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A 12 Step Program as an Instrument of Discipleship

A 12 Step Program as an Instrument of Discipleship

There are a number of well-intentioned Christians who will tell you that there is no room in Christianity for a 12-Step Program. My response may or may not surprise you: I think they are wrong. It is my long considered opinion that a 12-Step Program is fully suited to being used in discipleship and I say that as someone who has gone through both A.A. and Celebrate Recovery and have been free of alcohol for 14 years. Any kind of addiction is a terrible taskmaster, as any sin is, and unless you have struggled with an addiction you will never really understand it and you may struggle with properly discipling an addict.

Addictions are both medical and spiritual conditions; a 12-Step Program, when properly utilized, will instill a proper discipline in behavior and, paired with the appropriate Scriptures, provide a spiritual foundation as well. How? Let’s look:

Steps 1-5 deal with the human condition and our need for a savior.

STEP 1: We admitted that we were powerless over our dependencies—that our lives had become unmanageable.

“I know that nothing good lives in me. . . . I want to do what is right, but I can’t” (Romans 7:18; see also John 8:31-36; Romans 7:14-25).

STEP 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

“God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13; see also Romans 4:6-8; Ephesians 1:6-8; Colossians 1:21-22; Hebrews 11:1-10).

STEP 3: We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable” (Romans 12:1; see also Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 10:14-16; James 4:7-10).

STEP 4: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

“Let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the LORD(Lamentations 3:40; see also Matthew 7:1-5; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10).

STEP 5: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16; see also Psalms 32:1-5; 51:1-3; 1 John 1:2-6).


Steps 6 & 7 deal with walking humbly with God.

STEP 6: We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor”(James 4:10; see also Romans 6:5-11; Philippians 3:12-14).

STEP 7: We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

“If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9; see also Luke 18:9-14; 1 John 5:13-15).

 Steps 8-10 begin to teach relational holiness and how to restore relationships with those we have sinned against.

STEP 8: We made a list of all the persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

“Do to others as you would like them to do to you” (Luke 6:31; see also Colossians 3:12-15; 1 John 3:10-20). 

STEP 9: We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar and . . . someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God”(Matthew 5:23-24; see also Luke 19:1-10; 1 Peter 2:21-25).

STEP 10: We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

“If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall”(1 Corinthians 10:12; see also Romans 5:3-6; 2 Timothy 2:1-7; 1 John 1:8-10).

In step 11, we begin to practice the discipline of regular prayer. I would include journaling, here.

STEP 11: We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

“Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart”(Colossians 4:2; see also Isaiah 40:28-31; 1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Step 12 deals with the Great Commission

STEP 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.“

Matthew 28:16-20

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1; see also Isaiah 61:1-3; Titus 3:3-7; 1 Peter 4:1-5)

It is true that a 12-Step Program is not the most sophisticated discipleship program you will ever encounter but we need to remember that most people who are going through a program either are not Christians or are severely lapsed in their walk with Christ. The idea is to redirect the disciple back to discipline and scripture.

2 Replies to “A 12 Step Program as an Instrument of Discipleship”

  1. I love what you’ve written here. I have attended 12 step programs over the years for codependency and mental health issues. Alanon and a program called Grow. I think as Christians we need to be discerning. Hence I use the part of the program that says “Take what you like and leave the rest”. I regularly pray that through 12 steps programs people will learn to know the only true God. I try to set an example as a Christian as well. These programs saved me from developing a serious mental illness because they keep my thinking balanced. I give thanks to the Lord with a grateful heart for helping me with my recovery. These programs are just a tool. Just like going to a Dr or Hospital.

  2. I love it. I am attending AA meetings (I am not an alcoholic) and I find it a wonderful program and a lot of things could and do like up with faith and discipleship. As a pastor, I can use the things I learn there in my church. Shocking? I think it’s very helpful as (like you said) it is similar to being under sin as our taskmaster.

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