Amber Fisher, the founder of R3 Ministries, returns today to share how you can start your own R3 ministry (or something similar) in your church and community.
R3 Ministries was implemented with the goal of reaching out to those struggling with addiction and depression, and to make Christians more aware of and compassionate towards those issues. (See the previous post for details.) With that goal in mind, we began an addiction recovery support group, a Grief Share group, and an R3 Prayer Warriors group.
The importance of saturating any recovery program with the gospel cannot be stressed enough. In the Spirit of Mark 8:36, we felt strongly that our primary goal had to be to introduce people to Jesus. After all, true victory can only be found in Him. For our group, we primarily used Celebrate Recovery materials. When you purchase CR material, they ask you to only advertise your group as a “Celebrate Recovery” group if you are using their program exclusively, and exactly as they have described. Because our church is small (around 40 members), and we did not have the participants or staff to do that, we decided to call our addiction support group “R3.” We used the Celebrate Recovery devotional suggestions, participant workbooks, and leader training materials, but we modified them to fit our particular needs and preferences. There are a few other curriculums available for addiction recovery, but we found CR to be the best-rounded in terms of giving the gospel while offering practical steps for recovery. You can find more information at www.celebraterecovery.com
Grief Share is a peer support group for those grieving the loss of a loved one through death. While it may not deal directly with addiction or depression, many people who are dealing with those issues come to the realization that a tragic loss that was never grieved was the beginning of their struggle. With that in mind, we began Grief Share. As with R3, we felt strongly that a program saturated with the gospel message was vital. The materials offered through Grief Share were excellent at providing that, as well as practical steps to help people as they walk through the season of grieving. It is a 13-week cycle of weekly sessions that begin with a video, then a group discussion. Participants can also complete daily devotionals/journaling exercises in their workbooks and share thoughts from those. Unlike R3, Grief Share lessons do not have to be completed in order, so a participant can join at any time during the cycle. You can find more information at www.griefshare.org
R3 PRAYER WARRIORS
We began the prayer warriors group as an effort to bring church members not attending the support groups into the ministry. We also wanted to be able to tell group participants that they were being held up in prayer. We made R3 Prayer Warrior commitment cards. These cards asked members to agree to maintain the confidentiality of the requests they were given, as well as the option of becoming an “accountability partner.” Prayer Warriors who filled out these cards were given a separate prayer list specifically from the R3 and Grief Share groups. They also had the option of attending a special prayer meeting held during the recovery group meeting times. We also made “R3 Prayer Request” cards that were set out during group meetings. Group attendees could submit prayer requests with or without their names, as well as marking a box that said “I’d like an accountability partner.” We then would match those who wanted a partner with Prayer Warriors who had volunteered to be one. Accountability partners were meant to support and encourage the group participants through prayer, phone calls, and any social relationship the participant felt comfortable with. For example, a participant’s visit to a church service might be made considerably more comfortable if he or she is greeted at the door by an individual they know is praying for them, who sits with them and acts happy to see them. Sometimes even just one person’s interest can make a huge difference. It was our prayer that this ministry would, in effect, “bridge the gap” between recovery participants and church members who had never personally experienced these struggles.
POTENTIAL AND OTHER IDEAS
The potential for a ministry like R3 is amazing. We had some specific visions for our ministry that have not yet happened, but we are hoping will materialize one day. The first is a community service project. Our area has a local Christian ministry that runs an inpatient rehabilitation facility for men. I would love to see our R3 participants do a fund-raiser or work project to support that ministry. We also have a local inpatient hospice care facility under construction. When it is completed, our Grief Share participants would love to do a service project there. The possibilities for community involvement are endless if you are willing to seek them out, and it would be a great way to promote your groups in the community.
We have also considered one day starting a Divorce Care group. It is produced by Church Initiative, the same ministry that produces Grief Share, and is a peer support group for those struggling to deal with a divorce. At this time, we do not have the need/support for that specific group in our church. But I cannot say enough good things about Church Initiative, and we will definitely use that material should the opportunity arise.
THINGS I LEARNED
Beginning this kind of ministry is difficult, especially in a church where nothing like it has ever been attempted. I learned several lessons during that time and since then that I would love to share.
1. Be Patient. — I know firsthand that when God puts a passion in your heart for a ministry, it is easy to want everything to happen NOW. Reality is likely not going to allow that. Our church had several meetings to discuss materials, structure, cost, leadership, etc. Embrace this process. Do not see it as an obstacle to overcome before starting. Many mistakes can be avoided by thinking things through, bathing them in prayer, doing some research, and getting the counsel of those who have done something similar. It may also take some time for your ministry to “take off.” Accept that. Trust that God will send you the people He has prepared you for. I am still working on this one! J
2. Be prepared for some failure. – This sounds harsh, I know; but it will happen. Statistics show that 50% of people who begin a recovery program fail to complete it. Celebrate Recovery representatives told me that this proves especially true in their program, because it truly does encourage people to change the way they think. We found it to be true in our group as well. While our men’s group went very well, our women’s group didn’t even finish the first cycle because the only two participants we had stopped attending. Dealing with addiction is an ugly, hard, exhausting process. There will be steps forward and then steps back. Don’t let the bumps in the road stop you–celebrate the little victories!
3. Get the right support team. –Group leaders that are dedicated, a prayer support system, and backups for everyone are vital. The emotional and time demands in a ministry like this cannot be taken lightly, or placed on just one person.
4. Use the leadership training. – Both Grief Share and Celebrate Recovery provided extensive leader training material. Use it. The knowledge I gained from those programs helped me feel prepared for what was ahead. It also allows group leaders to bond with one another, which creates a “team effort” atmosphere.
5. Be flexible. –Leadership that is unwilling to accept criticism or acknowledge when something is not working will be ineffective, if not disastrous. We tried things that did not work. We had people suggest other ideas. We had people who did not like certain things we did, despite the fact that we felt they were working. Stand behind your ministry team. But be willing to reevaluate your methods, and change them if necessary. Especially in the beginning, ministries like this tend to take on a life of their own. Make sure you are open to what God has in mind for it. That may look different from your vision.
I am so excited for what the future of R3 ministries will look like! I pray that this has inspired you to consider reaching out to those struggling in your church and community. As Christians, we hold the greatest healing power there is. Let’s go share it!
Amber Fisher: Married to Chase, who pastors a small local church outside of Peoria, Illinois; Mom to Conner (7), Ethan (4), and Ellie (2); Stay at home Mom, does professional photography part-time (when our hectic schedule allows it!); Love helping with various things at church: piano, special music, children’s classes, and of course R3!
You can contact Amber for more information at amber_fisher05 (at) yahoo (dot) com.