Written by Rachel Hackenberg
Dear Committee on Ministry colleagues,
There are occasions when MESA is privileged to partner with Committees on Ministry on in-depth projects that benefit the whole church. One such recent project has been with the New Jersey Association of the Central Atlantic Conference on the topic of psychological assessments. The New Jersey COM has worked diligently to address two primary questions:
1. Why are psychological assessments necessary for MIDs and ministers?
2. What should the COM look for in a provider?
Why are psychological assessments necessary?
For a Committee on Ministry's work, psychological assessments are critical in order to:
• supplement the COM's discernment with information from an external neutral party with expertise in the field;
• provide relevant information from in-depth study of a person's emotional make-up;
• increase the individual's self-awareness of gifts for ministry as well as potential hurdles;
• use the information gathered to build individualized plans of personal and vocational development in relationship to the Marks of Faithful & Effective Authorized Ministers;
• protect the COM, its association, and the United Church of Christ from liability issues and to show due diligence;
• provide suggestions for and/or help to meet the requirements of a growth plan (in the case of a fitness review);
• provide an in-depth assessment of an individual's fitness for ministry, in an effort to guard both the church and the individual against potential harm caused by an unfit person being authorized for ministry or called to a ministry setting to which they are not well suited.
A wide range of assessment inventories are available by professional psychological assessors. Dr. Ross Peterson from the Midwest Ministry Development Center provides the following resource on What to Expect from Candidate Assessment and a Sample Candidate Assessment Report.
What should the COM look for in a provider?
Throughout the United Church of Christ, Committees on Ministry relate to numerous centers and individual practitioners that can provide assessments for MIDs and ministers. Here are some recommended attributes to look for and questions to ask when selecting a provider:
• Does the provider focus its services when assessing those in ministry?
• Is the provider accredited or part of a larger network?
• Are the counselors professionally qualified?
• Will the provider engage with the COM regarding the types of assessments given to individuals?
• Will the provider create a report for the COM and be willing to assist the COM in its discernment?
• Do other judicatories (UCC or ecumenical) use this provider? What are their experiences?
• Is the provider welcoming of persons from a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds?
• Is the provider welcoming of persons identifying as LGBTQ?
Two other notes worth mentioning:
First: MESA is currently partnering with the UCC Mental Health Network to look at the MID process as it relates to mental health. Members of this task force include MESA team members, members from the UCC Mental Health Network, Conference Staff, and members of the Ministry Development Council. We anticipate a working paper on the topic will result from this partnership.
Second: Record keeping for psychological assessments is important. MIDs and ministers should release their assessments and any additional reports or recommendations from the provider to a member of conference staff as well as the COM. Because this information will be used for both current and future ecclesiastical discernment, the releases should not be granted to the specific name of a current staff member or COM chair but rather to the position. An excellent sample release form is provided by the New Jersey Association.
Finally, in full disclosure, I represent the United Church of Christ on the executive committee of the national board of directors for the Ministry Development Council, an umbrella organization of accredited psychological assessment centers focusing on ministerial candidates and clergy.
Holly MillerShank, MESA Team Leader
Ministerial Excellence, Support & Authorization (MESA) Team
Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ