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Evangelism: A New Scorecard is the Topic for Thompson Scholars 2013

by Lifelong Learning Staff

Ralph Watkins, associate professor of evangelism and church growth, recently completed his first full year on the faculty at the seminary. In addition to basic and advanced degree courses, Watkins’ role as professor of evangelism connects him to the Thompson Scholars, an annual Lifelong Learning event. Sarah Erickson, director of lifelong learning, and Watkins recently reflected on his first experience with Thompson Scholars and looked ahead to spring 2013.

Erickson: “In May 2012, you led your first group of 15 Thompson Scholars in exploring the topic “Breathing Life into Young Adult Ministry.” What were some of your impressions from that experience?”

Watkins: “I was impressed by the energy in the room! What a great group – really committed to the topic. And the depth of experience each person brought to the conversation allowed us to really bond as a group. They brought thoughtful questions generated out of authentic experiences. And talk about diverse – crossing age, race, gender, denominational, and theological boundaries. We went more deeply in a short amount of time than many DMin. classes go! We built a real community, and we’re still in touch (via various social media connections).”

Erickson: “Yes, the 15 folks were from 13 states – from California to New Jersey, Presbyterians, United Methodists, Seventh-Day Adventists. They seemed really prepared, too.”

Watkins: “Yes, they did the reading (titles such as Stetzer, et al., Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them; Robbins & Wilner, Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, and Doug Pagitt, Church in the Inventive Age ). I also introduced them to Reggie McNeal’s The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. But the level of commitment – it was more than a theoretical class to them. It was a chance to learn from one another and put it to work immediately.”

Erickson: “What will be the focus of the 2013 Thompson Scholars?”

Watkins: “Well, you know, Thompson Scholars is about evangelism (read more about Thompson Scholars, here). This spring we’ll look at it in terms of ‘Evangelism: A New Scorecard.’”

Erickson: “What’s new about it? Say more.”

Watkins: “It’s about asking the right questions. It’s not (only) about what “counts”: members, worship attendance, the amount of the offering. It’s asking, “What does it mean to be the church?” What does it mean to be that “third place” between work and home – like Starbucks or Cheers, where the barista or bartender knows your name, your order, and your stories? It’s asking how we can connect with God and one another, the horizontal and vertical dimensions of our relationships. And I want to explore a new definition of evangelism – it’s beyond simply “joining” or becoming a member. We’ll look at evangelism as the process of adoption.

See, my wife and I have three children – two daughters and a son. Our son is adopted – and it took intentional preparation to get ready for his arrival among us. The family dynamics, the furniture, the routines, the rituals, even the clothes were different. We were going outside of our comfort zone, and it changed us. So it should be for the church. We shouldn’t expect to stay the same if we are really making ROOM for the story – God’s story – to keep changing.

I want us to look at the serious, lifetime challenge of being faithful Christ-followers, not Facebook followers.”

The interview concluded on that note, as a member of the 2012 Thompson Scholar class had an appointment with Dr. Watkins immediately following this interview. To apply for the 2013 Thompson Scholars, read the information and then click HERE. Applications are due by Dec. 1, and applicants will be notified by Dec. 15. You can read an article by Dr. Watkins published in the Fall 2011 VANTAGE here.