When Pastor Mike Dixon offers gospel hope to people struggling through addictions, that hope doesn’t come from a textbook or the experience of others.
Dixon knows firsthand the power of God to transform a life.
To medicate a personal childhood trauma, Dixon struggled through drug and alcohol addiction from an early age. By age 14, he was experimenting with drugs and alcohol. By 16, he was using LSD and cocaine and inhaling industrial chemicals. By the time he was 24, he had been divorced, in trouble with the police, and was an addict of alcohol and various other drugs.
“Honestly, I just didn’t really care,” Dixon said. “As a believer now looking back, I know we’re all in that situation before we come to Christ. We grew up in a sinful world, and we don’t know what to do with all of that pain. So we end up bringing that pain before false gods, which, in my case, was alcohol and drugs.”
But God changed everything at a church altar during a midweek prayer service in 1988. He and his wife, Melissa, were guests of Dixon’s mom.
“Melissa and I were married in 1985,” Dixon said. “I was still in active addiction. Even less than three years into our marriage, our marriage was in terrible trouble. We were headed for divorce. She and I were at a midweek prayer service at my mother’s church, where we went seeking answers. And it was that night. In 1988, my wife and I both knelt together at an old-fashioned altar and accepted Christ, and I surrendered my struggles and my addictions to Him. And that’s when my life began to change.”
Dixon says his local church, which was a new mission church at the time, became a key part of his recovery.
“That was the support group that I needed to get through the period of time when I began to feel like the chains of addiction had begun to fall off,” Dixon said.
“For me, it took about 12 months, about one calendar year. It was just one day at a time, one step at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, to overcome the temptations and the struggles to want to go back into that old way of living. But by the grace of God, once He carried me through that period of about 12 months, I began to realize, ‘I’m not tempted to go back and use those drugs. I don’t want to go back and get high.’”
Almost immediately, Dixon began to feel a familiar tug in his heart toward ministry. Even before God saved him, he was interested in full-time ministry from the age of 13. A couple of years after turning his life over to Christ, Dixon surrendered to the call to preach.
In 2017, as senior pastor of Oakdale Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, God brought to his attention a desperate need among his congregation for biblical recovery. Opioid addiction was becoming increasingly prevalent in his community. With his background, he understood the unique needs of addicts.
“If you’ve not had a substance abuse addiction, it’s hard to understand how somebody could be held captive to a substance like that so strongly,” Dixon said.
Out of his own experience and his pastoral concern, Dixon started LIFE (Living in Freedom Everyday) Ministries to help people struggling with addiction find the hope only available through Jesus.
Dixon created an eight-month biblical recovery curriculum based upon John 10:10: “A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” The curriculum is designed to help people in recovery understand the nature of that abundant life. It starts, as the gospel does, with recovery participants admitting their sin and taking responsibility for the pain they’ve caused.
Besides the curriculum, another key element to the ministry is helping connect participants to other recovery resources, such as faith-based residential programs and detox programs.
Most weeks the entire meeting, which includes a dinner and small group time to work through the curriculum, takes less than two hours. The meal is provided by volunteers in the church. The ministry isn’t just for those who have addictions. Each participant is encouraged to involve a friend or family member in the meetings.
LIFE Ministries has begun a second chapter at Winterville Baptist Church in Winterville, N.C.
“Our main aim and goal in the ministry is to offer hope—the hope of the gospel—to a hurting world,” Dixon said.
“What really troubled me, and really still does, is the world’s philosophy when it comes to addictions: ‘Once an addict, always an addict.’ That’s not what God says. God says that we become a new creation, according 2 Corinthians 5:17.”
Dixon realizes that recovery ministry can be messy for a church. It may not be something God is calling every church to, but he encourages pastors to pray about ways they can minister to people impacted by addictions.
Dixon can help churches start up similar ministries in their context. The only costs for the program are the participant workbooks, which can be purchased on the program website.
For more information about LIFE Ministries, including how to get started, visit lifeaddictionrecovery.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of writing experience with Southern Baptist organizations. He can be reached at TobinPerry.com)