DISCLAIMER: Information in this post is being shared solely for educational purposes and to encourage readers to begin thinking for themselves about this topic.
Several years ago, the General Service Conference approved revisions to the A.A. pamphlet, “Questions and Answers on Sponsorship“ to add a new section on service sponsorship (page 25 of the pamphlet).
Prior to that revision occurring, I’d had a service sponsor for some time as I was involved heavily in the general service structure and felt I needed guidance by someone who had experience in service at that level to help me navigate the structure (and the position I’d been elected to). I found it then, and still do today, to be an invaluable part of my growth as a trusted servant as I continue to give back to the Fellowship that saved my life. In the same way I trusted a sponsor to teach me how to take the 12 Step of A.A., I felt it would be beneficial to learn from the experience, strength, and hope of someone who’d walked the path of service before me.
Now, with all of that said, I recently was reading an online conversation (in a private password protected group) of A.A. members talking about this very topic (names and online platform purposely withheld). One of the members offered up a viewpoint that I’d never considered and at least needed to ponder for a moment. Their sharing suggested that it might be possible that service sponsorship turns our A.A. service triangle on its head. (“How?” I thought to myself…) It was their thought that it doesn’t make sense that GSR’s who are just below the A.A. group on the triangle who are asked to hold trusted servants below them on the triangle (area, trustees, etc.) accountable – are then asked to take guidance and direction from the very people who are supposed to report to them.
It was an interesting viewpoint to be sure. In this online conversation, there were several other A.A. members who shared their thoughts on this:
– “I disagree. As a service sponsor I take them through the traditions and concepts. I don’t tell them what to think or how to vote.”
– “I admit I have seen it too. But I don’t blame the position because some egomaniacs misuse it. I just try to teach my sponsees better through action. It is sad though when people abuse their power in this area.”
– “Someone should remind service sponsors their job isn’t to tell service sponsees how to vote or what opinions to have. It’s to help service sponsees do their jobs better and help them reach their own conclusions regarding the application of the Traditions and Concepts.”
– “I don’t direct my sponsees, I instruct them in the steps, traditions, and concepts, encourage them to think for themselves.”
– “I disagree. Sounds like you’re describing a service guru not a service sponsor. Mine made sure I was well acquainted with our history and legacies by taking me through our literature. Never once did they tell me what to think. Instead they made me think and form my own conclusions. I do my best to do the same with those I sponsor.”
– “My hope is if everyone I sponsor take those THEY sponsor through all 36, and then the people I service sponsor take the people they sponsor through all 36, possibly some day we can make service sponsorship extinct! But at this point I know I’m not the only one who has needed a service sponsor because as WONDERFUL as my sponsor is with the Book/steps, in 30+ years my sponsor has never even been a GSR. And neither has their sponsor. I would be lost without service sponsorship.”
– “I couldn’t disagree more. A service sponsor has 3 primary roles: education, assistance with current and next service roles and an understanding of the spiritual nature of service. This is a vital advisory role but advisory only. The service sponsor does not make decisions for their sponsee regardless of whether the sponsee is a GSR, DCM, Delegate or Class B trustee. The situation you describe should not occur when the service sponsor-sponsee relationship is spiritual in nature.”
The difference between a recovery sponsor and a service sponsor in this conversation is that while working with a recovery sponsor; as a sponsee, I’m generally not asked to hold my sponsor accountable to anything (at least as it’s outlined in the 12 Traditions or 12 Concepts for Word Service). I choose a recovery sponsor because I want what they have and am, today, grateful to have a sponsor who never “tells” me what to do. He shares his experience and makes suggestions. It’s completely up to me whether or not I take the suggestion.
In the same way, I try and never tell a sponsee (recovery or service) what to do. It’s completely up to them whether or not they take my suggestions. I believe that good and effective sponsorship is filled with humility and balance as well as good direction and suggestion. I believe it’s my responsibility to ensure that the sponsee has heard my experience, is directed to the appropriate literature (in the case of service – the A.A. Service Manual, The 12 Traditions and the 12 Concepts for World Service, etc.) and then is allowed to make their own decisions on what action to take.
As a current elected trusted servant, I will be forever grateful for the people who’ve walked this path before me (whether currently sitting in an elected position in the service structure or past servants) who are willing to share their experience, strength, and hope with me. That said, this alcoholic is crystal clear on the delineation between what I am taught by them and by what I am called to be aware of and take action on through the 12 Concepts for World Service as a member of A.A. in any service role I am privileged to hold.
While I understand and appreciate the perspective of the original person’s post about the service triangle being turned upside down, it’s my humble belief that if taught well, the service sponsee will learn just exactly what their responsibility is which is to become as well informed as possible and then cast their vote (or make their decision) based on the foundation of the 36 spiritual principles that we’ve learned. I believe it is up to the each member of A.A. to determine whether or not to have a service sponsor, but if they do choose to get one – that they are clear about the expectations of that relationship.
In love and service,