When Dale Ryan graduated from seminary, he made his way to suburban Los Angeles to become associate pastor of Whittier Area Baptist Fellowship. But what looked like a nice, middle-class congregation was actually filled with hurting people, many of whom were trying to cope with various addictions and the consequences of abuse. After starting several successful groups to deal with these issues, the church commissioned him as a missionary to help other churches and individuals begin recovery ministries.

Ryan is now executive director of the National Association for Christian Recovery, based in La Habra, California. A membership organization devoted to developing distinctively Christian recovery resources, they publish a quarterly newsletter called Steps, sponsor regional workshops and conferences, and consult with individual churches. Along with his wife, Juanita, Dale has also published Life Recovery Guides, a series of Bible study guides on such topics as addiction, shame, family dysfunctions, and others, published by InterVarsity Press. CHRISTIANITY TODAY talked to Ryan to find out how the church should respond to the phenomenon of the recovery movement.

How did you become involved in recovery work?

Seven years ago I left seminary and entered my first pastorate. I was at my new job for less than four hours when I had a phone call about a child in my congregation who had been sexually abused by her parents. That led to some discoveries. I soon found that our biggest problems in terms of pastoral care were addictions and abuse.

Did seminary prepare you for dealing with these issues?

Like most pastors, I had almost no resources for dealing with these problems. I had no clue what to do. The key for my ministry, however, was breaking ...

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