It’s time for performance reviews in my school. The provost reviews the faculty and academic staff; I review the leadership team and my executive assistant; and other leaders review the work of their teams. We have sent out questions and surveys, all for enhancing institutional effectiveness and individual personal development.
A good performance review should not strike terror in the heart of the one being reviewed — or the reviewer. The most hopeful outcome is that improvement will occur through a careful assessment of accomplishments, priorities and strategic goals that promote the seminary’s mission.
As I have deliberated on my approach to these reviews (the board reviews me, too), I have wondered about what kind of spiritual performance review God might administer. We do have some clues in Scripture, and these beckon our reflection. Certain traits of character and action are pleasing to God, as these biblical forebears demonstrate.
Trusting God. Abraham and Sarah are the venerable forebears whose trust in God is “reckoned as righteousness.” It was not a straight journey to be sure. There was the “sister Sarah” episode in Egypt and the oppression of Hagar as the trust of each flagged. Yet, by faith they conceived and lived into a covenant that charted a future with God, for the sake of all the nations.
Speaking truth to power. For a fellow unsure of his capacity to speak clearly, Moses surely was forthright with Pharaoh about God’s liberating purpose for those enslaved. He demanded that Israelites be set free — and compensated for their labor, to boot. An admixture of impatience and wisdom, this great leader spoke with God as a friend speaks to a friend, sometimes rather bluntly.
Displaying courage. Far from docile or acquiescent, Deborah may be the original Wonder Woman. Judge, prophet and military strategist, she accompanied Barak into battle against Israel’s enemies. Indeed, he said he would not go if she did not; and Deborah “arose as a mother in Israel,” and led her people to victory. Along the way she reminds Barak that he would gain no glory, for God will place the opposing general, Sisera, into the hand of a woman, Jael.
Offering consent to God’s plan. A very young woman says “yes” to God’s invitation to become Theotokos, the God-bearer. She does not offer her consent without careful interrogation of the angelic messenger, for she understands some of the public humiliation this arrangement might provoke. Yet, she believes before she conceives, and generations have called her blessed. She models the truth as spoken by Augustine: “God will not save us without our consent.”
Practicing generosity. We do not know her name, only the size of the offering she brought. The Gospels of Mark and Luke recount how Jesus, while teaching in the temple, observed her sacrificial gift. He told his disciples that “this poor widow has put in more than all those contributing to the treasury.” What pledge form ever requests your “whole living” as the appropriate gift? She gave all she had, Jesus observed.
Serving others. Dorcas, or Tabitha, “was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” She uniquely carries the designation mathetria (woman disciple), and her ministry opens the way to the conversion of many. I find the accent on her many good works interesting. Protestants have been quite fearful of compromising the power of grace with any concomitant emphasis on works. Yet, the story of Tabitha makes her concrete labor for others the centerpiece of her life, lost and then restored.
Rightly dividing the word of truth. Pastoral advice for the young leader includes: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved … a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” While pastors have the relentless task of preaching sermons, every Christian has freedom of biblical interpretation, and as Baptists we treasure the liberty of conscience we have to engage texts afresh. In our time, fresh interpretations that convey inclusion can refresh our congregations.
Discerning the ways of God. The Seer who pens the Apocalypse charts (not as a dispensationalist!) the consummation toward which the long narrative of the Bible points. Not only does he read his current epoch, in all its persecution and violence, with discernment; he also articulates the centrality of Jesus for God’s redemptive work for all the ages. John writes what he believes God has given him, and he seeks to be a faithful witness to the ways of God.
Thankfully, God views us through the grace of “being clothed with Christ” and “filled with the Spirit,” without dispensing the expectation that we will live as persons being changed from one degree of glory to another. Hopefully, this review of our performance as Christians will encourage our perseverance even as we rely on God’s mercy.