I took my first drink of alcohol when I was 14. Looking back now, I was in trouble from the start. I just didn’t know it at the time. Alcohol became a coping mechanism for me after a series of tragic events shook my world when I was 8 or 9. Within an eight-month span, my parents got divorced, my grandfather died and my aunt committed suicide.
Although I grew up in a non-Christian home, I occasionally attended church and came to believe that if I prayed, God would favorably answer my prayers. My parents’ divorce and the deaths of my loved ones led me to the conclusion that if God was all-powerful, he didn’t care, or if he cared, he was powerless to work on my behalf.
I began to deal with these feelings of abandonment and loss by drinking alcohol. I drank off and on through high school. By the time I was 19 or 20, I was drinking every day, all the time. As long as I had the beer I needed, life was just fine. Not even inpatient alcohol treatment could curb my addiction as within two weeks of my release, I went back to drinking. For the next year, I often consumed a case of beer a day.
Realizing that something needed to change, I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. What started as a desire to quit drinking became a call to ministry, as my journey to sobriety led me to Jesus.
By attending church with my AA sponsor, I learned that getting clean and sober was a spiritual issue as I dealt with the wreckage of the past. I didn’t trust God because, in my mind, he had only let me down. The first step in my recovery was admitting I had a problem and being honest with myself about my anger with God.
I gave my life to Jesus while attending church with my AA sponsor. Through reading Scripture and talking to others, I gradually learned to trust God. He wanted to heal my hurts, even though not everything turns out the way I want.
Accountability and commitment were key to my recovery from alcoholism. In those early days, I wanted to drink so bad I could taste it. I felt like I was being dismantled as a person, like God was taking me apart and putting me back together in a different way. It was a daily living my way out of the mess I had lived my way into.
As I became healthier emotionally and spiritually, I lost my desire to drink. I developed a love for God’s word and his truth. I spent time in prayer and sensed a growing call to ministry. I was baptized, went on a mission trip and served a church internship. Others confirmed my gifts for ministry, leading me to attend Bible college and later, seminary.
Today, my pastoral ministry spans 17 years. Early on, many people from my home church poured their lives into me, and they are a big part of where I am today. Wherever I go, I find myself around people in recovery. My ministry has involved attending AA meetings and volunteering at drug and alcohol treatment centers. Sometimes when people learn I’m a pastor, their curiosity leads them to attend church.
I have been sober for 26 years now. While I don’t talk about it every Sunday when I preach, I do not hide my continual recovery from alcoholism. I’m willing to talk about the struggles I’ve had in the past because God is in the business of taking what we see as our weaknesses or screw-ups in life and turning them around and using them for his good.
Jeff Turner meets weekly with six or seven men at a drug and alcohol treatment center, helping them with the spiritual aspect of getting clean and sober. Turner believes the first step to recovery in any area of life is admitting there is a problem and being honest with oneself, God and others.
Jeff Turner has been pastor of Christ Community Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, since 2017. He came to faith in Christ in 1991 while in Alcoholics Anonymous and continues to work with those struggling from drug and alcohol addiction. He is a graduate of Trinity Bible College and Sioux Falls Seminary. He and his wife, Angela, have two children.