If you want . . .

to learn how to assess knowledge and skills

Assessing the Knowledge and Skills of Members in Discernment: An Outline

A Resource for Committees on the Ministry

The Ministry Issues Pronouncement affirmed that Committees on the Ministry play a role alongside schools and programs in assessing what Members in Discernment know and can do. For those formed for ministry outside of academic degree programs, this work may present more challenges, but all individuals should be thoroughly assessed.

This resource is designed either to be a workshop that takes about two hours or a piece that can be read in preparation for working with a particular Member in Discernment. If it will be a workshop, use one of the cases provided by the Ministry Issues Pronouncement for a hypothetical MID. See The Case of TJ, The Case of the Farmers, or The Case of James Forrest (Draft 3.1, pp. 75-77). Note: Click on the word Draft 3.1 for a link to the document, then scroll down to the appropriate page.

I. Initial Assessment: Compiling a history of the MID’s Education and Experience

Throughout your work with a MID your focus ought to be on what this individual actually knows and can do and on what sort of person they are. However, when you are doing an initial assessment of the MID for the purposes of defining an educational and formational plan, it will be most efficient to look first at the MID’s educational and experiential history. You will want transcripts, references, summaries, and other sorts of information provided by the MID and others.

In compiling an educational and experiential history for an MID here are the basic things to look for:

  • What is the MID’s history of leadership in the church (or other contexts)?
  • Does the MID have a high school diploma?
  • Does the MID have any education beyond high school? What courses? What
    concentration of subjects? What degrees?
  • What, if any, Conference-based theological education programs has the MID completed or attended (e.g. lay academies)? What were the contents of those programs?
  • What, if any, structured UCC training programs has the MID completed? What were the contents of those programs?
  • What formal, but perhaps non-academic educational or training programs has the MID completed at work or in professional/technical certification processes? What were the
    contents of those programs?
  • Are there any other educational or training programs which the MID has completed? What were they? What sorts of knowledge, skills, or understandings did they nurture?


--For history of leadership, you will want a narrative description of leadership roles. If delivered orally, you will want to record and save the MID’s oral presentation.
--For academic programs, you will want to see an official transcript from the educational institution, ideally with full course titles and instructors’ names.
--For non-academic programs, you will want to see appropriate documentation of the MID’s successful completion, and some description of the content.

II. Correlation

Once you have collected the MID’s educational and experiential history, you will want to correlate it with The Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministers (Draft 3.1, pp. 17-21).

Using the Chart Correlating the Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministers with Educational Content (Draft 3.1, pp 142-48), write down the course(s), programs, and/or experiences from the MID’s history that you think probably covered the knowledge or skill identified in each Mark. Note: Click on the word “Draft 3.1” for a link to the document, then scroll down to the appropriate page.

Your charting work will have effectively generated two lists: You will have one list of Marks where the MID has had educational or life experience sufficient to let you personally assess his or her knowledge, skills and practices yourselves. You will have another list of Marks where the MID has no prior preparation, so that educational work is needed before you can personally undertake any assessment of knowledge and skills.

III. Ongoing Assessment: Moving Forward with the MID’s Education and Experience

Having compiled a history and having gained some sense of what knowledge and skills you can and cannot assess, you will want to develop an educational and formational plan (an EFP) for further assessing the MID. Here are several rules of thumb that may give you a few short cuts in this process:

  • A MID who has only a high school diploma or who has a bachelor’s degree containing very few or no courses in subjects like literature, history, philosophy, the arts, sociology, and the like, may very well need formal educational work in the areas of the Marks related to “General Knowledge and Skills.”
  • A MID with a bachelor’s degree with a reasonable number of courses in such subjects is probably ready for assessment in relation to “General Knowledge and Skills.”
  • A MID with no formal graduate theological study or lay school of theology work, and little leadership experience, will most probably need formal educational work related to all or nearly all of the “Knowledge and Skills Specific to Authorized Ministry.”
  • A MID who has completed an appropriate college degree and has completed graduate theological study, but not a Master of Divinity degree, will most probably need only specific formal educational work in particular areas to acquire the remaining knowledge and skills specific to authorized ministry.

As the MID moves through his or her educational and formational plan, you will continue to correlate completed courses and experiences with the Marks. The goal is not so much to “check things off the list” as it is to assure all involved that continual formation for ministry is happening.

IV. Ongoing Assessment through Observation

As stated above, throughout your work with a Member in Discernment, your focus will be on what this individual actually knows and can do and on what sort of minister they will be. To maintain this focus, there is no substitute for direct observation. That is, wherever possible, you will want to observe your MID actually doing ministry. This, finally, is the best way for you personally to assess their knowledge and their ways of putting knowledge into skillful practice.

You have several options. Here is a list of several ways to observe a MID’s ministry, from those requiring the most time and energy to those requiring the least. (Note that the observations requiring the least time and energy will also give you the least information. Participating in a MID’s worship service, e.g., yields a much richer sense of the MID’s skill at worship leadership than reading the bulletin she sends you after the same service.)

  • Participate in a worship service, adult education program, meeting, workshop, or other event where the MID is providing ministerial leadership. You will be a participant and an observer at the same time. Your presence will need no explanation, as you will simply be part of the gathered community that day. Tip: This option can include events that you orchestrate, e.g., by asking the MID to lead devotions at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Association.
  • At a meeting of the COM, work a case study or do a bible study together with your MID, or (better yet) ask the MID to lead you in a case study or bible study. The committee becomes participant and evaluator at the same time. Tip: You will want to take a moment to recognize a break between the study itself and your evaluation of it, because you will need to shift from your role as participant to your role as evaluator. In fact you might want to do evaluation at a later time.
  • Directly observe the MID in a worship service, adult education program, meeting, workshop, or other event where the MID is providing ministerial leadership. You will not be a regular participant but rather a one-time observer, i.e., a “fly on the wall.” As such, you will need to explain your presence while remaining as unobtrusive as possible. Examples include attending a seminary class where the MID is leading discussion, sitting in on a youth group meeting the MID is facilitating, or accompanying the MID on a pastoral visit.
  • Observe the MID doing ministry via an electronic format, either in real time or via a recording. Examples include watching a sermon tape or a streaming video of a program the MID has led.
  • Read written materials provided by the MID from ministry they have done, and discuss the materials together. Examples include papers, sermons, worship bulletins, curricula, presentation outlines. ote: If they are enrolled in school, some MIDs may have developed portfolios of such materials as part of their theological education assessment.)

Just to give you some ideas, here are a few examples of events where you might observe your MID exercising ministerial leadership, correlated with specific Marks:

“A thorough knowledge of, and personal engagement with, the Bible” and “Skill with methods of biblical interpretation”: a bible study
“An understanding of other religions and their foundational documents”: an adult education session on Islam or an interfaith dialogue
“to adapt the practices of ministry to the unique social, cultural, environmental, and ecclesiastical aspects of particular settings”: a spirituality group in a mental health facility
“to read the contexts of a community’s ministry and creatively lead that community through change or conflict”: a meeting of student council or student group at seminary

See also Appendix D: Resources for Assessment of Persons, (Draft 3.1, pp. 149-59). Note: Click on the word “Draft 3.1” for a link to the document, then scroll down to the appropriate page.

Discuss: Which of these options for assessment through observation can you see your committee undertaking with your MIDs?

V. Ongoing Assessment by Others

Realistically, your committee will not be able to observe all that the MID knows and can do, even indirectly. You will also be relying on others’ direct and indirect observations. “Others” include internship supervisors, seminary professors, seminary deans, pastors, and lay people. You will compile their assessments in the same fashion as you did when compiling the MID’s prior history of education and experience—through the use of transcripts, certificates, letters, descriptions, and the like.  See above.