by Glenn Taylor and David Pollock
In “The right stuff for boarding school staff” (October), psychologist David Wickstrom concluded, “It is time to recognize the vital role of missionary boarding schools and to staff them with the best staff possible.” The logical question is, How do mission agencies select “the best staff possible”?
In “The right stuff for boarding school staff” (October), psychologist David Wickstrom concluded, “It is time to recognize the vital role of missionary boarding schools and to staff them with the best staff possible.” The logical question is, How do mission agencies select “the best staff possible”? What desirable personality characteristics and qualities should prospective staff have? How can we find the best people and weed out the unworthy candidates?
We start with preliminary screening of candidates with tests and interviews that focus on the desired personality characteristics, then follow that with training and orientation. One study indicated that only 39.6 percent of the subjects had either pre-field orientation and training, or some cross-cultural experience.1 This despite the fact that cross-cultural adaptation appears to be related to the length of the orientation and training program. These researchers called for both prefield and on-the-job training, plus training during home assignments. They recommended that agencies develop more training facilities and programs.
When it comes to desired qualities, researchers found their subjects put a far greater emphasis on relational, emotional, and spiritual maturity (and the practical outworking of this in their relationships) than on professional knowledge and skills.2
Obviously, agencies have to evaluate other things, too, in their candidate selection. But, they need to focus on the personality characteristics and qualities that lend themselves to prefield selection, screening, and training.
PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS AND DESIRED QUALITIES
Fortunately, researchers have identified the personality characteristics of the ideal administrator, teacher, and boarding home parent.3 In another study, researchers identified the major qualities desired in administrators, teachers, and house-parents.4 These are the themes that emerged from their survey of 180 boarding school people: (See charts, pp. 36, 37).
Researchers also asked the 586 subjects in the study to rank the relative importance of the major elements in their prefield orientation. Only 143 of them (24.4 percent) had received such training. Interpersonal relationships with colleagues was considered the number one priority, followed by self-knowledge.
PREFIELD SCREENING AND TESTING
These desirable personality characteristics and qualities may be identified by prefield psychological tests. However, mission board staff recruiting missionaries for boarding schools need to know about significant cautions and limitations associated with these tests. (The authors have offered to provide a bibliography.—Ed.)
It is essential that the testing instruments be administered and interpreted by qualified, trained professionals. In screening and evaluating people, we must also apply a pastoral perspective which can clarify the relationship between a person’s giftedness and the use of those gifts in cross-cultural ministry.
The testing instruments come under four general groupings:
1. General personality integration, adaptation, and emotional stability. Researchers have found that many of the characteristics and qualities desired in boarding school personnel would require a considerable measure of emotional health and stability. There are several psychological testing instruments that can be of great assistance in such assessment. One of the most commonly used is the MMPI (either 1 or 2). It identifies major personality characteristics that reflect an individual’s personal and social adjustment or maladjustment. Pathology, depression, authority problems, dissociative thinking, tendencies to somatization of illness, and stress prone personalities can be identified. In addition, areas of strengths can also be identified.
Two other instruments that are helpful in this area are the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire and the Test of Attentional and Interpersonal Style. The former identifies neurotic tendencies, as well as many relational strengths. The TAIS is especiallyhelpful to understand the possibility of attentional overload, and issues of impulse and behavior control.
2. Interpersonal functioning and effectiveness. In addition to these tests, the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation instrument, the California Psychological Inventory, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are very helpful in helping individuals and those assessing them to understand their patterns of behavior in relationship to others. They identify personality characteristics important in social living and interaction. Preferences and patterns of relationship in vocational settings may be identified, as well as many of the attitudinal contributors to this behavior.
These tools can help us assess both one’s response to leadership and the pattern one is likely to demonstrate in a leadership role. Placement considerations, such as whether one is likely to function well as a team member, or if one should be placed in a situation requiring initiative and the absence of supervision, may be aided significantly by these instruments.
3. Marriage and family relationships. Two very common instruments help in understanding the spousal relationship. They reveal the degree to which a couple meet each other’s interactional and emotional needs, and how they function in their family setting. The Partner Relationship Inventory and the Marriage Counseling Report Worksheet can be very helpful. Cross-cultural ministry brings significant stress to the marriage relationship. Other research identifies parent-child relationships as being crucial to the well-being of children.
It is of utmost importance to assess the degree of agreement and awareness that husbands and wives have of the impact of their relationship on any ministry they may enter. When boarding school parents take responsibility for the nurturing needs of children separated from their parents, it essential that they have a full understanding of family dynamics and behavior patterns. This is especially the case if one analyzes the data above with reference to the boarding home parent and the qualities desired if they are to function well.
4. Ability to cope with the normal stresses of life and ministry. Researchers have developed tests arising out of the last three decades of research and understanding of our response to stress and the resources that enable one to cope with those pressures. Two instruments with similar names but with somewhat different approaches are the Coping Resource Inventory and the Coping Resources Inventory for Stress. They help us understand one’s personal resources for coping with stress. They identify those used most effectively and those that need strengthening. These tests are used in medical, military, business, and college settings. They can predict the likelihood of someone’s functioning effectively in stress-filled environments. With the high-stress environments in which missionaries serve, we need to assess the candidates’ ability to cope.
VOCATIONAL INTEREST INVENTORIES
Candidates may not have a clearly chosen or defined vocational ministry for which they are trained, so it may be helpful to use instruments such as the Strong Interest Inventory, or the Jackson Vocational Interest Survey. These identify areas of interest from very general themes to very specific occupations. Many candidates will have already determined the information from these tools.
A comparison of the desired characteristics and the qualities reported in the MK-CART/CORE research—and the potential discovered in these standardized tests—will show that there is considerable correspondence between the two. It seems clear to us that ministry grows out of giftedness. It follows, therefore, that the more we can learn from these testing instruments, the better decisions we will make about selection, screening, training, and placement. In addition, we can get much helpful information about coping with stress and responding to authority.
THE POTENTIAL IN PREFIELD TRAINING
In selecting and training candidates, we have to face the myth of perfection. We have to construct ideal models as templates for selection and training, but we must recognize that people are in process of becoming. Issues of both “nature and nurture” must be considered. Colleen Kelly and Judith Meyer, in the introduction to their Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory, state that “adaptability has been found to involve both personality traits and learnable behavior.”
Screening and testing must enable us to screen out persons not gifted or suited by personality and interpersonal functioning to be effective. We should also identify giftedness, spiritual and character traits, and the inclination to grow into opportunities of ministry. We also need training that will enhance “learnable behavior.” It should also include ongoing assistance in development, plus shepherding and supervision in ministry.
We have to evaluate the level of performance in the areas identified as necessary to ministry. This will include nurturing that predates departure and continues through service, to the completion of the assignment and into the adjustment process following the assignment. Obviously, such a process is a team effort involving churches, service agencies, and the agency under which the person works. Coordination for this must come from the hiring agency using a variety of outside service agencies.
One model for this is the eight-year history of a combined effort of three organizations in providing a prefield orientation module for mission agencies. In 1987, with Phil Renicks as director, the first cooperative prefield orientation for teachers and boarding home parents in MK schools was co-sponsored by the Association of Christian Schools International, Interaction Inc., and Missionary Internship. During the first two weeks of July, a variety of experienced staff members from those agencies, plus several others, assist the new school personnel to develop some basic understanding of the challenges and tasks before them. They also help to shape the expectations and direction of their own growth.
A prefield orientation of any length is limited in totally redirecting behavior. However, the direction is set for the candidate to address issues of individual personality adaptation, interpersonal relationships, marriage and family issues, stress experiences, and vocational issues in the light of the several new cultures and subcultures they will face. Challenges in these categories will come from the host culture, the culture of co-workers, the subculture of the mission community and mission agency, and the subculture of the educational institution. The prefield experience raises awareness and helps to set expectations for the reality to come. Eight years of observing the results indicate that the surprise element, and thus, the shock effect, is reduced by this prefield orientation.
No prefield preparation can reshape candidates or completely reset their direction. Mission leaders must continue the process on site. A well-thought-through nurturing process that is sufficiently individualized is essential. Well-trained personnel are needed to provide regular assistance and counsel. Other “visiting” personnel can complement the flow of care.
A template for excellence in MK care must exist and selection must be done in light of it. However, it is essential that we not only set the target, but also correct the aim of imperfect and developing people.
The qualities and characteristics desired in boarding school personnel, to a significant degree, can be identified through prefield screening and testing. They can be enhanced by focused prefield training and orientation. Such training and nurture should be a part of every person’s career through a system designed to enhance one’s giftedness in cross-cultural ministry.
1. David L. Wickstrom and Leslie A. Andrews, “Personality Characteristics at Selected Overseas Missionary Boarding Schools,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1993, Vol. 21, No. 1.
2. John R.Powell and Leslie A. Andrews, “Qualities Desired in MK Boarding School Personnel: A Preliminary Study,” Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1993, Vol. 21, No. 1.
3. Wickstrom and Andrews, op. cit.
4. Powell and Andrews, op. cit.
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