What is Watershed Discipleship?

For the creation waits patiently but anxiously for the unmasking of the children of God…  (Romans 8:19)

Información en español

“Watershed discipleship” is an intentional triple entendre:
    1. Recognizing we live in a watershed moment of ecological crisis,
    2. Learning to be disciples in our watersheds, and
    3. Developing awareness of the ways our watersheds act as our rabbis (teachers), pointing us to God.

Watershed Moment

1. The ecological endgame that stalks our history puts humanity in a watershed moment that demands serious, sustained engagement from Christians; we must choose between denial and discipleship.

Both our love for the Creator and the interlocking crises of global warming, peak “everything,” and widening ecological degradation should compel us to make environmental justice and sustainability integral to everything we do as disciplesand as citizen inhabitants of specific places.  This requires us to embrace deep paradigm shifts and broad practical changes of habit in our homes, churches, and denominations.

It is time to embrace the vocation envisioned by the Apostle Paul: the “children of God” must take a stand of passionate solidarity with a Creation that is enslaved to our dysfunctional and toxic civilizational lifeways, and commit ourselves to the liberation to the earth and all its inhabitants (Rom 8:20f).


Disciples in Our Watersheds

2. Churchly theologies of “creation care” have gained remarkable traction among a wide and ecumenical spectrum of North American churches over the last two decades — yet they are still often too abstract and/or unfocused. We cannot stand against the prevailing industrial system of robbery (of the poor and of the earth) if we have no place to stand.

Wendell Berry rightly points out that “global thinking” is often merely a euphemism for abstract anxieties or passions that are useless for engaged efforts to save actual landscapes. He contends:

The question that must be addressed is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others. (Wendell Berry)

We are thus persuaded that the best way to orient the church’s work and witness is through bioregionally-grounded planning and action which focuses on the actual watersheds (defined here) we inhabit.  Because this orientation is still foreign to our Christian communities, our task is to nurture watershed  consciousness and engagement in our faith traditions.


Watershed as Rabbi


3. To be faithful disciples in a watershed at this watershed historical moment, as Todd Wynward reminds us, we need to become disciples of our watersheds, which have everything to teach us about interrelatedness and resiliency.  This requires literacy; to paraphrase Baba Dioum, a Senegales environmentalist:

We won’t save places we don’t love.

We can’t love places we don’t know.

And we don’t know places we haven’t learned.

This is both a warning and a promise that we believe sums up our vocation as church in the present crisis.

We think a good vehicle for the tasks of education, advocacy and organizing required to learn, love and save real places could be a “watershed discipleship alliance.” This website is an initiation of that project. Please read our Call for a Watershed Discipleship Alliance.”  If you are interested in joining us, contact us. You can also join our “Coming into the Watershed” Facebook group for lively discussion and resource sharing.


For more information:


Video clips from the 2013 Bartimaeus Institute

Coming into the Watershed: Permaculture, Ecoliteracy and Bioregional Discipleship.


Map of Ventura River Watershed
A map of the Ventura River Watershed in southern California, where Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries is located.