A Season of Evaluation

25 Apr

Soon I will have completed my first year as a campus minister. Being “back in school” I’ve learned again the high value ‘evaluation’ has in an academic setting. It seems that everything that happens at the university gets evaluated. Every public forum I’ve attended has had a feedback sheet asking me to evaluate the presenter, the content, and my learning goals. The students are evaluated on their performance in class through their presentations, their projects, their exams, their lab work, their participation, and their papers. They audition for, try out for, run for, rush, and apply for a wide variety of things, each with its own set of criteria. They rate and rank their professors and courses, giving free advice to each other about what classes to take and with whom to take them. I’ve even heard them discuss the merits of restroom facilities across campus.

At the Wesley Fellowship, we’ve also been in a season of evaluation. In the past few weeks my leadership and our programs have been evaluated by the students, by our Board of Trustees, and by the Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry (BHECM) of the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. A few years ago, the BHECM, faced with declining financial support from the Conference, decided to begin a thorough assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each Wesley campus ministry in our Conference. The hope is that others will notice our accountability and be assured that that their giving is being used wisely and that campus ministry is worth their support. The comprehensive review involves financial health, programmatic health, strategic planning goals and objectives, leadership, facilities for ministry, and connections being made on campus and in the nearby churches and support structures. A campus ministry is evaluated each time a new director is hired and frequently after that depending on the perceived health of the ministry. The process includes submitted reports and an on-site visit by a review team composed of members of the BHECM and a colleague in campus ministry.

I will confess a love/hate relationship with evaluation. On one hand I completely affirm and perpetuate the need to assess the health of all systems (including ministry), and their inherent functions, opportunities, and challenges. When done critically and fairly the results often bring a renewed sense of worth, a clear invitation toward improvement, and a feeling of belonging to something greater. On the other hand when evaluation is done uncritically it lapses into stereotyping, unfair comparisons, undue judgment, and condemnation. I will stand against this whenever I see it because it too-easily leads to detrimental feelings of superiority or personal justification. It is nearly impossible to take the human being out of the thing being assessed, especially in academia and ministry. We all come with frailties and scars, and yes, critique is needed for growth, but we also need to choose our words carefully. Isaiah’s Servant Song (Isaiah 42) has become my guide when choosing words of evaluation: “a bruised reed he will not crush, a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Let us endeavor to be known as those who encourage and lift up, judge fairly, and hope for the very best in each person we meet.

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Greg Lawton was hired as Director of the Wesley Fellowship at Grand Valley State University in July 2011 after serving as the interim campus minister at the Michigan State University Wesley Foundation for a semester. He has served churches in the West Michigan Conference in youth and adult discipleship since 1997 and has degrees in Applied Science (A.A.S., Ferris State University), Hydrogeology (B.S., Western Michigan University) and Christian Education (M.A., Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary). He is also trained in Restorative Justice, Mediation, and other peacemaking techniques. He lives in nearby Wyoming, MI with his cat, Bob. Greg is an ordained Deacon in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church, loves to travel either on mission or for fun, and enjoys church camp and folk music.

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