Recovering drug addicts helped serve the meals at a recent conference in Naples, Fla., on addressing social breakdown. The men were participants in the Men’s Residence, a ministry of the Christian Care Center operated by First Baptist Church of Leesburg, Fla.

Serving others proves to be an important part of how these men beat their addictions in a four-month program. When it comes to meeting serious needs, the difference is striking between First Baptist’s approach and that of big government entitlement programs. In contrast to mere handouts, staff of the Men’s Residence help enrollees establish stable, drug-free lives by focusing on more than physical needs. They also address emotional and spiritual needs–which often drive such men to abuse alcohol and drugs in the first place.

Those leading this ministry, as I wrote in a guest commentary for Evangelical Outpost, understand that men are unlikely to kick their habits unless they can kick-start their own hearts.

Jay Walsh, director of the 30-bed Men’s Residence, points out it takes patience, mercy and tough love to help men overcome self-centered addictions and relate well with others. His program involves them in mentoring relationships, classes and Bible studies and assigns them daily in-house chores. The chores included serving meals at the church-sponsored conference I attended.

The success of this comprehensive, relational approach is one reason The Heritage Foundation highlights First Baptist Church of Leesburg in a DVD-based study guide about how to address social breakdown. Called “Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives in Need,” the DVD, workbook and other resources show why families, churches, charities and other institutions of civil society are so powerful in meeting human need. They tend to be more creative, flexible, efficient and personally invested in others’ lives than government programs could ever be.

And such one-to-one relationships can empower those at the end of their rope to step into perhaps the most transformational, fulfilling role there is: serving others.