Leadership Matters…and Other Seminal Truths

2017 Messages

This week, Todd talks about the importance of leadership. Specifically, he discusses church leadership and how God's design for the church is a plurality of leaders.

Todd WagnerJul 23, 2017Matthew 5:14; 1 Timothy 3:1; 2 Timothy 2:24; 2 Timothy 2:25-26; Titus 3:3-5; Hebrews 5:1-2

Hello! How is everybody doing? It's great to see you. Hello, Plano and Fort Worth. It's awesome to be together. If you are a guest at Watermark, it is a great day to be here, because you're going to hear a little bit about how we got to where we are today and about how we figure out how we're going to get to where we want to be tomorrow.

If you've been around Watermark for a long time, you probably haven't heard me talk extensively about what I'm going to talk about today unless you've been here since 2001. In 2001 I gave a message titled something like, "This Is Either the Greatest Day in the History of Our Church or the Beginning of the End." The reason I called it that was it was the day we were introducing to our body the individuals who were going to lead us, alongside of me, as elders.

If you read your Bible, you'll find out that God does not want some huge, dynamic, charismatic personality to be what leads the church, some illustrious potentate who is in charge of everything whose gifts are so powerful that people follow him and his teaching is so whimsical and maybe humorous that people want to come hear him and who has inordinate amount of influence and leads as some dynamic figure. That's not God's model.

God's model, as we will see in Acts 14 when we get back to Acts, is that we should appoint elders (plural) in every city. The word elder is synonymous with the word pastor and with the word shepherd. The idea is that there would be a plurality of leadership in the local church. When Watermark started, it started with eight families.

We say that, but really it started with 100-plus folks, because it wasn't very long after we got started that others started to meet with us and pray and talk about what our core values and our ultimate purpose would be as a community of friends. Then as that first group of eight families met, we decided the way to name the spiritual leaders of the church was not to grab the first eight horses to the barn.

So we didn't just take the men who were leaders of that early group and say, "You guys are going to be elders." What we decided to do was to make sure we made it our highest and greatest focus to find in our midst men who met the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, which have the characteristics of an individual who should be given spiritual leadership. (By the way, I'm not going to read to you Titus 1 or 1 Timothy 3 today. Go back and read them.)

If you look at the qualifications of elders, you'll see it isn't related to giftedness in terms of administration as much as it's related to character, and you're going to find out why. There is maybe one specific life skill they should have, but they should be skilled in living if they're going to be leaders of God's church. We did not name our elders based on who got there first. We felt like, as leaders, our job was to put our hands on leaders who would lead alongside of me in the plurality of leadership God intends.

They said, "Todd, you're going to be our pastor." The word pastor is synonymous with the word elder. It's synonymous with the word shepherd. "So there you are. Now we just have to find some guys who we think are going to stand with you as you lead us forward." Leadership matters. This message today is really important, because every single one of you is a leader. Some of you guys even are hurting yourself in your own sovereign self-leadership because you grew up under ungodly leaders.

You had a daddy who was abusive or absent. You had a mom who was controlling or enabling, and you have your life wrecked as a result. Now what's so amazing to me about people who have had their life wrecked under poor leadership is that they use that as an excuse to continue to lead themselves. In other words, "I was abused as a kid; therefore, I live an abusive life now that I'm no longer under that abusive leader."

I remember there was a cartoon I saw a long time ago of two homeless, drunk guys (drunk because they're homeless) sitting down on a curb, leaning up against the building. Both had their brown paper bags and their whiskey, and the one guy leans over to the other guy and goes, "So enough about me. Tell me where your parents screwed up." While that's a gross miscaricature of why people are always on the street, I do see people coping with life with chemical dependency and abusive relationships because they were abused.

Now I understand there's pain there, but you need to know something. Growing up underneath ungodly leadership should make you all the more sensitive to the need to have in your life a father who would re-parent you and teach you how to lead yourself now that that oppressive, sin-defined leader is gone from your life. Why continue in promiscuity or self-abuse? What you should do is go, "Now that I'm, in a sense, out from underneath that and am my own adult, why am I causing myself to be continually abused?"

There are patterns there, but God says, "Come to me. I don't intend for daddies to be that way, and I don't intend for men or women to be this way. Let me explain to you why your daddy was that way. It's because he didn't know me. Let me explain to you why you're going to continue to be this way. Because you're going to live out in anger and bitterness, and you're going to find God-forbidden strategies to meet a God-given need or you're going to have illegitimate strategies to meet a legitimate need in your life."

People who grew up under oppressive dictators in communist countries should be the last people to go start a new land and be an oppressive dictator, because they know how awful it is. One of the things that has happened around the Wagner household this year… I have six kids. One of them is married. We're all in Dallas right now. Three are either out of college or in college in town, and three are still with me in high school and junior high.

So I have a table of adults I'm with now. My youngest is 13, but he's the youngest of six siblings, so his conversational skills and intellectual capabilities and the things he's used to talking about are very different, so even the 13-year-old is very comfortable in adult circles. When we get together right now, something amazing is happening. Most people never get what I'm getting every week at our family dinners, what I'm getting until Thanksgiving and Christmas and alternate holidays throughout time.

What happens if you've not yet lived through that… I did, because I was one of those kids who came home and sat around the adult table with my now disbanded and split-up family as we came together. You start to tell stories you never told before because it wasn't safe to tell them. You find out who knocked over the lamp and who super-glued it. You find out who took the car that night and drove it backwards around the block, thinking the odometer would go back so Dad wouldn't know if he checked it. Those were stories at my table with my family that were told.

My kids didn't have some of those stories, but they have stories, and I'm hearing some of the stories that happened around the Wagner household that they are now relating to me. One of the favorite topics that always comes up is Dad's failures. I'm hearing now the things that have been emblazoned in my children's minds, like that famous Christmas where Dad ruined Christmas because he had his little Norman Rockwell Christmas mind and his great comfortable new Nike sweats and nice Dri-FIT shirt and a cup of coffee.

The kids came down, and everything was as it should be. I'm watching my family. It went perfectly, the way I had imagined it should in my mind, but one of the gifts we gave a kid was a basketball, and he was not watching his sibling like I wanted him to be attentive to somebody else getting a gift, and they're bouncing the basketball, and it hits somebody's foot and comes over and hits my coffee and it goes all over me, and I didn't handle it with, shall I say, the spirit of Christmas.

The kids kind of all huddled up underneath the tree like mice when the lights get turned on, and they go, "Dad, that was just terrifying," the way that I, in those few seconds, lost it. They love to go, "Oh yeah, remember when Dad blew Christmas?" I'm a little encouraged that over 20 Christmases together there was that one seven-second moment that I apparently scarred them enough that they all need therapy, but it happened.

They love to tell the story about the time we went to get away to a lake house and I left the keys at home. There's still some controversy over some things that happened that night. "Oh yeah, remember when Dad did that? He ruined that night too." Then my daughter, who I was with when she was overseas taking some classes… She loves to tell the story. "Oh yeah, you should have been with Dad when he rented a car to take us from Paris to Normandy."

I'll tell you about that story. In that story, I left my daughter and my wife at a restaurant and ran over to the rent-a-car place to get a car. Well, the rent-a-car place I went to to get a car had given my car away because I got there five minutes late. So they finally walk over and go, "Why aren't you back here to pick us up?" I go, "Because I'm trying to figure it out here with Philippe who doesn't want to talk to me and help me." Eventually, I convinced Philippe to give me another car.

He was hesitant, because my car that I rented was gone and the only car he had left was an S‑Class Mercedes, an S550. He was wanting to charge the appropriate amount for that, and I was trying to make the case, "Philippe, man, come on. Give me the keys." So anyway, Philippe gave me the keys. Wisely, when I walked out to this car that had 500 miles on it, a beautiful car that we're getting ready to drive across the French countryside from Paris to Normandy…

I go, "Hey, Philippe! Gas or diesel?" He goes, "Oh, thank you! Diesel." So off we go through the French countryside, and I decide halfway there I'm going to go ahead and fill it up with diesel. I get out of the car. They say, "Hey, remember it's diesel," and then I saw this. If you've never been to Paris and put gas in the car… I see gazole. What you can't see over there is sans plomb.

Now I had two years of honors French in high school. Never mind that I slept through the final exam, but I'm looking at that… Now in America, what does green mean at the fuel pump? It means diesel, right? And gazole means… That's close to gas, right? So any normal-thinking American would go, "That's gas. Obviously the green is diesel." Wrong. So I pumped that sucker full of 90 euros of the green sans plomb.

I walk in, and there's this little mop-top kid. The long and short of it is the guy looks at me and goes, "Oh, sir, that is not diesel. If you put that in there, it is catastrophic." And it was catastrophic. So our trip to Normandy was delayed, and Kirby loves to tell that story of when Dad lost his mind and put gas in the diesel Mercedes S550 that had only 500 miles on it.

Leadership failures are always memorable, because they don't just affect you; they're amplified. It's why if you're a blind guy and you go off a cliff it's a problem, but if you're a leader leading blind people and you're blind, you have problems. Jesus said in Matthew 15:14, when he was talking about the spiritual condition of the country… He basically had done everything he could. He had just gotten through telling the people, "Hey man, you have to let these people know something."

He told the leaders, "You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me. You're a dead church. You look orthodox in what you say, but your orthopraxy is dead wrong, and, frankly, your orthodoxy doesn't even understand who I am. You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me. You don't understand the humility and brokenness that is necessary to have a relationship with God."

They basically said, "Hey, Jesus, we have a problem with you," and Jesus basically says, "Hey, let them alone. They're blind guides to the blind. When blind men guide blind men, both will fall into a pit." He says, "You watch the way that leadership is going to take you, and it will not be life-giving. It is better to stand still than to follow a blind man." What I want to talk to you guys about today is how important it is to not have blind men leading churches.

People who lead churches will determine the future of the church. I love the statement by a guy named A.W. Tozer who said Christianity today is what its leaders were in the recent past, and Christianity is going to become tomorrow what its leaders are in the present. Now let me do something I have been doing with a lot of friends this entire year. It started with our staff when we got together in January, and I took them away.

I just said, "Hey, guys, I want you to imagine if we, these 100-plus folks who are in this room, are the only people on earth who know Jesus Christ. I want you to imagine that about 120-some-odd people were in the upper room, the only folks who really understood the significance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ." Christ had appeared to them. Their eyes were opened. They had seen that Jesus was who he said he was. They were fully convinced.

Now he's saying, "The things I've done you guys are going to do, and the works that I did, even greater works than these will you do." Just like Jesus was God's means to change the world during that little season and make provision for the sinfulness of the world, now this group of 120 is going to be the provision that God is going to use to change the world as they declare the finished work of Christ and display the transformational power of the resurrection.

I want you guys to think for a second about this. You all are leaders, every single one of you. It has been well said that every man, by his own conduct, either for better or worse, is educating the next generation of this nation. I would say the next generation of the church. If we right here in Plano, Fort Worth, and Dallas, this little community of thousands, were the only group of people on earth who knew who Christ was…

Let me encourage you. One of the things that has been happening as I've been speaking and serving and doing things this summer other places is there are people who love Christ deeply all over this world, but they are counting on you and me to do what God wants done in this part of his creation. This is our part of the Western front that he wants to see flourishing in grace and light come into.

The truth is a lot of the church right now is a product of what our leaders have been in the recent past, and what the church will be tomorrow is what leaders are in the present. I want you to think about this, leaders. Every week when I come in here, I think about this like a pastors' conference. I want you to know that. I am addressing the saints of God, the kingdom of priests, the chosen race, the holy nation that God has. I don't know if it'll ever happen while I'm alive, but we're preparing for a day…

If you go to our website, it says "One church, three campuses, thousands of locations." Every place the church gathers in smaller communities, we are equipping you to shepherd one another, to give an account for each other's souls, to spur each other to love and good deeds, to devote daily personally, to lead yourself in communal worship, to be on mission, to live under the sovereignty of the Word of God, to live authentically, admonish faithfully, to counsel biblically, to pursue each other relationally, and to, as I said, engage missionally.

That's what every smaller community is. I want you to ask yourself this. If you and those who live with you in community were the only church in the world that existed from July 16 to July 23, what happened to the church of Jesus Christ this last week? How did the pastorship do? Did it become more orthodox? Did it become more orthopraxic? Did it do what Jesus wants the church to do? Did it live in the grace God had for them?

How yielded to the Spirit was the leadership of the church? How many individuals heard the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ? How many people were diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? How many individuals were cared for through sacrificial service and giving because of what you did? People say this to me all the time. "Todd, I saw your church; it's beautiful," and I always say the same thing. You guys know this, right? I'm going to keep saying it.

I go, "Man, thank you. Who did you meet?" And they go, "Well, no. I said I saw your church. I was talking about the building." I go, "Oh, I thought you said the church. Yeah, it's a cool building, but when you said the church is beautiful, I assumed you meant somebody. By the way, it's not my church; it's Jesus' church, and I'm just part of the guys who get to serve there and, by God's grace right now, lead there, but it's his church."

This message I'm about to give I want you to hear about why we are where we are today, because I don't think what happened in 2001 was the beginning of the end. I think there's real evidence to say it was one of the greatest days in the life of our church, because by the grace of God there were men who were put forward who were affirmed by the body to lead with me. I want to tell you something. We don't have board elders, guys I appeal to, who kind of look over the budget, evaluate the staff, figure out what the salaries are, and just show up once every other week.

We also don't have bored elders, because men who lead with me in the role of elder leadership in this church are fully vested with me in this thing. We've looked consistently over the years. The least amount of time we have given together in the leadership of this church, in the plurality of leadership God intends, has been about 10 hours a week. A medium, on average, week is anywhere from 15 to 25, and there are many weeks that these guys have given 30-plus hours to the mission, even while they are on mission serving God in a different vocation.

It's not wrong if all of your elders are paid staff, but we feel like it's healthier if there are godly individuals in the church who can serve alongside of me who, by the grace of God, you guys are allowing to live missionally and to be the pastoral teaching elder and to be able to give myself 50 to 60 hours a week to the mission, while these men lead with me and help me lead the staff that helps lead the leaders who are the pastors' conference we meet with every week as we seek to be more of the church God wants us to be.

In fact, early on, when we first named those elders… I will say this. I'm going to keep inserting little things, because I want to make sure it all gets out. The original group of guys who were put forward were a guy named Kyle Thompson, a guy named Dean Macfarlan, and a guy named Brett Johnston. A little bit later we added Scott Coy.

Scott and Brett not too many years ago, because of stuff that was going on with their business obligations… Though their character was still outstanding and their purpose of living for Christ was still outstanding, the margin they had in their lives to give themselves the way shepherds do… Shepherds need to be able to be with the sheep on a regular basis.

Their business and travel schedule was such that they couldn't, so we had the conversation about why they were rolling off serving in the office of elder and not being able to give themselves to the daily concern of the church, to use biblical language, even while they continue to lead in this church, as they always have. Scott, in fact, is on staff, as he left the career he was in and now leads us in the community area with other people.

But these were not guys I knew. I didn't know Brett Johnston at all. I didn't know Kyle Thompson at all. Dean and I had been around each other, but they were not men who were giving a lot. I never once looked then at who was giving the most to the church. I still to this day have never looked at who gives money to Watermark. It's just not an area I personally peruse to see who's committed here, because I want to love people because they're people, not because they're committed to helping meet some budget.

It is important that leaders are vested here, but that's not how we ultimately determine who should be leaders. They weren't Todd's friends, and they weren't making up our funds. They were just men who others put forward, who people saw using their gifts to the glory of God, whose marriages and leadership of their households was such that the grace of God was there and there was human flourishing happening within their subleadership, and they were men who had the margin. When those guys were put forward and affirmed…

We interviewed nonbelievers who knew them, business partners they had, folks they were discipling, people who had discipled them in the past, ministry leaders they led with, and then we brought them to the body, and the body affirmed them. One of the very first things we did as elders was to say, "Hey, we want to give ourselves to the study of Scripture, to prayer, and to teaching, to cultivating other leaders and encouraging them and making sure we stay true to what God wants us to be true to. That means we're not going to give ourselves to the business affairs of the church."

We found godly women and godly men who were leaders in business and said, "Hey, why don't you guys negotiate contracts for us? Why don't you guys help us find future real estate for us to lease?" Because we didn't even have property for the first eight years. "Why don't you guys help think through how we're going to take care of the health needs of our staff?" So there was a group of men and women who were experts in the area of business who began to consult us and say, "This is what we think the church should do."

One of the things they came to us and said was, "We think you guys ought to take out key man insurance on Todd. I know you guys lead with a plurality of leadership, but Todd's gifts, Todd's teaching ability, Todd's public leadership is so central and core to the growth we're experiencing, if something happens to Todd, it's going to set us back. We'll probably lose some people. We're going to have a hard time maintaining our staff. So we want to buy a large life insurance policy for Todd, so if he goes out, the church will get the money and can sustain until we find our next leader."

I love what our elders did. I sat there and listened to that conversation, and as businessmen, they were advising what I think was a very prudent and wise business decision, but those elders looked at God's Word and said, "We're not a business. This is God's church. We're not trying to sustain what we've been doing. We're trying to do what God wants us to do." So they said, "We think that's wise. That's why you guys are there, but we want you to know we don't think that would affirm what we want to be true here, which is this is Jesus' church and God knows all about what's going to happen."

So they rejected the idea that key man insurance should be bought for the leader who was there at the time. It was wise, and it was a statement of the elders that this is about Jesus and not any one individual. Those men have led us consistently in that way over the years. The reason I'm doing this today and not jumping right back into Acts is because one of those men, after 16 years, has come to a place where he believes it's time (and we believe with him, because we've watched him prayerfully consider this now for a couple of years) that he should step down.

When a senior leader of the church steps down, we want to just tell you there's no scandal here. There's not even a mystery here, but my buddy Kyle Thompson, who has so faithfully led with me, is going to say, "Todd, I believe my best stewardship of life is no longer, as Watermark grows in complexity and as there are responsibilities of elders and leadership requirements that are there…

I still have the margin, but I don't think I'm the right guy to daily concern myself with the broader affairs of the church. I think I can serve the church's purposes more by continuing to lead Foundation Groups, by continuing to meet with small groups of men and disciple them, by continuing to speak at re|engage with my wife, by continuing to encourage leaders and build into them in that way. I think that's where God would have me serve."

Over weeks and months of communal conversation and prayer, we're at a place where it's just time to share with you that Kyle is transitioning off the senior leadership of our church, and we're celebrating and thanking God for that, but we're using this as an opportunity to tell you that what leadership is called to do matters and that you all, every one of us, should aspire to be individuals who God would allow to serve in any and every way.

In fact, 1 Timothy 3:1 says, "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer…" It's the word episkopos. It's where we get the words presbytery and episcopal. "If any man aspires to be somebody who would lead all of God's people, it is a fine work he desires to do." What I want to tell you is that every single one of us should aspire to be an individual God would use in the highest forms of leadership.

By the way, let me go ahead and just deal with this one issue, because it does say if any man aspires, and I've talked about how we put forth men who would lead as elders. There's a reason. God has determined that the church, because of its picture of the Trinitarian relationship of God, where there is three persons who are one in essence but distinct in function, where there is equality in nature and in character and subordination in roles…

It's not because the Son is less than the Father, even though the Son in his incarnation said, "The Father is greater than I." The Father during the incarnation said, "Listen to him." The Father later says, "The Son is going to have the name above all names," and the Spirit says, "Hey, my job is to exalt the Son." The Son says, "I don't do anything except by the enabling of the Spirit." There's this beautiful harmony.

The Father exists for a purpose, the Son exists for a purpose, and the Spirit exists for a purpose. They are not just different "morphistic" expressions of God. That's called modalism. It is heresy. God has revealed himself as three persons who are one in essence with distinction in the persons and subordination in the function and perfect complementarian roles. Let me say it to you another way. You train little boys to be men, husbands if they yoke with a woman.

You train little girls to be women, wives. The Scripture says that they are to be subject to one another in love, but there is complementarianism. I, Todd Wagner, am the head of the household. My wife is subject to me in love, even as I'm subject to her. But my headship is not my rank; it is my role, and my wife's role is to help me be the kind of leader I have told her I want to be and before she married me she saw that I was.

So on some Christmas morning, when a basketball hits my cup of coffee and I scare the children, she says to me, "Hang on. Daddy, come here. Look, that's not the man I know you want to be. I know you thought that was just a very short little deal, but those seven seconds of terror affects your kids, and it was wrong. Even though you're king here, that is your role not your rank, and when a king lives contrary to the law of God, the king needs to not say, 'Shut up; you don't talk about it because I'm king.' The king goes, 'That was a violation of the law,' and he seeks forgiveness and makes amends."

Because I had a loving wife, that's the way we dealt with that famous Christmas, and slowly the mice came out from underneath the tree, but they still love to talk about it when we get around the family table. "Remember when Dad ruined Christmas?" I'm like, "Guys, come on!" Nonetheless, it's a great illustration that when leadership doesn't do what they should, it's amplified. I want to tell you there was other terror around the Christmas tree that didn't come from Dad, but when Daddy ain't right…

Have you ever seen that tee shirt that says, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"? That's a fact. The Bible says it this way in Proverbs 21:9: "Better to live in a desert land than a house with a contentious or vexing woman." If you get that around you, that significant leadership God put in place… That is no fun. So we have to dance around the monster. That's how you get a bunch of folks who go, "Just let it go. Let it go." That isn't loving to do with Mama.

But when somebody has a rolling pin and smacks you over the head and you're just a little kid, it's a problem. Or if you're married to it, it's a problem. There's a way to deal with it, but here's my point. The Bible says men should be elders. The Bible says elders should be servant leaders, not prima donnas. Elders, by the way, if they're married, ought to be committed to their wife. Elders who are committed to their wife are one with their wife, and therefore…

This is confusing when we say we kind of have women elders. They're not in the office of elder, but if you're married to a woman and you're one with her… Let me tell you, the women of our households have helped lead this church. There are other godly women in this church who we, as elders, go to and go, "Hey, this is what we're thinking. Tell us how this would affect the women of our church. Is this wise? How should we communicate this?" Because that's what wise men do. They know they need completers.

Ladies, you dream about a man who will lead you. Not a guy who will be abusive. I've given messages on this. I have never met a woman who has come into my office and said, "I'm leaving because my husband thinks he's the head of our household and he serves me to death. He uses all his power to bless me." I've never heard it said. But I have all kinds of women married to passive men who are absent who are almost bitter that they have to provide the leadership of their home or, because that leader thinks he's above the law, go to battle with him, and it's just a mess.

God wants men to lead, but he wants them to lead in such a way that it causes all people to be blessed. Part of leading well is listening to those who aren't your gender, aren't your color, aren't your nation, but who love your Lord. This church has prospered because those men have been leading with me. I want you to know that all of us know this incredible stewardship we've been given has been given by God, and this is what Jesus said. "Hey, listen. I'm King, and I didn't come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many."

If you are in a position of leadership, you make sure you are a servant leader. Don't lord it over others like you're Gentiles. Some of you guys don't even know Kyle. You don't know Dean. You don't know Beau. The reason is we're not trying to shove them down your face. These are guys who are trying to serve you in these five ways I'm about to tell you, and I want you to hear it, because that's the way you want to lead.

By the way, the way we got elders' names to begin with is because men and women put them forward and said, "We see these guys leading well. They are mature in Christ. Their marriages are a source of honor or they have conducted themselves well as a single man (the apostle Paul could be an elder at Watermark Church) and they have the margin to lead." We're not looking for impressive names on a letterhead. We're looking for shepherds who are present with the sheep. We were two years ago and we are today.

We've always said that we will add to our number when it will make us better. We don't give people positions because they'll be more vested. We go, "Look, our number-one job is to be unified in love and diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit that God wants us." We don't work for unanimity. We don't try to be unanimous. We work for unity under the direction of the Word of God, and we're subject to one another.

We don't ever step over a guy who says, "I don't think the Spirit of God is in that," but there have been times when a guy goes, "If you're asking me, I wouldn't do it, but I don't think that's against the Spirit of God," and the three have led the one or the three have led the two in subjection to one another, but never where there has been conflict we're like, "We don't think the Spirit of God is in that." Just the same way I've led my wife.

There has never been one time in 26 years of marriage when my wife said, "I don't believe that's the right thing to do" that I said, "Well, I'm the man; we're going to do it." Not one. Now the way we decorate our house, that's different. She's a flat dictator there. I go, "I don't want that painting." She goes, "Well, I do; it's my home," and it's up there. Because I told her that's her house. She can make it look like she wants. She goes, "I like that painting." I go, "That painting makes my back hurt. It makes me feel old." She goes, "I like the painting. Shut up and serve me."

There has never been a time we've had to step over each other, because we're committed to letting God work in us and through us. I want you to hear, as leaders of the church of Jesus Christ who aspire to be everything God wants you to be as a completing spouse or as a servant leader spouse, how you're to lead. Are you ready?

First of all, you lead with a lot of humility. I can remember early on, when these guys were first starting to lead with me and we had to get involved in some care of the sheep, they noticed when we would get in meetings… They said, "Todd, I notice when you're in some of these meetings where there's conflict or admonishment that's happening that you power down. You purposely talk softer. You even try and make your posture more receptive. Why is that?" I said, "Because I know what it feels like to be on that side."

We would look, and I would quote them verses like Galatians, chapter 6. It says, "Brethren, if any of you are caught in any spiritual trespass, you who are spiritual, reprove them in a spirit of gentleness, first looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted, and thus fulfill the law of Christ." I said, "Let me show you some verses I always want us to read, as we get ready to lead others who need to be admonished." Here are a couple of them.

I can remember us reading together when we would go into these things. This is what leaders should do. In 2 Timothy 2:24 it says, "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all…" I love what Mark Twain said. "Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and [the lived life] the blind can see." Frederick Faber, an old pastor, said kindness has converted more men than zeal, eloquence, or knowledge.

Jesus said, "They're going to know your mind by your lovingkindness and the way you guys lead with love." Not what you're against but your kindness. A Pharisee is somebody who is hard on others and easy on themselves. A Christ-follower, a spiritual man, is somebody who is hard on themselves and gracious to others. This verse is one of the ones we'd read as we'd go and talk.

"…be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…" Why? Because we want them to come to their senses. We want the kindness of God to lead them to repentance, that they might escape the snare of the Devil who has convinced them that going their own way, away from the community of saints, is a better way to go.

I had them read with me Titus, the very end of chapter 2 and into chapter 3. In chapter 2 it talks about how, first of all, because the grace of God has appeared to all men, that we should declare that shamelessly. Then you get to chapter 3, and it says, "Remind them to be subject to rulers…" In other words, that's not just to elders. It means live in a way that they aren't having to seek the subjection of the king to their will and way.

By the way, it's why it says in 1 Timothy, chapter 2, we are to pray for kings and all those who are in authority, that we might live quiet and tranquil lives. What it's saying is pray for the kings who are over you, that they don't force you to live in a way that's contrary to the will of God, because if they ask you to live contrary to the will of God, you cannot be quiet or tranquil. You might need to die. You might need to go to jail. You might need to lose your nonprofit status.

You might need to lose your popularity and speak for what is true. You don't let kings make you do what God says you shouldn't do, but make sure you're not just bucking against the king because he is making you eat an ice cream flavor you don't like, an issue of taste. But when it comes to truth, you don't swallow anything but what God wants. So you pray your king doesn't make you buck against God's truth.

In chapter 3 of Titus it says, "…be subject to rulers [in every way that's appropriate] , to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed…" Now watch this. You admonish them in that way. Verse 2 says, "…to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men." This is what I tell them. As we go in, shepherds have to have this mindset. "I'm here for the sheep, not for the sheep to make my life easy. I'm here to serve the sheep." Why? "For we ourselves were foolish."

Listen to this list. This is a good description of Todd Wagner before the grace of God showed up. "For we also once were…" (Todd was once, Kyle was once, Dean was once, Beau was once) "…foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." Verse 4: "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…"

Here's the point. When we go to talk to somebody else, we have to remember that was us before the Spirit of grace kicked in. Let us go and remind them of it and if necessary speak the truth, and if necessary say, "Hey, if you don't want to be part of the body of Christ, we have to declare that you're not so that the Word of God would not be maligned."

Hebrews 5:1-2, if you want one more. Daddy, think about this. Remember how hard it is to be a kid who's obedient to your old man? Then don't just tell them to shut up and do as they're told. Don't enable them. You're not there to be their buddy, but you are there to humbly lead them. Remember how hard it is. This is Hebrews 5:1-2. "For every high priest…" That's what a dad is over a family. "…taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God…"

That's why you're there, Dad. You're appointed by God to be there and to teach that kid things pertaining to God. It starts with covenantal love with Mama that creates security in the life of the child. It starts with selfless leadership that doesn't confuse his role with his rank. It starts with humility and Spirit dependence.

Then it says in verse 2 the reason a dad can do well… It really doesn't. It says the reason a high priest can do well is that "he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness." That's the way shepherds need to lead. It doesn't mean they enable rebellion. It just means we understand how we're all prone to wander, and if it weren't for the grace of God, there we go. So the grace of God better be living in us as we go, and we ought to call them back.

This is what leaders do. Five things very quickly, very high level. I talked about these more 16 years ago, but I want you to hear this, pastors at our conference today. By the way, if you're a nonbeliever and you're here, just understand this is how we look for spiritual authority around this place. We don't think our pastor is perfect or our elders are perfect. We don't think any of us are perfect, but we are spurring ourselves on to that which Jesus wants.

1.Emulate Christ. This is Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1, where he says, "Imitate me as I imitate the Lord Jesus Christ." Here's even a better example. In Philippians 3, Paul writes, "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do:

forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained."

What he means is that Jesus, in his kindness, has declared that we have become righteous in the eyes of God. We are free from judgment because we are holy in his sight because of what Christ has done for us. We've been covered by his blood.Paul is saying if we have been declared by God to be righteous, let us keep attaining to true righteousness. That can only happen as you depend more and more on him, as you devote yourself daily.

So, church, are you ready? Think about this. If we're the only believers in the world, from July 16 to July 23, how has the church done? If every single person you prayed for by name to come to know the power of the saving work of God and the power of his resurrection had trusted Christ this week just because you prayed for them, how many people would have trusted Christ?If everybody you engaged in a loving conversation responded to your declaration…

I know for certain it was three or four times this week that I engaged with people I'd never met before, and in the midst of a short conversation, somehow it turned to spiritual things, and I just said to them, "Let me ask you a quick question. Has anybody ever explained to you what the central message of the Bible is? I see that you're an intellectual person and you have a great desire to think on an intellectual level. The Bible is, without a doubt, the most influential book in all of human history. Do you even know what it says? If I had to ask you, 'What is the central message of the Bible?' what would you say it is?"

Almost without exception they say, "Well, I don't know. It's a rule book, and you have to be very good for a very long time, and God wants you to obey these Ten Commandments. But I don't even know if there's a God." I go, "Wait a minute. I didn't ask you if you knew there was a God. You and I both agree the Bible is the most translated, read, published, influential book in human history, right?" They go, "Yeah, I guess so." I go, "Great. So why are you rejecting its message when you don't even know what it says?"

I go, "Can I take 30 seconds and just tell you what the Bible says?" The guy goes, "Go ahead; 30 seconds." I go, "It just says this. It's not a rule book you have to obey in order to earn the love of God. The Bible is about God's rescue mission. God created man to enjoy him. Man thinks we don't need God to enjoy life. We go our own way, but when you leave the God who is wise and perfect and light and love and you're imperfect and not very wise, you sometimes choose hate and darkness.

That's what defines our world, because men think they can live without God, but God doesn't leave us in that. God tries to rescue us from that. He made provision for our sin so he can still be holy and just and yet a rescuer of those he loves. He sent Jesus who claimed to be God. Our world pivots on him. He made him obvious to you, because that resurrection event happened, because that was the way God showed his power to deliver us from the wages of sin, which is death is there. God isn't mad at you; he loves you and wants you to know him so you can have life indeed."

I can't tell you how many people go, "I've never heard anybody tell me that." I go, "Well, let me just tell you, quit trying to put together a résumé that God is going to accept and just understand your résumé puts you where mine is: in judgment. But God loves you and has provided for you, and you go look and see if that Jesus lived. You go look and see if that tomb was empty. You do your work, and I think you'll end up where Simon Greenleaf ended up."

"Who's Simon Greenleaf?" you might say. Well, he's the name the school of law at Harvard University is named after. There's a statue of him on that campus. Why? Because he's the greatest expert in historical evidence who has ever lived. He said of all of the events in all of history that can be proven in a court of law, the resurrection is number one, and that's why that brother came to believe in it.

Here's what I'm telling you. We have to be people who are taking the message out. So, church, how did the church grow last week? How did we do? I'm at a pastors' conference. How did we do? Here's what it says next. "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us."

You, dads, have to put that on your mirror. Every time you open your wallet, you have to see that verse and know this: every man by his own conduct, for better or worse, is educating the rising generation of the church, and you want to be a person who can say, "Imitate me as I imitate Jesus Christ." So forget what lies behind. I can't change July 16-23, and neither can you, but, pastors, we have work to do this week, and we'd better emulate Christ.

2.Evaluate opportunities. It's the job of leaders to state the truth, to see what's coming and to see what is. That's what leaders do. They define reality and prepare people for trouble. It's one of the reasons we treat this like a pastors' conference. There may be a day when we can't gather like this, and there should be thousands of locations ready to thrive. What a privilege for us to come and get equipped.

3.Equip the saints for the work of service. They don't say, "Come watch us do ministry and applaud." They say, "My job is for you to be equipped and to grow and to be useful to Christ in such a way that when you stand before the Father he says to you, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'" He's not going to say, "Well done. You picked a good podcast to listen to. Well done. The church you went to had a good doctrinal statement. Well done. The church you went to was philanthropic and salt and light."

You're going to give an account for what you did, pastor, and my job is to help serve you, teach you seminal things, seed truths that will grow and produce fruit. That's what a seminary is. Put a little semen in the egg of a woman and it brings forth life. You put a little semen, a seed of truth, in the egg that is your heart, and it should produce spiritual living. Seminal truth.

4.Empower others. You guys hear me say this all the time. I tell my staff, "You're not trying to get people to join your fan club; you're trying to set people up. You serve them so they can be unleashed to the glory of God." Our job and the job of the leaders from the very beginning at Watermark has always been about being people who together represent Christ in this community.

I hope you hear me say that. That is why everything we're doing is to try and set you up to be useful and fruitful, to be a model for you, to be an encouragement to you, but ultimately, to provide for you opportunities to steward your life well.

5.Envision the future. Sometimes people ask, "What's the vision of Watermark? What's your five-year plan?" Here's our five-year plan. We don't have a bunch of pins in maps where we're trying to have other campuses. We're trying to have people on mission. We're not trying to get bigger; we're trying to become more biblical.

I spent the hour from when I got done teaching and talking to people here… I was with a group of people in another room, because one person was transitioning away from Watermark, and they were leaving for some reasons they said they were willing to talk about, so I sat with them and another elder to love on them and to understand and be sharpened and be encouraged, to seek their forgiveness if it needed to be sought and to clear up misunderstandings.

I always said the day we're too big to lose one person is the day we're too big. There is a biblical example of a guy who had 100 sheep and one of them walked away. He made sure the 99 were cared for, and he went and sought the one. You matter to God. You are not a number to us. You are God's beloved who he shed his blood for. That's the way everybody in your Community Group is to you. That's the way your children are to you. It's the way your friends are, single friends, to one another.

Those are people of God called by his name whom God has given you the privilege of loving. Our vision for the future is that we would continue to call faithfulness success. Our vision for the future is that we would measure our success by our ability to be and make disciples. Guess what? If we do that, I have a hunch God is going to multiply his people and God's people are going to become more useful to him.

One of the reasons Watermark has been useful for 16 years is because my buddy Kyle Thompson has led us that way. About six years ago, when Kyle had been here for 10 years, I had him come in and spend extended time with the whole staff. I said, "Kyle, tell them something you've learned over 10 years of ministry." He said, "I'll tell you something I knew 10 years ago when I started spiritual leadership and something I'm even more sure of now."

He said, "I am absolutely certain that my success is directly related to my dependence on God." Then he developed that idea. As Kyle leaves, I am absolutely convinced that is how our success will be determined. Can I just say this to you, pastors, as we close? The degree to which God will use you is directly related to the degree to which you are dependent upon God, and the degree to which you're dependent upon God can be evaluated by seeing how much God is using you.

Here's a man God has used greatly to sharpen me, to serve you as a humble leader, and to help us be what God wants the body of Christ to be. I asked him, as his last act as elder, to pray for us, that we would continue together in being faithful where we are. Kyle, thank you for serving with me. There are only two reasons any of us think are acceptable that we should stop being elders. The first one is that we're dead. The second one is…

Kyle Thompson: That we feel like we're leading well and he has something else for us to continue to lead in.

Todd: What Kyle feels like he can do, as opposed to leading with me about the daily concern of the church, is to be a member of the church who's using his gifts in ways that are going to be more specific in application in community, leadership, and discipleship. Even while he has been discipling here and doing X plus Y, now he's going to get to do X plus X to the glory of God. So would you pray for this group of pastors and folks who are wondering what pastors do who have just heard, that we would know more of Christ and walk faithfully with him?

Kyle: Father, I thank you for this church. I thank you for the ways you have transformed me by the body of Christ here, and I thank you that you clearly are the leader here, that as your leaders, our responsibility, our role is to follow you and submit to you, to love the people you put in our path. So I pray that they would know that we are your disciples by the way we love people.

I pray that we would love the folks in our communities, in our neighborhoods, above all in our homes, and I thank you for the way you empower us to do that, the way your Spirit works through us. Above all, Father, I thank you for the way you created us and allow us to have relationship with you because of your depth of love for us through the sacrifice of Christ, amen.

Todd: Here's how I want to end our pastors' conference. Apart from him we can do nothing, but with him there's no limit to what God wants to do for his glory and the good of others. So let's just end our little time together today with, "Lord, I need you." Let's declare that together. Let's live from July 23 to July 30 with great faithfulness. Let's expand the church. Let's devote to him individually and counsel biblically. Let's make this our prayer.