Kevin Watson

A Calling to Church Renewal

If asked to describe himself, Kevin Watson would tell you that he is a seminary professor and an author who writes books for professors and “ordinary” people.

One of Kevin’s deepest desires is to see people know God’s perfect love for them, find freedom from sin and shame, and move from merely surviving to absolutely thriving.

Watson is the Associate Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Prior to joining the faculty at Candler, Watson taught at Seattle Pacific University. He completed his PhD at Southern Methodist University, writing his dissertation on the role of small group formation in the early Methodist revival. He is an ordained elder in the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church. He shares, “My goal in teaching is to pastor students as they prepare for leadership in the church and to help them appreciate their history and connection to the broader Church. My favorite thing to do as a professor is pray with students.”

Kevin was called into ministry in college after participating in a short-term mission trip. God led him into full-time Christian ministry and in seminary that became more focused toward the renewal of Methodism. And when he was pastoring in Lamont, Oklahoma, he was led to pastor seminary students preparing to become pastors. Kevin tested that by starting to pursue PhD work.

Two of Watson’s key seminary mentors were both John Wesley Fellows and sometime during seminary they told him about the Fellowship. One of the main reasons he was interested in the Fellowship was because of his calling to work for the renewal of Methodism – a cornerstone of AFTE and the John Wesley Fellowship. Once his focus became more specific to work for the renewal of Methodism by pastoring seminary students, AFTE was immediately an organization Kevin saw as essential for his own commitment and a network he needed to be connected to for wisdom, encouragement, and prayer.

Kevin said, “One of the temptations of life in the academy is to divorce your scholarship from your faith. Wesleyan scholars are determined to, in the words of Charles Wesley, ‘unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.’ For me, this means that my academic work is deeply connected to my commitment to the church. My research and writing come out of a desire to serve the church. And it often compels me to try to translate that work in ways that can be of direct service to the church. Wesleyan scholars are committed to rigorous pursuit of truth in service to the church.”

Dr. Watson has been recognized as a sharp young traditionalist and has written insightfully stressing the importance of early Methodist’s small spiritual accountability groups and their application for today. He expresses his sense of urgency this way, “The Church in the United States, and its academic institutions, are in desperate need of renewal. John Wesley talked about the form and power of godliness being essential for Methodism’s mission. I wonder if we have lost both the form and the power of godliness in contemporary U.S. Methodism. I am working toward the renewal of the church by emphasizing the ways God had been at work in Methodism’s past. I hope to remind contemporary Wesleyans and Methodists of the reason we were raised up by the Holy Spirit in the first place. I hope to remind us that we are part of a heritage where the Lord has done great things and we are blessed to steward this tradition. I am convinced that there are wells that still have living water in them and that our work is to unplug those wells and drink deeply from that living water. (check out Genesis 26: 15-18) Related to this is a conviction that we cannot renew ourselves. Renewal will come from repentance and complete surrender, trust, and dependence on Jesus Christ to do in us and through us what we cannot do ourselves.”

The John Wesley Fellowship has played an important role in his path. For Kevin, it is the relationships that have been most important. He completed his PhD at SMU under the supervision of a John Wesley Fellow. Another Fellow was on his dissertation committee and he was hired by a JWF for his first full-time teaching position. The greatest benefit he received, however, was from his colleagues who were junior Fellows at the same time as he was. Watson was blessed to make several lifelong friendships during the formative years of his PhD program, with people he met through the annual Christmas Conferences, people he would not otherwise know well.

Watson is the sole author of four books and co-author of two more. He has published academic articles in multiple scholarly journals and a variety of ecclesial print and online publications. Kevin enjoys freelance writing on contemporary issues facing the church, small group dynamics, Christian discipleship and the theology and pursuit of holiness.

Kevin and his wife Melissa and their three children live just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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