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

Measuring Success at Rescue Missions (Part Two)

How do we measure success at rescue missions? (Part Two)

Since January, when I first wrote about this topic, a lively discussion about it has continued on the IUGM’s e-mail discussion list.   It’s been interesting to see the various opinions that have been expressed by rescue mission workers.   As a result, I am more convinced than ever about the need for a consistent data-gathering process to measure the outcomes of rescue mission programs.   Here’s why I believe so strongly that we must get started with this process:

Strengthen Our Witness to the World — We know God is changing lives at our missions.   But how do we communicate this to people who do not share our spiritual convictions?   Actually, there is only one way;   by presenting some concrete numbers, which substantiate this fact in a language they understand. We must have real numbers to back up our claims!

A couple of months ago, this was brought home to me in a powerful way through a call from a reporter with the Washington Post.   She contacted me in the process of researching a story that to compared the success of “faith-based” programs in working with alcoholics and drug addicts with those that are government funded.

During a conversation that lasted almost an hour, I had a chance to talk about all the great things rescue missions are doing to help the addicted. Then she asked me the $64,000 Question, “What kind of success do your missions have in rehabilitating alcoholics and drug addicts?”   I was embarrassed to admit that we have not been doing on-going assessment of program outcomes, and that any figure I could give her would be just an educated guess.

A couple of weeks later I got a copy of the article, which was a three-page spread, starting on the first page of the Post’s Sunday edition.   It was complete with large photos and testimonies of people who had found sobriety at Teen Challenge and Victory Fellowship centers.   Both of these programs were given considerable attention, while the IUGM was mentioned in passing and the number of member missions was noted in a small chart.  

Why did they get all the attention?   Well, it was because they are keeping statistics!

Follow Up Need Not Be Difficult – I am not advocating a complex or time-consuming approach to program evaluation.   Spending a few hours once a year in contacting program graduates on the telephone or by mail (with return postage) is all that is needed to provide some concrete proof of good a job we are doing in our efforts to help addicts and alcoholics.   Only a few simple questions are necessary:

  • Have you been free of alcohol and drugs since leaving our program?
  • Are you using drugs and alcohol at this time?
  • Are you involved with a church?
  • Do you have job?
  • Do you have a home at this time?

And, as I mentioned in the previous article, a follow-up contact from your mission can be a real opportunity to encourage graduates, especially for those who may be struggling.

Program Evaluation is Good Stewardship — Every year, rescue missions spend literally millions of dollars in their efforts to help the needy.   It is our responsibility before God and our contributors to ensure that those dollars are spent wisely.

Much can be gained by taking time to see how well the graduates of our programs do after they leave our facilities.   Getting their feedback through an “exit interview” just before they graduate and following up on them after they leave will certainly help up to improve our programs.

Here are a few areas that can be enhanced through on-going program evaluation:

Staffing/Client ratio: Do we have enough chaplains, counselors, etc., to provide adequate one-on-one interaction with program participants?

Facilities: Is the building and environment conducive to a life-changing program?

Policies & Schedule: Are these promoting responsibility while providing a therapeutic environment?

Curriculum: Is the instruction component of the program adequately equipping participants to live as Christians, maintain sobriety, and face the issues of their lives successfully.

Program Scope & Activities: Are you providing kinds of services that will assist participants to be successful after they leave the program, i. e. educational activities, employment readiness, addiction-specific programming, etc.

Program Length & Process: Do participants spend enough time with you to really become prepared to live a new life once they are on their own?   Is there a system for measuring their progress within the program?

At this time, we are developing a program that can been used throughout the IUGM to evaluate program outcomes.   We would very much like to hear from you’re on this subject, so we encourage you to contact us at the IUGM’s Education Department.

October 1998

Measuring Success at Rescue Missions (Part One)

How do we measure success at rescue missions?   (Part One)

I frequently ask staff members, “How is your mission doing?”   The answer is usually about numbers:   meals served, nights of lodging, food boxes distributed and so forth.   Sometimes I hear about growing budgets, additional staff members, new facilities, etc.   However, when asked about the purpose of their mission, the most common response is “evangelism and discipleship.”   While today’s missions offer a wide array of programs, most have not lost sight of their most important distinctive – fulfilling the Great Commission.   (Matt.28:19).   We need to put forth some special effort, though to establish that we are indeed doing this.

Preaching the Gospel and making disciples sets rescue missions apart from other social agencies working with the homeless.   Yet, some don’t keep a written record of decisions for Christ at their facilities.   Few know what percentage of their program graduates go on to gain at least one year of sobriety.   Not many know if their graduates remain committed to a local church or participate in support groups.   Unless graduates, themselves, make an effort to stay in touch, most have no on-going process for determining how many of their graduates currently live responsible Christian lives.

Counting bed nights is easier than determining how successful we are at making disciples.   However, if we are meeting the needs of those we serve, there ought to be concrete evidence of changed lives.   Regular follow-up efforts can provide us with accurate records that will help us to determine how successful we are at desired results through our programs.

For rescue mission recovery programs, here are a few items to address in annual or bi-annual follow-up efforts by phone or through the mail:

  • Continuous sobriety after program completion
  • Regular participation in support groups
  • Employment and training obtained after graduation
  • Christian growth and involvement with the Church
  • Improved personal and family relationships

Benefits of doing follow-up on program graduates include:

A. Program Evaluation – The population we serve is changing.   They are younger than ever and they have a host of problems that we didn’t see just ten or fifteen years ago.   If we are to truly meet their needs, we must understand them.   Understanding how our graduates do after they leave our facilities will help us to improve our programs.

B. Showing continuing concern for graduates   – A follow-up contact from the mission can be a real opportunity to encourage graduates, especially for those who may be struggling.

C. Substantiating fund-raising claims – “Compassion fatigue” is a phenomenon in bigger metro areas like New York and Los Angeles.   It is becoming more evident in smaller cities, too.   It can be summed up in this statement, “OK, now that we’ve spent all these millions of dollars on the homeless, what have we got to show for it?   Homelessness is on the increase!”   They need to know that the homeless really are changing at   our missions.   We need real numbers to back up our claims.

D. Taking advantage of “Charitable Choice” – With sweeping changes in the welfare system, Christian organizations will receive government funds without having to compromise on their spiritual emphasis.   Missions that choose to pursue some of this money will have more success if they can show the concrete results of their efforts.

E. “Witnessing to the world” – Does Christ really change lives?   I believe He does!   You can’t survive very long as a mission worker if you don’t.   Having concrete numbers to substantiate this fact is a genuine testimony of God at work in our fallen world.

If you are interested in learning more about this subject, contact IUGM’s Education Department.

February 1998