“Testing is a way to get at the truth sideways, and if you believe that the only way to get at the truth about another person is to administer a test, then you’re not only fooling yourself, but you’re also demonstrating a very negative view of mankind. You’re saying that truth cannot be determined by asking the subject, or those who know the subject, but only by asking a testing expert. (-George Dudley, President of Behavioral Science Research Press)

Missionary candidacy is a spiritual endeavor. Men and women are answering a call from God to go to the ends of the earth to share the awesome truth that Jesus saves. They are coming, knowing that in the natural their actions will result in leaving home and family and all that is comfortable and safe. It may mean sickness and even death. This decision is crucial, personal and spiritual. It is an act of faith.

Mission organizations have the responsibility of testing and preparing its missionaries, and are very intentional about fulfilling their responsibility to send out disciples who are called and prepared for service to Christ. Today, many mission’s agencies have turned to the use of some form of psychological testing to help validate the applicant’s call to missions. They think that these tests will help predict if the candidates are fit to deal with the challenges they will encounter on the field. I believe this to be a serious mistake. I will give several reasons why this step may actually hinder the process and actually work against the unique calling that God has entrusted to these sending groups. Here are my reasons for holding to this position:

Personality tests conflict with the mission agency’s unique calling. Historically, mission agencies are birthed when a vision is planted in the heart of one who possessed a strong faith in God and a compassion for the helpless and hopeless of the world. That one believed in the power of God and in His faithfulness to keep His promises. In other words, the driving force was simple. It was God-birthed and God-centered, relying on His grace to accomplish His purpose through His Spirit. It has been my observation that most mission agencies have attempted to call men and women who have a vision and faith like their founder.

However, history also reveals that there is a dangerous tendency embedded within all Christian institutions. Over time, little “foxes” sneak in to spoil the “vines” of ministry. Some of the most well known missionary agencies have given in to this tendency. The changes are small and innocent at first. But, through time, the focus moves from faith in Christ alone to the reliance upon the methods and messages of men. Finally, the Gospel is no longer the driving force of that organization. Although most think that could never happen to them, constant vigilance must be maintained. We know from Scripture that the enemy’s schemes move not only within the black and gray areas of life, but also reach into the “white.” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Personality tests are based upon the wisdom of the world. The Scriptures call upon us to strive to be like Paul and not rely “on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.” (2 Corinthians 1:12) Personality tests are designed by unbelievers. They use norms that are fashioned from observations using non-believers as models. They do not reflect the fruit of the Spirit or the uniqueness of holiness. These norms are arbitrarily chosen by unbelieving authors and have no reference to Biblical commands. They are based upon subjective opinions of human authors and not upon statistical or objective data. Although personality tests are promoted as being a reliable tool for determining the candidate’s readiness, their validity cannot be independently verified. 

Personality tests fail to accomplish their stated purpose: The effectiveness of any test is determined by whether it is reliable and whether it is valid. Reliability refers to the ability of the test to render the same results over and over again. Personality tests fail to do this. Results change with time as the participant’s beliefs change. In other words, this test is not an objective way to measure a candidate’s readiness for a long-term commitment mission.

It is not valid in that it does not accomplish what its authors intended. The assumption is that the test will reveal hidden information that will help predict performance. Businesses have used this test to predict whether a person will be successful in a certain line of work. Independent organizations that exist to evaluate these kinds of tests have concluded that they are not successful. The Tenth Mental Measurements Yearbook records one expert’s opinion: “This reviewer’s major reservation concerning the TJTA is the question of its validity.” Consequently, businesses are moving away from using this controversial tool. One of the disturbing aspects of the Christian Church is that she often boards the train of popular methodology years after worldly endeavors have left the train.

Personality tests are vulnerable to faulty reporting. Personality tests can be manipulated and falsified. By that I mean that one can determine what an organization is looking for and shape their answers to fit the expectations of the sponsoring organization. Because one is given a choice between two extremes, it is not hard to determine what answer is more acceptable to the organization one is applying for.

On the other side, it is possible that the candidates may have a false understanding of themselves. They may have a higher or lower view of themselves in the categories presented to them. Bottom line, the test is an unreliable means to gather accurate testimony about a person’s personality. At its roots, it is built on a premise that compares man with man rather than what God declares in the Word of God. In this aspect personality tests go against God’s Word. (2 Cor. 10:12)  

Relying on personality tests reveals distrust in the testimony of pastors, the recommendations of authorities and the words of the candidate herself. As the quote above points out, using these tests reveals a faulty hope that truth can be discovered by approaching the effort sideways. Having gone through the process myself, I know just how much detail is required to move through the candidacy process. I have never had to provide so much information in all of my previous applications for Christian service positions, combined. The candidate’s life and beliefs and experience are thoroughly vetted. The information asked for and provided by the candidate, the clergy, and the references is comprehensive and should be trusted as sufficient to determine the maturity of the candidate and the conviction of a divine call to ministry.

Assuming that the personality tests could paint a realistic picture of a personality, it would still fail to depict the kind of person God uses. How would Jeremiah, Peter, Hudson Taylor, C. T. Studd, David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael or Jim Elliot do on a Taylor-Johnson test? They were radicals and non-conformists, going against the expectations and the norms of the world they lived in. God used them because He chose them. Like Paul, He used their unique characteristics and giftedness and experiences to shape unique vessels for his use. Personality tests add nothing to God’s purpose of choosing those He would use and how He would use them.

Personality tests will never prevent failure on the mission field. Do a survey of all of the major missions agencies that use personality tests. Do they still have missionaries who have personal problems so serious that they are compelled to leave the field? I think you will find that they do. They cannot look into the heart to see if it is prepared for the traps the enemy will lay down. In the end, what is essential to success of the missionary is not about personality but about faith, faith in an all-powerful, all-loving God who never fails and never disappoints. Personality test cannot reveal the essential attributes for missions: character, calling and commitment.

Finally, personality tests take from the leadership the awesome privilege and opportunity they have been given to turn to the Lord in prayer for his wisdom in the choice and confirmation of these chosen vessels. We believe in prayer. We believe that God answers prayer. Why would we turn to such a faulty, humanistic device when we can enter right into the throne room of God to seek and receive His divine guidance? It is His call. It is His mission. These are His people. I would urge us to rethink our methodology. Let us glorify Jesus Christ by turning to Him in faith and prayer being confident that He is still the Lord over His Church and the Great Commission. May all glory go to Jesus who has called us into this wonderful and holy adventure.