by Thomas Graham
One of the dominant trends in missions is cross-cultural church planting. The team approach uses members with a variety of complementary gift mixes and skills.
One of the dominant trends in missions is cross-cultural church planting. The team approach uses members with a variety of complementary gift mixes and skills.
Multiple demands are often made on these missionaries. On occasions, they will be called upon to exert a leadership role, perhaps developing indigenous leadership; at other times, they must assume the role of follower as they work with the team per se. Few team members have had much training or experience in leadership and/or team building.
While it is generally conceded that the success of a cross-cultural church planting team is greatly influenced by the leadership/followership skills, gifts, and abilities of the team members, the selection procedures used by missions organizations have often not been designed to assess leadership and teamwork qualifications among their candidates.
Traditionally, there have been four sources of data regarding the qualifications of missionary candidates: (1) application materials, including doctrinal statements; (2) letters of reference: (3) interviews, and (4) psychological tests. Application materials are often collected without a firm notion of what information is needed, or how the information will be used to predict success. This lack of clarity leads to unsystematic or imprecise evaluation of candidates.
Much of the problem is attributable to the complexity of the tasks involved. For example, it is difficult to precisely define the job of a missionary church planter. The situational, demographic, cultural, and organizational demands may fluctuate and strongly influence the nature of the church-planting task. Furthermore, the criteria for "success" in one situation may not be the same as the criteria in a quite different setting.
Personal interviews and letters of reference are generally conceded to be the least reliable procedures for personnel selection. Evidence for their predictive validity in the selection process is usually non-existent. Notwithstanding, they are also the most commonly used. Of course, both of these techniques can be improved upon, but in general they are of questionable merit. The clinical interview is sometimes an exception, but this is more often used to disqualify a candidate than to predict success.
Psychological tests are also commonly used. However, these are "derived" measures, and, while they can be useful in assessing certain general adjustment factors, it is not usually clear how these relate to task specific measures of success. That is, a person can be well adjusted and not necessarily have the qualifications or spiritual gifts for successfully performing a particular ministry.
Psychological tests measure the "traits" of an applicant. Traits are really propensities, statistical probabilities, that the person will respond in a particular way. Whether, in fact, the individual does act that way will be influenced by many situational factors. The dilemma arises when you try to predict what behavior will occur in settings in which unknown and/or highly variable cultural events interact with an individual’s propensities. Put another way, psychological tests can often be used to tell us who clearly is not qualified, but are not so well suited for telling us who will be effective in a given task.
Recently, many missions organizations have begun to look more closely at their selection procedures. There is a growing concern about the more traditional methods of selecting personnel. Missions boards are reporting attrition during the first term of between 10 and 40 percent, and the cost of sending a missionary family now runs between $35,000 and $50,000 per year. This does not include the one-time costs of getting a missionary family to the field. Clearly, the consequences of poor selection are severe. The result is often an acute sense of failure in the individual missionary, fields are not developed, and lost persons are not reached.
In order to improve selection procedures, three steps must be undertaken. First, the missions organization must be able to clearly state its philosophy and mission. This should be as specific and operational as possible. Second, and arising out of the mission statement, the organization must define the tasks/ministries that they wish to fill. Ideally, the description of the tasks should include performance criteria, whereby we can determine when a task has been successfully accomplished. Determining the criteria for success is usually the most difficult aspect of this task. The third step is determining the characteristics and qualifications that an individual must have in order to successfully perform the tasks described in step two. Missionary task descriptions often do not make clear distinctions between the task description and the characteristics required to do the task. Occasionally, we are also prone to over-spiritualize when it comes to a candidate’s ability to perform a task.
Only after an organization has carefully defined each of these three components can it design an effective, valid selection procedure. It should be pointed out that this is not a process that can be undertaken once and forgotten thereafter. Regular review of these three steps must be undertaken to ensure that the organization remains responsive to the people it serves.
What are the alternatives, then, in selecting candidates? Clearly, the very best evidence of an individual’s capability of performing a task is to observe him or her doing it. Obviously, since that is not always practical or possible, other methods must be devised. The assessment center is one such possibility. In assessment centers, multiple techniques are used which provide behavioral data from which a candidate’s ability to perform the task can be evaluated. The strength of this approach lies in the fact that actual behavior in task-related activities is observed rather than relying on presumptive evidence from test scores, application materials, references, and/ or interviews. It should be noted that application materials, recommendations by references, and/or test data will continue to be used along with assessment center data in most instances.
WHAT IS AN ASSESSMENT CENTER?
The pioneering efforts in the establishment of assessment centers occurred in World War II with the development of the British War Office Selection Boards. The British officer corps had sustained heavy losses and in order to rapidly fill the ranks with new officers, paper and pencil tests (basically intelligence) were initially used. These "ninety day wonders" did not prove to be effective leaders in battle, and so the British army began to use situational exercises to observe some actual leadership potential before selecting an officer.
After WWII interest waned, to be revived by the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA. Beginning in 1956, under the direction of Douglas Bray, American Telephone and Telegraph began using assessment centers for selecting middle and upper management personnel. Bray also carefully collected follow-up data on individuals who went through assessment centers and found that the method was highly successful. Some of the organizations now using assessment centers are: IBM, Sears, SOHIO, General Electric, and government agencies such as the Peace Corps. To meet professional standards, assessment centers must have the following characteristics:
(1) Multiple assessment techniques are used. (2) Assessment simulations are selected or tailored to relevant aspects of the task for which candidates are to be selected. (3) Multiple trained observers are used. (4) The data from all assessment exercises and instruments and from all observers is pooled and evaluated. (5) A single, final overall evaluation is arrived at by the assessment staff for each candidate.
Compared to other selection procedures, the reliability of composite ratings from assessment centers is quite good, at least for relatively short intervals. Further, the validity of assessment ratings (the extent to which they successfully predict success) is better than most other approaches. Specifically, ratings from an assessment center at their worst are generally as good or better than any other predictive approach.
THE MISSION TO THE WORLD ASSESSMENT CENTER
In 1983 Mission to North America (Presbyterian Church in America) began experimenting with assessment centers as a means of improving procedures for selecting church planters for the United States and Canada. After observing their sister organization’s success, Mission to the World (also Presbyterian Church in America) developed their own assessment centers. Prior to that time, Mission to the World (MTW) was using a selection process that consisted of evaluating information collected from application materials, letters of reference, psychological tests, and interviews. Candidates who were recommended were then interviewed by the MTW Committee.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A SUCCESSFUL CHURCH PLANTER
Before conducting their first assessment center, the MTW staff conducted a careful analysis of the activities performed by a missionary church planting team. A profile was developed describing the gifts, skills, abilities, and traits that are desirable in a church planter. The following factors were identified:
• A sense of call
• spiritual maturity
• submissive leadership
• goal/performance orientation
• discipling/nurturance skills
• psychological maturity
• functional intelligence
• communication skills
• cross-cultural adaptability
• physical vitality
• a godly family life.
THE OBJECTIVES OF THE MTW ASSESSMENT CENTER
Briefly, there are four objectives of MTW assessment centers:
1. Through the use of experiential exercises, simulations and other instrumented activities, selected and constructed on the basis of tasks expected of missionary church planters, assessors observe and evaluate the task related behaviors of MTW candidates.
2. Candidates observe and evaluate the behavior of themselves and others as they participate in experiential exercises, simulations, and various other instrumented activities.
3. Candidates will acquire new skills and knowledge through the exercises, discussions, lectures, etc., in which they participate. While assessment centers are not primarily for learning, significant new skills are acquired.
4. Assessment and training activities will focus on (1) the specific activities in which an MTW church planter will be involved in order to build God’s Kingdom, and (2) the qualifications, gifts, etc., desirable in an individual who will successfully carry out those activities.
At the conclusion of the assessment center all of the data collected by the assessors as they observed each of the candidates in the various exercises, is discussed and evaluated. Consensus is reached for each candidate, and an overall rating is applied. Each candidate then has an interview with one or more assessors in which careful feedback is given about his or her status and the next steps the candidate should take.
THE FORMAT OF THE MTW ASSESSMENT CENTER
The following will provide the reader with a rather brief overview of the activities that are included in a typical MTW assessment center.
Orientation Session. This session brings candidates and assessors together for the first time and the stage is set for the ensuing days. Candidates are told what to expect-that they will be expected to actively participate in a series of exercises which are designed to evaluate their performance in tasks that are related to those in which an organizing pastor would be involved. They are not in competition with one another, nor is there any quota for how many can be selected. MTW can use all of the church-planting missionaries that it can get.
Personal Profile/LEAD Administration. The Personal Profile is an instrument that is very useful in identifying an individual’s work behavioral style. Candidates usually become quite enthusiastic during the scoring and interpretation of the Personal Profile and it also serves as an ice breaker. The Leadership Effectiveness and Adaptability Description (LEAD) Instrument provides candidates with information about their flexibility and adaptability in applying leadership techniques. The interpretation of the LEAD follows the Oikomenia Role Play exercise where its impact is greatest.
Orientation to Cross-Cultural Church Planting. This session provides an opportunity for the MTW staff to explain MTW’s philosophy and goals for church planting in urban centers throughout the world.
Call Presentation. Each husband/wife team (or single) is required to make a 30-minute presentation in which they describe their respective calls to cross-cultural ministry and particularly to church planting. They are encouraged to be specific about how, when, where; key influences, etc. They are asked to describe their concept of family ministry, their gift mixes, etc., and to discuss the directions of their spiritual growth. These 30-minute sessions are interspersed throughout the assessment center to keep them fresh and interesting. After each presentation prayer is offered for the person(s) making the presentation.
Prayer/Praise. Volunteers from among the candidates conduct prayer and praise sessions each evening, in which both candidates and assessors participate.
Oikomenia Role Play Exercise. Candidates are assigned to small groups of six to eight. This is a case study of an actual missionary church-planting team. This team is having some success in meeting its objectives, but is also having considerable inter-team friction. Since the actual Personal Profiles are known of the original team members, candidates are assigned to play roles based upon the similarity of their own style. The group’s task is to deal with team tensions, as well as meet objectives. A leaderless group case analysis follows the role play. The assessors observe the group process to determine leadership patterns, group dynamics, etc., that emerge. The case study is followed by a lecture and handout on the subject of team effectiveness.
Analysis of LEAD Scores. The LEAD Instrument provides information about candidates’ leadership styles, their ability to adapt their leadership style to people, and their ability to develop leadership skills in their followers. This will be related to the problems of the Oikomenia Role Play Exercise.
Cross-Cultural Evangelism Exercise. This session begins with a short lecture and discussion of the difficulties encountered in entering a new culture, culture shock, and exploring ways of understanding the new from what we know about our own culture and our individual methods of coping. The group is divided into two teams, playing either the alpha or beta culture in the BAFA/BAFA game. In this game the two cultures initially send representatives to the other culture to attempt to discover basic cultural rules and values and to adapt to the other culture. They are then asked to develop a plan of evangelism that will be most effective within the opposite cultural context. This is followed by a general discussion between candidates and assessors regarding cross-cultural issues, evangelism, contextualization, etc. References and handouts are provided. Candidates evaluate team members for their effectiveness on their various approaches to contextualization.
Team Strategy Development Exercise. This is an analysis problem. This is a macro-church planting exercise in which demographic data is provided about an urban area in the world that is a prime target area for church planting. The task for candidates is to study the background information and to develop some strategies for planting churches in the area. They are then asked to prepare a written plan, a phased approach through which five new churches and a presbytery can be established within 10 years. Candidates are required to form teams in any fashion they wish for this exercise with only two restrictions: husbands and wives must be together and the groups should be as equal in size as possible. Teams will spend four to five hours on this exercise.
Strategy Presentation. Based upon the plan developed in the previous Strategy Development Exercise, each team will make a presentation to the assessment staff. It is expected that this presentation will be well organized and show a high degree of professionalism. The plans, as well as the presentations, will be evaluated by both candidates and assessment staff.
Individual Interviews. Individual interviews with candidates are scheduled by the assessment staff during the Strategy Development Exercise. During these interviews the assessors follow up on issues that are more appropriately discussed individually, and/or to respond to questions that have arisen during the exercises. It will also be an opportunity for candidates to discuss matters of their own choosing.
Feedback Interviews. After the final assessment staff meeting has been conducted and a final composite rating has been determined for each candidate, feedback interviews are scheduled. Each candidate is given information about the strengths and weaknesses perceived by the assessment staff. Finally, each candidate is advised of the recommendation that the staff will make regarding their candidacy. Candidates are asked to complete a written evaluation of the assessment center after the close of all activities.
Thus far, 102 MTW church-planting candidates have attended assessment centers. In addition, almost 150 candidates have attended assessment centers for Mission to North America. The selection ratio has been about 66 percent. While one might expect that there would be considerable stress associated with this process, there is almost always an atmosphere of warmth and togetherness among candidates and between candidates and assessors. To a great extent, this is due to the air of openness that is fostered as well as the importance attached to providing candidates complete, accurate, and constructive feedback at the end of the assessment center.
Those candidates who have not been selected are shown the greatest concern. Some candidates who are not selected are potentially qualifiable with further experience, maturity, and/or training. Candidates often begin to prayerfully examine their call and their gift mix for church planting more closely and, as a result, are sometimes led into a ministry more suited to their gifts. In a significant number of cases, candidates have an opportunity to explore aspects of their personality, marriage, and/or spiritual walk, and this produces constructive changes as well as generating new vigor and enthusiasm in their ministry. In other instances, individuals become aware of areas in which they need to acquire additional training (e.g., leadership).
How successful these missionary church planters will be is yet to be determined. The data regarding the success of U.S. church planters selected in Mission to North America assessment centers is very encouraging. The correlation between final assessment ratings and measures of growth in newly organized works is strong. Since the process of getting a missionary church planter to the field requires a number of steps (e.g., building the team, deputation, etc.) data regarding the success of MTW church planters is slower in coming. The reaction of MTW and MNA Committees, presbyteries, seminary and Bible college students, and administrators to this experience with assessment centers has been extremely positive and great interest is being expressed in developing other generic types of assessment centers.
The use of assessment centers is not a panacea that will eliminate all of the problems in selecting missionary candidates. Further, they require considerable effort to perform a careful task analysis and to define candidate characteristics. It takes still more time to develop exercises that accurately simulate aspects of the cross-cultural church planter’s task. Obviously, the expense of the development work as well as costs associated with bringing candidates and assessors together for a four-day period will seem high compared to other selection procedures. To put the matter into proper perspective, however, one must balance the costs of attrition against the cost of an assessment center.
The Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave mount Gilead.’ So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained,
But the Lord said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, this one shall go with you, he shall go; but if I say, This one shall not go with you, he shall not go."
…"Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink." Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
The Lord said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands" (Judges 7:2-7, NIV).
Copyright © 1987 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.