The Art & Spirit of Church Planter Assessments

O.K. I confess. I am an obsessive assessor. Almost as soon as I meet people I pop the questions, “So tell me, have you ever started anything from scratch? What has given you the greatest sense of satisfaction in your life? In what ways do you usually associate with people who are different than you?” Over 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.

This is what I mean:

A few years ago, I watched Jason being assessed. The person who interviewed him asked about his relationship to people different than himself, and Jason said he had no relationships with people who were different from him. That response triggered a mechanism that almost doomed Jason to fail the assessment. Jason, though, was a Caucasian living with an African American family, worked in an African American church, ran a food and clothing program that reached mostly Latinos, and had a heart to work among Muslims. He honestly saw other people as peers and co-laborers. It took just those additional observations to rescue him. Today, Jason is a church planter extraordinaire.

Scott is a seminary student who feels drawn to church planting. When I assessed him recently, it turned out that he scored fairly low in his visionizing capacity. That seemed out of step with my other observations about Scott, including my spiritual discernment about his ability to plant an effective church. As I probed deeper, it turned out that his experience on staff at a mega-church had hampered rather than enhanced his skills at developing, communicating, and carrying out a vision. What that staff position had required was strong implementation ability. They already had a vision, and all they required was a staff person who could lead others to carrying out their pre-set ideas. I put Scott in a new church setting for his last year of seminary, where he had to be creative, think on his feet, and dream with the church starting team. He is flourishing there, and is released to develop in a way he could only have imagined at the mega-church.

Ronald scored high in every way on a church planter assessment, but as he told his stories I did not sense God’s direction to deploy him immediately as a church planter. Towards the end of the interview time, I discovered that he had never been part of a church larger than seventy persons, and had learned to pastor inside of the culture of one particular ethnic group. That was fine, except that Ronald, a second generation American, really wanted to plant a multi-ethnic church that was large enough for him to support him to work full time and allow his wife to stay home with their children. What Ronald needed was an internship in a growing new church that would allow him to develop a broader, though not necessarily better, spectrum of leadership skills in a multiethnic setting.

In my experience with assessments, these kinds of occurrences are not really anomalies. Assessors, when possible, should be men and women with spiritual gifts of discernment, the patience to listen closely to both potential planters and the voice of God. Online assessments are only an initial indication of a person’s ability to plant a church. Somehow, we must get to the art and the heart of the matter.