Sponsor Vs. Friendship: What’s the Difference?


The above question about the difference between being a sponsor and a friend routinely comes up in Celebrate Recovery meetings.  Here’s some valuable insights on this sometimes confusing situation…

I met some friends through a healing and recovery class, and then invited them afterward to join me in a 12-step group I was leading.  Because I had several years of recovery under my belt, and was “walking the talk,” when we came to the 4th and 5th steps (related to the spiritual inventory), all three of them asked me to sponsor them.  I agreed.

All of us later became involved in the therapeutic process.  At some point in time, (it evolved somewhat organically), my relationship with each of my sponsees began to change from a sponsor/sponsee relationship to more of a give and take friendship.

My sponsees knew that I was a little further along in life experience and recovery, and allowed me to speak truth into their lives. They were committed to the growth process, but at the same time, I realized that I was unable to wear the hats of a sponsor and friend simultaneously.  I was in a place where I needed and was willing to give support more through friendships than through formal sponsorship in these three relationships. I continued to maintain other relationships with people who were primarily speaking into my life as mentors and sponsors.

As a sponsor, one makes a decision to suspend his/her own needs completely for the benefit and growth of another.  That is the difference between being a friend and a sponsor.  In a healthy friendship, there is give and take – each has one another’s back, and they hold each other up when times are difficult.

In a sponsorship, it is completely sacrificial.  The sponsor is completely other-serving.  One gives to the other, expecting nothing personally in return, except that the sponsee continue to make forward movement in his or her own recovery.  The sponsor may ultimately receive personal benefit from this relationship, but it is not from the sponsee directly – usually it is from the giving in the relationship.  In an appropriate sponsor/sponsee relationship, the sponsee’s role is not to support the sponsor in any way.  The sponsor needs to have his/her own sponsor or mentor.

In both friendships and sponsorship, boundaries need to be set. Some are set in advance.  Boundary setting in advance is especially important with sponsorship. (Celebrate Recovery recommends using the Sponsor Agreement.)  In friendships, sometimes those boundaries slowly unfold.

I recently had a long term recovery friend going through another 4th step (spiritual inventory) ask me to be a sponsor.  I declined this request because I knew I would have to suspend our “friend hat,” and I really wanted our relationship to be more reciprocal.  I was also not in a place in my own journey where I felt I could give of myself to the degree needed to be a good sponsor.

A good sponsor to sponsee relationship is completely life giving to the sponsee.  That is what makes it such a powerful relationship, and can be so instrumental in growth.  It is through the sacrifice.

So when someone asks you to sponsor them, ask yourself, can I give of myself to this person expecting nothing personal in return?  Your answer will tell you if you would be a better friend to them or a better sponsor.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  (John 15:13, NIV)

Contributed by a leader at Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau.
©2015 CelebrateRecoveryOnThePlateau.org

Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau is a Christ-centered recovery program designed to help people with their hurts, habits and hang-ups. We are a ministry of Pine Lake Covenant Church, Sammamish, WA.

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