How Is Your Location: The Importance of the Health of Every Community Group

Better Together 2017

In this final sermon in the Better Together series, John, Adam, and Todd help hash out how a genuine biblical community operates. In this segment, Todd discusses how every individual, every community group is the a "location" of the local church. How's your location doing?

Todd WagnerJan 15, 2017

How many of you, if you're single, felt better after hearing Adam talk that you might still have a chance right here? Tony Stewart headboard. How many of you, when you heard John, felt a little bit worse about your marriage in terms of how much you reach out to your wife every day? A few elbows were thrown in this room a few seconds ago.

Here's the thing. We want to lovingly throw you a little elbow this morning. We want to elbow you and say, "Let's pick up the way we want to go about the way we respond to the kindness that is our good, good Father." That's what the Scripture says we should do. We should encourage each other day after day. It says we should spur one another on to love and good deeds.

It's not enough that we come in here and talk about what God wants the church to be. We have to figure out if we're going to be that church. I talk a lot about one of the things I am passionate against, and it's the dead church, the feckless, ineffective church that says one thing and does another, but let me just say this, as I often do. If God wants every local community of believers to prevail and be what he intended the church to be, then this one has to be that church.

So it's appropriate that we prophetically speak against churches that compromise God's Word, that don't make the Bible their authority and conscience and guide, that even if they do keep their doctrine excellent don't pay attention to doing it. If all we do is talk about those kinds of churches and don't pay attention to this one, then we are by definition hypocrites.

Hypocrites are people who say one thing and do another. Sometimes we all do that. Hypocrites are people who say one thing, and when they do another say, "Well, it's not a big deal if we do it." We all know why people are usually pushed away from this thing that God said should be a blessing to them, because they go, "Man, they're just like us. They're a bunch of hypocrites. They say we shouldn't do stuff, but they're doing stuff God says they shouldn't do all the time."

Let me make it very clear. None of the stuff we are exhorted to do has anything to do with us being able to present a résumé to God where he would go, "Man, you guys are awesome. I surely will love you because you're good." We are not good so God will love us, but it's because God loves us that he seeks our good.

When God seeks our good, he shares with us the mind of our loving Father. He says, "This is where life is. It's with me." He wants us to devote ourselves into an intimate relationship with him because he's a God of life, and he wants us to love one another because he has ordained during this time that his Spirit would dwell within his people. Even as Christ encouraged one another when he was here, we are to encourage one another when we are here.

If you went to our website a few short days ago, you would come to our home page and you would have to choose which campus you ultimately wanted to go to. You would have seen that we say, "Welcome to Watermark: one church, three campuses." That has been changed this week, because we want to remind you what we really are. It now says, "Welcome to Watermark: one church, three campuses, thousands of locations."

Watermark is in the church-planting business. Every time you come to this large, thick stream that is the means of the grace of God as we abide with him, we want you to get involved with smaller communities of friends who will humbly understand that we're a kingdom of priests and that we are going to give an account for one another's souls. The job of our staff is to equip the saints for the work of service.

We are here to help you. We often talk about with our Porch friends that we don't really believe there are such things as "married" problems. All we have is a bunch of "single" problems that migrate to marriage. The same thing is true with church. A church is made up of a collection of individuals. When there's a community problem it's because there are individual problems within the community.

If you have communities filled with individuals who are a problem, you have a church problem. When you have a church that isn't concerned about the things God is concerned about, you have a nation that's in trouble. That is why what we want to do this morning is lovingly, using God's Word, throw a little elbow at each other and spur us back on. Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change themselves.

Here's what I want you to think about when you think about the church. How's your location? If every single member of our body read the Word of God like you did and devoted daily to Jesus Christ, how would we be doing? If every single community cared for, loved one another, pursued each other, was up to date on the latest information, played offense with one another, understood that this is a vital relationship God calls them to, and expected to work, to be diligent to preserve the unity God intends, how would we be doing?

Your location matters. Every week, somebody comes in here and sits by the location of where Christ is, the church of Jesus Christ right by you. I hear stories all the time about people whose lives weren't changed with the amazing reminder of who God is through song or because of anything I or anybody else might have said.

Their life was changed because they sat in a location out there next to one of God's people, his church, who cared for them, loved them, and said, "Hey, how can I serve you? You heard Todd say something about 'This is the place to connect.' I'm also a place to connect. You don't have to fill out any perforated section, because God has his person here who wants to encourage and serve you."

Folks invite people to lunch. Some people assimilate folks right there into their community group. They realize as they go, so goes the church. The church is made up of us. We are the church. When you're dead, a little part of what God intends to live dies. Even the Watermark News… I brought it up here with me again, because I want you to see this week one of our friends in Fort Worth worked in real estate. He went to go close a deal, and when he got there, he ran into one of our locations.

A faithful brother or sister engaged this guy who had the world by the tail and was making things happen all along, and he said, "Hey, before we do this, tell me about your faith. Do you have a faith?" He goes, "Of course I have a faith. I went to church when I was a kid. Yeah, I have a faith." The guy says, "Tell me about it." There wasn't a faith there. It began a journey to an abiding relationship with Christ, because he ran into a faithful location.

We have three campuses where individuals who are where the Spirit of God dwells are encouraged and reminded and helped every single week. Then God in his kindness spreads his church out all across the city, all across the country. Let me ask you. How's your location doing? How's your community? How's that church we've planted of other believers who said, "I want to be all in with Christ"?

How are you guys doing at devoting daily, pursuing each other relationally, living authentically, admonishing each other faithfully, counseling each other biblically, externally being on mission? Not so that God will love you but because you love God. How's the church doing in your location, and how can we help you? That's what we are. We're here to do that. We're here to encourage you.

May it never be said of us that we are the kind of people who are constantly dumbing down what Christ wants his bride to be because it's more convenient for us. I waste a little bit of time every now and then at a site called Babylon Bee. Babylon Bee uses satire, sarcasm, in order to drive home certain points they are observing are happening in our culture, specifically around the church. I have a couple of them. I just want to talk to you about how silly it is when you see it.

Here's one that says, "Hymnals Updated With 'I Surrender Some' Lyric." If you read the article it says, "US hymnal publishers from around the nation confirmed Monday the release of new, updated hymnals… The new version of the tune, entitled 'I Surrender Some,' was written to refresh outdated language and theology in the 1896 song… Singing words like 'All to Jesus I surrender' just isn't in line with modern Christianity… Now, Christians can sincerely belt out lines like, 'Some to Jesus I surrender, some to him I conditionally give' without worrying if their hearts really line up with the lyrics."

You read that and roll your eyes like, "Geez, really? What kind of people would want to do that?" In a moment we're going to sing, "Here's my heart, Lord." You have to ask yourself, "Am I saying just one little part of my heart?" Here's another Babylon Bee. It pokes fun at a college girl who was blogging. It says, "I'm Finally Ready To Completely And Totally Surrender A Small Fraction Of My Life To God." Here's her blog.

"It finally happened. I always knew it would. After years of trying to do this whole thing called 'life' in my own strength, I got a heavenly dose of reality from my Creator. God brought me to a breaking point. He brought me to a crossroads in my life. He made me realize I can't do this on my own. I'm ready to let go of the illusion of control. I'm finally ready to completely and totally surrender a small fraction of my life to God. […] This is it. No looking back. This tiny piece of my life belongs [completely] to you, Jesus."

Crazy, isn't it? We look at that and laugh, but let me ask you a question. Do we sometimes enable that with one another and call ourselves his? Last week, we got away as a staff. It was interesting. One of the things I asked those guys to do as a staff is just to imagine. The early church had about 120 people in the upper room before it began to grow through the preaching of the Word and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Folks who had come to Christ through his Spirit when Jesus was here were about to be used by the Spirit to bring many others to Christ.

I just asked them, "Hey, look around. Our number is about the same number as the staff that were the early church. Imagine if we were the only church God had so far in the world. Imagine if we were the only one that was going to equip the saints, the only one that was going to evangelize, the only means that right now God in his sovereignty allowed the Spirit of God to dwell. This is the only location. How would the future of the church look?"

I want you to ask yourself the exact same question. How does the future of the church look when somebody runs into the location of the Spirit of God in you? That's what God wants you to carry. Not as a burden, but what that will do is drive you to a desperate need for him. It was funny. I was driving back from there with some friends. It was about five miles east of Canton, getting ready to go off an exit to Dairy Palace.

I'm driving along. All of a sudden, out of my peripheral vision, I saw this beautiful majestic bird of prey come sweeping in. It came toward my car. It was like, "Whoa!" and put the brakes on. I don't know if it saw something run across the highway or not, but it put the brakes on and went flying back and right up over my car and went away. Everybody in the car went, "Man, that was amazing! Unbelievable!"

We started to talk. "If that thing keeps coming down here around stuff it shouldn't be around, it won't be long before it won't be this majestic bird of prey. It'll be preyed upon by some vulture." We just talked. We used that as a conversation. Let me just say this to you guys really quickly. There are really four groups of people who are in this room.

First of all, there are some of you who aren't a part of a people. You've not yet decided that what God calls you to do is really necessary. You're still not walking in the counsel of the wicked. You're not standing in the path of sinners. You're sitting in the seat of a scoffer, where you say, "I don't need Christ," or maybe you say, "I need Christ; I have a relationship with him," but you're not a part of a body.

That's not somebody who is against organized religion; that's somebody who is against the Word of God. God calls you to be connected, not to Watermark but to someplace like this, where you are admonished, encouraged, and helped with great patience. I'm just going to say it again, gang. I used the illustration last week of a heart that was out here, a fully functioning heart. The problem is that heart wasn't functioning anymore because it was separate from the body.

The body was dead, and the heart wasn't functioning, even though it was a perfectly good heart, except it wasn't where it was supposed to live. So it is with you. You need to decide if God is your God and if you're going to live to him or you're going to have a "said" relationship with him while you scoff at what he says is right for you. We love you. We're not going to love you more if you come, but we're going to love you differently, because that's what God calls us to do.

There are three other people. Once you're in the body, you're either a dead body, a dying body, or a thriving body. What do I mean by dead? Well, there are some people here who maybe, because they're at Watermark, have gone through the steps to understand what it is we believe. You've even signed a doctoral statement, so your orthodoxy is great, but your orthopraxy is absent. You don't do what it says.

You're James 1:22 people who delude themselves and have not proved themselves to be doers of the Word but are rather merely hearers who delude themselves. They're really dead, even though they say they're part of the body of Christ. To you I say you need to repent. I'm not saying you don't know Christ. I'm just saying that what you know isn't really having any effect in your life. We're a dead church. We say one thing; we do another. We're not devoting ourselves to Christ. We're not pursuing other people the way God says.

We're not authentic about where our life isn't where it should be. We're not admonishing others, because we don't want to be admonished ourselves, and we certainly don't counsel biblically, because we don't have anything biblical to say, so we're not on mission. That's a dead church. The good news is we serve a God who is the resurrection and the life. Nobody here is mad at you. We just want to say, "How can we help?" How can we come alongside of you and bring you to a place where you are moving forward?

The second group of people is folks who are dying. Why do I say that? You're dying if you're not moving toward life. You're either getting better or getting worse. There is no neutral. A number of years ago, I woke up and thought I just had a little crick in my neck. It wasn't a crick at all. In fact, it turned out that an old injury had finally made its way to where it was affecting me. I got to where I could not lift my right arm.

It got to where I used my right arm… To even shampoo my hair, I had to put it up on my head and do this, and I would have to bring it back down. That happened over about a six‑ to eight‑week period. I don't know if you guys saw me. I could do this, but there were times I was teaching… The only time I could find relief up here on stage when I was communicating, or anywhere, was this awkward position, because it pushed my vertebrae in such a way that it was somehow not letting that very toxic fluid hit nerves. It was just paralyzing my right arm.

I didn't do anything to my right arm. I just stopped using it, and it was dying. After two months, this arm was an inch smaller than this arm, simply because it wasn't thriving. It wasn't being used. If you're not actively moving through the spiritual disciplines, through delighting yourself in what God says is the means of growth for you, then you are dying, and to you we say we want to help.

After I had my lunch at Dairy Palace, I jumped back in my car, and I was getting on I-20 right off of Canton. As I was driving along, out of the corner of my eye, as I was accelerating, I thought I saw something on the highway that didn't belong there. It was a hawk sitting there. I don't know if it was the exact same one or not, but it would have made sense to me that this thing was hunting around that area and did catch a car. I drove up farther and I thought, "I wonder if that thing has been hit. I wonder if it's stunned. I wonder if it's still alive."

It looked like it was sitting there, kind of like a chicken in a yard, not like a hawk. This bird of prey that should be majestic and a glory to God was out there. So I said, "Let's go see if the thing is okay." It was too far up, so I cut across the grass. I went back, and sure enough, as we got there, that little hawk had, in fact, been hit. So I went out, I grabbed a towel, I grabbed that thing, and I took it. I know hawks, because around here in these trees along White Rock Creek there's a hawk that lives, and he hunts in this area.

Sometimes when I'm up in that office in the tower a hawk will fly by. It sits sometimes outside one of the windows by my office, and I stop what I'm doing. It's a thing of beauty. It's a source of glory to God. It's what Job, chapter 39, says a hawk should be. It says, "You're the one who gives the hawk understanding that causes it to soar, stretching out its wings toward the south wind." When people see hawks, they stop. It's not like a normal bird.

This bird has been set apart. It's glorious. But this bird wasn't. It was down where it shouldn't be, and when I pulled up there was a vulture circling overhead. I grabbed that hawk. I put it in the car with me, and I had somebody else drive. I put on John Denver "Eagle and the Hawk," just so he could hear a song written about him. "This is your song. I love it." I called the game warden. I go, "I have a hawk." He goes, "Well, then you're violating federal law, young man." I go, "Well, first of all, thank you for calling me young, and secondly, I'm not going to take it home as a pet."

That was his point. Hawks aren't pets. The goal is not for me to have a hawk that hangs around me. The goal is for me to do everything I can to help people God created to soar and to be a source of majestic glory and honor to God. Too many pastors treat you like a pet. It's against not federal law but divine fiat that all you do is come and somebody gets to say, "Look what I have. Look at all of these things around me." That's why we're trying to spur you on to love and good deeds.

I said to the game warden, "I'm calling you, because I want to know. I know somebody restores these animals." He said, "You have to have a federal license to do that." I go, "Who has a federal license? I'm driving toward Dallas." He gave me a number down in Hutchins, Texas, and we drove there. We went in, and there were some folks there. That's what they do. We laid that bird down. The wings were great. We found a little split in his chest. They put six stitches in his chest, forced some beef heart down his throat.

In about 7 to 10 days, that thing is going to be on its way again, thriving, a source of glory. That's what we hope is about to happen here. That's what God does with his people. We just look. We see somebody who's where he shouldn't be on a road with a vulture of death circling over him, and we say, "How can we help? Let's go. Do you want to jump in and ride with us?" We have this thing called Calibrate for Community Groups (it's coming up in February), where your group can go and say, "We have to pick it up. This location of Jesus' church has to thrive."

We're here to help you, stitch you up, spur you on, so you can soar in a way that other people go, "Who gives you understanding? Where does this glory come from?" The answer is "To God be the glory." I want you to watch. We've done this with groups. There are other groups that have been here that have been dead or that were okay at first after GroupLink and then started dying that began to thrive again. We serve the God of the resurrection, and all it takes is somebody, some location of the Spirit of God, to say, "We're going to excel still more." Watch this.


Female: I remember where we were this time last year, just not a Community Group, and not a Community Group that anyone even desired to be in.

Female: I think before, when we were having the issues… Dead is a good word, because there just wasn't a lot of life in our group. We didn't really like each other. We just showed up because we needed to.

Female: We were very stagnant. Nothing was changing. Nothing was happening.

Female: Or even, "I don't want to bother them, so I don't want to reach out. What are they going to think?"

Female: The same way. I didn't want to open up, because I didn't think it was going to work out.

Female: Claire and I were ready to jump ship. We both wanted to leave.

Female: I remember coming to the Group Assessment, and y'all were like, "Let's do this." Y'all were ready to jump in and change the things we needed to change, and I was like, "No, I'm done. I quit." I remember Stacy saying, "Let's be still. Let us fight for you."

Female: That's probably where the shift came into play, us fighting for Claire. I wasn't alone in that. I saw the commitment of you three wanting to come together and link arms with me to fight for a girl in our group to stay, to win her back over.

Female: You met with our group coaches, Morgan and Clarissa, multiple times.

Female: Morgan and Clarissa were like, "It sounds to us, from an outside perspective, that God has been taken out of this group, and it has become more about what's going on. Like, 'This person is not pursuing me,' this and that." That just really stuck with me, that we took God out of the Community Group. He's supposed to be the center of it.

Female: Before, we all would meet, and we wouldn't pray before we started. We weren't studying together. Once we all decided, "Yeah, we want God to really be the center of this group," is when all of us started having our own relationship with God, and then naturally we started pursuing each other out of that.

Female: Because we were able to start devoting daily, we were able to start counseling in the ways that we hadn't been able to before.

Female: I even think of that, like 2 Timothy 3:16. The first verse we memorized as a group was, "For all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." Once we got that down and that clicked in our group, it's like our words don't matter; it's God's Word we need to go to. We had the struggles we wouldn't share, because, "Oh no, that's off limits. We're just going to tuck that away. We're not going to bring that to group." Now there's nothing that's off limits. There's nothing hidden in this group.

Female: At this year's Group Assessment, there was so much life in there, because we were laughing. We were smiling like we loved each other.

Female: Y'all are the reason I kept the faith, just praying for me and keeping me accountable and reminding me of God's goodness when I couldn't see it. It's been an honor just to know that I have a team on my side who's cheering for me and rooting for me.

[End of video]

I want you to imagine you're the only location that the church of Jesus Christ dwells in. That's the privilege he gives you. God is going to do something today to glorify himself, but the question a group of us asked 16 or 17 years ago is, "Why not with us? Why not, Lord, let us participate in that purpose, in that majestic life goal of altering someone's eternity, of having our lives being restored to what you intend our lives to be?" It's been an amazing, fun thing to watch.

There are so many of you who are thriving, who spur me on and help me do more of what God wants me to do. If you're dying or dead or you're not yet a part, all we want to do is serve you. We're about to sing a song, and it's not like, "Lord, this tiny piece of my heart I give to yours." We're about to sing, "Here's my heart, Lord."

What I want to ask you to do is as you sing it, maybe even listen to others sing it, ask yourself, "Lord, if I'm really giving you my heart, what part of my heart do I need to give to you all over again, start to surrender?" Maybe I need to go and live authentically with my friends and say, "I've not been a great location lately, but God is calling me back."

His toes are on the edge of the ranch ready to run to you, but you have to give him your heart. Maybe some of you will give him your heart for the first time, because you know he's a loving Father who has made you to be majestic and glorious. He's not looking for you to get cleaned up and come. He's the one who heals you. We're his people, and we want to encourage you as we ourselves are being made into the image of what God intends us to be.