Seedbed has just posted a press release to their website about the book I will be publishing with them on the class meeting. You can read the entire release here. The working title of the book is: The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience. The purpose of the book is to help people form class meetings. In order to accomplish this purpose, the book provides an introduction to the class meeting and its central role for the early Methodist movement, as well as a practical guide to reclaiming this distinct kind of small group. The book is designed to be an eight week small group resource that helps a group to actually become a class meeting. The hope is that after the book is over, the group will continue meeting as a class meeting. To further facilitate this, the book includes questions for discussion and a transformation question that progressively guides the group to the heart of the class meeting: Discussing the state of each person’s relationship with God.
In the speaking I have done on the class meeting in various contexts, people have consistently asked me to recommend a resource that would help them guide a group toward becoming a class meeting. These requests, and the lack of a resource that is focused on a return to the class meeting, led me to write this book. My hope is that The Class Meeting will help people to actually start life-changing class meetings, not just learn about the small groups that were at the heart of early Methodism.
I am very excited about this book! I believe the class meeting continues to have enormous potential for Christian discipleship in this time and place. And from many of the conversations that have occurred here, I know that many of you do too. I am praying for the Holy Spirit to raise up a network of class meetings.
I will provide further updates on the release of the book here. As the press release states, Seedbed anticipates that the book will be in print this fall.
Kevin M. Watson is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology & Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific University. You can keep up with this blog on twitter @kevinwatson or on facebook at Vital Piety.
Steve Manskar said:
Thanks for this post. I am looking forward to reading your new book. I expect it will be a valuable resource for the United Methodist Church. We certainly need to re-tradition the class meeting and the ministry of the class leader today.
I must confess, however, that I am surprised that you could not recommend resources for establishing class meetings in congregations today. I hope you would direct people to my work at GBOD and to the books written by David Lowes Watson (Covenant Discipleship: Christian Formation Through Mutual Accountability, Class Leader: Recovering a Tradition, & Forming Christian Disciples: The Role of Covenant Discipleship and Class Leaders in the Congregation), all of which share the common goal of re-traditioning the class meeting and class leaders for today.
My hope is that you will join me in this important work of re-traditioning the class meeting and class leaders in The United Methodist Church today.
Congratulations on the publication of your book. I expect it will be one I will recommend to the people and congregations I seek to serve.
Director of Wesleyan Leadership
Kevin Watson said:
Thank you for your generous words about my book.
I deeply appreciate both your work and that of David Lowes Watson. I have recommended your book, Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household, as well as David Lowes Watson’s work to many people. And I continue to be grateful for your efforts to retrieve a distinctly Wesleyan approach to discipleship through your work at GBOD. The persistence of you and David in working to retrieve the early Methodist legacy of “accountable discipleship” is a gift to the UMC. Before David’s work, American Methodists were almost entirely ignorant of the role of the class meeting for early Methodism.
I believe we have talked about this a bit here, or in another online forum in the past. But, I think the place where you and I may come at this from a bit different place is that I think Covenant Discipleship groups are the main fruit of your and David’s work. I think these groups are great, and a huge step in the right direction away from addiction to curriculum and the passive Christianity that is the typical result of curriculum driven small groups.
However, I do not think that CD is equivalent to class meetings. My recollection is that you agreed and said that CD was intended to raise up class leaders, because there were none. My pushback was (and still is) that CD has had a pretty long run, and I still don’t see evidence of a generation of class leaders being raised up. Again, Covenant Discipleship is great! I have heard many people witness to the positive role these groups have played in their lives. And I am grateful that they have been used with success at places like Wesley Theological Seminary (I was in a group when I was there as an MDiv student) and Duke Divinity School.
My interest is not at all in tearing down the work you and David have so faithfully done. In fact, in this respect I see my work as dependent on the work you all have already done. I just feel led to work to reclaim the class meeting itself and believe it is best done by going straight for starting new class meetings.
Finally, I do look forward to opportunities to join with you in our common desire to help Methodists return to the practice that was most basic to early Methodism.
All the best!
Scott Davis said:
Kevin, I look forward to this resource as we now have a number of class meetings in our congregation. They are bearing fruit as we had a lay person give quite a powerful message this past Sunday, something she never would have imagined herself doing a year ago. But through her class meeting, she was able to name where she was in her relationship with God, and over the course of the past year, has grown in her faith in tremendous ways.
Class meetings are one of the very few places I actually see disciples being made and my goal is to start as many as possible as long as there is interest.
By the way we are using “A Blueprint for Discipleship” to help our groups learn about the class meeting. I suppose your new book will be different in some way? Will it offer more guidelines, etc.?
Thanks for all of the work you are doing in this area. I am seeing grace at work through our class meetings and believe they will lead to the transformation of many in our congregation and community.
Grace and peace,
Kevin Watson said:
I am thrilled to hear that you are having success starting class meetings at Aldersgate UMC! The story of the lay woman stepping into a vocal spiritual leadership role within the church is fantastic – may stories like these increase in the church you are pastoring.
One of the goals of Blueprint was to provide a launching pad to class meetings. However, most of the churches I have had contact with that used the book ended up simply moving on to the next study (sticking with an informational approach to the Christian life, rather than a transformational one). This book is different because it is even more explicit about why class meetings and not something else. The first four chapters are basically an introduction to the class meeting as it was practiced in early Methodism. The last four chapters are intended to help people get comfortable with the dynamics of starting a class meeting. Another way of putting it is that the first part answers the What? and Why? questions and the second part answers the How? question.
Please keep in touch re. your experiences with class meetings. I would like to see a network of class meetings develop throughout the Wesleyan/Methodist family.
Scott Davis said:
Thanks so much for the encouragement and we are excited to see these groups develop! We are learning a lot along the way. I have found that using a class meeting setting from the very beginning is very helpful. We begin each meeting by lighting a candle and saying a prayer, then discussing the particular chapter from the book for 1/2 hour. We then spend the next 1/2 hour sharing “how is it with you soul?” or a contemporary version of that question, such as “how is your spiritual life?” or “how is God at work in your life?”
I’ve also found that assuring everyone that this is a safe place to share where they are in their faith journey, and that there is no pressure to share, has been very valuable as unfortunately it’s hard to find a safe place to talk about the spiritual life, even in congregational settings.
I’m also finding that the class meeting is a good next step for someone who has already gone through our A Disciple’s Path small group. You’re probably familiar with this resource by James Harnish, and it’s really an excellent presentation of our best theology and core practices. The chapters are formatted according to our UMC membership vows, and the session on “presence” includes worship attendance and small group community. That’s when we pass out a list of the small groups, with the class meetings at the top of the list as people contemplate their next step.
I also look for leaders to emerge along the way and are now at the point where we’d like to get the class leaders together for a monthly class meeting format to check in with each other.
It’s interesting how this is changing a lot of my understandings about how ministry is done and I am very grateful to actually get to do these meetings and not just study them as I did in seminary. It’s affecting my work beyond my congregation as well. I lead a mentor covenant group for provisionals and they wanted to adopt a class meeting format for our gatherings, which has been great.
Thanks again for the feedback, Kevin, and may God’s grace be with you as you help resource this very Wesleyan and very timely vision.
Grace and peace,