After fourteen years teaching and campus ministering at Southwestern College, I have accepted an appointment to become the Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. For anyone who has moved from a place they love to some place new, you know this feeling. I feel excitement and grief. Feelings alternate in the space of a millisecond.
My friends and colleagues at the college and in the annual conference are hearing that I’m moving on. I’m receiving well-wishing and congratulatory expressions, which I deeply appreciate. People are being so kind and supportive and encouraging.
At this stage in my life, moving prompts some evaluating. It makes me think of the mid-term grades that we professors submit. Some people have said, “Southwestern and our conference are really going to miss you.” They have have sparked this mid-term evaluation.
The idea that SC or the conference will feel my absence is, of course, deeply gratifying. It suggests that people have evaluated my leadership in (mostly) positive ways; that my work here has been significant and made a difference somehow. For anyone, but especially for people in ministry, the conviction that one has born fruit for God’s Kingdom really, really matters.
How does one evaluate one’s effectiveness? There are the obvious empirical measures: numberical growth (members or students or programs or facilities) for example. On this measure, my grade isn’t bad. Every congregation I have served has grown numerically, but every one has been small. It was small when I came. It was some bigger when I left, but still small. The chapel service in the school where I teach has grown by a large percentage since I started, but the actual number is not eye-catching. I’ve raised no money (at least not directly) to build buildings or additions to buildings.
One of my former students who is now on her way to becoming ordained, told me of the young clergy dinner at our annual conference. She gave the number of attendees and then the number of my students in that group. Now here is a number I really start to care about. It helps me keep clear about my particular calling.
I’ve told the story so many times. One day, as we were worshipping in chapel and I was watching our students rapt in praise and prayer, I felt as if God spoke to me: “Your job is to pour your life into these students.” Students graduate and go into all kinds of places to work and serve and some into full-time ministry. If I share something of my love for Christ with them and that something remains, then I’ve done my job. It really is that simple.
So, for me, the mid-term evaluation is about intangibles, the hard-to-measure things: the quality of relationships, for example. I think my mid-term grade is pretty good. But finishing well is what counts. As a track coach friend, now retired, used to tell his distance runners, “No one counts whether you win the first half of the race.”