Book Review: “Helping Troubled Families” (Jan-Feb 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Ed Billingsley

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters
Baker 2002

The church is “the only institution that requires people to publicly confess they are sinners before they can join,” says Charles M. Sell, author of Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters. “Yet,” he says, “it is the last place people with addictions and adult children of dysfunctional families (ACODF’s) want to go for help.” Dr. Sell believes that church leaders should be the leading experts in behavioral change. Masses of people are turning elsewhere. Why? He answers this question and in the process shows us how our churches can successfully minister to addicts and their families.

Dr. Sell has written many books and articles about families, marriage, and parenting. He is professor emeritus at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He quotes numerous sources and uses actual cases, mostly from his own experience, to help the reader understand addiction and remedy.

A family is supposed to provide an environment to nurture and develop children. Having an alcoholic in the family increases all family members’ risk for adverse psychological, social, and economic problems. Families organize around an addicted loved one because they care about him and because his welfare is tied to their own. Walking on eggshells, and other unhealthy reactions to the addict’s behavior, program family members for unhealthy relationship handling in the future.

Experts are not agreed on whether drug and alcohol abuse is a chemical addiction, compulsion, disease, sin, or just a bad habit. Sell does a great job of sorting out the arguments given for sin versus disease. The origin of the disease concept was given momentum by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, who started Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Now, a multibillion-dollar treatment industry depends on addiction’s being a disease. Most Christians consider the things addicts do as sin. Sell says, “Christians might accept the disease model if it were properly limited to three concepts – a condition that has common symptoms, is progressive, and if not treated, leads to death.”

Sell believes that helping addicts and family members learn why they are the way they are is essential to their being able to free themselves from the grips of substance abuse and its impact on those who love them. He offers proven ideas for churches to employ in helping troubled families. He believes that those who help must understand the background of hurting people in order to be more patient with them. He has chapters on how churches can help spouses and children, help adult children in recovery, and make churches an accepting atmosphere. His quotation of a recovering alcoholic captures the need for changes in churches that want to do this kind of ministry: “When I’m late to church, people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval. I get the clear message that I’m not as responsible as they are. When I’m late to AA, the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to hug and welcome me. They realize that my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn’t make it. When I show up, it proves that my desperate need for them won out over my desperate need for alcohol.”

I liked the book and believe it will be helpful to those who want to help addicted people and those from addicted families. Sell provides a clear explanation of how people and families get into trouble, how the secular approach is wanting, and how the church has the answer to helping troubled families.

Contact Ed Billingsley: billingsleye@direcway.com.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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