What Is a Sponsor?
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith . . . 1 Timothy 1:1-2
When I first began seeking recovery, I attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where I learned a language that was both new and familiar. As it turned out, many of AA’s teachings are straight from the Bible, as are many of their practices. These weren’t new ideas. They were simply Biblical principles applied to a specific situation – my addiction. AA has been an example to me of how faith is to be lived out in reference to a specific life problem. In fact, there are Biblical disciplines that AA might do even better than the church. For instance – AA places a heavy emphasis on the semi-formal relationship known as sponsorship.
In AA, a sponsor is someone who’s been sober for at least a year and who takes on the role of mentor for someone who isn’t as far along in recovery. The sponsor is a confidant who offers accountability, sharing his (or her) experience, wisdom, and guidance. As the alcoholic or addict grows in his recovery and his relationship with a sponsor, he is eventually expected to sponsor someone else. Part of recovery is learning from those ahead of us and then passing down our strength, hope, and wisdom to the next generation.
This is basically discipleship as taught in the Bible. In today’s passage, we’re given a glimpse into one such relationship – that of Paul and Timothy’s. In fact, today’s passage represents the opening verses of a letter that Paul wrote to Timothy, to whom Paul played the role of spiritual father and mentor. Paul took Timothy under his wing, alternately teaching, guiding, reproving, and encouraging him. Timothy, in turn, was then expected to pass down this teaching to others.
This discipleship or mentoring isn’t something just for apostles and addicts. This is supposed to be our normal lives as followers of Christ. We’re intended to seek out those who are spiritually more mature than us, finding wisdom, accountability, and teaching. In turn, as we grow, we’re meant to pass our experience down to others.
This is supposed to be normal, but I expect it’s the exception, rather than the rule. We don’t naturally seek out spiritual guidance and we don’t naturally offer it. If we desire to follow Christ though, our lives are to be defined by being discipled and by discipling others. AA has made this an expected part of recovery. As followers of Christ, we’d do well to emulate them, making it a normal part of our lives as well. Discipleship isn’t only for those in recovery from a drug addiction.