Clergy & Addiction

Core Competencies & Help for Clergy

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. –Acts 20:28

Historically, the role of clergy in relating to addicted persons and their family members has been mixed. A lack of knowledge and understanding has made the relationship problematic more often than it has been helpful. Yet, there is a great potential for informed and caring clergypersons to play an important role in ministry to addicted persons, their spouses, and their children.

Drug addiction, alcoholism, codependency and behavioral addictions are among the most prevalent, complex, and destructive illnesses in human society. They are found in every segment of society, regardless of race, religion, and socioeconomic class. 

They have a significant impact on physical and mental health, family relationships, child development, highway safety, criminal justice, and the economy, as well as all other arenas of human society.

What does all this mean to the pastoral leadership of religious communities? Why is it important that clergy persons gain a compassionate awareness of the complexities of these disorders, and also learn how to recognize these illnesses and their impact on the individuals, families and communities whose lives they touch?

It has long been recognized that addiction contains a spiritual dimension that must be integrated into treatment more than other disorders. This spirituality is fundamental in the approach to recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other self-help groups as clearly stated in their 12 steps. It is integral to their effectiveness. 

This connection between recovery and spirituality needs to be handled with competence by clergy and congregational leaders. It is especially important given the stigma, denial and secrecy that accompany every aspects of addiction.

If you are clergy, or other ministry leader in a faith community you should have at the very minimum a working understanding of addiction and how it impacts individuals, families, the faith community and the greater society.  

To be more fully effective as care givers and community leaders the Center of Addiction & Faith offers the following list of core competencies. We encourage you to review the following list and take steps to fill the gaps in your knowledge and skills base. These competencies are presented as a specific guide to the core knowledge, attitudes, and skills which are essential to the ability of all clergy and pastoral ministers to meet the needs of persons with addictions of every kind along with their family members who are deeply impacted as well.

The annual Addiction & Faith Conference, in conjunction with the Center of Addiction & Faith, will continue to provide education, inspiration, and tools based around these core competencies.

1. Be aware of the: 
  • Generally accepted definition of addiction and other dependencies
  • Societal stigma attached to addiction and other dependencies

2. Be knowledgeable about the:
  • Signs of addiction and other dependencies
  • Characteristics of withdrawal
  • Effects on the individual and the family
  • Characteristics of the stages of the disease and of recovery

3. Be aware that possible indicators of the disease may include, among others:
marital conflict, family violence (physical, emotional, and verbal), suicide, hospitalization, or encounters with the criminal justice system. 

4. Understand that addiction erodes and blocks religious and spiritual development; and be able to effectively communicate the importance of spirituality, and the practice of religion in recovery, using the scripture, traditions, and rituals of the faith community. 

5. Be aware of the potential benefits of early intervention to the:
  • Addicted person
  • Family system 
  • Affected children

6. Be aware of appropriate pastoral interactions with the: 
  • Addicted person
  • Family system
  • Affected children

7. Be able to communicate and sustain:
  • An appropriate level of concern
  • Messages of hope and caring

8. Be familiar with and utilize available community resources to ensure a continuum of care for the:
  • Addicted person
  • Family system
  • Affected children

9. Have a general knowledge of and, where possible, exposure to:
  • The 12 step programs – AA, NA, Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Alateen, A.C.O.A., etc. 
  • Other groups

10. Be able to acknowledge and address values, issues, and attitudes regarding alcohol and other drug use and dependence in: 
  • Oneself
  • One’s own family

11. Be able to shape, form, and educate a caring congregation that welcomes and supports persons and families affected by alcohol and other drug dependences. 

12. Be aware of how prevention strategies can benefit the larger community.

The Addiction & Faith Conference

The most inspirational way clergy can more fully understand addiction, and why addiction ministry matters so much is to attend the annual Addiction & Faith Conference. This event draws clergy and ministry leaders from more than 30 states and Canada and welcomes more than 12 denominations. The conference is designed especially for faith leaders to learn how to launch and sustain powerful recovery ministries in their parish. The event is chock full of the leading thinkers, academics, and writers on the topic as well as practitioners who offer their best methods and ministries for you to take back to your church.

One pastor, a CPE instructor from Minneapolis said the conference was “Transformational learning at its best.” She wrote that all seven of her students had profound learning experiences.

For more information about the Addiction & Faith Conference.

Addicted Clergy

Addictions continue to be a persistent threat to those in ministry.  Some pastors and denominations have begun to address this problem but not very well. No real significant work has been this area by any mainline church body.  Whether a pastor is dealing with a member of his congregation with a problem or wrestling with their own personal addiction the threat is very real and dangerous. The lack of knowledge and awareness around this issue—not just how it affects the addict personally, but the systemic implications and consequences are poorly understood or addressed in the church at large.

Pastors are at a higher than average risk group for all kinds of addictions. Besides substance abuse there is food addiction, prescription drug addiction, pornography addiction, gambling, work holism, electronics addiction, codependency and more.  The great demands of the ministry and the isolation of the calling can easily and often tempt pastors to seek unhealthy sources of gratification. Due to the nature of ministry there is a heighted sense of shame and guilt derived from inappropriate behavior which leads to further isolation from community, which is dangerous. 

Without accountability, a place to be authentic and vulnerable, and without a care giving network, such isolation lends itself to an increasing cycle of addictive behavior which may include sex, food, drugs, or something else.

If pastors are a high risk group and experience a higher than average tendency toward addictive behaviors, then it becomes more imperative they get help and understanding first before they can expect to address the issue in their congregation and community.

There are few supports available to clergy but the Center of Addiction & Faith hopes to change that. As for now, here are some resources available.

One such support in the meantime is the Fellowship of Recovering Clergy. This group welcomes clergy from any denomination seeking help and support with addiction of any kind to join their confidential, anonymous and private weekly phone-in 12-Step meetings. It’s a great way for clergy to talk about recovery in the context of being clergy among a group of fellow pastors who understand what that means. 

For more information about these meetings
Impaired Professionals Policy

The Impaired Professionals Policy is written especially for clergy new in recovering needing support, accountability and guidance. Synods and judicatories and all those who oversee pastors and congregations, this model policy free for you to use as a guide. You may edit as needed to fit your ecclesiology, context and policies.



A Book about Addicted Clergy

The FRLC has written a book called “Our Stories of Experience Strength and Hope,” by the Fellowship of Recovery Lutheran Clergy. This book was written to give hope to clergy new in recovery—hope that their life is not over because they have a disease, that their careers are not over, that God has no abandoned them, that they have done nothing wrong, and that there is a new life waiting for them that is better than the one they leave behind.

The book is available through Author House Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Nobles. 

Author House


Barnes & Noble

Other Resources

The Recovery Ministries of the Episcopalian Church (RMEC) has just begun an online 12-Step Zoom meeting every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EDT. The meeting is open to clergy and lay people of any denomination who want to talk about their recovery and their Christian faith without feeling uncomfortable. The meetings are open to all. 

The Clergy Recovery Network exists to support, encourage and provide resources to religious professionals in recovery. They seek to provide support to pastors & religious professionals and their spouses.

The National Association for Christians Recovery offers a wide variety of resources for understanding and teaching about addiction.

Christian Recovery International seeks to help the Christian Community become a safe place for people recovering from addiction, abuse, or trauma.

International Substance Abuse & Addiction Coalition (ISAAC) seeks to connect a network of Christians, working in the field of addictions and recovery across the world.