Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Michael Gatlin has been the Vineyard Church Multiplication Coordinator for the past few years. Today we got to sit down with him and Steve Nicholson for a conversation about part of our church planting discernment process. Steve has been involved with pastoring, assessing, encouraging, and assisting church planters both inside and outside the Vineyard movement for over 40 years. He is the senior pastor of the Evanston Vineyard, which has sent out 23 church plants over the years. Michael and Steve have worked together for years, training, equipping, and encouraging church planters.
We believe that every time someone comes to us to explore the possibility of life in ministry and possibly church planting in our movement, God has given us a precious gift in that person, and we want to do our very best to help each of them determine what God is up to in their lives, and to find the optimal fit in ministry. To that end, we’ve developed a process that perfectly fits our Vineyard culture—a highly relational discernment process that takes place over four conversations between the potential planter, the sending pastor, and the Multiply Vineyard team.
Church planting is such a challenging and often stressful endeavor that when we undertake it, all our weaknesses get exposed. We want to help church planters and those sending them out understand their weaknesses before they begin so that they can really get some help and healing beforehand, and the people coaching them will be better-equipped to help them avoid burnout and failures. So a couple of years ago, we began to engage Campion Barrow and Associates to help us out. They offer professional psychological services and assessments, and are able to provide a really good outside view of what each specific church planter’s strengths and weaknesses are before they enter the maze of actually planting a church.
The Campion assessments have become part of the fourth conversation in our discernment process. Since the assessments are not free, and many people aren’t familiar with what they do, we’ve had a lot of questions about what purpose they serve and whether they are worthwhile. Here’s what Michael and Steve had to say:
MG: Hey Steve, when I first had the idea of introducing these Campion assessments, I remember you weren’t such a big fan, partly because of how much it costs, right?
SN: Yes, I think at the beginning it was a little bit of a surprise, because we were already paying some money for the planting application and the CPCA assessment, and then all of a sudden there’s this extra amount of money—a considerable amount—for the Campion Assessment. So my first question was whether this was really going to be worth it, or whether it would just be going over the same stuff that we already knew for free. So I wanted to find out how it worked, and I wanted to be a team player, so I went along with it. [laughs]
MG: [laughing] And I appreciate that so incredibly much. And you’re right, it’s $415 for the Campion.
SN: And it’s a real shock that it’s $415 per person, but if you’ve got a married couple, it’s $770. So by the time you do that with everything else, you’re basically putting down a thousand dollars.
MG: And it’s the kind of test where you have to set aside a half a day to sit and just fill out bubbles. So what in those bubbles is worth $415 per person?
SN: Right. I recently did a very similar version of these tests myself, along with my wife, so we’ve been on both sides of it. It’s really three tests that are measuring three different things. A lot of them are not tough questions, necessarily. As you are taking the tests, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything complicated or strange about it. For instance, you don’t get the feeling that they’re assuming you’re crazy before you’ve even started and you have to prove you’re sane. It’s very straightforward. But what you get on the other end is just astounding. I can think of two church planting couples in particular where the feedback session was just jaw-dropping. They were able to hone in on key issues in the people and in their relationship in an astonishing way. The only thing like it that I can think of is sitting in on a session with one of the most gifted prophetic people that you’ve ever seen. How they get all that out of the bubbles is a mystery to me, but it is truly amazing.
And as the sending pastor, they do send me a summary of the results, but it’s hard to make sense of it until the feedback session.
MG: Yeah, you almost have to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist to understand what you get. So the feedback session is about an hour long, and typically it’s you as the sending pastor in the same room as the person or couple being assessed.
SN: Yeah, you do a Skype call with someone from Campion Barrow and Associates, and they always insist that you do it with the couple and their sending pastor all in the room together. They’ve got a team of people on staff, and one of them turns all the results into narrative form and talks you through it.
They are very personal and pastoral in the way they present the feedback. It’s very gentle, but very clear and precise. At each point they double-check—”does that seem right?” They make sure the people are tracking with them so that somebody isn’t saying “well that’s not me at all.” And the results have been so tremendously insightful that, next time we do it (and there will be a next time), I’m looking forward to the feedback session, because it’s such an amazing experience.
MG: So Steve, I think you’ve done this with two church planters now, right? And both times you felt like “gosh, that was worth it”?
SN: Oh it’s more than worth it. Honestly, in retrospect, I’d say that it was a bargain. In one case, they were able to discern, just from the bubbles, that the wife was for the church plant, but she didn’t think they were ready to do it yet. It didn’t even ask that question in the test!
MG: And probably if they had, she wouldn’t have been able to say so.
SN: Exactly. She had not said it to her husband. She had not said it out loud to anyone. But they were able to figure that out, and when they checked it with her, she said “yeah, that’s exactly how I feel.” So it opened up a whole conversation that needed to happen, and it was just amazing to me that they were able to pick up so accurately the subtle dynamics between two people.
And in the other case they just completely nailed the strengths and weaknesses of the two people in a way that was just amazing. For instance, the the wife in that case easily gets overwhelmed, and when she does, she just dissolves into tears. We had all seen this happen. But the assessor was able to say, not knowing her at all, “You’re probably a person who in these situations feels overwhelmed, and when you feel overwhelmed, you start crying and you can’t speak and it’s hard to explain why.” And they were able to not only point that out, but then to say, “This is how you can handle that in the process of planting a church.” So they don’t just tell you, “Here’s the thing.” They also give you really helpful advice about what to do with the information you’re getting. It is just amazing.
MG: We used the Campion assessments in the hiring process for a pastor to oversee one of the ministries here at the church, and in that feedback session, they pointed out that this person has a low-line level of stress all the time, so that whenever you added something to it that’s normally stressful like, say, preaching on a Sunday morning, it pushes him over the edge because he’s already living with this degree of stress. And they were able to explain exactly why that stress was there. And as they checked it out in the feedback session, he confirmed that that’s exactly what’s going on. And now that he is on staff, knowing that has been very helpful in overseeing him as his pastor.
SN: Because you know what to do with it. You know what’s happening.
MG: Exactly. So I can say, “There’s a situation coming up in your life that I know is going to be extra stressful, so how are you doing right now?” And now he’s really pressed into spiritual formation and regularly connecting with Jesus multiple times a day to deal with that stress.
So in what way has this helped you in overseeing and coaching these church planters that you’ve sent out—like give me some specifics how it’s helped you coach them.
SN: Well it means that you know what you have to watch out for, and in the first case I described, we actually delayed the plant for about a year. But now that plant is out there and it’s going, and it’s going well, and the extra year was well-worth it. And in the other case we were able to launch, but we knew there were certain things we had to watch out for and we were able to do that and to catch them early when they started happening.
What I would say is what you are going to get out of the Campion Assessment is this sort of inside information about what makes each person tick. And that is a huge head start in dealing with things as they begin to play out. And sometimes the things that come up are things that the people themselves could never have gotten into words on their own, even though, when they hear it they’ll say, “That’s exactly me.” So it becomes helpful for everyone all the way around.
MG: So overall, what do you think the value is?
SN: Well, all I would say is that I had such a good experience with it, probably in the future I will do exactly what you are doing, Michael, which is not just using it for church planting, but also using it in my own church for any significant hires. Because it is just so helpful.
And the thing I want to hasten to add is, it’s important for people to know that part of what makes it work so well is that CBA has developed this and tested it, or the technical phrase I think is “normed it,” specifically for pastors and church planters in the Vineyard. So, you know, they won’t say that hearing God speak makes you crazy. But really, it’s made for us. It’s custom made for exactly what we’re doing, and so it’s going to be way better than anything you could get off the shelf anywhere else.