Pastoral Responses

By Bucky Dann Published
Paperback ISBN: 9780687045044 $18.99 Buy

Chances are, no church is immune to the drug demographics in America. Pointing out that addiction is a pervasive problem in North American society, Lynn Dann provides pastors and other pastoral caregivers with crucial help in understanding the needs of the addicted, their families, and the congregations of which they are a part. He draws on years of experience as a pastor and a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor to offer practical guidance on how to recognize the addicted and minister effectively to them.

Dann begins by outlining, in clear and accessible terms, the best contemporary thinking on the nature of addiction. From there he moves to a discussion of the particular resources that Christian churches can add to the treatment of addiction and the support of the addicted and their families. Finally, he includes tools for preaching and teaching on the nature of our drug-obsessed culture and biblical themes related to the care of the addicted. Those who are just beginning in pastoral ministry, as well as those who have engaged in it for many years, will find this an invaluable resource for knowing how to deal with this tragic and increasingly prevalent problem.


Reviewed by Sara Webb Phillips, Pastor of Discipleship, First United Methodist Church, Evanston, Illinois
Addiction: Pastoral Responses by Bucky Dann

The stark title of this book, Addition, is complemented with an equally stark cover picture – a blurry figure seemingly trapped, with hands up and out as if to feel the way out. Without opening the book one is immediately thrown into the blurry world of addiction. This is a fine primer for pastors on a topic that few congregations escape. Bucky Dann begins with the harsh statistics. Forty-three percent of American families have an alcoholic member. Of fifty thousand teenagers studied, 22 percent had smoked marijuana, 3.5 percent tried hard drugs and 11 percent had used inhalants. As pastors, how do we recognize the signs of addiction, and how do we respond?

Pastors and churches have great potential for helping addicted persons, but often churches are simply places that allow AA and NA groups to use a facility, not knowing how else to provide compassion, understanding and fellowship. Nevertheless, Dann argues, churches need to offer a spiritual program that goes even beyond what is currently the most successful recovery program known, the Twelve Steps. In doing so, the church can effectively counter the pervasive culture of addiction in America.

Dann observes the ambiguities that surround addition, which is both as biological illness and deviant behavior. As a social problem, Dann admits, “Addiction cannot be determined other than contextually.” There is also ambiguity about who we understand to be addicts. Most of us imagine a bum on the street rather than a successful businessperson, although about 95 percent of problem drinkers are either employed or employable. Addiction is not limited to particular social sectors, groups, age, genetic markers, or gender. Such ambiguity requires us to dispel with knowing “why” before we can deal with the problem. The needs of addicts do not allow the luxury of understanding them first.

The final misconception involves possible criminal or moral issues in addiction. For example, using an unlawful substance is not, in itself, a sign of addiction. Odds are many congregations have occasional pot smokers who are not addicts. Dann lays out seven clinical criteria that indicates addiction. Tolerance indicates that over time the abuser needs more to get a “buzz.” Withdrawal is the aftereffect when use is stopped, such as a hangover. Exceeding intentions – addicts lack control to stop. Repeated attempts to quit indicate the deep hold over persons that drugs or alcohol possess. Large amounts of time are needed to maintain the habit, thus limiting other activities and commitments. This leads to the addiction interfering with important roles and activities. Lastly, abuse can make medical or psychiatric problems worse.

With these criteria in the background, Dann suggests that a practical approach for pastors is to help the person determine the interference that alcohol or drugs are causing in life. Are there patterns? Do consequences tend to repeat? It does not matter why the person has particular flaws; it does matter whether the person is willing to deal with those flaws.

Dann offer specific suggestions for pastors. Patience is primary: “aim low, go slow, and achieve greatly.” Very few addicts find recovery the first try. That is why persons years into recovery say they are “recovering,” and not “recovered. Secondly addicts need a place for honesty. Addicts are best served with straightforward feedback and clarity about the reality they avoid. Withholding judgment is crucial. Remembering our own shortcomings helps us reserve judgment and allows for the space to find the addict’s humanity. Healthy pastors know we cannot be rescuers, and thus maintaining personal boundaries is important. A pastor may wish to protect persons from the heartbreaking consequences of their actions, but suffering consequences is the primary way that an addict comes to seek help.

Dann offers several case studies, and not all of these have happy-endings. Yet within these stories, Dann maintains that the church can offer hope and a God that can sustain recovery found nowhere else. His book is a good start for pastors to accept that calling.