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Watson aims to inspire laity at annual gathering

Watson aims to inspire laity at annual gathering

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Watson aims to inspire laity at annual gathering

May 25, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0491}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles about news related to the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event June 1-3 in Lakeland.

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

Dr. David Lowes Watson. Photo #06-361.

While some argue the people called United Methodist have strayed from their Wesleyan heritage, others say Dr. David Lowes Watson is the man to help the church return to its legacy.

Watson’s message will be an important part of the time more than 2,000 Florida United Methodists will spend at the conference’s annual gathering June 1-3 in Lakeland. Themed “Witness With Power” based on the first and second chapters of Acts, the event will feature a strong emphasis on the ministry of the laity.

Florida Conference Lay Leader Bill Walker says Watson offers insights that can help every church and United Methodist enrich their discipleship. He said he hopes Watson will inspire the conference’s laity “by calling out personal accountability to each other for our discipleship and, thus, the response we have to God’s grace.”

Walker said Watson will offer “rich insight into our Wesleyan heritage and theological depth, delivered in an articulate and entertaining, quick-witted way.”

After his presentation, Watson will lead delegates in small, informal discussion groups throughout the Lakeland Center arena.

Watson is director of the Office of Pastoral Formation for the Nashville Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church. He has written extensively in the fields of Methodist history, theology, evangelism, congregational life and mission. His books include “Accountable Discipleship,” “The Early Methodist Class Meeting,” and “God Does Not Foreclose.” He was the founding editor of the “Covenant Discipleship Quarterly” and “Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education,” of which he is a past president. He has served on the board of directors of the bicentennial edition of “The Works of John Wesley” and is a current member of the board of directors of Eden Theological Seminary.

Watson says one reason laity have strayed from the mission of the church is the shift from a laity-driven movement to a religious organization managed by professional clergy “who, by and large, preach the gospel to those who have heard it many times before.”

“With some notable exceptions, this has effectively distracted Methodism from its mission and rendered it more of a religious organization, oriented toward customer satisfaction,” Watson said. “In this setting, the prevailing paradigm for laity is to support the clergy as they manage the organization. This, in turn, requires the laity to accept their delegated responsibilities so that the church might function efficiently.”

Watson says one way laity can strengthen their connection to the church and their purpose is for the church to be more clear about lay and clergy roles.

“Clergy are called to preach and teach the gospel … Laity are called to lead the church in discipleship. This means not only the living out of the gospel in the world, but also the forming of disciples as they seek to walk with Christ,” Watson said. “This can best be done by people who live in the world alongside their fellow human beings, something that clergy cannot do anywhere near as effectively. If we deprive the laity of this leadership role, then discipleship becomes at best church-centered and at worst a theological abstraction.”

A new partnership between clergy and laity in the leadership of the church is also needed, but with some conditions, according to Watson. He said clergy must be willing to share all responsibilities with laity, including pastoral leadership.

“Clergy can be mentors … but for individual members the best mentors are laity, called by Christ and gifted with pastoral grace,” he said. “These lay pastoral leaders are in our Methodist heritage. We need to recover their office in the life and work of the church, and clergy need to make room for them.”

Watson says such a partnership would create “latent energy in the church that can be released for the mission of God, the salvation of the world.”

“We need disciples of Jesus Christ who have not only come to a personal relationship with their Savior, but are willing to live out his teachings in the world,” he said. “Our United Methodist Church embodies this in its very name: a reliable, dependable, methodical discipleship. And for this we need shared pastoral leadership.”

Richard Sargeant, lay leader of the South Central District, said he is greatly anticipating Watson’s message and looking forward to hearing how the laity can be inspired through the gospels.

“He’s an exciting, intelligent speaking fellow with a funny accent who puts everything in a perspective that’s exciting to hear,” Sargeant said.

Watson has served congregations in Illinois and North Carolina and as executive secretary for Covenant Discipleship and Christian Formation at the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. He has taught at Southern Methodist University as the McCreless Professor of Evangelism, Perkins School of Theology and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., as professor of theology and congregational life and mission.

Watson received a master’s degree at Oxford University, a Master of Divinity at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., and a doctorate at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

The entire conference event will be web cast live through the Internet for those who are not able to attend the event. Individuals who would like to log onto the webcast at any time during the annual gathering may do so by going to the Florida Conference Web site at and following the instructions posted there. Details about the gathering can be found by going to the conference Web site and clicking on the event graphic posted on the right-hand side of the home page.

This article relates to Board of Lay Ministry and “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.