LAKE FOREST, Calif. – More than 3,000 people from churches around the world attended Saddleback Church’s Celebrate Recovery Summit and helped commemorate the 20th year of the Christ-centered program for addictions, which originated at the Southern California church.
The three-day conference, which is designed for ministry leaders sent by churches to either learn how to start a Celebrate Recovery or gather tips on improving existing programs, ended on Friday.
The program incorporates Biblical principles into the steps of recovery found in Alcoholics Anonymous and specifies the belief that Jesus Christ is the “higher power” who heals chemical addictions as well as other social problems.
Celebrate Recovery, which began at Saddleback Church in 1991, is now part of ministry programs in more than 17,000 churches worldwide, according to church staff. More than 700,000 people have gone through the program. Speakers at the summit included testimonies of people no longer addicted to alcohol or drugs, or as the program states, "helped those struggling with hurts, hang-ups, and habits."
Ministry leader Joe Clark, who leads the CR program at the church’s Ranch Capistrano campus along with his wife, said the summit is a chance for him to pray for the needs of others.
“You meet people from all over the world here and all over the U.S., and they are all trying to do the same thing. They are trying to find out how to work a program or make their Celebrate Recovery better to make a difference, an eternal difference in people’s lives,” Clark said. “It doesn’t matter what their issue is.”
Clark said he came into the CR program at the church more than ten years ago, depressed and suicidal, struggling with co-dependency and chemical addiction issues.
“In working through a CR step-study you develop Godly friends that know everything about you and love you anyway. It’s how the body of believers is supposed to be,” he said. “This is a program that teaches you how to have community and family with other believers.”
“We each have our idiosyncrasies and fallacies, and yet you learn to love that other person,” Clark added.
Shortly after getting help through the program, Clark said he became a ministry leader.
“I’ve stuck with this ministry because God allowed me to go through all the things that I went through so that I could touch other people’s lives,” he said. “Because of the poor choices I made in my life and all the things that happened to me, I can now relate to a lot of people. The blessing is being allowed to let the Holy Spirit shine through the cracks in my life and touch other people’s lives.”
Howard Melzard, from Albuquerque, NM, said he came into the CR program after becoming a Christian ten years ago and immediately wanting to deal with his many problems including alcoholism and drug addiction. Melzard said he came to this year’s conference to volunteer and “give back what the program has given me for ten years.”
Melzard said he likes the fact that Celebrate Recovery is “Christ-centered and a safe place to come to.” He now tells other churches about the program and helps them implement CR if they chose to do so.
“What I like is that I can go to a group with other men and I can get real, and when they hear me or another man share they feel safe enough so they can get real,” he said.
CR founder and pastor John Baker has said in his previous personal testimonies that the reason he wanted to start something different from AA, was because as someone in recovery, he couldn’t find “a safe place to share the victories and the freedom over my past sin that Christ was giving me.”
The first guideline in a section of CR’s Website titled “The DNA of an Authentic Celebrate Recovery Ministry” is that “Jesus Christ is the one and only Higher Power. The program is a Christ-centered ministry.”