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Home > Issues > 2012 > Winter > Road to Recovery

Lord, send us the people nobody else wants."

That was the bold prayer that set Grace Church, now a multi-site United Methodist congregation in Southwest Florida, on course for a future defined by outreach to "the least of these."

When Jorge Acevedo became pastor of Grace in 1996, the church was in a five-year decline. At its height, the church had reached 1,000 in attendance. By the time Jorge arrived, attendance had dropped by nearly 75 percent. The church was deep in debt, had unpaid bills, and was under scrutiny from the IRS for back payroll taxes.

Worse, from Jorge's perspective, the church's neighborhood had changed, but the church had not. Growth and health would come only with a commitment to outreach.

Grace Church's neighbors were indeed "the people nobody else wants"—addicts, prostitutes, and alcoholics. Outreach to the church's neighbors required a commitment to recovery ministry.

Discovery of Recovery

Today Grace Church operates one of the largest recovery ministries in America, with more than 800 people involved each week.

"For many pastors," Jorge explains, "their ministry passions come out of their own pain; and that's true for me." Jorge had experienced the pain that addiction brings, and he had witnessed it in the lives of his parents, sister, and brothers. "As a pastor, I see the wreckage in peoples' lives, and I know churches typically aren't safe places to talk about this stuff."

So Grace Church decided to do ministry in a way that incorporates the openness of recovery ministry.

But recovery was not always a part of the church's—or Acevedo's—vision for discipleship.

Jorge grew up with two parents who were functional alcoholics. They were good parents, he explains, but drinking and partying were part of his family's heritage. Jorge took his first drink in childhood and was an alcoholic by the time he was a senior in high school. Fortunately, Jorge became a Christian through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ just before his 18th birthday. He actively followed Jesus, but the charismatic church he joined upon his conversion discouraged him from seeking professional help for his addiction. Instead, he was encouraged to pray it away.

"I was a Christian basically white-knuckling recovery," he says. He stayed away from alcohol, but the approach took a toll.

"I was a very angry husband, father, seminary student, and youth pastor," he says. "I should have been in working the steps, but I was not." Recovery and faith seemed totally unrelated.

That began to change when Jorge's older brother contacted him to say that he was sick and tired of his own addiction to drugs. Jorge was pastoring in Kissimmee, Florida, at the time, and he found out about a Lutheran recovery center nearby. Recovery and faith began coming together in Jorge's mind.

"The light came on," he says, "but gradually. It was like turning on a dimmer switch."

Several years later, Jorge joined a church staff in Fort Lauderdale. Another pastor on the staff was, like Jorge, an adult child of an alcoholic, who started attending Celebrate Recovery. And the worship pastor there was an alcoholic in recovery. In talking with them about recovery, Jorge realized the boon a better understanding of recovery could be for discipleship.

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Related Topics:BrokennessChangeCompassionPovertyService
From Issue:The Outreach Issue, Winter 2012 | Posted: March 19, 2012

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments


May 08, 2012  9:47am

Incredible stuff! A smoking section at church? Hilarious, creative. Refreshing to hear of a church that reaches people in their sin, loves them as they are, but wants to lead them out of their sin.

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Martin Stidham

April 11, 2012  2:01pm

Great story of what Jesus called the church to be.

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crystal morabito

March 27, 2012  9:39am

Jesus came for these very people....all through the Bible you see him surrounded by people with all kinds of afflictions...always saving and healing with compassion. Lord, let me be the one who reaches out with compassion to you sick and suffering children!

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March 25, 2012  8:26pm

Thank you for this reminder of what we as the Body of Christ are responsible to do--bring in those who are in need of a spiritual physician--and truly take the time to minister to them, not simply talk at them about the Bible and its directives. We need to be in relationship with others as people, not as a set of problems to be solved and sent on their way.

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Dan Bradford

March 21, 2012  3:39pm

I am very pleased to read about a church who not only understands we all are in need of "Recovery from sin"! The idea that a few churches are willing to reach those who struggle with addiction and compulsive behaviors may be accurate but it's not appropriate. I hope and am working towards a movement for the whole church to the whole world so that the people of God will not designate a room a week for "those people" but will preach and teach that we all have a great need! We all belong to the One and only help , our Jesus! I am delighted when a person will come through our "Biblical 12 step study" and recogize that our time isn't spent rehersing the issues or afflictions in our lives but that we open the Bible in a safe and transparent atmosphere that allows the "sinner" to recieve the fullness of influence and power from the Word, by the Spirit and within the people of God! True Transformation! I am now praying for Pastor Jorge and Grace to play a signifacant role in leading the redeemed sinner to a place where we can bring hope to all. Not in an ajacent room once a week but in and through the life of the people called "church"

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