Advice for Porn-Addict Recovery Groups: Avoid Struggle-Based Identity

porn-addict recovery group

If you have ever had a demonstrative struggle with pornography, at some point or another, you might be encouraged to join a group for men or women focused on helping one another with sexual issues.

Here’s a critical question every group leader should ask: How can do you effectively run a “recovery” group while not creating a struggle-based identity? Putting it another way: How can you expect your group members to change if they are constantly identifying their group as “the porn addict group” or identifying themselves as “recovering porn addicts”?

In this video, counselor Brad Hambrick speaks about how to avoid a “struggle-based” identity when you are running a group.

Here are some important take-aways.

1. It is good to acknowledge our bondage.

Hambrick is clear in this video that “we have to acknowledge our bondage before we can become a bondservant of Christ.” Avoiding a struggle-based identity is not about denying the reality or strength of a sin. Avoiding a struggle-based identity is not about turning a blind eye to the seriousness of sin.

Acknowledging and being broken over one’s sin is an absolute necessity to see change.

2. Struggle-based identities are common in porn-addict recovery groups.

Many can easily go beyond acknowledgement and brokenness to adopting a struggle-based identity: Hi, I’m [insert name]. I’m a porn addict.

Paul Tripp says the longer we struggle with a problem, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that problem (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands). It is easy for a struggle to begin to define us.

3. Identity is central to how we behave.

Hambrick says that identity is one of those abstract notions that often gets overlooked in our lives because our identity is often something we merely assume.

Our identity statements put a framework around our lives. Who we think we are frames how we understand our successes, failures, and daily events. Part of a good group leader’s task is helping men and women understand how they are self-identifying.

4. Pay attention the to “I am” statements.

A good group leader will pay close attention to the “I am” statements of those in attendance. With compassion and diligence, a group leader can steer people away from “I am” statements that go beyond mere confession.

Instead, a group leader can create new group norms that train attendees to adopt new “I am” statements based on Scripture.

5. We all have a trifold identity: sinners, saints, and sufferers.

Christians are all simultaneously sinners, saints, and sufferers.

  • Sinner: Sin is part of our very nature.
  • Saint: We are children of the living God.
  • Sufferer: We have been sinned against.

Emphasize any one of these too much and there is imbalance. Yes, some groups are forged under the premise that we are all meeting together because of either (1) a common sin, or (2) a common suffering. This is normal for group formation. But eventually the goal of every group should be to find balance.

6. Avoid performance-orientation.

When a group is struggle-based, the tendency is to become performance-oriented. Since the group meets for the purpose of confessing and overcoming sin, it can be easy for group members to begin to bend their whole identity around “I fell recently” or “I did not fall recently.”

Hambrick is clear in this video that, of course, we don’t want the opposite: we don’t want our groups to ignore sin and become forums for spiritual denial. But when we become performance-oriented…

  • We start fearing progress because our good track record becomes just a higher height from which to fall.
  • We start defining sanctification by one variable.
  • We ignore a significant kind of sanctification: the quicker turning to Christ in the midst of a temptation or failure.

7. Suggestion: Make struggle-based groups temporary.

Hambrick’s church intentionally makes their Freedom Groups temporary. Their aim is to move people from Freedom Groups into the other discipleship groups within the church. Each Freedom Group knows it needs to be long enough to solidify change but short enough to avoid the struggle-based identity.

Often recovery groups avoid this approach because the “normal” discipleship ministries of the church don’t seem equipped to deal with the habitual sin patterns of those in recovery ministries.

This is why Hambrick’s church does extensive training for all the discipleship groups in their church. Hambrick says the Freedom Group “DNA” is something present in all their small groups. What does this mean? This means the principles of sanctification that apply to the “addict” are the same principles that apply to any Christian, and every group leader is trained to embrace this.

The culture of their church is not to see Freedom Groups as the places where “really bad people” go, but one more type of entry point into the overall community life of the church. Every group in the church is full of “really bad people” because we are all desperately in need of the grace of God and his sanctifying power.

Watch all of Summit Church’s training videos and think about beginning Freedom Groups in your own church.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bochalla