We live in a community that has been heavily damaged by drugs. Most of the people that we work with have a steady diet of prescribed as well as street (unprescribed) drugs running through their system every day. We have seen a handful of addicts over the last few years saved by the gospel and wonderfully changed by God.
Is there anything that we need to watch out for as we disciple them? Is there anything that is particularly important? Here are a few things I’ve learned about discipling drug addicts who have come to Christ.
1. Don’t come in with a ‘Saviour complex’.
This is one of the first things that we have to watch out for in discipling addicts. We need to watch our attitude and know that we are not going to sort people’s problems out with some sort of magic wand. A saviour complex is dangerous for both the wannabe saviour and those they impact. The wannabe saviour will collapse under the weight of the world’s problems because there are so many. Their ‘disciples’ will end up followers of the wannabe saviour instead of the actual Saviour—Jesus Christ. If we have a saviour mentality, then we must repent, asking God to humble us and show us that He alone can save and change people.
In any and all discipleship, it is of utmost importance that we continually point people to Jesus Christ as he is found in the gospel. The gospel alone has the power to transform people’s lives. It’s the only way to produce long-term spiritual fruit.
When we help people walk with the Lord Jesus, then we won’t end up burned out, thinking that we have to solve everybody’s problems. The people that we are discipling will tend to want to cling to us, but it’s important to keep pointing them to Christ. It’s like raising a child. We don’t want them clinging to us for the rest of their lives. We raise a child so that they will be independent and make good choices, stemming from the good foundation we’ve given them. This is what we must give people when they come to Christ from an addictive background.
2. Know that it’s often ‘one step forward, three steps back’.
This is something that you will have to learn quickly. New Christians will slip up. They will seem like they are doing really well and then, out of nowhere (or so it appears), they royally screw things up! This is part of discipleship. The key is to show people how to get back on the horse after they have fallen. We teach our new believers that they will mess up (we all do) and when they do, they need to run immediately to the grace found in Jesus Christ.
We teach them not to hide their sin under religious works and language, but to admit sin regularly and appreciate God’s grace all the more. Part of our job as pastors is to pick them up, dust them off, and then point them to Christ again. We have to do this over and over and over. This can be discouraging at times, but the key is to remember that we are not the one who is changing them. This connects with point one: Jesus alone changes people, through his Spirit, as we minister to them through his Word. We can easily slip into the mindset that we are sorting them out, and then become discouraged when they fall.
3. Watch closely for lies.
Those who have been addicted to drugs for a long time will be in a pattern of lying, deceiving, and manipulating. They will look you straight in the face and tell you something like it’s true, and yet it will be a complete and utter lie. They are masters at it.
One of the most painful forms of deceit is emotional manipulation. Most particularly, we need to watch out for false waterworks and the, “I haven’t got any money” line. We must, of course, help where help is needed, but a lot of the time they have wasted their money on drugs and just not bothered to save enough for their food! When we are disciplining a perpetual liar, we need to be constantly on guard. We need to watch and challenge where we see lies. We also need to teach them that lies (even small ones) are from the devil, who is the father of lies.
This is difficult sometimes, because the person who is lying to you seems charming but, still, we need to see through the charm and challenge them when they are being deceitful. They will blag you over anything and we need to be firm, gracious, and honest with new believers. We need to point them to Christ and pray that God would root out the evil of lying and deceit.
It’s amazing seeing someone from a drug addicted background saved by the grace of God. But someone who has abused drugs for a long time will have a lot of baggage. We need to make sure that we point people to the saving grace of Jesus at all times. We need to be patient with those we are discipling and remember that it is a long-term process. We need to watch closely for deceit and challenge our new converts to love the truth in Jesus Christ. Pray for us as we continue to disciple our newer converts, that they would be transformed inside and out by the grace of God.