I love Monday nights! Monday is recovery group night at my church.
As I sit in the foyer of my church, there are two large rooms behind me filled with brave men and women who are learning what it looks like to live in sexual health.
I can't believe it’s been 10 years since my husband, Ernie, and I started leading groups. When we first started groups we had no idea that hundreds of men and women would walk in our doors hopeless and walk out inspired—filled with hope and a renewed sense of life and freedom.
Even when we weren’t sure restoration was possible, we’ve had the opportunity to see individuals and families thrive. We often hear people say: they never imagined the life they live now was even possible.
It’s because of this truth that Ernie and I have dedicated our lives to this recovery ministry.
For Ernie and me, early in our recovery, we had individual and marriage counseling that played a significant role in our journey. But what made the greatest impact, even to this day, was being in a recovery group.
In my first group experience, I learned that Ernie’s behavior was not my fault, and it was not my responsibility to fix Ernie or the marriage. With other women who understood and supported me on this journey, my pain was validated and I began to heal from the betrayal and trauma that affected my life.
It was such a relief to learn that I didn't need to police my husband anymore. I could actually establish boundaries to keep me emotionally and sexually safe and heal from the damage that had been done.
I remember when Ernie came home from his first group meeting, he felt so encouraged and strengthened. He was in a safe place where he felt accepted and experienced a sense of belonging. He was surrounded by a band of brothers who had a determination to fight this battle for sexual freedom and win! This was a major shift in his life and healing.
Even now, 16 years later, groups are still a part of our lives. Not just any recovery group, but a Pure Desire group.
For me and Ernie, the issues that were exposed in counseling were worked through in our groups. I believe, had I not taken the time to process through the issues in my life, I would not have discovered most of the root causes of my wounds and trauma.
Our Pure Desire group gives us the time for healing to take place. This journey is a process and we know just one time through the material is not going to reveal the full potential that is needed in recovery.
I’ve also learned that as I go through different seasons in my life—having adult children, caring for elderly parents, the death of a loved one, and health challenges—my group is there to support and walk with me. Where else can I be honest, vulnerable, and know that no shame or condemnation will be placed on me? I have the trust of my community to help and share with me at all times.
For Ernie and me, our group experience made such an impact on us that we knew we had to give back—there was such a great need, we had to start support groups.
With all that was offered through Pure Desire, it gave me a greater determination to start groups. I believed people were perishing in isolation and we, the Church—with Pure Desire along side—could bring so much healing to the body of Christ.
At Pure Desire conferences, I talk with people who feel intimidated about starting groups. They want to help others, but think they need some special training or need to have their life in order to facilitate groups. Oh, but no.
Having the heart to pay it forward and knowing that healing and freedom is possible is a great place to start!
When Ernie and I began facilitating groups at our church, it was a little disappointing because so few showed up. But as they say, “If you build it, they will come.” This is exactly what happened!
Our groups ministry grew rapidly, but we were the only two leaders. We became very creative at facilitating large groups—it was so hard to turn people away.
I have since learned that the most effective groups are those that have no more than six members. A smaller group is more intimate and gives each member time to share. We don’t simply support each other one night a week, but we stay connected throughout the week for accountability and encouragement.
I have learned so much since the early days and continue to do so. What I appreciate about Pure Desire groups is that as the needs grow, the ministry develops better ways to help.
For example, Pure Desire has volunteer Regional Group Advisors (RGA), so we don’t have to feel like we’re starting a group on our own. As a group leader, if we run into something unexpected, we can contact our RGA for support and encouragement.
Over the years, with the proper training, support, and best practices, our groups run pretty well—and the way we “do groups” is unique.
About the two rooms full of people I mentioned earlier? On Monday night, every adult group meets. For men, there are nine Seven Pillars of Freedom groups and one Living Free group all in one huge room. For women, there are five Betrayal & Beyond groups in another huge room. This fall, we’re excited to add an Unraveled group for women, too.
Since we didn’t have enough separate rooms for each group, we discovered that we could use one large room and use separate tables for each group. The tables are spaced far apart to give the group members privacy. While we all meet in the same space, each group is independent, facilitated by a leader, and made up of the same members each week and throughout the course of the study. We follow all the Pure Desire Group Guidelines to ensure the safety and confidentiality of the group, even though we are meeting in one large room.
Here are a couple additional things that have made our groups ministry successful:
We provide childcare for families, removing obstacles for husbands and wives to attend groups.
We are sensitive to the time allotment and make sure we do not run later than scheduled.
On Sundays, we offer Top Gun and Behind the Mask groups for the youth, so they can develop sexual health at a young age.
As I said before, we are a community: supporting and encouraging our members is very important to us. We like to show group members how much of an impact they are making by working through their own healing.
Years ago, we started an annual event: a special banquet for the women. Experiencing betrayal and trauma affects our self-esteem—we feel worthless and depleted.
During the banquet, we show our group members how much they are loved and valued by God. Through this event, we want women to experience His love in a personal way. We want them to see themselves the way God sees them: as treasured, cherished daughters of their heavenly Father. It may sound cheesy, but this experience has made a major shift in the way we, as women, see ourselves.
Another unique thing we do is a graduation ceremony—this is a big deal! Week after week, courageous men and women are doing the hard work for their healing. They deserve to be celebrated! They receive a diploma and take a few minutes to share their journey with the other groups. This gives other group members hope that they too can finish the journey strong and empowered.
Oh, and one of the best parts after they finish group is when they realize they need to continue growing through the group again or they are ready to co-lead a new group. YAY! Raising up new group leaders is an important part of a successful groups ministry.
Ernie and I are so grateful for our leaders and co-leaders. We would not be able to do this without them.
None of us can do this on our own—God created us for community. A Pure Desire group is a safe place where we can reveal the messy, hurtful places in our lives, discover the tools needed for healing, and allow others to journey with us toward health.
When it comes to leading recovery groups, I don’t think we’ll ever fully know the impact we are making on families and the legacy they develop through healing.
At times, facilitating a group is challenging and messy, but it’s where the real healing takes place.
Jackie is a Regional Group Advisor (RGA) for Pure Desire and is also on the Pure Desire speaking team. Her and her husband are group leaders at their church in Texas. Jackie is a Certified Pastoral Sex Addiction Specialist.