Alongside a suburban maze of intersecting streets lie several acres of dense woodland. A nondescript gate separates the solitude of this natural oasis from the hub-bub of its man-made surroundings. Nestled in seclusion beyond the view of the passer-by is a facility that is virtually unknown to the public. It is the home of an alcohol rehabilitation program for professional clergy. What is not important is the denomination which operates it or its location in suburban America. What is important is its function as an operative ministry to servants of the Gospel whose personal and professional lives have been ravaged by addiction to alcohol, drugs, or pornography and its design to restore wholeness to their lives and their ministry. What is important is that its outreach represents an understanding and expression of God’s compassionate grace towards those who have surrendered their lives to full-time Christian service and now must cope with the natural consequence of suffering that their addiction has brought upon them.
In a recent interview with this writer and other members of the Cape Town Bloggers Network, Dr. Ajith Fernando (National Director for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka) discussed the issue of the extension of grace by the church to its clergy and Christian workers in the midst of such suffering. Several points he offered are worthy of consideration. First, he contends that “because of our fast-paced life,” suffering brought about by a Christian worker’s physical, emotional, and spiritual struggle with these addictions are commonplace. He continues, “many such issues arise out of a lack of discipline in the worker, negating their good works.” Second, he points to the church’s imperative to address the issue of such suffering through the facilitation of healing, arguing that “the Church has to have structures that will permit it to heal them [the Christian worker].”
A third point he presents is the understanding that Christian leaders, in dealing with subordinate Christian workers, assume a larger role than simply a leader of a church or organization. As evidenced in Paul’s epistles, he suggests that “the leader is a spiritual parent.” He continues, “in Christianity, the employer is a parent. A separate set of rules has to be put in place to ensure healing (of the employee).” Dr. Fernando suggests Gaius Davies’ book entitled Genius, Grief, and Grace as a work that illustrates the benefit of such healing as it introduces the reader to “great Christian workers who had serious psychological problems and whom God used in spite of those problems.” The relevance of its examples to the Church today is the challenge to claim God’s grace and share it responsibly in dealing with all Christian workers, including its clergy. He concludes, “a community of grace can help such people survive and do great things for God.”
The aforementioned retreat center in suburban America is but one example of countless such facilities that redeem broken servants and make possible the restoration of their life and their ministry. It is my understanding that the denominations of today’s Church that offer such services represent the minority response to the devastation such addictions inflict upon its professional workers and clergy. Rather than callously disgracing a Christian worker or pastor who struggles with such an addiction, it is my contention that our denominations and local congregations should offer a level of understanding to such workers and unabashedly extend to those in need nothing less than compassionate grace in the midst of suffering.
May God’s redeeming grace sustain us and empower us as we humbly seek to do His will!