“Our small group is diverse, coming from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Some of these boys share family financial responsibilities. Many have experienced harsh consequences for their choices.” - Zac Whitley
Over the last six years serving as Watermark Student Ministry Small Group Leaders, Blake Thames, Zac Whitley, and Ryan Nguyen have watched their group grow from rambunctious 6th graders to high school juniors who are discovering more about faith in Christ. Although their initial motivation for serving was to help make disciples, these leaders say that God has used their small group to strengthen and encourage their individual walks with Christ. Here’s a glimpse at God’s faithful work in the lives of these students and leaders.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR SMALL GROUP?
Blake Thames: “I started leading this group of boys when they were in 6th grade, and it has been incredible to watch them mature and take ownership of the group. I was fearful that participation would drop off once the boys got to high school and were driving. But, the size of our group has increased significantly in recent years as the boys invited new friends.”
Zac Whitley: “Every week, we ask the boys to articulate the gospel, and each week we get a slightly different, but great response! Our group is diverse, coming from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Some live in a home with two parents who are strong believers, others come from a single parent home or may have a parent who doesn’t know the Lord. Some of these boys share family financial responsibilities. Many have experienced harsh consequences for their choices. All feel the pressure of the world’s high expectations. Together, we wrestle with God’s Word. Our hope is that all these guys will accept the free gift of grace and trust God’s perfect plan.”
Ryan Nguyen: “It’s tough seeing many of our kids getting into trouble at home or at school because they struggle with things like identity, depression, perfection, drugs, lust, and anger. We’re often humbly reminded that only God can change their hearts. As leaders, we lean on Scripture and share truth, and that is all we need. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life to see them truly hear the gospel, root their lives in Christ, and share their faith with others.
WHERE HAVE YOU SEEN THE LORD MOST ACTIVELY AT WORK IN YOUR GROUP?
Ryan: “One guy in our group had struggled for years with drugs, anger, and fighting. After one of our Student Ministry Retreats, God changed his heart, and he opened up to our group. Today, he sits with us every Sunday at Watermark, applies himself at school, and has even competed for a scholarship for metal work at the state level. We have another guy who was totally disengaged and almost got into a fight with another group member his first week. At age 14, his past was already marked with drug dealing, anger, fighting, and depression. Now at age 16, he is filled with hope and uses his story to invite others to our group. His story makes me think of Luke 18:27, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’”
Blake: “The guys in our group hold up the values of authenticity, vulnerability, and confession better than some adults do. They are genuinely excited to share struggles with each other and are open to having community speak into their lives. It’s inspiring to watch the boys support and hold each other accountable to the life we’re called to live in Jesus Christ.”
Zac: “As the boys have gotten older, it has been gratifying to watch them step up and lead the group on their own. Many of them have the maturity to share authentically and guide the group through Scripture. No matter where each one of these guys lands after high school, it’s great to know that they value community and desire to walk through God’s Word with others.”
HOW HAS THE LORD USED THIS SMALL GROUP TO CHANGE YOUR HEART?
Blake: “When I started leading, I viewed my primary responsibility as teaching and maintaining order. Along the way, I embraced the chaos and learned that leading means living out my faith. Students don’t need leaders to have all the answers; they need an example of what it looks like to walk with Christ. As long as I’m willing to consistently show up and point our boys toward God’s Word, He will use that to miraculous ends. His love has worked through our group in ways I could never have imagined.”
Ryan: “It’s so tempting to try to control things in our small group and try to fix every problem. But I’ve learned that it isn’t about me, it’s about God’s grace. I’m grateful to be used as a vehicle to deliver the Good News. What once seemed like a big weekly commitment has turned into something I look forward to every week. I would tell anyone that if you want to have your affections stirred for the Lord, come serve in Student Ministries.”
Zac: “It took community and leadership opportunities like this to understand what it really means to go forth and make disciples. Our small group has given me a more well-rounded picture of Christ’s love for His people. That’s what serving in Student Ministries is all about – bringing glory to God by spreading His message to others.”