Yes, that’s my senior photo from the high school yearbook.

Many seminaries and denominations require some level of psychological testing and evaluation for people who want to become pastors. I’m on board with the concept—the last thing we want is a bunch of narcissists in charge of churches. But I do question the effectiveness of some of these evaluations.

The two things I remember from my own evaluation are that: 1) I am a liar because of course EVERYONE has done drugs at some point and 2) My marriage is in dire danger because I don’t fight with my spouse enough. These insights were: 1) Not true (I’m not a liar or particularly passive aggressive. Just basically boring.) and 2) Completely unhelpful for my preparation as a minister. Plus, they let me be a pastor anyway because I guess the world needs more dishonest, passive aggressive pastors?

Perhaps a better method of evaluation—and I suggest this based on a random idea that popped into my head a few minutes ago—would be to ask prospective pastors about their high school experience. That interview might have gone something like this:

Psychologist: So, Joanna, tell me how you felt about doing group projects in high school.

Me: Ugh. Group projects were the worst. Either someone else took over and I was left to do their grunt work, or, most often (fine, basically all the time), I took over and was left to do all of the work.

P: Other people just left you to do everything? That hardly seems fair.

Me: Well, I guess usually they did the work, but they did it wrong, so I had to fix it. It would’ve been easier to do everything myself.

P: I see. Yes. Let’s move on. Umm. How did you handle major assignments? Like projects or longer papers?

Me: I thought about them a lot. And felt really stressed. Then I started working on them the night before they were due. Then I got tired of working on them and made chocolate chip cookies—you know, to help lower my stress level. Then I finished the paper or project some time before it was due. Usually.

P: And what about friends? Did you have a large social circle?

Me: I had the best lunch table. There was a guy who self-published a Christian Heavy Metal magazine and a guy who wore a turban, and a Mormon guy (but we’re supposed to say members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints now). And I went bowling with my girlfriends on prom night. . . . Oh yeah. This one really cute and popular football player was pretty nice to me. But I think that was mostly because I let him be my lab partner. (Remember what I said about group projects?)

P: Right. And what extra-curricular activities did you do?

Me: I wrote for the school newspaper. We did this one great story where a bunch of us signed up to take ballroom dance classes together and then wrote about it. Plus we would pick random archaic words to use in each issue and see if anyone else noticed. . . . Oh. Does correcting other people’s grammar count as an extra curricular activity? I went to calculus club sometimes—but I never took calculus. (Math is hard. Not because I’m a woman, just because it’s hard.) Plus I was in forensics (the speech competition, not the crime solving kind) so I walked around talking to myself a lot. I never did debate, though, because that seemed like way too much work. Plus I didn’t want to have to think about or argue positions I didn’t agree with.

P: Yes. I see. Well. I think we have all we need here.

On second thought. It’s probably good I did the standard psych evaluation.

Joanna Harader serves as pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS, where, despite her inauspicious teenage years, they seem to like her well enough. Her blog is 

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5 thoughts on “Wits-Ends-Day: Early Warning Signs

  1. I remember my evaluation having a lot of factual errors in it. I pressed on one, which they fixed, but the others didn’t seem to be a big enough deal to fight over. Friends of mine had bigger errors. So while the experience gave me some insights about my gifts and challenges as a pastor, I didn’t find it to be a very effective evaluation tool, as some of the basis for the report was not true.


  2. If it’s the MMPI, people tend to react to it literally. It’s a much more complex tool than it seems to those not trained in working with it. And I know for sure that it screened out one person who definitely needed to be screened out. And all those things you confessed to (very much like my own) were probably picked up as well.


  3. If memory serves, I seem to recall thinking the whole thing seemed to say a whole lot more about the evaluator and the committee process than it did about me . . . Hmmmm.


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