Many years ago, I talked to Dr David Lowes Watson. In an interview with him, I have used these words –
Dr David Lowes Watson – A Wesley Scholar, superb teacher, preacher, devoted disciple and wonderful story teller …
When I was small, I was always fascinated by teachers who could tell stories. It’s Teachers’ Day today, join me to have a very pleasant walk this superb teacher and wonderful story teller … from jogging, driving, playing football, computer, small group program to cooking breakfast…
It’s all about Covenant Discipleship… Be amazed by how Dr Watson answered each of my questions by telling a story.
What is Covenant Discipleship?
Story No. 1 – Running
When I was studying in Oxford University, I resolved to keep physically fit, and decided to run each morning before breakfast. The first week I ran every morning. The second week I missed a couple mornings. The third week, I missed all but one morning. The fourth week I missed altogether. The following year I took a precautionary measure. I asked the person next door if he would like to go running with me. On the days I was late, my friend would bang on the door with a cheery word, “Time to be going!” We made it through the year, every morning.
Watson said, “Some things are done better by two people than by one …. Anything which is subject to human limitation or error requires the collegial presence of another person to ensure reliability.”
Covenant Discipleship is a way and a wish Christians be accountable to do what they can do. There are certain things which are difficult to do on your own, so you have to do with someone. It is where the members tell each other what kind of journey they have to take as disciples. They give an account of what has been to be a Christian over the week, thus helping each other in the Christian journey. They do this by means of a covenant which they themselves have written. By making this agreement they give some shape to the two great commandments of Jesus to love God and to love the neighbors.
Why is it important for the Church?
Story No. 2 – Driving
When you get into the car, you have to be flexible to traffic. However, there should be some form of structure and direction which each driver should follow. The law says you have to drive on the left side of the road, if you drive on the right side of the road, you will end up in accident. So, there is the structure and direction there to follow.
Dr Watson said: “Very often we do not give clear direction to the people on how to live Christian life, we allow them to make their own choices and to their own convenience.”
We talk about designers’ jeans, T-Shirts, shoes, dresses. We also start designer discipleship in that we design discipleship to suit ourselves, rather than to the teachings of Jesus. In Matthew 25, it is written that when you reach eternity, you will have to give an account of what you have done or not done. You would have to provide answers to When did you see a stranger and invite him in, when did you cloth the poor, when did you visit the sick and those in prison ….
Dr Watson said, “It does not matter what you believe rather it is what you have done.”
Thus in Covenant Discipleship, loving God is manifested through devotion and worship, while loving neighbor through compassion and justice.
Where does Covenant Discipleship fit in the church?
Story No. 3 – computer
Many years ago, when we first installed our computer system that consisted of 150 terminals, we have to call the consultant on every single problem. It became so frequent that the consultant made it a point that he could only be consulted on two conditions. No. 1, we have read the instruction book. No. 2, we have done what the instruction book tells us what to do and it does not work. At that time, the instruction book consisted of five volumes and nobody really bother to read.
It is like our relationship with Jesus. He has given us the teachings and instructions, if we have not read them, if we have not done what He has asked us to do, please do not call Him.
Dr Watson said, “Covenant Discipleship keeps us focused.”
Not many people are ready for Covenant Discipleship. It is not a program like a Disciple Bible Study which many are ready because it is study of the Bible.
Covenant Discipleship is a weekly check-out. In order that the ministries are centred in Jesus’ teachings, the leaders need to be checked every week.
If compassion, justice, devotion and worship are not kept in balance, disciples are not in obedience to Jesus. We live a life that suits our needs.
Dr Watson said, “We do what we think is right, instead of basing on the teachings of Jesus.”
Covenant Discipleship is on mutual accountability by checking on each other. How do we make sure that it would not get out of hand?
Story No. 4 – In the game
When you play in a football game, if you score, you would be pleased. But, if you are wise, you would not boast about it. Because, next time you may not score. Similarly if you lose in the game, you would not be blamed by others because they may lose next week.
So, if you are actually paying in the game, you understand.
Dr Watson said, “Covenant Discipleship is not checking on each other, rather, it’s helping each other.”
Each group writes its own covenant, it’s not a kind of check-list. The covenant is written based on the Jesus’ teachings and the group tries to live up the teachings.
The objection that Covenant Discipleship is based on checking each other and thus may get out of hand usually comes from those who have not joined a group.
Does Covenant Discipleship remove “disorderly walkers” from the group?
Story No. 5 – Do you always behave like Hitler?
When I was a student of Oxford University, I felt that Jesus has called me to be leader of one of the Oxford groups. I took up the challenge. And I really felt that I have been a good leader and have done a good job.
One day, one of the members came to me and said, “Do you always behave like Hitler?”
It was difficult for me to take it, especially when I thought I have been doing a good job.
Dr Watson said, “Even if you think you have done a good job, you may not be in the eyes of other Christians.”
We need other Christians to help us, to move into more challenges, and obedience to Jesus Christ.
In the Covenant Discipleship group, no body judges, nobody gets negative, when we fail to fulfill some of the covenants; it’s that we are not ready.
On a visit to Newcastle John Wesley gave an illuminating inventory of those “disorderly walkers” in one of his mass expulsions while visiting Newcastle in 1743:
The number of those who were expelled was sixty-four:
Two for cursing and swearing.
Two for habitual Sabbath-breaking.
Seventeen for drunkenness.
Two for retailing spirituous liquors.
Three for quarrelling and brawling.
One for beating his wife.
Three for habitual, wilfull lying.
Four for railing and evil-speaking.
One for idleness and laziness. And,
Nine-and twenty for lightness and carelessness.
Dr Watson said, “We help each other to listen to Jesus more sensitively in the CD group.”
Can you distinguish whether a person has been in or exposed to CD?
Dr Watson said, “Not at first. But when you get to know him, you will see that he is more focused on all the teachings of Jesus.”
What weakness do you see in the CD, if any? How do you deal with follow-up making sure there is a periodic freshness and newness of the group and consistent in their commitments?
Dr Watson has this to say, “When you are meeting in a group, if it gets boring, it is because the group has not learned the skills to give an account in a way which is helpful to others.”
The sharing should help the members to grow. The sharing should be blessings to others. Dr Watson added.
Would you like to give example of how certain thing which you think is difficult to achieve without the help of others in the CD group?
Story No. 6 – Cooking Breakfast
When I was in a CD group, for 18 months, I reported that I have not done the Act of Compassion. The group asked whether they could help, or would I want them to call me during the week.
I said it is not because I have forgotten about it. It is just hat the opportunity has not come.
One day, I committed to cook breakfast for the poor. I have to wake up at 4 am to load food the truck, and drove to a poor neighbourhood. My job is to break 100 dozens eggs. I cooked for 600 poor people for months.
Dr Watson regretted that he had made this commitment. But, the CD group gave him this direction. If not for CD, he would not have done this act of compassion!
In 2000, CD celebrated 25 years of accountable discipleship, why is it that the CD is only introduced here recently?
Story No. 7 – Program
In North America, Churches produce program after program. In 1984, there were 15 small group programs. I told myself that I would not introduce program No. 16.
So, together with my other workers, we sat down and deliberately avoided to campaign CD in a big way. It is slowly and carefully used to make sure that people understand what we are doing.
Dr Watson said, “We are to serve people, not to confuse them.”
The other reason is the rejection, particularly from the clergy. They have been used to work on their own. On accountability, they are just not interested.
We have not tried to market CD, we wait until the Holy Spirit opens the door.
Do you choose members for the CD group?
Dr Watson said, “We have only one criterion – what day, what time are convenient – just that we form the group.”
There is one strict rule – Always finish within one hour.
The reason why the ideal number is 5-7 is because if the number is less than 5, it becomes a sharing group. If it exceeds 7, the group is not able to finish within one hour.
Closing – means of grace
At the close, Dr Watson talked about the means of grace and accountable discipleship. The means of grace offer us grace, power, and direction after we say yes. The means of grace, practiced in accountable discipleship community, keep us in touch with God, the love that leads to life; the One who transforms us and gifts us with the capacity for love of God and neighbor.
A native of England, Watson was educated at Oxford University, Eden Theological Seminary in St Louis, Mo., and Duke University, Durham, N.C. He is a clergy member of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.
Before going to Wesley, one of the denomination’s 13 seminaries, Watson taught at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and was executive secretary for Covenant Discipleship and Christian Formation at the churchwide Board of Discipleship in Nashville.
He has written several books and was founding editor of the Journal of Academy for Evangelism and Covenant Discipleship Quarterly. He has served on the board of directors of the Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley.