Assessment center for interns

Six exercises conducted during a retreat for pastoral interns stimulates consideration of their future career.

Roland E. Fischer, PhD, is director of the Institute for Continuing Education of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany, Kassel, Germany.

The need for an assessment center (AC)

After finishing master’s degree studies, young Adventist pastors in Germany start their one-year internship, during which time they are coached by a trained mentor. The mentor’s task includes introducing the intern to the various fields of ministry. The mentor also interprets and evaluates the work of the intern and, finally, promotes the intern’s professional and spiritual growth. After completing the internship, the young pastor receives full employment by a conference.

Besides this mentoring process, what else can help identify and support the interns? What objective tools can be used to evaluate their professional and social skills? What may be helpful for the local conferences in deciding on their employment?

In 2009, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany installed an assessment center (AC) for interns, a process done at a designated facility. The concept of an assessment center has been developed and implemented by the Institute for Continuing Education (Institut für Weiterbildung—IfW) in Germany.

Goals and purpose

The purpose of the AC is to serve the church, that is, the local conferences, and to aid the young pastors in their professional careers. Basically, two goals are pursued.

The first and foremost goal is to recognize and enhance the interns’ potential. Their abilities and strengths should be maximized and weaknesses minimized. Besides basic professional competency, social and personal abilities are also evaluated. This will help the candidates gain a fresh look at themselves.

The second goal of the AC is to give a recommendation about employment. A team of experienced assessors may provide objective judgments in regards to proper placement of the interns.

Therefore, the results of the AC can help match the abilities of the interns with appropriate church employment, assuming the young pastors have successfully completed their first year in ministry.

How it works

For starters, to find out if the abilities of the interns meet the requirements of ministry, a job description is indispensable. The following qualifications for ministry were defined.

• Competencies in

»» theology, teaching, and preaching

»» mission, evangelism, and personal outreach

»» counseling, visiting, and pastoral care

»» personal and organizational leadership and change management

• Social competencies such as communication abilities, team orientation, and a willingness to serve

• Personal competencies such as spirituality, self-organization, flexibility, and growth

Before the AC begins, interns have to submit written documents to meet some of these requirements. After that, they will be observed in different exercises during a three-day AC period. A team of experienced assessors consists of persons from the following groups:

• Employers (conference presidents)

• Ministerial secretaries (representatives of the employees)

• Director of the institute (continuing education)

• Experienced pastors

• Church members (laity)

• Secretary of the institute

This team, comprising eight to ten persons, first studies the interns’ documents carefully. Second, the assessors have to observe and evaluate the interns during the exercises and thus get an overall impression of the candidates. After carefully discussing each person, they come to a decision about employment.

The preparation

Some months before finishing their internship, the young pastors are brought to the attention of the AC by their conferences. The candidates must supply the following documents:

Personal questionnaire. This form asks for personal and biographical information, such as their conversion experience and sense of calling. The information should also reveal their dedication to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and whatever previous church activities they have been involved in.

Previous evaluations. An evaluation from the ministerial training institution and a feedback questionnaire from a mentor have to be turned in.

Personality test. A professional psychological questionnaire should be completed, so—after being evaluated— it can be discussed with the candidate during the AC.

The assessment center

The AC itself is conducted at a retreat over three days. It starts out with a team meeting of the assessors. There they get acquainted with each other, receive further instructions, and take notice of the candidates’ written documents.

After a word of welcome and short devotional, the interns are informed about the goals and purposes of the AC. They are also told the procedures and time schedule but not the contents of the exercises. However, they do know the professional profile of a pastor and what is expected of them.

These are the exercises conducted at the AC:

Bible study. Fifteen minutes before the exercise begins, the candidate receives a Bible text with certain instructions (for example, explain the relationship between faith and law in Romans 3:21–31 and Galatians 3). After this short period of preparation, the candidate expounds on the text and teaches a Bible lesson to an imaginary student (an assessor). The rest of the assessors evaluate the theological knowledge, doctrinal balance, and didactic skills of the intern.

Missionary plan. In a group of six to eight people, the candidates will imitate the mission board of a local church. Their task is to develop a three-year plan containing the preparations of the congregation and the proposed outreach programs of the church. In this one-hour discussion, the young pastors will demonstrate their abilities to strategize some sort of mission outreach. Moreover, the assessors also look at social qualities such as team orientation, communication, and leadership skills. Finally, the outreach plan is presented to the assessors.

Counseling. In this role-play, the candidates are confronted with a problematic situation of pastoral care. They are obliged to immediately respond to it and reveal their counseling qualities. The assessors will note if they are able to react to the problem calmly and helpfully. Can they show empathy and understanding? Will they add to the solution of the problem in an appropriate way?

Church board meeting. In another group of six to eight people, the candidates have to role-play a church board meeting. A certain problem is introduced that has relevance to church life. They have to discuss the topic, balance pros and cons, and present a consensus solution. The assessors will evaluate abilities such as persuasion, debate, leadership, conflict management, and team orientation.

Self-management. This exercise is designed to evaluate the abilities of self-management, work organization, and time management. The candidates are introduced to the weekly timetable of a fictitious pastor. Then they are directly confronted with spontaneous interruptions, additional tasks, and urgent duties. They have to prioritize, reschedule, and finally present a manageable timetable.

Personal interview. Each candidate is interviewed by one or two assessors. At this juncture, certain aspects of the initial questionnaire can be deepened or reassessed. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the calling to the ministry, spiritual gifts, and strengths and weaknesses of the young pastors can be candidly reviewed.

During the whole process of the AC, the assessors make notes and fill out evaluation sheets for the different exercises. They recognize strengths and weaknesses and get an overall impression of the candidates.

On the last evening, the assessors come together to discuss each candidate and, ultimately, who should or should not be employed.

After the AC

In concluding the AC, the results are presented to the candidates in a personal discourse. Later they will receive the results in a written form. These results are also sent to the mentors and conference presidents.

The mentors are asked to discuss the results with their interns and implement the recommendations into their coaching activities. The conference presidents will consider the results when discussing the employment prospects at the conference board.

If needed, the director of the AC is available for personal interviews with the mentors or conference presidents. Then, the AC considers its work to be finished. Further support has to be given by the ministerial secretaries.

Conclusion

The AC is important. But, of course, it is not the only means available in developing the career of the interns. In the first place, the mentor coaches and promotes the young pastor; also the ministerial secretary and training programs of the institute are of great help.

However, the AC is located at the threshold between internship and ministry. The interns have a chance to evaluate and rethink their past experiences. They are also stimulated to think about their professional careers. Likewise, the work of the assessors helps the church decide on the career of the pastors.

The advantage of the AC is the distant and objective view on the candidates. Persons working closely with the interns may be too involved and thus show biases. The competent evaluation of the assessors, who come from different areas of the church, is helpful for the self-reflection of the interns. It may also grant additional insights to mentors themselves, who learn during this whole process as well.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany has found the AC to be very beneficial and plan to continue to use the AC as an additional tool in evaluating the interns and supporting the work of mentors.

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Roland E. Fischer, PhD, is director of the Institute for Continuing Education of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany, Kassel, Germany.

July/August 2010

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