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Part 3: Candidate Selection - Deciding Who Can Be a Missionary

On SafariBetween 1975 and 2005 I completed innumerable candidate assessments (I never counted them!). I was always pushed, at least in the beginnings of my relationships with a mission board, or when a new candidate person came on board, to tell them if the person should be a missionary, or not. For some of them, it was about sharing the blame, as in if a candidate went south, they could always point their finger at me. For others, it was a sense of entitlement, as in “look, I am paying you a lot of money. I want straight answers!”  

I had, and still have, a big problem with a mission organization allowing psychological assessment (and the psychological consultant administering them), to make the final decision regarding a person going into mission, for the following reasons:

1. Most assessment strategies (and the tests themselves) are excellent at describing current behavior, and most are not designed to be the kind of predictive instruments that mission leaders want them to be. To use them outside of their researched validity and reliability is an ethical violation in my profession.

2. I only see a small “snapshot” of a person’s life, while the mission candidate people see a much longer “video” of people, through the developing relationship, references, home interviews, etc. There are extenuating and explanatory circumstances that give a better understanding of the candidate than a small slice of a psychological assessment. 

3. I do not have a good idea of where they are going and serving, and while I can make educated guesses (one of my specialties!), my information should not predominate in the decision-making.

I admit that some missions were not happy with what they perceived as my reticence to make the defining judgments. I can live with that. My best work was when I came alongside the organization and helped them achieve the following:

1. I helped the candidate become comfortable with the psychological process, because I wanted them to be open for help from people like me over their career. This is probably a relic from my past, as when I started out over 30 years ago, Christian theology and psychology were mutually exclusive.

2. I helped the mission understand the strengths and weaknesses the candidate brought, and how to better care for them on the field. Also, the mission could then also know where and how to place them.

3. I wrote my reports and worked with the missionary to help them see their “stuff” as opportunities to grow and develop, and not things to be ashamed of.

When this worked, it worked quite well. And, I think, it has kept me out of the legal/ethical pitfalls that would come if I made judgments outside of the limits provided by the assessment instruments.

I also wonder if some of the positions that missions want us to take are appropriate, Theresa. Like, when I started out, missions would not let anyone who was on an antidepressant be a missionary. I think that would be an ADA violation, don’t you?

More Blogs in the "Assessments and Legal and Ethical Psychology in Missions" Series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6

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