Celebrate Recovery points to life change
By Allen Palmeri
RAYTOWN—Approximately 400 leaders from Missouri Baptist churches and other denominational settings in the region gathered at First Baptist Church here to learn about Celebrate Recovery (CR), a ministry with Southern Baptist roots that has impacted more than 500,000 people in the last 18 years.
In the last six years, more than 50,000 pastors and lay leaders have been trained in the program that began in 1991 with 43 people at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif. Its founder, John Baker, was influenced by Alcoholics Anonymous and sought to develop a Christ-centered discipline for all issues connected to life’s hurts, hang-ups and habits. That product was CR.
“We are doing Celebrate Recovery for changed lives,” said Baker to the First Raytown group Oct. 25 that participated in a one-day conference run by Baker and other Saddleback-based leaders. There now have been 98 of these seminars conducted all over the United States.
Ed and Amanda Underwood run the CR program at Allen Street Baptist Church, Clinton. Amanda also serves as state representative for western Missouri. Volunteers like the Underwoods are “the glue that holds us together,” Baker said, with the Clinton couple travelling annually to 10-16 cities across the state to encourage other ministry leaders and answer various questions about how to start and nurture growth in CR.
“We have, I believe, around 47 Celebrate Recoveries that are on the website that are approved with the DNA, and there are almost three dozen that are trying to get started,” Ed Underwood said.
He agreed with Baker in embracing the concept of life change as a primary reward for him and his wife as they go to various local CR settings.
“When we first meet the people, so many times you can see it in their eyes, and then to be able to see them a few months later and see the life in their eyes, the life in their heart, the fire and the passion—that is so rewarding to us,” he said.
A total of 10,000 churches now have Celebrate Recovery. CR prison ministry is in 48 states and 11 other countries, and CR materials are published in 19 languages.
“It offers hope,” Baker said.
And it really does change lives by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to Scott Fields, ministry leader at First Raytown who is over two separate groups of around 40 apiece on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“I’ve seen a lot of people grow, come in one way and turn into somebody else completely different,” Fields said. “I’ve seen God take people out of homeless situations and give them places to live. I’ve seen Him take people out of addictive, abusive relationships—women that had to be in a relationship that do not have to be in a relationship now, that are living single and raising their family. I’ve seen a couple who had their children gone for five years, and I’ve seen the government give them back their children because they’ve been attending our group for like a year. I think that is awesome.”
In a small-town setting like Clinton, which is located in a recreational area near Harry S. Truman Lake, CR can be a way for Christians of different denominations to come together for a common purpose. Allen Street is a church that runs about 130-145 in Sunday worship and about 15-40 in CR. As the bi-vocational associate pastor for the church, Underwood helps oversee the leadership training that often flows through the CR ministry both inside and outside the local church.
“We’ve also helped a lot of Celebrate Recoveries start in the small towns around us,” he said.
One of the general appeals of CR is that it provides a way for a small-group ministry to thrive in the local church.
“That’s where you really reach and touch people,” Underwood said.
“We’ve had many people who have come through Step Studies (the advanced form of discipleship in CR) that became leaders in other areas of our church. And they don’t come to Celebrate Recovery all of the time. Now, if they’re struggling, guess where they’re going? They’re going to be there on a Friday night. We have people in our church that may not come to Celebrate Recovery on a Friday night, but they’ll go through Step Studies just to help get over the stuff in their life.”
Because Celebrate Recovery is a kingdom ministry, a kingdom mindset prevails. It’s not necessarily about what denomination happens to be over a particular soul. It’s more about where that soul is led to go for his or her recovery in the town where God has placed him or her.
“There’s no such thing as sheep stealing, because the sheep only belong to one,” Underwood said. “That’s how we approach it. We’re not here to steal sheep. We’re here to look for lost lives.”