Taking Care of Staff Members

How can we be sure we are taking care of the needs of the program staff members?


Most people working at rescue missions don’t view their work as simply a “job.” They consider it a ministry or, more precisely, a “calling.”   As a result, they tend to be highly motivated employees. Yet, by keeping a few simple human resource management principles in mind, rescue mission leaders can do a lot to encourage them and help them to be even more happy and satisfied in their work for the Lord.

Why people “burn out” – Working with troubled people can be very stressful and makes rescue mission workers very susceptible to “burn out.”   In her 1994 IUGM Annual Convention Seminar, in Denver CO, Cindy Stutheit, Program Director of Denver Rescue Mission’s Champa House, noted some of the factors that cause burn out for mission workers:

Lack of communication


Emotionally draining

Too much responsibility

“Losing people, souls & lives” versus “losing an account”

Physically taxing

Poor boundaries and codependency

Tyranny of the urgent–daily rut of routine and poor crisis management

Poor training

Heavy workload

Inexperience and unrealistic expectations

No personal space

24-hour job for live-in staff

Establishing a set of priorities for meeting staff members’ needs will help them avoid burn-out and will inspire them to high performance in their work.

Meetings Their Basic Needs – Everyone is concerned about meeting his or her basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. These basic needs are satisfied through wages and job security. Staff members must know   that as long as their work is satisfactory, their job will be secure. Secondly, rescue missions must offer adequate wages if they are to attract and keep good staff members. When their basic financial needs aren’t being met, it becomes impossible for them to remain motivated and to perform their work satisfactorily.

Meeting Their Social Needs – Rescue mission workers need and enjoy small talk among themselves and group interaction. They enjoy telling about weekend trips, family needs, hopes and dreams. An effort needs to be made to set time aside for wholesome, informal group gatherings.

Meeting Their Ego Needs – The ego needs of the workers are met through esteem and self-fulfillment. At the rescue mission, this need can be met by encouraging acceptable job performance, ethics, dress, language, and also by periodic evaluation for merit and for promotion. In other words, by making sure that each staff member knows that her or his work is appreciated.   Secondly, dead-end jobs are seldom satisfying. A promotion can be as rewarding as a raise. A title is a status symbol, a name indicating a job position, an important status symbol, even in the rescue mission. Some thought needs to be devoted to developing a “job entry career ladder system.”   Staff members must have the opportunity for career mobility.   They need to be able to move upward as they gain experience and training, and as new positions become available.

Meeting Their Self-fulfillment Needs – Most staff members need to be creative in order to attain some measure of self-fulfillment. To be creative in the rescue mission context means that when a staff member has new and practical ideas, they are used whenever practical. Rescue missions have many staff members who are imaginative and like to solve difficult problems. Some want to take part in management decisions. Since the staff members are the people closest to “the action,” they often understand the operation better than those in leadership do.   Many constructive changes have originated with a staff member’s suggestions and recommendations. By listening to their views, experiences, and suggestions, wise rescue mission managers will motivate and encourage such a staff member to do bigger and better things.

Personal rewards are also effective in motivating. For example, if a staff member suggests an idea or method that is cost saving, a bonus would be appropriate. Citations, public acknowledgment and the conferring of certificates of distinguished service or appreciation are also valuable. Recognition in the mission’s monthly newsletter or magazine is another good way to reward the creative staff member and to stimulate others in this direction.

Meeting Their Spiritual Needs – Prayer and the Word of God are a part of everyday life at the rescue mission.   Still, apart from their service at the rescue mission, it is vital that staff members participate in the life and body of a local church.   They need the fellowship of believers where they can find encouragement and inspiration. They need interaction with people who are not looking to them to meet their needs, but rather minister to them.

In summary, five important motivating factors for rescue mission workers are:

Keep them informed.

Give them some control over their actions.

Challenge them with work that can lead to recognition for their efforts.

Provide them with the opportunity to achieve and advance in their career.

Encourage them to find spiritual and emotional refreshment outside of the rescue mission.


February 1999

A Few Thoughts for Chaplains and Counselors

Good chaplains and  counselors start “working themselves out of a job” when they first get involved.   They truly succeed when the troubled people they help no longer need them.   The opposite is what I call “missionizing” – the rescue mission version of institutionalization.   It is possible to teach needy people to function successfully while staying in the mission, but not prepare them to live a healthy, sober life after they have left.

There are a few ways to avoid this.

A. Equip people to help themselves: Discover each program participants needs and help him/her to own these needs for themselves.   Telling people what they need does little good if they don’t eventually “own” those needs for themselves.   Sometimes needy people expect us to “fix them.”   However, successful recovery begins when addicts take responsibility for their own lives.   This begins by bringing them to a saving knowledge of Christ — taking responsibility for their own eternal destinies.   We need to create other essential “confrontations with reality” for each individual with whom we work.

For instance, it might be obvious to you that an individual has a drug problem.   Some may even verbally agree.   But until this truth is accepted in his “heart of hearts,” he will not be motivated to change.   Education about addiction, support groups, one-on-one counseling and fellowship with other addicts who are in recovery all can work together to help such an individual to begin to recognize his own need.

B. Help them access community resources: Identify resources in the community that address needs that cannot be met in-house (e. g. legal aid, medical services, vocational training and self-help groups).   No organization has all the resources in-house to meet the needs of all those who look to them for help.   A community referral book listing resources available in the local community — complete with phone numbers and contact persons — should be a fixture in each chaplain’s office.

People become homeless when they don’t know how to access resources that are available to them.   So, we need to help people learn how they can access these resources as they encounter problems in their lives after the rescue mission program.

A special note of caution: Never refer without a follow-up contact to the agency.   This helps build relationships with referral resources and gives us a direct line on the services that were provided instead of relying on information from the person we sent to them.

C. Establish benchmarks on the road to success: Help program participants to evaluate their options, to see progress and establish “benchmarks” for measuring growth.   A sober, healthy lifestyle is not automatically picked up just by hanging around the mission for a certain length of time.   A formal, written recovery plan (or discipleship plan) should be developed for each individual in a mission’s long-term program.   The purpose of such a document, which should be reviewed and updated often, is to help program people think through their options, to identify their own needs, and to determine which specific actions they must take to get their needs met.   This should be developed in the form of a checklist with target dates for taking the predetermined actions and the actual date they were done.

Providing solid benchmarks for growth gives program participants a sense of movement and a way to evaluate their own progress in the journey to a new and sober life. Creating a situation where they experience a series of small successes that lead to stability in their lives is a great self-esteem builder.

Model a healthy godly lifestyle.   Be an example in word and deed of the principles you hope program participants will adopt.   It is critical that we help mission program participants learn to walk with the Lord, to listen to their consciences, and to make personal prayer and Bible study a part of their daily lives.   It is also important that the mission’s staff members remember that they may be the first examples of real Spirit-led Christianity that many of the people we work with have ever observed.   Our attitudes and actions speak about the nature and heart of the God we serve.   May we always be a reflection of Him to those in need!

D. Assist them to get the right, healthy people in their lives: Help program participants to develop new personal and social resources that will contribute to a positive life style.   Even after people graduate from the mission program, they have a real need for ongoing support to succeed at life on their own.   I would say that we are wildly successful if people leave our programs as struggling baby Christians!   Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we help them to become integrated in two communities while they are with us, so they will have time to make them an ongoing part of their lives after the mission

First, they need to make new, positive relationships with other believers.   The lack of support and meaningful relationships with other people is essentially why they became homeless in the first place!   Secondly, because recovery from chemical addiction is not a “do-it-yourself” proposition, they need to be connected with the recovering community.   This is best accomplished by making participation in outside support groups a vital component of the latter stages of a mission recovery program. (A word of caution: be sure that you have visited the support groups yourself before sending mission program people to them.)


Portions originally appeared in the April 1999 edition of RESCUE, the journal of the AGRM

Maurice Vanderberg – A Man of Vision

Rev. Maurice Vanderberg

With his recent passing, I was reminded that, even before I was born, Maurice Vanderberg was talking about many of the principles I’ve discussed in this column over the years.   Rev. Vanderberg served as director of City Union Mission  in Kansas City, Missouri from 1954 to his retirement in 1991. His Christian Life Program was one of the first long-term rehabilitation programs in the IUGM (now AGRM).   More than forty years ago, he hung its purpose statement on the chapel wall; “marching orders” for every mission chaplain or counselor:

Our goal is to see that every man becomes a mature, contributing member of a Christian community

In Unto the Least of These, published by the IUGM   in 1974, Maurice shares his thoughts about what makes an effective rescue mission recovery program.   These excerpts from his chapter, “Ministering To The Whole Person,” illustrate that he was way ahead of his contemporaries.

He recognized that recovery is a process:

Unless we are able to comprehend that each person who comes to us is what he has become through a lifetime of experience, we will continue to deal with him as though the sum total of the person is that which just came through the door. We will fail to see him as the result of processes that took years to lead to this day. It is both our privilege and our obligation, by the help of God, to set in motion new processes that will begin to untangle the intricate web of time and circumstance so that the new man might be molded.

. . . I suggest that missions ought to see their unique function more clearly.   They are not an end. They are only a means to an end.

. . . This is the business that we are in.   If we are not prepared to meet the demands upon our time and energies, if we are not capable of exercising patience and stubborn determination, if we have not counted on disappointments and heartaches, and if we have not established a going partnership with God Himself, we have no business in the work.

And if we thought that rescue mission ministries implied a platform, a preacher, a dormitory, and a dining room to which a man could come for a night and go redeemed, transformed, glowing, and on his way to glorious prosperity, we have made a serious error in judgment.

He understood the balance between the “spiritual” and the “therapeutic.”

There has been an appropriate emphasis on spiritual programs, but almost to the exclusion of realistic solutions to the monumental problems of those coming to the mission for help. The awareness that Christ Himself dealt constantly with the total man (body, soul, and spirit) is not a revelation; but it is, nevertheless, a refreshing rediscovery that can immensely enhance the effectiveness of the rescue mission. I am reasonably sure that this statement will draw objections since, quite obviously, missions have commonly provided food, shelter, clothing, and some clinical care since the birth of the rescue method.

However, the “new discovery” involves physiological factors far more critical to recovery than these. They are essential to survival, but they have no rehabilitative qualities. There is danger, in fact, that to limit provision to the survival elements over a long period of time without providing physical and emotional repairment is to perpetuate the person’s problem, rather than to contribute to his recovery. He becomes an increasingly dependent person lacking the incentives necessary for recovery.

Maurice also recognized the need for “professionalism” among rescue mission workers:

There is no excuse for the lack of some clinical knowledge in the area of abnormal behavior. It is doubtful that a metropolitan area of any size at all is without numerous opportunities for lay persons to gain some knowledge and experience in this field. All colleges and universities now offer low cost adult training . . . hospitals and health centers have arrangements for basic training . . . .   The National Council on Alcoholism has been holding training institutes. These are only a few of the many provisions that have been made to meet the pressure of our times. It is, therefore, incumbent upon mission workers everywhere to avail themselves to these opportunities to sharpen the tools of their crafts.

We are not asking for a new philosophy or new objectives. We are simply attempting to acquire new tools and become proficient in their use. We owe our clients every conceivable skill that we can acquire. The concept of ministering to the whole man is not a new one. It is, however, relatively new to the rescue mission.

He knew that assisting program participants to become integrated into a local church was vital:

It is a sad fact, however, [rescue missions] do not really affect recovery for an appreciable number of men and women. It is my judgment that this is because they have failed to incorporate into the formal planning of their program one element that can produce results.   It may not in every case, or even in most cases, but for those men and women who are genuinely motivated to learn and to live a mature and productive Christian life, this element is divinely provided in the community of believers known as the local church . . .

. . . The church does, however, present a formidable aspect to most mission clients.   It represents everything the man or woman is not, and holds a special terror for the subject, for it brings into sharp relief all of the failures that have cursed his or her life.   We should all understand what it is like to go as a stranger into a situation that is not really congenial or comfortable.

  The philosophy and approach to serving homeless people seen at today’s rescue missions is in a very large part due to the early efforts of this much respected Christian leader.


From RESCUE Magazine, August 1998. The journal of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.

Hear Scriptural Teachings on the Poor by Rev. Maurice Vanderberg on UrbanSermons.org