Though I’ve been teaching and supervising Doctor of Ministry students for more than a decade; and have, as a part of that work, read and evaluated an array of personal exploratory essays, theological reflection papers, and summaries of ministry projects, last week, I gave my first more traditional “test” to the undergraduates who are taking Introduction to Hebrew Scriptures with me at Mars Hill University. It was, for the most part, an examination about “facts”: names, dates, places, genres of literature, and critical approaches to scripture study. 

I finished my students’ exams last night. I wasn’t surprised, but I was intrigued, by the ways I felt examined by what my students apparently had, and hadn’t, learned. As I continue to make my way into the world of undergraduate teaching, I’m paying close attention to those teaching strategies and styles which are effective and which are ineffective. I read and listen to master teachers, some of whom are my colleagues on the MHU faculty, to improve my ways of offering the knowledge and perspectives I have to my students. It’s a rewarding adventure, from which I am learning a great deal.

Assessment and evaluation are crucial to growth in reflective and effective practice. We face the challenges of figuring-out what we know and how we have, or haven’t, put what we know into effective practice; of measuring, whether quantitatively or qualitatively (or, more likely, both), the impact of our actions, projects, and programs; and of intentionally including the results of our evaluations in our ongoing learning agendas and our continuing work. 

The issue of evaluation has a more direct and personal impact on me, especially these days.  Monthly, I have oncology blood tests. For some of the results, I wait, with some anxiety, for about a week (I guess it’s somewhat like the nervousness with which my students wait to get their papers back!). When the trends are not what I’d like them to be, the wait is more difficult, and I spend a good deal of energy wondering what dimensions of my health are, or would be, responsive to changes I might make and which are, frustratingly, beyond my action and control.

Still more deeply, I experience a more immediate and indispensable “evaluation” each morning.  When I read the scripture lessons which the Book of Common Prayer appoints for the day, read a few pages of poetry (right now, Raymond Carver), and silently reflect in God’s presence on the shape and quality of life, I hear a tender but clear call to face, and grow through, fear, self-centeredness, ways of breaking and being broken, failures, heartaches, and sins. I find grace, mercy, and guidance. I hear whispers of hope, joy, and love.

This daily “assessment” keeps alive in me two questions which I find crucial: “In what ways are you becoming more and more like Jesus, which means becoming your truest self?” and, from Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”