History of Celebrate Recovery
John Baker is the founder of Celebrate Recovery, a ministry born out of the heart of Saddleback Church. Over the last twenty-three years, nearly 27,000 individuals have gone through this Christ-centered recovery program at Saddleback Church. The Celebrate Recovery program is now being used in thousands of churches nationwide. Over two and half million individuals have completed the program.
John began serving as a lay pastor at Saddleback in 1991. The next year, he was asked to join the Saddleback Church staff as the Director of Small Groups and Recovery. In 1995, his responsibilities increased as he became the Pastor of Membership. In 2001, Rick Warren asked John to become the pastor of Celebrate Recovery. Today, John is, not only an ordained Elder of Saddleback Church, he is also a nationally known speaker and the author of The Celebrate Recovery curriculum, the Life’s Healing Choices curriculum, the General Editor of the Celebrate Recovery Bible, Celebration Place and the student program, The Landing. In addition, his newest books, Your First Step to Celebrate Recovery and the Celebrate Recovery Devotional, which he co-authored, have just been released.
John has been married to his wife, Cheryl, for 45 years. John and Cheryl have served together in Celebrate Recovery since the beginning. They have two adult children and five beautiful grandchildren.
A MESSAGE FROM RICK WARREN:
The Bible clearly states “all have sinned.” It is my nature to sin, and it is yours too. None of us is untainted. Because of sin, we’ve all hurt ourselves, we’ve all hurt other people, and others have hurt us. This means each of us need repentance and recovery in order to live our lives the way God intended.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the expression that “time heals all wounds.” Unfortunately, it isn’t true. As a pastor I frequently talk with people who are still carrying hurts from 30 or 40 years ago. The truth is – time often makes things worse. Wounds that are left untended fester and spread infection throughout your entire body. Time only extends the pain if the problem isn’t dealt with.
What we need is a biblical and balanced program to help people overcome their hurts, habits and hang-ups.Celebrate Recovery is that program. Based on the actual words of Jesus rather than psychological theory, our recovery program is unique, and more effective in helping people change than anything else I’ve seen or heard of. Over the years I’ve witnessed how the Holy Spirit has used this program to transform literally thousands of lives at Saddleback Church and help people grow toward full Christlike maturity.
Most people are familiar with the classic 12 step program of A.A. and other groups. While undoubtedly many lives have been helped through the twelve steps, I’ve
always been uncomfortable with that program’s vagueness about the nature of God, the saving power of Jesus Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So I began an intense study of the Scriptures to discover what God had to say about “recovery.” To my amazement, I found the principles of recovery, and even their logical order, given by Christ in his most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount.
My study resulted in a ten-week series of messages called “The Road to Recovery.” During that series, my Associate Pastor John Baker developed the workbooks, which became the heart of our Celebrate Recovery program. I believe that this program is unlike any recovery program you may have seen. There are seven features that make it unique:
- This recovery program is based on God’s Word, the Bible. When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, he began by stating “Eight Ways to Be Happy.” Today we call them the Beatitudes. From a conventional viewpoint, most of these statements didn’t make sense. They sounded like contradictions. But when you fully understand what Jesus is saying, you’ll realize that these eight principles are God’s road to recovery, wholeness, growth, and spiritual maturity.
- This recovery program is forward-looking. Rather than wallowing in the past, or dredging up and rehearsing painful memories over and over, Celebrate Recovery focuses on the future. Regardless of what has already happened, the solution is to start making wise choices now and depend on Christ’s power to help me make those changes.
- This recovery program emphasizes personal responsibility. Instead of playing the “accuse and excuse” game of victimization, this program helps people face up to their own poor choices and deal with what they can do something about. We cannot control all that happens to us. But we can control how we respond to everything. That is a secret of happiness. When we stop wasting time fixing the blame, we have more energy to fix the problem. When you stop hiding your own faults and stop hurling accusations at others, then the healing power of Christ can begin working in your mind, will, and emotions.
- This recovery program emphasized spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ. The 3rd principle calls for people to make a total surrender of their lives to Christ. Lasting recovery cannot happen without this step. Everybody needs Jesus. Celebrate Recovery is thoroughly evangelistic in nature. In fact, the first time I took our entire church through this program over 500 people prayed to receive Christ on a single weekend. It was an amazing spiritual harvest. And during the ten week series that I preached to kick-off this program, our attendance grew by over 1,500 people! Don’t be surprised if this program becomes the most effective outreach ministry in your church. Today, nearly 73% of the people who’ve been through Celebrate Recovery have come from outside our church. Changed lives always attract others who want to be changed.
- This recovery program utilizes the biblical truth that we need each other in order to grow spiritually and emotionally. It is built around small group interaction and the fellowship of a caring community. There are many therapies, growth programs, and counselors today that are built around one-on-one interaction. But Celebrate Recovery is built on the New Testament principle that we don’t get well by ourselves. We need each other. Fellowship and accountability are two important components of spiritual growth. If your church is interested in starting small groups, this is a great way to get started.
- This recovery program addresses all types of habits, hurts and hang-ups. Some recovery programs deal only with alcohol or drugs or another single problem. But Celebrate Recovery is a “large umbrella” program under which a limitless number of issues can be dealt with. At Saddleback Church, only one out of three who attend Celebrate Recovery are dealing with alcohol or drugs. We have dozens of other specialized groups too.
- Finally, this recovery program produces lay ministers! Because Celebrate Recovery is biblical and church-based, it produces a continuous stream of people moving into ministry after they’ve found recovery in Christ. Eighty-five percent of the people who’ve gone through the program are now active members of Saddleback Church, and an amazing 42% are now using their gifts and talents serving the Lord in some capacity in our church.
In closing, let me say that the size of your church is no barrier to beginning a Celebrate Recovery ministry. You can start it with just a small group of people and watch it grow by word-of-mouth. Your won’t be able to keep it a secret for long! You are going to see lives changed in dramatic ways.
You are going to see hopeless marriages restored and people set free from all kinds of sinful habits, hang-ups, and hurts as they allow Jesus to be Lord in every area of their lives. To God be the glory! We’ll be praying for you.