Assessing the Assessment of Church Planters: Do We Measure Up?

The formal assessment of candidates for church planting is now well established. A number of organizations and individuals specialize in this area of ministry. They use such tools as personality tests, interviews, assessment centers, self-report instruments, and situation exercises. But how well do we measure up in assessment? Do we deliver as advertised? Now might be a good time to assess our processes of assessment. Let us ask some basic questions.

What is assessment? Assessment is like taking a picture, the purpose of which is to make an informed decision. The picture consists of relevant strengths, weaknesses, and mixed attributes regarding a candidate’s suitability for a particular job or ministry. The qualifier relevant is instructive. Not all strengths, weaknesses, and mixed attributes of a candidate are critical to making an informed decision—only those that have a demonstrated relationship to performance on the job. Furthermore, a picture is most useful when it is brought into sharp focus. Sharply-focused pictures of candidates contain accurate, impartial, and comprehensive information. Obviously, the sharper the picture of candidates, the less chance there is for poor selection decisions. (See my blog posted January 14, 2012). Like competent photographers, assessors need skills to take sharply-focused pictures of candidates for church planting.

What are the characteristics of a sound assessment process? A sound assessment is characterized by reliability, validity, and utility. A reliable assessment is accurate—one that is free of measurement errors. On a reliable scale, for example, suppose the actual weight of a person remains constant at 159 lbs. That number appears every time the person steps onto the scale. If the person’s weigh fluctuates, let’s say between 55 and 63 lbs., a reliable scale consistently indicates the actual changes in weight. An unreliable scale is inaccurate as there is some source of error in measurement. In the picture taking of a potential church planter, we should get the same picture of strengths, weaknesses, and mixed attributes regardless of who is conducting the assessment or when the assessment is conducted. We should not get one picture by one assessor and another picture by another assessor, and similarly, not one picture at one time and another picture at another time. The only exception, of course, is if the candidate actually changes from one assessment to another.

A valid assessment is useful. It yields the type of information the assessor is seeking in order to make a decision—one that is free of extraneous information. The type of information is determined before the process of assessment begins. On the Church Planter Profile, creating ownership of ministry is a key behavior category that has been predetermined. A valid assessment, for example, would ascertain whether or not candidates actually develop reproducing leadership, multiple themselves through other people, and put into place organic growth that is self-sustaining. These are the indicators of creating ownership of ministry. In the picture taking of a potential church planter, we should not be interested primarily in a candidate’s skills in writing Christian poetry, doing couple’s counseling, or developing websites. These data are critical to some ministries. But they are extraneous to predicting effectiveness in church planting.

An assessment process has utility when it is practical. While reliability and validity are of supreme importance, how beneficial is the process if it is impossible to actually take a candidate’s picture? Sometimes there are factors built into the process that interfere with or prevent taking a picture. Imagine a high quality bathroom scale based on the latest technology. It is the most reliable (accurate) and valid (useful) scale money can buy. However, the scale is so cumbersome that you can’t use it in your bathroom. Therefore, it is impractical. Numerous factors can make an assessment process impractical. For example, if assessments take too long, have prohibitive costs, or simply are not available when needed, then they lack utility.

We all should take delight in our advancements in assessment and selection. Nevertheless, I have become increasingly concerned about certain issues in the assessment process. Are reliability, validity, and utility paramount in our assessment processes? My concerns fall into two general categories: competence of assessors and integrity of the assessment process.

Competence of Assessors

  1. Adequacy of assessor training
  2. Managing assessors’ subjectivity
  3. Fair discrimination on behavior categories

Integrity of Assessment Process

  1. Misuse of psychological tests
  2. Confusing predictors with criteria
  3. Confusing reliability with validity
  4. Implying predictive validity from content validity

We have made great strides, but we can do better. Perhaps, we can have more conversations about these matters.