I am convinced that our goal in any recovery program is to “work ourselves out of a job.” Or to say it another way, we ought always to be helping program people to become stable and growing believers who can experience God’s power and guidance for themselves. This is the exact opposite “missionizing people” — the rescue mission version of institutionalization. I am referring to the problem of teaching people how to live in the confines of the mission, but not equipping them for life outside. This is usually the case when program people seem to doing fine but end up crashing and burning a day after they leave the program. We’ve taught them to live in our little protected world and not prepared them for life out there.
Here’s a few principles to keep in mind:
A. The program is a “greenhouse” — My perspective is that a mission program is a lot like a greenhouse where troubled people begin to experience a little new sprout of new life within. A well-functioning residential program provides a protective nurturing environment for that little shoot. Our job as staff members is to nurture it and grow it. Then finally it becomes strong enough that we take it out of the greenhouse and plant it in some good soil out here where it can grow and mature and bear fruit.
B. Aftercare Planning is Essential — It’s essential that the mission program be the sort of nurturing environment where new life can gain ground and put down some roots. We also need to be thinking carefully about where the “good soil” is out here and how to transplant program graduates out there without tearing all the roots out, or planting it in soil that’s not going to allow it, the growth to continue. No one should ever graduate from a rescue mission long-term program without a solid, detailed written aftercare plan in place. The plan should include information about housing, employment, church involvement, participation in additional counseling and support groups, as well as some specific information about the services offered by the mission that will still be available to them. To do this well, the mission program must develop a comprehensive list of community resources. Additionally, mission staff members must take time to assist graduating residents to access those outside services that they will need.
C. Make Sure A Solid Relational Network is in Place — Besides doing all they can to heal past relationships, all mission clients also need to establish healthy relationships within the church and the recovery community. This process should begin while in the program. Until these are in place, a person is simply not ready to graduate.
D. Lay the Foundation for Recovery — The word for “recovery” is the theological term “sanctification.” While the term means an initial “setting apart for godly purposes,” it is generally used to refer to our life-long journey toward become more Christ-like. . It’s a process. I really believe honestly that in our work with our clients, we need to realize that we are starting them off on a process of recovery and that ideally our real job at a rescue mission is to lay a foundation for a lifetime of recovery.
The best way to lay the foundation is through a providing a very organized process that involves specific verifiable goals and objectives that a participant will accomplish while in the long-term program. These should include both general goals, objectives, and activities that will be expected of everyone in the program, as well as, very specific, personalized goals and objectives that address the special issues of individual participants. As I have previously discussed, when considering the time for graduating, effective rescue mission programs worry less about the calendar and focus more on determining whether a participant has made significant progress on their written goals and objectives (or recovery plan).
So, how do we know if a person is truly ready to graduate from our program? We’re not going to take somebody and fix them 100%. As a matter of fact, we’re going to send them out of our doors as struggling baby Christians. I might add, we send them out as struggling baby Christians who know how to access the help they need from both God and other people.
The healing environment of the recovery program combined with the spiritual and material resources we provide are the essential elements of providing them with a foundation in the Word of God. Life skills we impart will equip them to succeed when they leave our protective environment. The new supportive relationships they developed before leaving the program will become more important than ever.