyer friends experience. They say that people love to tell lawyer jokes UNTIL they need one. In recovery ministry, I think lots of people prefer to admire the work from afar but if they need to talk, they prefer to do so in confidence and privacy. Sadly, there is so much shame around this topic and it makes accessing treatment more difficult.
Isn’t this exactly what Jesus is describing in Luke 10? Jesus isn’t giving us a ministry plan straight off the pages of a slick marketing brochure. He’s telling us what to expect should we choose to follow him. And somehow hearing that the work is often discouraging, difficult and confusing made staying the only option. It helped to know that my experience was sacred; abandonment of the call was not an option.
More than a decade later we seek to provide churches and recovery organizations the same streams of living waters that were given us. Many of the same men and women who sat in the room at Leadership Network are partners and key leaders at the NACR. We are committed to encouraging one another and you in this vital work. From this background information, I hope you will understand the inspiration for many of the topics we cover at SIRS. Our speakers will offer practical application, for sure, but we also bring in faculty who can fill us with inspiration, courage and the willingness to not abandon the call of Jesus to serve the marginalized and hopeless around us.
For info on this year’s presenters see: Summer Institute of Recovery Studies