Accountants and lawyers and boards (Oh my!) (Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines Manual Part 8)

This piece by Mercy Survivor Anna was originally published on her blog, External Mercy, and can be viewed here.

A review of Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry.

BoardSo we’re going to pick back up with Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines with the second portion of the “Operations” section, which if you remember from last time, again has nothing to do with the residents or the actual treatment or ministry, but focuses on (surprise, surprise!) the organization, its image, and finances. Now, lest I be misunderstood, I’m all for financial accountability such as that that Mercy Multiplied is recommending here with professionals from financial and legal backgrounds being consulted and independent audits, I just find it very hard to understand how an organization that would strongly recommend using professionals for these areas would completely eschew even basic consultation with professionals who are knowledgeable about the mental illnesses and issues that the residents themselves are dealing with—double standard anyone? Or is it just that the only people they see themselves accountable to are the donors?

Disclaimer aside, Mercy Multiplied talks about the importance of their Board of Directors and recommend selecting individuals that are “able to give Godly wisdom and counsel” and “will support and help fulfill the vision God has given your ministry” and other qualities such as willingness to serve the ministry and the vision and specific skill sets that are needed by the organization. Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, they don’t mention anything that has to do with making sure the organization’s Board of Directors are not all compensated directly or indirectly by the organization. The board of directors provide oversight and governance for the organization—thus it’s important that these members have the freedom to call the organization on actions without having any personal stake in the organizations’ practices.

The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance recommends that “Not more than one or 10% (whichever is greater) directly or indirectly compensated person(s) serving as voting member(s) of the board. Compensated members shall not serve as the board’s chair or treasurer.” (look here and scroll down to Standard 4). Unsurprisingly this is also the standard that Mercy Multiplied fails to meet. Of course, you should also remember that these standards are for charities in general and deal solely with financial accountability to donors—there’s no consideration obviously for the quality (or lack thereof) of the services the charity is offering.

If you’re interested in reporting Mercy Multiplied to the BBB through their easy online complaint form here.  Those complaints get forwarded to the organization and the organization is tasked with responding to those complaints as part of the BBB standards. I’ve reported them for failing to adhere to minimum standards in interactions with residents, failure to follow industry-wide standards of proper consent, privacy, and record keeping, misrepresenting their services through misleading appeals, failing to respond to complaints of maltreatment, and gross medical negligence. (You do NOT have to identify yourself as a former resident or parent, you can file the complaint simply as a concerned individual but anonymous complaints are not forwarded to the organization.) It’s not much really, but it does use official, accountable channels.

Anyways, since Mercy Multiplied’s Board of Directors currently has 2 of 9 members indirectly compensated by the ministry (one of which is the board treasurer…um, conflict of interest anyone??), it makes sense that they would ignore the importance of having non-compensated/non-related board members to maintain the checks and balances necessary for a ministry. For all their emphasis on financial accountability, they’re definitely missing the mark on this aspect.

How to create a monster (Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines Manual Part 7)

This piece by Mercy Survivor Anna was originally published on her personal blog, External Mercy, and can be viewed here.

A review of Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry.

monsterI’ll have to admit that I was excited when I first came to the section in the manual that was titled Operations Fundamentals.  I naively expected this section to cover aspects of residents’  treatment that had been so sorely lacking in the content up until this point.  I was disappointed (but not surprised) to realize that the operations that they are referring to are not the operations of the residential counseling ministry, but rather the operations of the non-profit that runs it.  This section is over halfway through the manual, and readers haven’t heard anything about the residents that this entire manual is supposed to enable them to minister to.

I’ll also say right from the start that Mercy Multiplied specifically states that they are covering the concepts in this section on a “high level” stating the importance that readers “seek knowledgeable resources to address the specifics as they relate to your individual vision, mission, and actual legal requirements you will need to comply with.”  We see the foreshadowing of the disconnect between recommending professionals for aspects of the organization’s finances and legal decisions and the obvious eschewing of any professionalism with regard to the residents’ treatment or care.  Over and over again, the manual encourages legal counsel to be sought early and often and while they do encourage finding pro-bono or discounted services (because what Christian organization doesn’t feel entitled to having professionals do things for them for free), they don’t suggest that you get prayer ministers to do this work for them.  Even the pro-bono work is assumed to be coming from, professionals, i.e. lawyers and accountants.  In fact they not only recommend that these individuals be professionals (read: passed the certifications and requirements necessary to prove that they are knowledgeable and experienced in the areas they are advising in), but they even strongly encourage a “reputable attorney” with expertise in non-profits and a “reputable Certified Public Accountant”.  So not only do they expect their financial and legal information to come from experts trained and certified in their field, they’re even wanting to make sure that these individuals are especially good at what they do.

Now let’s just contrast this with Mercy Multiplied’s attitude concerning the expertise of their staff that are actually interacting with residents that have major mental illnesses and require round the clock 24/7 supervision.  This staff is not recommended to have any qualifications or certifications barring a general college degree.  This staff is not recommended to come with reputations of successfully treating individuals with specific struggles that are common to the residents.  It’s not even suggested that people consult with people who are qualified in psychology or mental illness.

What kind of priorities are reflected when an organization is requiring certified professionals for dealing with legal and financial issues to cover their rear legally, but has no requirements for individuals that will actually be caring for the individuals all of this is supposed to be about?  Better make sure you get someone experienced to deal with your organization’s operations because everyone knows how important that is, but anybody can care for the residents—what kind of a double standard is this?  What kind of message does this send to the residents about their worth?  Does Mercy Multiplied really think that recovery from illness with high fatalities is simpler than doing their taxes?  And the answer of course is, yes.  After all, taxes takes someone who knows what they’re doing…training, education, even experience, but recovery from mental illness is as simple as praying and memorizing Bible verses so why would you need anyone special to help residents with that?

Oh, and they even recommend having an independent auditor review financial practices yearly to provide accountability to donors.  And what kind of accountability checks are their for the treatment of residents?  (In case you’ve forgotten, the residents are the people that they are so keen on helping and ministering too…it’s hard to remember since most everything that is recommended has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the organizations’ image and potential donors).  So if you’re a donor, you get to make sure that your money is doing exactly what they said it would, but if you’re a resident you have no recourse if they fail to live up to the minimal expectations commonplace in treatment.  Think about it, what can residents do if they are abused by this organization?  There’s no professional ethics board when you don’t employ professionals to do your counseling.  There’s no certification to revoke when the complaints come pouring in when you don’t submit to any treatment guidelines or certifications.  There’s not even a way to show that their claims about “treatment” are even remotely true.  But that’s obviously not the important thing…because the important thing is that there’s accountability to the donors.  After all, they are the ones who are really running the organization, right?  They’re the ones that matter.

Along the lines of this same disconnect between how money is handled and how residents’ LIVES are handled, there’s plenty of encouragement to keep detailed and accurate records for the organization, but if you’ve seen any of the stories about residents attempting to get records from their time in the program, you’ll know that this sort of record keeping is not considered important.  Because, you can get in some serious trouble with the government for not keeping records on your organization’s tax-exemption, but who is there to get you in trouble if you’re not keeping treatment records?  In Mercy Multiplied’s set up there’s nobody, and for an organization that claims excellence in caring for these ‘poor souls gone astray’, there’s not really any evidence to back those claims up.  ‘Cause who would listen to a bunch of mentally ill young women anyways?  And what would it hurt the organization if those women aren’t satisfied with the treatment or care they get?  I mean, it’s not like they’re paying for it anyways…as long as the donors are happy the revenue stream is stable.  Nothing else matters…nothing…as long as the organization can maintain its public image and engender financial support, there’s not any way to hold the organization accountable for any of its actions with regard to the residents.  This is how Mercy Multiplied is set up.  This is how they recommend similar ministries to be set up.  The focus is not on the residents or the ministry as much as they want to make people think that it is, the ultimate priority is the organization, its leadership, and its financial backers.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you establish a residential counseling ministry that abuses the very people they are claiming to help.  This is the secret of Mercy Multiplied’s success that they are so eager to share with other people.  This is Mercy Multiplied sharing how to create a monster that looks just like them.

**All quotes are from Mercy Multiplied, Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry, Retrieved October 2015.**

(More) fundraising… (Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines Manual Part 6)

This piece by Mercy Survivor Anna was originally published on her blog, External Mercy, and can be viewed here.

Fundraising2A review of Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry.

As much as I’d like to get off the subject of fundraising, Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines Manual seems to have more about fundraising than any other topic.  Raise your hand if you’re surprised about this…yeah, didn’t think so.  We have three more things to look at from this section: organizational ties, newsletter advice, and volunteer use.  The warnings on organizational ties seems to allude to an area of Mercy Multiplied’s history that they failed to cover in their personal historical overview.

“…be careful not to officially associate or partner your ministry with any other ministries, organizations, or people who would otherwise contradict, endanger, or create roadblocks in furthering your ministry’s God-given vision and mission…the best way to manage these networks and links is to connect via a written policy and procedure that includes standards set by your Board.”

While on the surface this seems innocent enough and rather common sense, I wonder how much of this actually comes from the ‘wisdom’ gleaned from Mercy Multiplied’s relationship with Mercy Ministries Australia, Hillsong Church and other organizations that they were connected with that they disowned when the abuse of the Australian homes was discovered and those associated ministries were shut down by the Australian government.  Remember in their history lesson earlier in the manual, all the Mercy Ministries homes were proudly listed as being outgrowths of the US ministry, except Australia.  Mercy Multiplied’s desperate attempts to sever ties with Mercy Ministries Australia after former residents of the homes in Australia were courageous enough to share their stories of abuse and misuse, is a well-known part of Mercy Multiplied’s storyline.  Mercy Multiplied’s public image has been plagued by their association (or attempt not to be associated) with Mercy Ministries Australia and other organizations that were supportive of their (now unclaimed) work in that country.  With this historical context, it’s not hard to imagine that Mercy Multiplied would offer advice to others that would encourage very careful associations and partnerships.  After all, didn’t Mercy Multiplied specifically say that this was information that was gleaned from their vast experience?  The experience of having to disown Mercy Ministries Australia and to paint former associatives from there as “renegade” organizations not connected to Mercy Multiplied had to have been quite a learning experience.  They say that hindsight is 20/20…people learn to cover their asses based on theirs and others’ experiences.  This section could be read as a what we wish we’d done prior to Australia blowing up in our public faces advice, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

They recommend a newsletter as a great fundraising tool…of course they recommend that you use pictures, resident testimonies, and success stories without any concern voiced for the residents’ privacy or consent as was discussed earlier.  They warn future fundraisers to have “direct oversight over the newsletter” in order to maintain control over the “voice” of the newsletter’s writing.  Again, this seems quite innocuous if you were to look at it outside the context of Mercy Multiplied’s history and behavior, but remember what information they are recommending be front and center in the newsletter:  residents’ stories.  Couple this with knowledge that Mercy Multiplied has a history of specifically telling residents what their stories should say, and you have to wonder if they’re really just advising control over the narratives that former residents share.  Mercy Multiplied has repeatedly targeted former residents who share stories that do not conform to their chosen narrative and are even known to take down a residents’ “success story” from their website if they discover that the resident is in any way questioning their Mercy Multiplied experience.  There’s a gray area obscuring the point where oversight and control becomes censorship and propaganda, but there is definite reason to think that Mercy Multiplied has reached past the common sense areas and into the extreme.

Lastly, they give advice for volunteer use.  Again, most of this is pretty benign, but it’s concerning that they seem to lump volunteers with access to residents and volunteers at fundraising and awareness events into the same category.  Now, they do offer this caution even though it’s not necessarily specific to volunteering with access to residents.  “Because of the times and the nature of residential counseling programs, we suggest you carefully screen all volunteer applicants.  Require applicants for volunteering to fill out an extensive application, write out their testimony, and give three letters of reference, perhaps including one from their pastor.”  They don’t suggest that maybe background checks be performed or at least the barring of individuals with sex offender histories.  Do they think that filling out an “extensive” application, writing out a “testimony”, and getting a reference letter from a pastor is guaranteed to weed any such individuals out?  Because you know, churches and pastors have never been known to cover up abuse or take the side of abusers…<sigh>.  They also encourage volunteers as a possible way to consider additional staffing needs in the future.  Since we already know that about the professional education or training of their staff it should come as no surprise that they recommend building a staff based not on industry-standard qualifications and requirements, but rather from getting to know a volunteers “heart from a deeper perspective.

**All quotes are from Mercy Multiplied, Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry, Retrieved October 2015.**

My story is NOT for sale (Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines Manual Part 5)

This piece by Mercy Survivor Anna was originally published on her blog, External Mercy, and can be viewed here.

A review of Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry.

FundraisingIn this section Mercy Multiplied continues their advice for those wanting to establish a residential counseling ministry.  It’s all about fundraising or as the subtitle of this section calls it “Developing relationships and revenue.”  Most of this information is pretty dull and common sense and easy to find elsewhere with more depth and better explanation.  I’m not sure why Mercy Multiplied is sharing all this general information as if it’s something unique to their operations, but whatever their thinking, let’s take a look at some of the concerning mindsets hidden in the midst of this general knowledge.

They talk about supporters needing to see what their support is doing.  To this end Mercy Multiplied says that they’ve found it helpful to “allow them [supporters] access to former residents testimonies” and other things such as new home projects, prayer requests, etc.  Notice how Mercy Multiplied is the one permitting others to have information about residents.  It may seem like a small thing, and if it were just a one-time thing, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  Lots of little things added together though can point to some big problems.  There’s nothing about maintaining the residents’ privacy, nothing about protecting the residents’ information, nothing even about being sure to have obtained consent to use residents’ stories.   The focus is not on the residents, it’s on the money.  Residents’ stories are casually treated like a commodity to be traded for supporters and financial donations.  You may think that that sounds a little harsh…just my take on a few meaningless words, but it’s in the little things through which the mentality shows.

Along those same lines the only other references to residents in this section also refer to using their stories to advance fundraising and support:

Talking about how residents’ stories can add to presentations:

“their testimonies will add an exciting and personal aspect to the outreach” (p. 14).

Recommendations for footage for future presentations:

“residents being reunited with their parents, babies who were born to residents, baptisms, young women telling their stories, and other various activities” (p. 14).

Things that can be put in newsletters:

“pictures, testimonies of residents and parents, articles, and success stories” (p. 16).

Again, let’s note that there’s no mention of making sure that this footage is respectful of residents’ privacy and information or cautions to gain consent for the use of images and stories before using them publicly.  One could argue that this is understood in this day’s world of advertising and promotional materials.  It seems unlikely though they are also specifically informing readers that they will need to purchase a digital camera, screen, and powerpoint program in order to be equipped for presentations.  I personally find it a bit insulting to the readers that they felt the need to specify…I mean, there’s only 41 pages here total and they’re taking up that precious print space telling people to buy powerpoint to give presentations?  If someone doesn’t have the common sense to know they’ll need software in order to give presentations, they have no business establishing a residential counseling ministry!

Of course, this section wouldn’t be complete without the admonition against accepting government funding.  “The acceptance of government funds will add many restrictions to the operation of your program and may create stipulations regarding staff employment, who you can accept into the program, and how you can minister to the residents’ needs.”  They state pretty clearly their reasoning behind their refusal of government funds.  They say that accepting government funds will:

  • Add many restrictions to the operation of your program.
    What kind of restrictions might these be?  Record keeping, informed consent, treatment plans, accountability for ethics violations, having real data to back up their success claims, staff to resident ratios that are appropriate, certifications to meet the minimum standards for a residential treatment facility, etc.  I fail to see how avoiding any of these helps anyone but the organization itself.  It almost seems as if they’re considering anything that allows for grievances and abuses to be brought to light to be “restrictions”.  There’s nothing about this that is beneficial to the residents themselves…the benefits are solely to the individuals with power within the organization.
  • Create stipulations regarding staff employment.
    Um, yeah, these stipulations would mean that Mercy Multiplied would have to hire people who are qualified, not allow untrained individuals to practice psychotherapy, have actual medical staff on site, have proper psychiatric oversight of individuals’ treatment plans, have nutritionists who are certified and experienced…and they might even have to do <gasp> background checks…(more on that in an upcoming post).  Once again who benefits from avoiding these “stipulations”?  Not the residents, that’s for sure!  You can again see this subtle difference in the priorities publicly proclaimed and some conflicting implicit mindsets.
  • Create stipulations regarding who you can accept into the program.
    I’m not really sure what stipulations there would be as far as acceptance of residents…Are they saying that they might not be allowed to take people into the program that they’re not equipped to deal with?  Are they saying that they might have to accept people into the program that they don’t want to accept?  Is it just a power thing?  If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments below.
  • Create stipulations regarding how you can minister to the residents’ needs.
    I’m sensing a theme here.  If they take in government money, they’d be required to meet government standards and not be able to do what they want to do without any oversight or requirements.  Are they worried that they won’t be allowed to treat mental illnesses with prayer sessions alone?  Are they worried that they would be required to meet the residents’ medical needs?  Are they worried that they might not get to use the residents as their cleaning staff?  What are they so interested in doing that government regulations would prohibit?  I mean, federal money can’t be used to directly fund religious worship, instruction, or proselytization, so I can understand not accepting government funding for that reason, but if that’s the reason why not just say that?  What’s the deal with all these government restrictions and stipulations that it’s so necessary for them to avoid?

And back to the residents’ stories as fundraising fodder.  In case anyone is wondering, I am more than an attention-getting testimony at a fundraising event.  My story is not available for a suggested donation, even if Mercy Multiplied seems to think that it should be.

**All quotes are from Mercy Multiplied, Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry, Retrieved October 2015.**

If Mercy ran an accounting firm… (Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines Manual Part 4)

This piece by Mercy Survivor Anna was originally published on her blog “External Mercy” and can be viewed here.

A review of Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry.

accounting

Mission is the topic of the next bit of the Guidelines Manual from Mercy Multiplied.  Once again we have some fairly good advice (although nothing that I didn’t find when I googled these sorts of key words).  They talk about a “values-based mission statement” and emphasize that this is what can be used to inspire materials and used as a “talking point” when recruiting volunteers.  They also say it should be the core of speeches and presentations.  I find it just a bit strange that these are the first points they make about a mission statement.

I think of a mission statement as being the heart of an organization…that serves to inspire the people within the organization and keep the organization on track.  I don’t know that my first thought is that a mission statement is good for (basically) fundraising, but then again there’s a lot in this manual overall that seems to have way more to do with fundraising and creating an organization than it has to do with any sort of interaction with the people who are supposedly going to be served.

True, you need to fundraise because you need money to do pretty much anything, but if Mercy Multiplied’s got this amazing monopoly on the “only” thing that works to fix all these problems like they claim, shouldn’t that sort of thing be in this manual?  I mean, you can get advice on fundraising from anywhere.  Is the secret to Mercy Multiplied amazing work with young women actually their fundraising?  Is this the advice and guidance they’ve gained through their vast experience of taking people whose lives were a complete mess and making them into a neat little box complete with a ribbon on top?  Why are we even talking about fundraising and promotional materials at this point?  Shouldn’t we at least talk about the individuals that are to be served and what they might need and how best to go about offering that?  Those things seem to be minor details when it comes to establishing a residential counseling ministry at least from what Mercy Multiplied has shared so far.

Next they go through specific steps to creating a values-based mission statement.  And when I say specific steps, I mean SPECIFIC steps.  Like a one two three how to list that a five year old could follow complete with what to tell people to write down and to have one person write this all up on a large board and making sure that you’re using the correct verb tense.  Do I think that it’s wrong to list specific steps?  No…but it’s not like this is novel information to well, anyone.  Remember too that it hasn’t even been suggested that perhaps consulting social work, counseling, psychology, psychiatry, or even medical professionals, but they’re being very sure to write out in a “simon says” sort of instructions how to write a mission statement.  Perhaps my expectations are higher for the individuals who might be reading this manual than the authors thought, but if you have to get step by step instructions on how to create a mission statement, don’t you think that maybe, just maybe these individuals are probably not ready to be opening a residential counseling ministry?  I’d love to give Mercy Multiplied the benefit of the doubt and think, well, it’s just common sense that you would consult professionals who work with the populations you are wanting to serve, but they leave me no room to do that when they specifically spell out something that in my opinion is so much less important.  I don’t know though, maybe the secret to Mercy Multiplied’s supposed success (unbelievable some may even say) is that they used the proper form of the verb in their mission statement brainstorming session.  This is obviously important enough to take up some of the very limited 41 pages (and in that 41 pages I’m counting the title page for each section that has just the sections title on it…now if we want to talk about people giving grace, I’d say that’s pretty gracious of me).  Remember this document contains the information to share the “depth of experience [their] remarkable team brings” and to explain “fundamental functions” for the establishment of this kind of ministry.

Is vision and mission important?  Absolutely.  The worrisome thing is that Mercy Multiplied seems to think this is all it takes to make people qualified to care for individuals with life-threatening medical and mental illnesses?   I know it sounds almost humorous…as if the best response would be to roll your eyes and laugh at the idea, but these are the people who are running residential treatment centers for individuals with eating disorders, psychiatric disorders, abuse histories, suicidality and histories of suicide attempts, self-harm, drug addictions, and anything else they can think of…these are real people who are using these principles to take care of young women who are being told that they are qualified to do so and have an insanely high success rate to back their claims up.  There are real people who are being offered “free help” from people who think that this is what it takes to establish a residential counseling ministry.

Let’s take a little side trail to an analogy.  What if this were a manual about how to establish an accounting firm?  What if they never said anything about needing there to be people who know anything about accounting?  What if they emphasized that what’s really important to establish a good accounting firm is that you have a good mission statement and to use to recruit people to do book work?  How would you feel about taking your taxes to an accounting firm that has decided that they won’t be licensed or certified by the government because they don’t want anything to keep them from giving you the keys to become prosperous which they solely have discovered?  Would you take your taxes to an accounting firm that offers “Bible-based” accounting leaders who instead of being certified public accountants or having experience in the financial field have instead gone through the firms special two week course on the new financial principles that they’ve found that are nine times more effective than those of certified or experienced accountants?  Would you like that accounting firm to do your taxes?  Would you hand over all your company and personal finances and just trust that they’ll take care of all of it as God tells them to?  Would you worry at all that you might have to pay penalties and fines because they didn’t do things properly?  What if there were stories of people taking their taxes there that have years later still been trying to undo the damage that the firm’s lack of qualification had caused them?  What if no one could do anything to hold them accountable because they aren’t a “real” accounting firm so they don’t answer to any certification boards or ethics rules or minimum quality standards?  What if they blew off any criticism by saying that they “meant well” or that their “hearts were in the right place”?  What if they said that having good intentions provides magical insight and training that qualifies them to be accountants…or counselors, or directors of residential treatment centers?

Would you be okay with them doing YOUR taxes?  Is that a risk you’d be willing to take?  Don’t worry about it though…I mean, it’s not like Mercy Multiplied’s doing anybody’s taxes–they’re just caring for people with mental illnesses…illnesses that people die from…no big deal, right?

No real Mercy (Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines Manual Part 3)

This piece by Mercy Survivor Anna was originally published on her blog “External Mercy” and can be viewed here.

A review of Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry.

No+MercyThe next pages in Mercy Multiplied’s manual are dedicated to the idea of vision.  There’s actually a lot in this section that I agree with — at least on the surface.  I do think that it’s important to know where you want to go with something, what your goals are, and how you intend to build the organization or business or ministry.  These are important things to consider regardless of what your endeavor is.

Mercy Multiplied says that in order to determine your ministry’s vision, you need to know your “target group” — who it is that God is asking you to serve.  They also suggest additional questions to ask that would be important while considering the question of vision.

To me though the interesting questions are the ones that aren’t being suggested.  There are questions about who the ministry will serve…criteria for acceptance…age group…etc., but there are also important questions that are missing.  How will we help the people we are “serving”?  Do we have the education, qualifications, and experience needed to accomplish this “vision”?  How will we know that we are helping and not harming the people we are “serving”?  How will we prevent the “vision” of the ministry from overshadowing the humanness of those we are claiming to “serve”?  How do we make sure that the idea or appearance of integrity doesn’t become more important than it’s actuality?

These are questions that are mysteriously missing from this section of “big questions”.  It’s not that I think that the questions suggested by Mercy Multiplied are unimportant — it’s just that there are some very important questions that they aren’t asking.  I’ll leave you to think about what other important questions they’re not bothering to ask.

There’s an interesting sentence that’s slipped in after the suggested questions.  “We strongly encourage you to seek legal counsel early on in the process regarding what licensing requirements will impact you in your location” (page 9).  Once again, it’s not so much what IS said that is of concern, but rather what is NOT said.  There’s nothing here about finding out what kind of licensing requirements will be beneficial to your ministry.  There’s no suggestion of consulting with professionals who are trained to deal with the issues your “target group” is facing to find out what best and most successful practices are.  The only professional that MM has yet suggested that someone wanting to establish their own residential counseling ministry contact is a lawyer.

See, here’s what I don’t really understand.  I agree that when you need legal advice you should consult…a lawyer.  After all, lawyers are people who have been educated by leaders in their field, trained for years in the subtle nuances of the law, have passed rigorous certification processes, and been mentored by experts in particular areas of legal matters.  This is why they are professionals — and when Mercy Multiplied says in this sentence to seek “legal counsel” it seems fair to assume that they are referring to finding a lawyer who is educated, trained, certified, and experienced.  You should remember this assumption because as foundational as it might seem, this is an assumption that Mercy Multiplied makes with regard to legal and financial matter, however, as you’ll see in future sections this is an assumption that they do NOT make with regard to other areas (i.e. psychological, medical).

Before moving into the mission section of this portion, Mercy Multiplied offers a few more suggestions to the end of “Mentoring Your Ministry”.  Two of these stood out from these bullet points:

  • There’s the recommendation that those in ministry or wanting to create a ministry should know their limits.  Now, if there’s one thing in this manual that I can heartily agree with it’s that those who are in ministry, particularly those who are interested in establishing a residential counseling ministry should KNOW THEIR LIMITS.  Too bad that Mercy Multiplied didn’t take their own advice on this one, they might have actually been able to help people.
  • Another recommendation tells would-be ministry leaders to be wary of straying from the ministry’s specific mission.  They offer an example of this from Mercy Multiplied’s personal experience, saying that since God directed Mercy Multiplied to minister to people who are “serious about working through their problems” and that if they were to “take in residents who are not sincere about changing their lives” they will decrease their “effectiveness with the residents who really want help…” (page 10).

Let’s take note though of who this puts in charge of deciding about residents’ sincerity…

Mercy Multiplied.

Think about it — this is a specific example from Mercy Multiplied’s program and highlights a foundational principle of their program that many former residents have spoken about.  Mercy Multiplied sets themselves up as all powerful in knowing and judging motives, sincerity, and willingness to change.  So what if I sincerely want to change but Mercy Multiplied thinks that I don’t?

Pretty much, too bad, because it’s Mercy Multiplied that has the final say on what’s going on in a resident’s heart.  If that seems rather judgy and condemning and un-Christ-like, that’s primarily because it is — there’s no way around it.  Many former residents from Mercy Multiplied have shared stories of Mercy Multiplied deciding that they didn’t want help or deciding that they didn’t want to “get better” even while staff was perpetuating the belief that only Mercy Multiplied had the ability to help them.  My own personal experience at Mercy Multiplied’s residential home in Nashville was tremendously impacted by the staff’s decisions about the motivations behind my actions.  But there was a big problem with that: they were wrong.  They were wrong, and they wouldn’t listen to me because they’d already decided for me.

It’s true that I’ve seen this in qualified treatment facilities as well, in my opinion negatively correlated with positive treatment outcomes, but one of the things that makes it so damaging at Mercy Multiplied is it’s not just the staff, counselors, or doctors that are declaring that a person does not want to get better (as at some treatment facilities), at Mercy Multiplied it’s “God” who is saying that.

I can’t think of a more hopeless situation to be in than to be told that you don’t want help (when you desperately do) and given no recourse to prove otherwise. I can’t think of a more hopeless situation to be in than to be told that you don’t want help (when you desperately do) and given no recourse to prove otherwise, because the last thing you need when you’re already hopeless and desperate is more hopelessness and despair handed to you by the people who are supposed to be helping you.

Guess what?  Nobody gets to decide if I want help.  Not Mercy Multiplied, not doctors, not psychiatrists, not therapists or counselors (regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof), not ANYONE except for me.  It is important for my actions to show this desire and that’s something any treatment center has to look at.  But when Mercy Multiplied narrowly defines what it means to “want help” as questioning nothing, being emotionless, and hiding struggles and has the power to tell you that you can’t be helped because you don’t “want it”, everyone gets hurt.  The people who are kicked out are hurt, the people who become convinced they don’t want help and give up are hurt, and the people who tow the party line and pretend to be better are hurt.  This is not healing…this is not transformation…this is not real mercy.

**All quotes are from Mercy Multiplied, Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry, Retrieved October 2015.  (I’d give you the link so you can buy it yourself, but as far as I can tell it’s no longer being offered for sale.  Not sure why, but don’t worry…you’ll still get my commentary on it.)

All you need is VISION…and this manual (Mercy Multiplied’s Guidelines Manual Part 2)

This piece by Mercy Survivor Anna was originally published on her blog “External Mercy” and can be viewed here.

3d7d0f901ec7ba1d4003fdc45b285fb1In the introduction of Mercy Multiplied’s “Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry“, Mercy Multiplied lays out what information they are going to be giving you.

They say that “Certain fundamental functions, processes and structures will provide a solid foundation to establish your ministry to serve your God-given vision for years to come.” (page 5)  And then tell us that Mercy Multiplied is sharing their “wealth of experience, knowledge, and information” that they have acquired.

I think it’s fair to assume that they are going to include what’s important, right, or at least what they think is important for this sort of ministry, or at least what they think is important for theirs.  So let’s take a look at the manual from this perspective…we’re getting a peek into what Mercy Multiplied considers foundational for accomplishing the same “success” they have with a similar method.

They also say that they’re not including specific details (not that that would even be possible in 41 pages).  They point out that the details are specifically serving THEIR vision and mission and that individuals establishing their own ministry need to work these out according to their ministry’s specific calling.  Keep this in mind as we’ll be coming back to these two points: Mercy Multiplied is sharing what they think is foundational and they are NOT sharing details.

Next comes the ever present, ever shared story of how Mercy Multiplied began.  Also known as the epithet to Nancy Alcorn, this tells how Nancy Alcorn worked in a correctional facility for youth and became disillusioned because the programs were not working.  She worked for Teen Challenge for a bit (who has their own sordid history and those who were harmed more than helped by the program) and then she starts Mercy, emphasizing that secular, governmental programs were tremendous failures when it came to helping these “troubled girls”.  Thus the birth of Mercy Ministries, now Mercy Multiplied and of course the three principles that are emphasized by the ministry:

  1. Don’t charge the girls to come;
  2. Tithe 10% (even though most people are donating the money to mercy as their 10% tithe); and
  3. Don’t accept state/government funding.

Next, we skip forward to the current Mercy Multiplied: Listing the locations of the homes in the US and the homes outside the US.  Funny though that Australia is no where to be seen in this “history”.  The other locations are heralded as the spreading of Mercy Multiplied beyond the US’ borders…not sure what they really thought the Australia homes were if not for that…apparently they were orphan ministries that had nothing to do with Mercy Multiplied (after they got shut down of course).  This makes me wonder, does Mercy Multiplied not learn from its own mistakes?  From my point of view they got themselves in trouble with associated homes in Australia, then backtracked to de-associate from them when those homes became the “black sheep” of the Mercy Multiplied family.  So now they’re publishing guidelines on how to replicate their ministry?

Just a warning to anyone who might use these guidelines (besides being prepared for a lawsuit), Mercy Multiplied will claim you as long as it looks good for them, but once you reflect badly on them, you will be cut off and disowned like an unsightly growth—or at least that’s what their history (the part that’s not told in this manual section) seems to show.

They go through the usual lines about who they are and what they do…and how well they do it, specifically pointing out that they often receive residents who “have been in various treatment facilities with unsuccessful long-term results”, to contrast this they claim that their approach to healing is a permanent solution that is unattainable in any other way. (page 6)

They also describe their program as “extremely successful in equipping young women with the tools they need to understand their self-worth” and share that they get daily communication from graduates “walking in freedom” (page 7).  Mercy Multiplied’s always had this thing with comparing themselves to other treatment facilities. You hear it again and again in Nancy Alcorn’s speech and even in the request of materials from graduates.

Walking in freedom is another huge buzzword for them – the implication of course is that if you are a Mercy Multiplied graduate who is still struggling, then it’s simply because you’re choosing not to “walk in freedom”.  There’s no possibility that maybe there are still things that need to be addressed, still education that needs to take place, still resources and support that need to be built up; and ultimately, there’s no possibility that Mercy Multiplied didn’t hold up their part of the bargain to get you permanently better.  It’s a syntax they emphasize that conveniently allows them to shirk all responsibility while still claiming that they are being accountable.

[All quotes from Mercy Multiplied, Guidelines for Establishing a Residential Counseling Ministry, Retrieved October 2015]

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