If you’ve heard a sermon, small-group discussion, Sunday school lesson, or testimony that addressed one of those once-taboo topics—alcoholism, drug abuse, anger issues, porn habits—you probably have Celebrate Recovery to thank.

“It used to be if someone was an alcoholic or a drug addict or, heaven forbid, they had any kind of issue with anger, then it was hush-hush,” said Huston McComb, a licensed professional counselor who leads Celebrate Recovery at Houston’s First Baptist Church. “We’ve kind of taken that stigma away.”

While some of the shame around addiction has faded over the decades, Celebrate Recovery has shifted how evangelicals in particular view “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” The ministry hosts regular meetings at 29,000 churches and has trained more than 100,000 pastors in the recovery process.

Its annual summit this weekend marks 25 years since John Baker founded the program at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, immediately following his own journey to sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous. Like many evangelicals at the time, he had reservations about the generic spirituality of AA, whose 12-step program refers to “a Power greater than ourselves” and “God as we understood him.”

Baker saw a need to create a support system rooted in gospel teachings. “In my men’s small group I couldn’t talk about my struggle, and at AA, I couldn’t talk about my Savior,” Baker told CT.

He proposed the program—with its own version of the 12 steps, each one paired with a teaching from Scripture—in a 13-page letter to Warren back in 1991. From there, Celebrate Recovery has been replicated across denominations, ...

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