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He did not tell anyone at church immediately, but he did take a brief leave (a one-week "vacation") while he worked out the initial steps of an accountability plan with his counselor and newfound sponsor. Dave also used this time to begin making amends to his wife and children for his deception and betrayal.

Interestingly, he did not tell his new AA friends that he was a pastor for nearly a year. No one asked, and, somewhat to his surprise, once he revealed this information, no one fell out of their chair! They just loved him.

While Dave got help primarily in the foreign world often referred to as the recovery community, thousands of other ministers continue to struggle secretly with addictions.

What does it take to experience healing and restoration? There's not a tidy answer, but there is a clear path to recovery. It begins by rejecting the lifestyle of lies and self-deception.

Obstacles to transparency

One of the realities of addictive behaviors is that those affected quickly master "the art of deception." They become good at hiding their behavior, masked behind denial, half-truths, and covering their tracks. They preserve the false assumptions others have about them. Honesty and integrity are the first casualties of an addiction.

In Dave's case, deception came easy. His position granted him a remarkable amount of trust, little accountability, and a flexible schedule. The little "miniatures" of vodka, like those served by airlines, are readily available and easy to conceal. He had numerous hiding places in his automobile, garage, and office.

Covering the faint smell of vodka with a healthy dose of mouthwash was simple. After all, no one is surprised when a pastor goes out of his way to have pleasant breath. No one suspected their pastor of alcoholism.

A second reality for Christian leaders is the misapplication of the belief that "God's grace is sufficient" and "all that's necessary to be delivered from an addiction is to pray." When most Christians initially recognize a sinful pattern of behavior that they wish to stop, they will pray a private prayer of confession, hoping that will make the addiction go away.

While confession is important and may produce immediate forgiveness, the lingering patterns of addiction may not immediately disappear. Even after confession, the compulsion remains powerful.

At first, Dave prayed fervently for deliverance from the craving for alcohol. When release did not come, he found his willingness to pray at all was greatly compromised.

He deemed himself the ultimate hypocrite and ceased praying except in public in his pastoral role. As a result, Dave's relationship with God became stale and lifeless. The role of pastor became one of bondage rather than joy.

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From Issue:Unhooked: Addiction Recovery , Spring 2009 | Posted: June 22, 2009

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Can Your Church Handle the Truth?

Can Your Church Handle the Truth?

Recovery ministries demand a level of honesty many congregations aren't used to.

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Marshall Shelley

May 28, 2013  8:58am

Thanks, Jerry. This clarifies a complicated situation.

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