On the Art & Spirit of Church Planter Assessments: A Reply to Linda Bergquist

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In her thoughtful blog of December 17, 2012, Linda Bergquist made the following observation: “Over the many years of practicing assessment as a way of relating to people, I have come to believe that the process is more art than science and more Spirit than strategy.” She then provided three cases—Jason, Scott, and Ron—to substantiate her point of view. Decisions positioning each of these individuals for church planting entailed what Bergquist called discernment, a quality that extended beyond the technical process of assessment.

I wish to thank Linda Bergquist. She is on point when she states that assessors need to be discerning and listening to “both potential planters and the voice of God.” With that said, I would like to offer a point of clarification, which I hope will add to the conversation.

Although the process–as she deems it–is more art and Spirit, this does not invalidate the importance of science and strategy. To be fair, Bergquist did not invalidate their importance. I am simply providing the complementary perspective.

Assessments are never a scientific process (discovery of natural phenomena), but they do consists of strategies and techniques that are based on scientific principles. They are analogous to technologies which work only because their designs are based on science. Consider two scientific principles that undergird sound assessment–behavioral consistency and criterion-related predictive validity. In the former, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, or more precisely, the best predictor of patterns of behavior is established patterns of behavior. This principle is a well-documented in the social and behavioral sciences. For instance, someone with an established pattern of conflict avoidance is a sure bet for avoiding conflict in the future and allowing it to escalate. The aim in assessment of identifying this pattern requires strategy. The strategy enables the competent assessor to explore for the pattern across real time, place, and various individuals.

In the later, the stronger the relationship of the predictor to performance on the criterion (work setting), the more valid the predictor. For instance, managing conflict is no doubt critical to the work of people in leadership positions, but it may have negligible relevance to the work of the grounds keeper. This is not to suggest that the work of the grounds keeper is any less important than that of the leader. It is simply to say that the nature of leadership involves intense and ongoing interactions with people, and people are prone to conflict with each other. The nature of grounds keeping may not have similar performance requirements.

Ultimately, assessors need to exercise good judgment about the future performance of church planters. Even when invoking art, discernment, and the Spirit, assessment comes down to making a judgment about future performance. Human judgment always involves an element of subjectivity. After the facts are gathered, interpretation of the facts figures into the mix. On this point, science does not invalidate discernment, and discernment does not invalidate science. We need God-fearing and discerning assessors who are skilled in assessment interviewing.

  • Linda Bergquist

    I have used the Ridley church planter assessment for many years, and am quite honored that he chose to respond to my previous post. That assessment works well for me, and people who know me well laugh at how frequently I pull out his assessment questions among people I have never met, but with whom I hear a small Spirit whisper, “Maybe this one is ready to hear God’s call to plant a church.” Yes- that intersection of art and science/ strategy and spirit is helpful and hopeful. In a few weeks, a new book I co-authored will be released. It insists that many, many more people than we think can plant churches actually are being called to do so. It starts with the character of the planter rather than skill sets. Much more difficult to assess, and much more reliant on faithful churches that raise up, confirm the calling, send out and bless missionary planters.