Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Predictors of Missionary Job Success: A Review of the Literature and Research Proposal

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Predictors of Missionary Job Success: A Review of the Literature and Research Proposal

Article excerpt

This article reviews the literature on predictors of missionary success. Research articles are summarized in terms of their findings and critiques are offered. In general, promising work has been initiated on numerous conceptually sound topics. Unfortunately, research in the area of predicting missionary job success is relatively rare. The research that has been conducted has not been replicated and much of it is plagued with problems in methodology. Future directions for research from the literature are summarized and additional recommendations are offered.

Missionary and expatriate attrition is a costly affair in terms of finances, strained relations with host countries, and the emotional toll on the sojourner him or herself (Zeira & Banai, 1985). The cost of relocating an expatriate has been estimated to range from $60,000 (Dolainski, 1997) to $1,000,000 (Shannonhouse, 1996). Harrison, Chadwick, and Scales (1996) also noted that "unsuccessful" expatriates are marginally effective at best, indicating costs that extend beyond the purely financial. Anecdotal evidence suggests expatriate failure leads to frustration, disappointment, marital stress, and even demotion subsequent to repatriation (Swaak, 1995; Sypher, Shwom, Boje, Rosile, & Miller, 1998). Bochner (2006) reported estimates of the rate of expatriate failure at 20 to 50 percent. In spite of the aforementioned risks, multinational corporations continue to send significant numbers of employees overseas. There were an estimated 250,000 expatriates overseas as of 1997 (Dolainski, 1997).

Sending employees abroad will continue to be a priority within the Christian community as well, given the explicit directive within the biblical text to spread the gospel throughout the world. Unfortunately, the failure rates for missionaries are significant. The cost of a missionary returning from the field early is estimated at 2V2 times the yearly salary (Lindquist, 1982). Taylor (1997) put the attrition rate for missionaries at 5.1% per year, 71% of which was preventable. These numbers are unacceptably high, especially given the extremely tight budgets under which most mission agencies operate.

Clearly, the issue of expatriate/missionary attrition, and thereby selection, warrants further attention and research. Lindquist (1982) noted that when the Peace Corps implemented assessment and training programs, the rate of early return was reduced to .7%. Compared to the cost of attrition, work in the area of assessment seems well worth the investment.

This summary of the need for effective missionary screening tools should not be construed to mean that no assessment batteries are currently in use. In fact, it seems that each mission organization has its own set of assessment tools that they use to screen for missionary effectiveness (Ferguson, Kliewer, Lindquist, Williams & Heinrich, 1983). Some agencies use very brief measures that yield little information. Other agencies employ personality tests. There appears to be no uniform battery of tests, or consensus as to what should be assessed for or even the purpose of assessment.

This highlights several concerns over the use of psychological assessment in this process. It is common practice for tests to be administered in very different ways than specified by the test manuals. It is also common for tests to be used for purposes other than those for which they were intended. This does not seem to be indicative of a willful disregard of ethical principles. Rather, it speaks to the dearth of research, lack of consensus regarding uses and purposes of assessment in missionary screening, and the scattered nature of the efforts to find and develop tools that are effective to predict job success. Job success has been variously defined as satisfaction (Andrews, 1999; Schubert & Gantner, 1996; Cousineau, Hall, Rosik, & Hall, 2007), attrition (Dillon, 1983; Haynes, Tan & Baker, 1990; Railing, 1995; Wilcox, 1995), job performance and effectiveness, and various personal characteristics (Adams, 2008; Britt, 1983; Kennedy & Dreger, 1974). …

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