If you want . . .

to learn how to assess personal and professional formation

Assessing Personal and Professional Formation
A Resource for Committees on the Ministry


Committees on Ministry have always been involved in assessing the personal and professional formation of their Members in Discernment. The difference made by the Ministry Issues Pronouncement is an affirmation that the formation of ministers is a lifelong process. Not only do ministers differ significantly in terms of which Marks of personal and professional formation they manifest, but they differ in how long it takes them to grow into these marks. COMs are encouraged to take a long view. No one is ever expected to have completed or finished the Marks; ministry, as life, is a continuing journey of transformation. That having been said, committees need not authorize all persons for ministry in and on behalf of the church.

This resource is designed as a piece to be read in advance of working with MIDs or as a workshop that takes about one hour.

I. Fixed or Growth Mindset
Are ministers born or made? Often much is made in the ministry about how some people just seem naturally disposed to be good pastors. But, in fact, no one is born a pastor. We may miss the hard work and intentional self-awareness that go into becoming a pastor if we emphasize inborn dispositions. An individual can actually work at becoming, say, more honest or more compassionate or more of a “people person.” As members of your committee, you probably vary in your beliefs about whether such marks of personal and professional formation are “inborn,” “natural,” or “always growing.” In other words, some of you may insist that ministers are born while others may believe they are made.

  • Take the following simple quiz to see where you may stand on the question of whether personal and professional qualities for ministry are “fixed” or “growing.” The quiz is borrowed from Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006), pp. 12-13.
  1. Your ministerial qualities are something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change your ministerial qualities.
  3. No matter how what ministerial qualities you have, you can always change them quite a bit.
  4. You can always change substantially what ministerial qualities you have.

    OR

   1.  You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
   2.  You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
   3.  You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
   4.  No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.


(In each case, numbers 1 and 2 are the “fixed mindset” statements while numbers 3 and 4 reflect the growth mindset.)

  • Question for discussion: How do your answers impact your work as a committee assessing other persons’ readiness for ministry?


Even if you are someone who thinks ministers can always grow more qualified, you may hesitate when an individual comes before you who seems very “green.” Some committee members may feel that it is fine to authorize someone for ministry who has no significant problems but still has some growing up to do, seeing in them “potential.” Others may wish to wait until a person is more fully formed. Obviously these are judgment calls that can be difficult to make because often highly subjective. But knowing your own biases in this regard—quite apart from the judgments you have to make about particular MIDs—can help you work together as a committee. You will know more about how each of you makes decisions.


II. Ongoing Assessment through Observation
When it comes to assessing personal and professional formation for ministry, there simply is no substitute for spending time with a person. For one thing, a MID’s transcript and coursework and portfolio cannot reflect their whole person. In particular, these documents do not report directly about qualities--like moral maturity or awareness of boundaries or resourcefulness--that characterize the marks of personal and professional formation. That having been said, there are ways to read between the lines of such formal documents to see what kinds of experiences the MID has excelled at, and conversely, ones the MID may have avoided. For example, if a MID has never in three years taken a course in pastoral theology, and has no internship or work experience in a pastoral setting, these gaps could indicate an avoidance of the pastoral role.

Letters of recommendation and tools like psychological assessments are very helpful in this regard, but even then your knowledge of the MID will come second-hand. And when you ask the MID directly about their personal formation, it is possible to get a skewed response. Individuals can produce marvelous written statements about themselves but still lack a clear sense of their own identity, for example. In addition, let us be frank about the problem of relying on an individual’s own self-assessment: members in discernment can often grasp quite quickly what it is they think your committee wants to hear. They learn to “spin” their personal stories and theologies and convictions about call so as to meet your expectations.

Therefore you will want to correlate the Marks of Personal and Professional Formation for Ministry with real-life experiences that you have encountered on your own with the MID if at all possible.
You have several options. Here is a list of several ways to observe a MID, 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, coffee hour, pastoral conversation, or other event where the MID is being a minister. 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 together with your MID, or (better yet) ask the MID to lead you in a case study. The committee becomes participant and observer at the same time. Choose a case that bears upon professional formation, e.g., one that deals with professional boundaries, and see how your MID responds. This will give you a sense of their maturity and perspective as a professional.
  • Directly observe the MID in a worship service, adult education program, meeting, coffee hour, pastoral conversation, or other event where the MID is being a minister. 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 sitting in on a youth group meeting the MID is facilitating or accompanying the MID on a pastoral visit.
  • Read written materials provided by the MID from ministry they have done, and discuss the materials together. Examples might include a reflection paper from a field education internship or a verbatim from Clinical Pastoral Education. These provide especially good opportunities for reflecting on personal and professional formation; as such formation is the focus of these experiences.
  • Discuss: Which of these options for assessment through observation can you see your committee undertaking with your MIDs?
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