No, this post isn’t all about alcoholics and addicts, although it’s written by one. Neither is this process about “you” or “me.” It’s about “we,” the collective—our beautiful human mess as a whole. I say “we” because if it affects one of us, it affects all of us. Spiritual issues are social issues. You might not feel like you relate with anything here, but it might help you relate to someone who does. And that’s far more valuable.
Wherever we stand at the point of approach, the principles of spiritual recovery are available to believers and non-believers and in-betweeners alike. Ultimately, this process is for anyone with the guts to pick it up and stick it out.
That being said, most of us probably recognize at least the general concept behind Twelve Step programs of spiritual recovery, even if we can’t actually name any of those steps or explain what they mean. Thanks to pop culture references and mainstream media familiarity, if we’ve never been involved in a recovery program, we can still quickly recognize the “support group” model for dealing with personal issues. Those of us acquainted with Twelve Step recovery, in turn, are often quick to recognize within the fellowship of the Church all of the same spiritual principles of “the program” that we may have discovered somewhere along the way in an anonymous meeting.
That’s because the principles of these steps are ultimately Christian principles. The point of A.A. isn’t to get drunks to quit drinking, although many stop there and never see any lasting life change. The point of A.A. is spiritual formation. And it’s been observed by various sources that the Twelve Step model has much to offer a church seeking to reinstate spiritual formation as an expectation of Christian discipleship. Several thought leaders of our time have noted the transformative nature of community relationships, personal discipline, and growth in service that occur in Twelve Step groups. (Henri J. M. Nouwen, 1992, In the Name of Jesus; John Ortberg, 2014, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them; Brené Brown, 2015, Daring Greatly; among others) It’s even been suggested that any successful strategy for individual or group formation at the church level will look a lot like the Twelve Step model. (Dallas Willard, 2002, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ; NavPress)
Yet, though the strategy is remarked upon among best-selling Christian authors, we haven’t seen the theory put into practice on any general contemporary scale, outside of addiction support groups. And the problem with stopping at the “support group” mentality is that supporting people is not the same as helping people change. We can all “support” each other while we walk right on over a cliff together—and many of us do.