Massey Community Church in West Auckland is seeing the essence of love in action through a programme called Celebrate Recovery.
In 2009 Libby Hunt, Community Pastor at Massey Community Church and director of the Celebrate Recovery programme, was awarded the 'Massey Marvels Award' for services to the community by the Waitakere City Council.This was to acknowledge her work in the community with people working through hurts, habits or hang ups and to thank her for her contribution towards making Massey a great place to live.
The programme was started by John Baker, a recovering alcoholic who was attending Saddleback church pastored by Rick Warren. He was already part of the AA's 12-step programme, but “saw that what was missing was the recognition of Christ as a higher power,” says Libby. He also saw that many Christians too, needed a way of dealing with their struggles, but still acknowledging Jesus Christ as their ultimate high power.
John introduced the concept to Rick Warren who agreed to help him put the programme together. He then set about writing the books and a manual and Celebrate Recovery was launched 21 years ago.
The programme looks at 'hurts, habits and hang-ups' and Libby felt that that this would suit their niche in West Auckland. This region has a particularly high occurrence of abuse and trauma, suicide in young people, and addiction to drugs and alcohol. In addition to that, the region has also seen an increase in depression and a breakdown in relationships; issues that are also experienced by those in the church.
Libby says that the community need for support and care from the church was time-consuming as people couldn't just be “brushed off”. Help had to be provided through a group process, which would multiply the effectiveness of what they were trying to do.
To build the curriculum, John Baker rewrote the 12-step programme and also created eight principles based on the beatitudes. The eight principles is broader than just dealing with addictions and fits perfectly with the renowned 12-step programme. Those coming in from the community can immediately relate to the 12 steps. “They are then introduced to the eight principles which shows them that God is also talking about this in a clear way”, says Libby.
When Massey Community Church decided to run the Celebrate Recovery programme in 2006, they introduced it to the church through a series called “Road to Recovery". Following this, people were then invited to a meeting where the programme was presented to them. Libby says she prayed for people from within the congregation who would be suitable to facilitate Celebrate Recovery. She recalls, “We were looking for people who had life experience, who could relate to brokenness or a struggle and who had people skills, so that they could also connect with others.”
Each week the group will have a meal followed by a combined meeting. After a time of worship and reading the steps, there is a time of teaching, one week and on alternate weeks, a time of sharing testimonies or a life story. They then break into gender-specific small groups. Thus, there are 26 weeks of lessons and 26 weeks of testimonies, totalling 52 weeks; a full year.
When asked about the length of this programme, Libby says that running Celebrate Recovery over the full course of a year is necessary as “people can't be 'fixed' in a three or six month programme.” People need on-going support and nurturing to keep them on the path. She adds, “If we want people to grow strong and mature in their faith and the way they handle life, we must walk alongside them long-term.”
To do this, facilitators are on hand and a number of others are trained to walk alongside those in their group, so that it's not all left to the pastor. As those people mature and grow, they start supporting new ones and walking alongside them. “In a sense,” says Libby, “we are multiplying labourers by discipling those that have come through the programme to share with others what they have experienced.”
Celebrate Recovery has become the primary method of bringing new Christians into their church. A number of Church servers have come out of extreme brokenness. Some have had their children taken off them, but because of how they've grown in their self-development, they have managed to study, get jobs, are serving in the Church and community, they have had their children returned to them. Many of them were considered beyond help, but Libby says they underestimated the power of love.
For this reason, she is not ashamed to promote Celebrate Recovery as a faith-based programme that openly acknowledges that Christ is our hope. Because of the programmes' success, Libby has not encountered any problems in sharing this truth.
Although 52 weeks' long, each week follows a curriculum, so preparation time is minimal. Celebrate Recovery comes complete with all teaching aids and ideas on what to do.
Celebrate Recovery is an integral part of Massey Community Church and Senior Pastor Mark Jackson is an evangelist at heart so is very supportive of the programme. He is present each week and according to Libby, constantly promotes it in Church.
Although people may be initially reluctant to attend, they are assured that this is a healthy way of dealing with their problems. They also witness the transformation within others and this helps them make the decision to attend.
Many participants are referrals from the community. They are then introduced to Jesus Christ and get to trust people, so that when they come to church, they have someone to connect with; they don't feel alone. This makes the transition very smooth.
Many parents are now looking for the same kind of help with their youth and last year saw the “Break Free” programme established to meet this need. Again, this programme provides a bridge between youth group social events, to getting these young people into church.
While burnout may appear to be a possibility in running a 52 week programme back-to-back, Libby says that this is prevented by the number of people involved. Those who have received help just want to give back and so they become part of the volunteers. She says that they are also taught skills to prevent burnout.
As for mature Christians, they are uplifted in their own walk and are able to offer practical help, including finances. They feel they are giving to something worthwhile and are seeing evidence of people's lives transformed.
Seeing children back with their mums, and others able to look someone in the eye and have a big smile where previously they were unable to, motivates the church knowing they're doing God's work.