Local Church and Self Assessment As Key Steps in the Missionary Call – Think Fireworks

September 14, 2012

assessment, Churches

Fireworks in Manassas Park, Virginia, 4th of July 2012

In my previous Heart and How To of Missionary Assessment I mentioned five types of critical assessment that are needed for missionaries and church planters:

  • personal assessment – self evaluation of what God is doing
  • local church assessment – the evaluation of church leaders who have observed the candidate in both personal and ministry contexts
  • mission agency assessment – that’s what we do :-)
  • on-field assessment – the integration of personality, pre-field assessment and on-field performance
  • home assignment assessment – evaluation, debriefing and re-assessment after the field experience to determine what changes need to be made and what tools need to be added

Think of assessment as a fireworks show.  There is one show with different fireworks.  Each firework is unique with its special display of color and sound.  Each firework can be exploded individually or in conjunction with others for a desired effect.

Fireworks in Manassas Park, Virginia, 4th of July 2012

And yet, the fireworks aren’t the big show.  The big show is whatever we are celebrating, 4th of July, or whatever.  So with missionary assessment, each step of the process is unique and stands on its own, while the combined assessments point to the potential ability and impact of the missionary.

Today, I’m tackling the personal and local church assessment pieces.  Before a missionary hits the field or a church planter the cafe, he or she needs to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is calling and that call needs to be affirmed by church leaders.

Personal Self-Assessment Determines What God Is Doing in Your Life

Honestly, who better to determine what God is doing in your life than you?  You are the one:

  1. hearing God’s voice.
  2. putting in the time and effort to be obedient to God.
  3. allowing God to use your sin, shortcoming and failures to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ.
  4. taking personal risks in your family, work and personal life to keep priorities in check.
  5. blessing those around you with the gifts and experiences God has given for his glory.

Honestly, if these five points are not your experience, then you need some more seasoning before starting a church or moving to another culture.  Is God in it?

Local Church Assessment Affirms God’s Call for the Missionary Church Planter

The heart of local church assessment affirms the call of God on your life.  Pastors, elders and others the candidate serves with see the real life of the candidate – or they should.  Church leaders should be able to observe:

  1. spiritual gifts
  2. spiritual maturity
  3. interpersonal skills
  4. conflict resolution
  5. biblical understanding
  6. ability to think and feel and reason under pressure
  7. sense of call to ministry

This list is not exhaustive.  The point is that before I interview a missionary candidate I want to see a pastor’s reference first.  If the pastor cannot recommend this person for cross-cultural service, then why would I?  A few exceptions may exist in extreme cases, but the local church is the key piece in missionary assessment.

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7 Comments on “Local Church and Self Assessment As Key Steps in the Missionary Call – Think Fireworks”

  1. Lisa Poppen Says:

    Hi Brian,
    I agree so, so much with your post here . . . thank you for sharing it! Our organization has wrestled with the dilemma of more people attending large mega-churches and in those situations it can be difficult to find a church leader who knows this person well, has served along side them or watched them in ministry with others. There is sometimes a home group leader we can call on but to be honest, that person is usually on the very outer ring of church leadership. They are usually in a volunteer position and can’t officially speak for the church. This also causes a dilemma when trying to engage with the church in their role to help send out and support their missionary too.

    Have you experienced this type of scenario? Just wondering what are your thoughts/experience are on this?

    Thanks!
    Lisa

    Reply

    • Brian Stankich Says:

      Lisa, that’s a tough one. I appreciate you asking. Yes, in the two agencies I’ve been a part of, we’ve had that issue. Here are some questions that might help you to find your own answer and then a couple of ideas for you to consider.

      QUESTIONS

      How important is church partnership to your organization?

      If it is a high priority, then you would either: a) only take candidates with a strong church connection or b) slow down the process with the candidate until that connection becomes more viable

      Does your organization consider itself a “church”?

      If yes, maybe you can develop the candidate earlier in the process. If not, you are back at square one.

      Do you have strong training, member care and field supervision?

      If so, you might be able to get away with a slim assessment process because you can handle issues that come up with the candidate. If not, you need a very strong assessment process, including church/pastor reference, to ensure you have a strong candidate.

      Is your org committed to and resourcing the personal and career development of your members? If so, you’ll be able to work with almost any candidate. If not, you are in trouble if you don’t screen properly.

      IDEAS

      If you have a candidate without a strong church connection or who cannot get an endorsement or reference from a pastor or ministry staff person:

      1. Make it clear to the candidate that a reference is needed. In many cases, the relationship exists and if you require it, it can be found. Be persistent.

      2. Ask the candidate to get whoever knows him/her (as you suggested, a small group leader) together with a pastor to discuss the candidate. Then ask the pastor (someone from your upfront recruitment or mobilization team) to meet with the candidate about his/her story, participation in the church and ministry aspirations with your org. The pastor will know the right questions to ask from the small group leader and together with the candidate interview be able to compile a decent reference.

      3. Ask the candidate for references from other spiritual leaders he or she might know, i.e., previous pastor, friend who serves elsewhere, campus director, etc. At least you can get some key information even if it is from the past.

      4. Tell the candidate that if none of these options are viable that you’ll need to hold their application for another time. Follow up with that candidate and stay in touch and encourage them to be more plugged in at church and to develop key relationships. If this person remains on the fringe, he/she may not be the kind of person your org wants to work with.

      5. If a candidate refuses to work with you on a pastor’s reference, then end the relationship there, saying that it is an important value for your org. Don’t fudge on this one.

      In most cases when a candidate’s pastoral reference has arrived late, or not at all, we can work it out. Usually it is just a communications issue, or it got lost, or the church is disorganized, or whatever. Most candidates have a relationship with a pastor.

      In one situation a pastor barely completed a reference. It gave no helpful info at all. I had to call the pastor the morning of the candidate interview and the pastor told me on the phone that he could not endorse this candidate for overseas ministry. I was thankful and took that info to the interview. In the end, we did not appoint the candidate. I told our recruitment people that I could not interview a candidate in the future without a good pastor’s endorsement. A lot of time and money was wasted because someone dropped the ball on this issue.

      Lisa, does this help at all? What other questions does this raise?

      Brian

      Reply

      • Lisa Poppen Says:

        Thanks so much Brian, yes it does help and it gives good confirmation to what our organization’s initial thoughts have been on this in the past. We are a relief and development organization so it is not always obvious to our candidates (nor their churches) why we place such an important emphasis on the role of the church. But that is often where we get to help educate. :)

        There is also good connection between the church’s role in assessment and their role in the candidate’s support raising. All of it really boils down to the importance of an authentic relationship between the candidate and the leaders of his/her church. When assessment and support raising are done from a deep relational foundation, it is a healthy, powerful, and exciting process to watch. Mutual trust is exchanged – the candidate trusts the church to speak into areas of both strengths and weaknesses and the church is able to feel more invested and connected with this person. And in turn, the church doesn’t feel like the candidate is only coming to them out of the blue for money. Of course, for the person who is ready to go NOW and yet who does not have this in place, it can be hard to hear. It would take too much time and it feels like we’re holding them back from fulfilling God’s call. And I can get that. But the mutual blessings that can come when this is in place are tremendous. And like you said, if they reject this, then unfortunately they aren’t the appropriate candidate to serve with our organization.

        Thanks again for highlighting such important topic! It definitely gives strength and good guidelines to some our initial thoughts on this.

        Blessings.
        Lisa

        Reply

  2. Anar Says:

    Thank you for this post. One thing I’ve been wondering about is the tendency of a local church evaluating a candidate’s interpersonal skills or maturity based on their own cultural standards instead of based on what would work well on the field. Local leadership tends to raise to positions of leadership within a specific culture because they fit in well with that culture (which is a good thing), they may then tend to evaluate others by the same standard. However, I heard a sermon recently where the preacher made the point that people on the outer edges of a congregation that don’t really seem to fit in with anything may be much more effective at crossing cultures and fitting in with other cultures. He said wanderers welcome wanderers.

    My question is does anyone notice a trend of the evaluation process filtering out those that would be more effective in a different culture in favor of those that are effective in our own culture? Particularly “interpersonal skills” vary widely between different cultures. In many other cultures, the outgoing, likable North American could come off as rude, arrogant and offensive (harming their effectiveness in their ministry). But the quiet, listening, and passive North American is more likely to fail “interpersonal skills” evaluations even though that approach is usually much more effective in other cultures. Does anyone else notice this problem?

    Reply

    • Brian Stankich Says:

      Anar, you make two (at least!) key points here. I appreciate you bringing these out.

      1) Does missionary assessment favor the sending culture (especially in an American context)?

      Yes, it does. It essence, it must. Although I’ve lived in two foreign countries and been in missions for 20 years, I still have an American worldview. I can’t get away from it. So our assessment standards will and should reflect our culture because it is natural and ordinary.

      Does it mean that we make mistakes if we overemphasize American values and experience? Absolutely. But I consider this type of assessment as a baseline to start from. If the missionary does not bear some of the American marks of a missionary, he/she will have difficulty raising support (humanly speaking). It’s the same with anything in our American Christian world: seminaries, churches, etc. It is unfortunate in the extremes, but necessary in most cases, for identification and unity.

      2) Does missionary assessment consider the culture to which the missionary is being sent?

      Yes, it does, if done properly. You are right to say that it should be so. This is not easy though. If we are sending someone to Japan, it helps us to know the Japan context: culture, language, existing church standards, etc. The better informed we are, the better the assessment will be in determining whether the candidate will be successful (humanly speaking) in that culture. That means we should have someone on our assessment team who has lived and worked in Japan previously. You can imagine how difficult this would be for most organizations to provide.

      This is where the expertise of the agency comes in to play. Or if a church focuses on reaching one country, area or people group, it can specialize in their assessment as well.

      You are correct in saying then that culture and discerning culture are key components in proper assessment. That is why an assessment that is strictly American focused, say on assessing a church planter, is limited for a church planter who is going cross-culturally. Planting a church in Boston will be a lot more similar to planting a church in San Francisco than it will be in Tokyo, due to language a culture distinctions and the degree of difficulty in overcoming those distinctions.

      What do the rest of you think?

      Finally, is this a trend? Definitely. Churches who are doing mission are becoming smart about matching potential workers with the foreign context. They have learned from past mistakes and successes. Agencies who are smart are also taking culture and interpersonal skills into consideration. Ask your agency how they assess and if they don’t assess for these key pieces, find another agency.

      At the same time, keep in mind that it is difficult to assess for culture and interpersonal skills. If you don’t have an expert around, you do the best that you can.

      In a unified mission world, we would share our resources in this way. Unfortunately, we still live in a society where we do our own thing, and build our own kingdom.

      Reply

  3. Anar Says:

    Thank you for the response. A lot of what you wrote was helpful.

    You wrote, “It is unfortunate in the extremes, but necessary in most cases, for identification and unity.”

    What about MKs that follow in their parents footsteps? I don’t think this is so much of an extreme case as it makes sense and I personally have seen it often.

    However, they are not often of an American culture, don’t typically have a normal American worldview, and don’t have certain marks potential supports may be looking for. But I think many (because of their upbringing) have valuable experience and knowledge for working in other cultures.

    This may be an untapped resource, and maybe there should be some encouragement for church leaders and potential supporters to compensate for the un-American appearance these types of candidates have. I think also a stronger emphasis that unity is in Christ alone instead of in a cultural identification is important.

    “If the missionary does not bear some of the American marks of a missionary, he/she will have difficulty raising support (humanly speaking).”

    Wouldn’t it be good to try and reverse this or compensate for this in some way? Should fitting in dictate the kinds of missionaries the North American church sends out? Or is this just an inherent fault with the support raising system that is in place?

    (full disclosure: my family is currently raising support and have difficulty connecting interpersonally with American church leaders and congregations, but always seem to connect really well with cross-cultural ones.)

    Reply

    • Brian Stankich Says:

      Anar, I agree with both of your insights. Unfortunately, “should’s” only get us so far. Change comes from committed people like you willing to make a difference.

      I’d say MK’s have a lot of beneficial cross-cultural insight. It is hard to generalize, but yeah, they are probably an untapped resource in our organizations. Each MK/TCK is unique in what they could offer. One of the mistakes though made with MK’s is an assumption that he/she would have great insight or would be a great missionary, simply because of the cross-cultural upbringing. That is a burden they shouldn’t have to bear.

      I totally agree with you that our support raising system is faulty. I think missionary funding would be a lot easier, quicker and less painful if our churches had their priorities straight. Anar, what recommendations might you have to remedy it?

      Loving the discussion. The Lord bless your ministry and MPD! I would encourage you to find churches that value cultural diversity/complexity, where you will connect more easily. That would enable your strength to be at the forefront of your vision and presentations. As for the mono-cultural churches with less exposure to people different from their majority culture, see how God would use you to be a positive influence on the congregation. If you aren’t connecting with the leaders, try the regular people :-)

      Reply

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