The whole idea of assessment can be scary, and even controversial. Some Presbyteries and Presbyters seem offended that this group of "experts" gets to make such a recommendation, rather than the Presbytery. Of course the role of each is different. The courts of the church decide on someone's knowledge, theology, and hopefully character. They hear a sermon, they read recommendations, they know the candidate's views. They decide on someone's fitness to be ordained, as they should. Assessment makes no claim to do such a thing. Neither do Presbyteries actually do much parsing of gifts and personality for a rather unique job in the ministry, and that is planting a new congregation.
Can any pastor in the PCA duly ordained plant a church? Any of them can try of course, and certainly the Lord can use anyone to do his will if he so chooses. However, the reality as shown by experience is that certain men have stronger gifts, stronger marriages, stronger emotional stability that will help them have a stronger chance at success. Presbyteries do not readily judge these things. So, as a tool of the denomination, and thus the Presbytery, we have assessment. Is assessment always dead on accurate? Of course not, but the percentage is pretty high in being able to predict who has a better shot at getting it done. Is it possible that some recommended will still fail? Oh yes, it is all too possible.
That is one reason I admire these folks so much. It is very possible that after lots of money spent, lots of uprooting and changing for a family, lots of effort, great amounts of prayer, and lots of mentoring, coaching, and training, the work might still collapse. The fear of failing assessment is nowhere near as big a problem as seeing a new church plant collapse around you. Reality teaches that failure is always a possibility, and that is one reason many choose not to try, not to respond to the need of people, even the call of God. So, are these people arrogant, are they over confident, or clueless about how hard it might be? Well, some of them are of course, and maybe the Lord can use that as well.
We hear the statistic that one of the most effective ways to win people to Jesus Christ is to plant a new church. When you have a church planter, who is hungry for new people, who goes after them like an Evangelist should, new people come into the Kingdom. One of our great handicaps in the Reformed community is the dearth of evangelism in our churches. Not many of our pastors are mentoring young people in personal evangelism, or even programmed ministry in which the Gospel is shared and people are called to faith. We have candidates who finish seminary, are ordained, and come to assessment and tell us they have never led a non-believer to Christ. Frankly we have applicants for church planting who don't seem to know how to weave the Gospel story, and its call to faith, in their sermons.
This work, for which they are aspiring, is hard. Let no one doubt that the process of raising support, of finding the right city and neighborhood, of having your wife and children on board with the idea, on finding a building or location to meet, of figuring out how to meet new people, of patiently discipling, mentoring, and training new Christians to become leaders, or handling all kinds of objections that are cultural, political, religious, and sometimes just unbelief is arduous. Let no one doubt that Satan intends to stop them. If he can he will destroy their faith, their marriage, their children, their self-confidence, and tear the new congregation apart as well.
It is wisdom to make sure they are as prepared as they can possibly be, it is wisdom to give them feedback as to areas of weakness. It is wisdom to call them to repentance, marital unity, and self understanding before they enter the heat of battle. We cannot guarantee their success, that lies in the hands of God alone. Yet, if we go in faith, if we go trained, if we go prepared, and if we remain faithful, and still fail...it is okay. Our obedient and faithful efforts done in wisdom, with skill, in the power of the Holy Spirit should look only for the approval of God not to comparison with someone else who seems to have made it.
It is scary to think that we might fail, but if our commendation is from God then we cannot be said to have failed at all, even if results are denied us, or others seems to have made so much more progress than ourselves. Without the possibility of failure there is no real risk, and without risk the nations will not be discipled, the lost will not be found, and preachers will not be sent. The world needs men who will seek the Kingdom of God over all things, who will risk all for the sake of Jesus. Lord, give us such men!