If you have ever considered joining a faith-based support group to help you recover from an addiction to alcohol, you may have come across a man by the name of John Baker. John Baker is the founder of the Celebrate Recovery program, which helps people suffering from addictions of all kinds turn to the power of Jesus Christ to help cure their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Celebrate Recovery exists as a powerful alternative to support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) because it is Christ-centered and occurs within the fellowship of a church congregation.
John Baker passed away in February of 2021, and, when he did, the Christian Post declared “the world lost a giant of a man.” Here’s what you need to know about the founder of Celebrate Recovery and how his legacy lives on today through the Celebrate Recovery program.
The Life of John Baker
The early life of John Baker formed a springboard from which he launched the Celebrate Recovery program. According to Christianity Today, John grew up in Collinsville, Illinois. He was brought up in the Baptist church, and John first accepted Christ as his savior at the age of 13, according to this memoriam via the Missions Box organization. When he reached college, however, John got caught up in a life of partying, and so began his troubled relationship with alcohol. After graduation, he joined the Air Force, where he served his commitment but found that he still could not stop drinking. Even after he found his wife Cheryl and became involved in the business world, this addictive behavior followed him.
When John recognized himself to be a functioning alcoholic, his marriage was on the rocks. He turned to the peer-led support group of Alcoholics Anonymous, which helped him to some extent. However, he found that he couldn’t talk fully about his spirituality at AA, because Alcoholics Anonymous was rooted in a nondenominational higher power, and speaking outright about Jesus Christ was stigmatized. The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps resonated with him, but he felt like there was still something missing.
Guided by one of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps, John tried to repair his relationship with his wife Cheryl by attending services with her at Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, California. Seeking more support for his struggle, John joined a men’s small group affiliated with the church. In this small group, he felt similarly unable to fully talk about his struggles with alcoholism because he felt that discussing addiction was stigmatized within the church environment.
Noticing a gap that needed to be filled for people struggling with addiction who wanted to fully walk with Christ on their journey to recovery, John wrote a 13-page, single-spaced letter to the pastor at Saddleback Church, Rick Warren. In this letter, which is now famous within the Celebrate Recovery program, John outlined his vision for a recovery program that integrated the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with the biblical text and also incorporated the 8 beatitudes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, as well as the Serenity Prayer. Receiving this letter, Rick Warren quickly gave John the green light to start his program.
The Origins of the Celebrate Recovery Program
At the first meeting for his new Celebrate Recovery program in 1991, John welcomed 43 people, according to the official CR website. He began with four groups, known as open share groups, in which people with specific dependencies could speak with their peers about their struggles and gain support. Since that first meeting, the Celebrate Recovery program has spread to 35,000 churches. Because John Baker turned to the healing power and grace of Jesus Christ, so have countless other people. The Celebrate Recovery program estimates that more than 5 million people have completed a Step Study, a specific level of the program.
The Legacy of John Baker
When John Baker passed away in February of 2021, it was unexpected. After hearing of his passing, the National Director of Celebrate Recovery, Mac Owen, and his wife shared this statement on Facebook:
“There are times in life when words are totally inadequate in sharing how you feel, this morning is one of those days… John touched more people with the healing power and grace of Jesus Christ than anyone else that I have ever known personally and one of those lives was mine.”
As news of John’s death spread, there was an outpouring of tributes made to recognize his contribution to the world of outreach programs within the Evangelical Christian world and the process of alcohol and other addiction recovery, as well. Kay Warren, the wife of Rick Warren, shared this tribute after his passing, taken from this memoriam via the Missions Box organization:
“Thirty years ago John Baker turned the ruins of his life over to Jesus Christ, and God transformed him from a driven businessman with an addiction to alcohol, a failing marriage, and alienated children to a Christ-follower with a passion to help others with their ‘hurts, habits, and hang ups’ through the principles of recovery.
“More than 7 million men and women around the world have found hope, a new start, and the God who made them [through] the program he co-founded with his precious wife Cheryl and [my husband] Rick – Celebrate Recovery. There is simply no way to put into words how I love John and will miss this kind, creative, brilliant, and faithful man.”
Though John has passed from the earth, his vision lives on in perpetuity through the Celebrate Recovery ministry.
How the Vision of John Baker Lives on in the Celebrate Recovery Program
John Baker believed in the power of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and it was the momentum from those twelve steps that compelled him to save his marriage, connect with a small group at Saddleback Church, and propose his vision for the Celebrate Recovery program to pastor Rick Warren.
The 12 Steps
Taken from the official CR website, here are the 12 steps of daily living that John Baker paired with scripture to reinforce how each one corresponds with a Christ-centered journey.
1. We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:18 NIV
2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 NIV
3. We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1 NIV
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Lamentations 3:40 NIV
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16a NIV
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 NIV
7. We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 NIV
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 NIV
9. We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 NIV
10. We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 1 Corinthians 10:12
11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Colossians 3:16a NIV
12. Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1 NIV
The 8 Beatitudes
John also believed that when Jesus Christ delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount, his statements were forming the principles of how to be happy. Now called the eight Beatitudes, he believed they were God’s plan for a road to recovery, wholeness, spiritual maturity, and growth, according to this article by Pastor Rick Warren.
The eight Beatitudes, as applied to the recovery journey developed by John Baker, are as follows:
Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable. (Step 1)
“Happy are those who know that they are spiritually poor.” Matthew 5:3a TEV
Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him and that He has the power to help me recover. (Step 2)
“Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 TEV, NIV
Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control. (Step 3)
“Happy are the meek.” Matthew 5:5a TEV
Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God, and to someone I trust. (Steps 4 and 5)
“Happy are the pure in heart.” Matthew 5:8a TEV
Voluntarily submit to any and all changes God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. (Steps 6 and 7)
“Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires” Matthew 5:6a TEV
Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others when possible, except when to do so would harm them or others. (Steps 8 and 9)
“Happy are the merciful.” Matthew 5:7a TEV; “Happy are the peacemakers” Matthew 5:9 TEV
Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will. (Steps 10 and 11)
Yield myself to God to be used to bring this Good News to others, both by my example and my words. (Step 12)
“Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires.” Matthew 5:10 TEV
The Serenity Prayer
Beyond the 12 steps and 8 Beatitudes, John Baker believed one additional component was missing from the reliance on a higher power practiced by Alcoholics Anonymous. He incorporated the following Serenity prayer into his program:
Prayer for Serenity
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.
This prayer, the 12 steps of Celebrate Recovery, and the 8 Beatitudes are all derived from the Celebrate Recovery official website, which you can find here.
Following in the Steps of John Baker and Finding a Celebrate Recovery Support Group
John Baker changed the perception of addiction within the Evangelical Christian world. This brilliant and faithful man, and his journey to sobriety, live on within the walls of every Celebrate Recovery program, and within the hearts of those who find grace and healing from walking the path that he paved.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an alcohol use disorder or other addiction, you are not alone. A Celebrate Recovery support group can help start you on your recovery journey. To find a group near you today, use this helpful meeting locator tool. You can filter by your zip code or state, and narrow your search further based on the type of help that you seek.