It’s really hard to be a teenager is 2018. This is the first generation to grow up in a completely digital age, only 4% of teenagers born since 1999 have a biblical worldview, and teen depression and suicide rates are both skyrocketing. However, don’t lose hope! The key to having a healthy church is having a healthy next generation. By using 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 as a foundational Scripture and encouraging church membership, we are seeing life transformation and growth in teenagers as we make sure they are: 1) Known & accepted, 2) Taught about Jesus, and 3) Challenged to grow.
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Dignity of Responsibility
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The Cost of the Cross
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Todd Wagner: Good morning. Hello, friends. How are we doing? As you know, we just finished a study of the book of Acts. I shared when I was doing that that whatever book of the Bible I am in is my favorite book. It becomes the place that I'm like, "Man, if you're going to read anywhere, read in this one," just because when you spend time someplace and focus on the richness and beauty of what God has revealed in that part of Scripture…
All Scripture, we know, is God-breathed, it says, or inspired by God, and is profitable. When I spend time mining in an area, it becomes my favorite book of the Bible. I have a similar experience here when I look at different places the body of Christ is deployed and at work. When I look at what we're doing in our External Focus ministry and our QuestCare Watermark clinics, and when I look at what we're doing at re:gen or re|engage, when I see what's happening in our children's ministry, I'm like, "Man, that is my favorite thing we do at Watermark."
I will tell you right now my favorite thing we do at Watermark is the way we minister to students, sixth grade through twelfth grade, because that's where I've been focused a little bit lately with some of my conversations and where we're going to focus a little bit this morning. I want you to hear from my friend David Penuel, who has been on staff for 16 years. For 10 he led our junior high ministry, and the last 6 he has been leading the high school and student ministry for us.
David recently was communicating to incoming sixth-grade parents why we do what we do for those seven years we have them from sixth to twelfth grade. I just said, "David, you and I are going to do something together on a Sunday where we talk about this for the whole church and I explain to the whole church what we need to do to make those seven years even more fruitful." That's what we're going to do today. It's an amazing opportunity for you to get a keen picture on what it is we're about. I'm going to get down so I can get back up quickly, but I want you to hear from my friend David Penuel. David, come on up here. Lay it on them.
David Penuel: I'm going to give you guys a chance to redeem yourself. When Todd said student ministry was his favorite ministry, Tommy was the only person who clapped. Student ministry is awesome, right? Okay, thank you. First of all, before we get started, happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there. Raise your hand if you're a mom. Let's hear it for the moms! My mom is a member of Watermark Community Church. She has been a faithful example to me. She loves God so much. She loves people. She even loves animals God created.
We grew up with a dog. It was a mix between a Pomeranian and a poodle and Satan all in one. It was one of those dogs that snarls and bites your ankles if you walk too close. My reaction is to kick the dog. My mom's is to pick it up and share with our dog how that's just sin bound up in her heart and how she needs a Savior. She would share the gospel with our dog for fear it might not be in heaven with us someday.
She brought the dog out to the baptism pond, turned it on its back, and pushed it… She didn't do that. That would be crazy. Sharing the gospel to ensure the salvation of a dog…that's normal. My mom is great. Moms are the greatest. We're going to talk about how moms inspire me and inspire us at this church to love and serve high school students. Before I do that, I want to state something that might be obvious to you, but I want to make sure we're all on the same page.
It is really hard to be a teenager in 2018. Those of you who are not teenagers…you're older like me…I want you to imagine what it would be like to go through adolescence today. See, when I was a teenager, I had to work hard to find pornography, and I had to hide it. We had to go get a magazine and keep it somewhere or we had to turn the volume down really late to find something on TV or to put in that video. We had to sneak, and we had to work. Teenagers today have these. This didn't come out until 2007.
The generation that are teenagers in 2018 are the first generation that has grown up in a completely digital culture where they have access to global libraries of pornography, and not just access; it is sent to them. It is pushed on them. All the time they're confronted with the temptation of pornography, and that's just one of the many temptations this brings into their lives. They live with a temptation machine on their nightstand.
When I was a teenager, we had bullies. I was a late bloomer. I didn't go through puberty until I was 17. It is awkward when you like a girl and your legs are more silky smooth than hers. But also there were a lot of older, more developed guys who would pick on guys like me. This guy named Keith, a grown man in high school. He has a bald head. He has a beard. He has pecs the size of small children dancing around.
He would call me names. He would bump into me in the hall. He'd walk behind me in the bleachers and kick me in the ribs because he knew I could do nothing about it. I had to worry about bullies when I was in high school. Do you know what I never had to worry about? Someone coming into my school with a gun. Teenagers today live in a war zone.
We had fire drills and tornado drills. Do you know what my second grader just had a couple of weeks ago? Lockdown drills, where they had to review what they would do if there was an active shooter in their school and they were in the hallway, they were in the cafeteria, they were at recess, they were in gym class, they were in their classroom. "Let's huddle up in the corner and shove something in front of the door." That's the world kids today are growing up in.
When I was a kid, I had to worry about that unit in biology when we talked about evolution. I was a Christian, and I had to take a stand against the culture and talk about creation. That was what I had to be ready to dialogue about. Do you know what kids today have to be ready to talk about? Christian kids in their classrooms have to be able to talk about marriage, about sexuality, about attraction, about gender identity, and the sanctity of life.
Researchers today are calling the generation kids are growing up in the first truly post-Christian generation. Our entire society and culture has been almost completely secularized here in the United States. The research group Barna recently released the results of a study in January this year, and here's what they found. Amongst people who have been born since 1999, only 4 percent of them hold to a biblical worldview.
Here's what that means for kids who are growing up in this hyper-sexualized, pornographic culture where there are constant threats all around them. It means they're growing up in a place where rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer, and Bible reading are at an all-time low, and the culture is on the offensive now against Christianity.
Christians in their schools and even in their friend groups are singled out, marginalized, and chastised for their belief that there could be a God, that there could be a biblical morality, that there could be a plan for living that is anything other than "You do you, and each person go their own way." That's the world kids are growing up in today.
All of these things are taking their toll. Rates of teen depression and suicide are skyrocketing. We are in the middle of the worst mental health crisis for young people in decades. It is a dark world. It is hard to be a teenager in 2018. So, church, what are we doing about it? How are we reaching, how are we caring for, and how are we leading and shepherding these young people through this crooked and depraved generation?
I think you're going to be encouraged this morning. Todd asked me to come up here and share with you what our church is doing to reach and care for and shepherd these young people. If you have your Bible, get it out now and open it up. I'm going to show you our foundational Scripture for student ministry here at Watermark. It's in the book of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2. I'm going to share with you this foundational Scripture, and then I'm going to explain to you our top three priorities for ministering to teenagers here at Watermark.
We're just going to be looking at verses 7-8. The background of this book of the Bible is it is a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church at Thessalonica. These were people he knew and knew very well. He and Silas and Timothy spent months building relationships with the people in Thessalonica, sharing the gospel with them, and teaching them about God's intention for church. They had left and gone on other journeys, and they're writing back to encourage these people.
So here's the encouragement Paul gave to the church at Thessalonica, and the example Paul gave is the example we are seeking to follow as we love and serve sixth through twelfth graders at Watermark. Here's what it says in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8: "Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you." Here on Mother's Day, I want you to know we are following the example of great mothers. We want to love unconditionally and care for the young people at this church.
Here's what Paul says. "Because we loved you so much [like a nursing mother] , we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well." We don't just want to preach at this generation, to throw truth at them, to just bombard them with the Bible. We want to share our lives with them. We want to give them lives that are worthy of imitation. We want to give them people, actual individuals, incarnations of Christ in their life, and say, "Follow their example as they follow the example of Christ."
Here's how we translate that. Every single time high schoolers gather in here for a gathering we call Shoreline, a large group gathering, we put this graphic up on the screen that states our top three priorities for high school students. We say, "We want Watermark to be a place where every high school student is known and accepted, is taught about Jesus, and is challenged to grow." With the rest of our time this morning, what I want to do is unpack these top three priorities we have for students here at Watermark, and I think you're going to be encouraged.
What does it mean when it is a priority for us that students are known and accepted? Here's what that means. Teens today need a place where they can be real, where they don't have to put on a performance to be accepted. Here's how we do that. When kids come into our ministry in sixth grade, we put them in what we call a Small Group with a few adult leaders who are committed to knowing them intimately and accepting them, like a mother knows and cares for her child.
These people are devoted, starting in sixth grade, to stay with the same group of kids year after year after year, because a good mother doesn't just mother for one year and then pass them off to the next mother who mothers them for a year and then passes them off. "Oh, I'm the 4-year-old mother. Bring the 4-year-olds to me." No, no, no. We want to devote our lives to them. Watermark, I want you to understand this.
There is a group of hundreds of young adults at your church who devote their lives every Wednesday night for a couple of hours to teach God's Word to kids, to know them, to share their life with them, their faith with them, their example with them, to shepherd them through what they're going through. Every Wednesday night, from sixth grade through twelfth grade. They commit seven years every Wednesday night. That's what's going on at your church.
These Small Group leaders who do this are volunteers, and they are my heroes. If you know one of them, get them a gift card. That's the least you can do. For seven years of their life. Why do they do that? They do that so these kids can be known and accepted. When they're growing up in this generation, they might be fearful.
They might feel anxious at times, overwhelmed, stressed out, depressed, trapped in sin, guilty, ashamed, doubting, or questioning, and these people are there to say, "We're not going to reject you for that. We're not going to run away from you. We're not going to send you off somewhere else. We want to know you, and we want to care for you, and we want to show you God loves you."
I want to put some pictures up on the screen. This is from our senior dessert, where we celebrated Small Groups. One picture is from junior high; the other one is from high school. Look at it. The group of guys over here on this side who are older and in high school who have been with the same leaders since they were on this side…
Do you think they feel known and accepted and cared for and loved by those people who have given them seven years of their life? Absolutely. We hope in that knowing and accepting and loving they come to know and understand the love of God, because that's all we are: a conduit of the love of God.
That brings me to our second priority for high school students. We don't just want these kids to feel known and accepted; we want them to be taught about Jesus, because they have problems in their lives, and there are problems in this world, and we want these kids to understand that every problem in this world and every problem in their lives has a common source and a common solution. People, the source of our problems and the problems of teenagers today is sin, and the solution is Jesus Christ.
We are not running a ministry that is teaching them how to cope with this world. This is not tips and tricks for self-help. We are pointing them to a Savior. We are teaching these kids that they are not naturally good on their own and they don't have what it takes to fix their own problems, but there is a Savior who is good, who is reliable, who they can depend on. With everything we do, we are sharing this good news with them.
Every single time a Small Group gathers, either an adult leader or one of the students who understands the gospel shares the gospel with the group. We study the Bible. We go through books of the Bible, but before we do that we start every Small Group with a simple presentation of the gospel, because we have to teach these kids about Jesus. They have to know that Jesus is their author. There is a maker. Jesus is their ransom, their Savior, their refuge, their hiding place.
Jesus is their helper, their healer. He's their blessed Redeemer. He's their answer, their saving grace. Jesus is their hope in the shadows of this dark world. Jesus is their strength in the battle of their teenage years. He's their anchor for all their days. Jesus is the one who everywhere they go, everything they do, stands by their side. He's the one who stood in their place on the cross. It is Jesus, no other name where they can find hope. So we are teaching them about Jesus. (I stole all that from a song. Those are lyrics, but it's good.)
We want kids to be known and accepted. We want them to be taught about Jesus, and here's our last priority for high school students here at Dallas: we want them to be challenged to grow. What does it mean when we prioritize challenging students to grow? Here's what it means. We want to call them to embrace everything God has created them to be. We believe every single person is a masterpiece created by God. They are his workmanship, and he has good works prepared in advance for them to do. We want to point them to those good works.
We believe every person who trusts Jesus Christ as their Savior has the Spirit of God living with them, and that Spirit has given them specific gifts to be used to serve others. There is no age limit or age requirement on the gifting of the Holy Spirit. We believe these kids who have been known and accepted and have been taught about Jesus and have given their lives to him have gifts that should be used to serve the church.
We believe high school students should not just go to church; we believe they should be the church. Church is not a cruise ship for them; it is a battleship. We do not entertain them only; we deploy them as missionaries on this mission. We have a program here called LEAD Team, where we invite high school students to participate in the high school ministry. The reason we do that is I firmly believe the best ministers to high school students are other high school students.
They're way better missionaries and ministers to their peers than I am. As the student pastor here at Watermark, I could go to a high school for lunch every single Thursday. I could get into the school and put on my little name badge and go sit at the lunch table. I could sit down and start to engage with all of these lost teenagers across this city as best I can, but do you know what I am when I do that? I'm creepy. I'm a suspect.
It would take me a long time to build trust and relationship with all of those teenagers out there. But do you know who has integrity to speak truth? The other students they sit by, who they're on teams with, who they've known since elementary school. When I walk in there, if I try to build a relationship and share my faith, it's suspicious.
But when there's a conversation about one of the topics I mentioned earlier in their classroom and somebody is silent and Will talks to that kid afterward in the lunch room and says, "Hey, I noticed when we were debating in there and everybody was piling on me for being a Christian, you were silent. What do you believe?" that door is open because there's a relationship. So we call these kids. We go, "Hey, God has gifted you. God has you in your school for a purpose, and you're far more equipped and ready to be a minister in that school than I am."
So we call them to engage in the mission of the church. We say, "Guys, don't just go to church; be the church. Going to church is boring. Being the church is a great adventure." We call them to membership here at Watermark. Do you know there are hundreds of high school students who are active members of this church, who serve just like you serve, who are in community just like you're in community, who fill out the 4B every year just like you fill out the 4B?
Why is it important we call kids to church membership? Because they are called to be salt and light in this world. It is countercultural to be a member of a church, and it shines brightly when students take that initiative. I want to close by sharing with you four countercultural statements that are being sent by young members of this body, and I hope you are encouraged by this.
First, in this world that is increasingly non-committed and unreliable, church membership says, "I can make deep commitments." Young people are demonstrating to this world that they can make and keep commitments. One of my favorite things I get to see happen working with high school students is this: We do this huge event every year called DTown, where kids gather here for worship, and then they go and spend the night in host homes that just get demolished by them.
They eat way too much junk food, stay up way too late, and have way too much fun. I love it when my friends stay up until 4:00 a.m. eating crepes and singing karaoke, and then they wake up at 7:30 because there is a class of fourth and fifth graders who are depending on them to teach them God's Word. They have made and are keeping their commitment to the body of Christ. That fires me up. That encourages me.
I love to see pictures like this one I saw on Instagram this week posted by Becca Nail. Becca is a former student who grew up here at Watermark, and now she's a Small Group leader. She has eighth-grade girls she has been with for three years, and here's what Becca said on the caption of this post of these five eighth-grade girls. "These girls, tho!" (That's the cool 2018 way of saying though. You can just spell words however they sound.)
She says, "Just look at them all grown up and everything, taking intentional steps to cultivate their growing relationships with Christ. What an honor it is to watch them run the race that's been set before them." These five girls were at our membership class last weekend. Eighth-grade girls saying, "I've been known and accepted here. I have been taught about Jesus, and I believe he has a purpose for my life, and I want to join this mission." That fires me up.
The second countercultural statement membership makes is in a me-centered and consumer-driven society, where people come to church and all they talk about is what they got out of it… You might be guilty of this today. You might have been guilty of this last week. "Well, I just didn't get that much out of it" or "They were talking about teenagers the whole time."
Guess what, guys. This isn't about what you get out of it. It shouldn't be. Church should be about what you contribute to it. So it sends this countercultural message when a teenager becomes a member. "I'm a contributor here, not a consumer. I know God has called me to follow the first and greatest commandment, which is to love him, and then the second one, which is to love others."
Nowhere in there is "And to go somewhere where you get a lot out of it." That's not what God asks of us. He asks us to love others, to serve others, to give our lives to others the way he gave his life for us. A student becoming a member says, "I am not a consumer here; I'm going to be a contributor," and that is a powerful, brightly shining, countercultural message.
Thirdly, in an individualistic, independence-worshiping culture, where people just say, "Hey, you do you, and I'll do me," church membership says, "I am not independent. I belong to a body." It demonstrates an awareness of Romans, chapter 12, which says we are one body with many parts. There is an ear that needs the eye, and there is an eye that needs the ear.
I am not independent. I am not self-sufficient. I need to belong somewhere. I need to be cared for and shepherded, and I need to contribute to the lives of others. It is a beautiful display of God's love, his commitment to community and belonging, the oneness he dwells in through all of eternity through the Trinity. We demonstrate that through the way we love and serve and belong and abide with one another in his name. It makes a powerful countercultural statement.
Finally, in this relativistic world, where everyone has their own truth and is entitled to their own truth, which means there's no guiding standard of what's right and wrong and no accountability for anyone anymore, joining a church at a young age makes a powerful statement. Standing up and saying, "I'm willingly placing myself under leadership. I am going to submit to leadership the way God has designed me, the way God has designed his church." That's powerful.
A young person, a teenager, saying, "Yes, please. I will take authority. I need leadership. I need shepherding. I need accountability. I believe my life counts, so I need accountability to keep me on the right track." That's a powerful, countercultural statement. In summary, we want to love students here like a nursing mother cares for her kids. We want to know them and accept them. We want to teach them about Jesus. We want to challenge them to grow.
We don't want to just share the gospel with them, but we want to share our very lives as well. Man, it is hard to be a teenager in 2018, but be encouraged. There is hope. It is a dazzling and a glorious thing to see a teenager growing up in this world that is so hard find the security in being known and accepted, discovering the redemption that is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and then surrendering their lives to his purpose and loving and serving others. It is wonderful.
It's why I've been doing what I've been doing for 16 years, and it is awesome. It is your church. So here's what I want to invite you to do as we close. I want to pray for this generation. I want to pray for the young people in this city, and then Todd is going to come back up here and tell you what all this has to do with you. Would you bow your heads and join me in praying?
Dear God, I want to pray for the kids in this city who are far from you, who are struggling right now in this dark world. Many of them are hopeless and wondering if life is worth living. I pray that you would bring them to this place. I pray that you would bring this place to them, that young people who know you would be salt and light in their lives, that they would love them and serve them in the name of Jesus.
I pray that they would have the opportunity to be known and accepted here, taught about you. For those who have been known and accepted and have been taught about you, I pray that they would be challenged here to grow and to use everything they have for the glory of your name. Would you help us continue to do that? In Jesus' name, amen.
Todd: Way to go, David. It's pretty amazing what's happening here. David, let me just say this. I know it's Mother's Day. I heard what you said at the beginning. Have you gotten your mom a gift yet? I have something you can give her. You can just email it right to her. We did a little something I think would be helpful to your mom. She ought to check that out. It'll save her some time next time a dog needs to be kicked.
Some of you guys are out there and you're like, "Man, that would have been amazing if somebody would have poured into my life from sixth through twelfth grade, if somebody would have known and accepted me and taught me about Jesus and challenged me to grow." Do you know what the only thing is that would have been better than that happening for those seven years? If somebody would know and accept you, teach you about Jesus, and challenge you to grow in Christlikeness for your entire lifetime, just like God intended.
There's an old Spanish proverb that says, "An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest." We're going to give your kids, for seven years, a ton of priest, but God's design is that you would give them 18 years, specifically, of intensive ounce of the most powerful thing in their life. In fact, I took that Spanish proverb and rewrote it to say, "Eighteen years of faithful fathering and mothering is worth a hundred years of ecclesiological correction."
The church can try and correct and regain for a hundred years, but if Mom and Dad are in the way, if they're not modeling for them and calling them to come and be what God wants them to be… In fact, if they're off course, if they're unengaged themselves, those kids are going to really struggle. We see that all the time here. Do you know which teenagers we see struggle at Watermark? Teenagers of parents who are not engaged themselves, who are not committing to the things Christ calls them to commit to.
They're not people who can make and keep commitments. They're not individuals who are contributing; they're consuming. They're not individuals who are part of something larger than them. They're not a part of a body. They don't practice the "one anothers" of Scripture in an abiding communal relationship, and they don't themselves make themselves subject to authority. Kids see that.
They go, "Oh, I get it. You want me to be involved with a youth group because you just don't want me to sleep around. You don't want me to embarrass the family name. You don't want me to drink and drive. You just want me to behave and basically not embarrass you, but then I can grow up and get older and kind of treat Jesus and the church like some accessory that I kind of get around to when I want to. Oh, I get it. Jesus isn't really for life; he's just a trick to get kids to behave."
This is how you get what are called PKs, people who grow up inside a church where there is a dad or a mom who says Jesus matters but ultimately isn't an individual who really cares about Jesus outside of the church environment. PKs are kids, traditionally, where the dad looks like he cares about spiritual things or maybe preaches on Sunday, but at home he's a terror. He doesn't love and lead the family the way he should, and those kids go, "I get it. That's just a job. It's just a gig. That's just how you control people through high school."
Parents are the greatest asset to a child or they have the greatest hindrance to their spiritual development. Let me show you this. Fifty-nine years ago, this week almost, on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell had a painting called Sunday Morning. You can see Mom has her little ducklings, and they're on their way. Dad is kind of slumping down. He has a cigarette working, a cup of coffee. He wants to read the newspaper and be left alone. "I don't want to go to church."
At first glance, you kind of watch Mom and what looks like her piety or maybe her annoyance, but if you look a little closer there are a couple of things you see. First, look at the young boy. Look at where his eyes are. Like, "I get it. That's what men do. This is a woman's world over there at church, and when I get older I'm going to be just like Dad and not engage with spiritual things." Watch what Rockwell did. You may not see this initially when you look at it. Dad didn't just have bed head. Look at his hair. Yep.
I want to tell you one of the Enemy's greatest tools, one of Satan's greatest weapons is a disengaged father. I don't know what you were reading this week. I was diving into a little book. It was called The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in Certain European States. It's riveting. Literally, in volume 2, chapter 31, there's a little chapter on population studies, and the subtext was, "The demographic characteristics of linguistic and religious groups in Switzerland."
So I was reading this. You go, "What in the world?" It was because I was looking for studies out there that accomplished and taught this very truth. What they did in 1994 in Switzerland is they asked everybody in the country as part of their decade-long census… They said, "Hey, we're trying to determine whether a person's religion is carried through to the next generation, and if so why, and if not why not."
Here's what they found. What they found was that if the mother and father are totally engaged in what's happening in the spiritual world and pursuing Christ or their religion, then the kids have an incredibly high return rate to continue in that, but what happens specifically with the father… If the father is disengaged, if he doesn't attend or pursue religious services, it doesn't matter at all how faithful the wife is.
Only 2 percent of children of a father who is not pursuing or attending religious services follow the conviction even of a devoted mother in the next generation. That means 1 out of 50. Let me tell you something. When the book of Thessalonians was written, it was written in order to share with you what spiritual leadership looks like. Spiritual leadership doesn't just look like a tender mother with a nursing child. There is compassion, but there is also an uncompromising call to something.
Let's just read it. You'll see in verses 7-8 of 1 Thessalonians 2 (it's the passage David quoted) he's encouraging his leaders to model this. You have to know and accept them. But I know better than David just stopping with this, because the second thing he says… We teach them about Jesus and challenge them to grow in their faith. Where does that aspect of the ministry come from? It's right there in verses 9-12.
"For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." That's what we're about. "You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children…"
The problem with the church in America today is it's led by women or by weak men. This is not a gal problem; this is a guy problem. It's what's called the emasculation of the American churchor the feminization of the American church, where it only has one aspect of what it is God expects people to see and hear as they're learning of him and being called to follow him.
Paul is not really talking about womanhood and manhood here. He's saying there are certain attributes of God that are commonly most fully revealed in a woman as she tenderly cares for a nursing child. That's an aspect of the love of God. Part of Christian leadership is that you would be kind, but part of Christian leadership is what is commonly found in fathers, where there is exhorting and encouraging and imploring, where there is a call to something.
So there's not just kindness, but there's a call to be controlled by the Spirit of God. In other words, there's not just an affection; there's an authority in your life. There's not just an embracing of you; there is an exhorting of you. There's not just the cherishing God intends; there's also the challenging. When you fail to have that second aspect, what you get is a weak church. Paul is talking here about spiritual leadership.
Let me just show you what happens when you have godly leadership in the home or when you have godly leadership over the church. I'm going to say again the reason the church in America is so feckless, so ineffective is it's not led by individuals who understand the call that is right here in the Scripture. It is led by what we would commonly call the womanly characteristics and not the male characteristics.
My wife and I do both. My wife has a tendency at times to be the one who is more embracing. I'm the one who is more encouraging or exhortative. She's the one who's more cherishing by nature; I'm the one who's more challenging by nature. There are times I look at her and go, "Hey, you have to get these little boys out from underneath your skirt. Get them off your breast. They're weaned. They have to grow up."
Every now and then, she's going to look at me and say, "Hey, brother, why don't you just chill out a little bit so they don't all run to therapy the first chance they get?" There are times when I tell my wife, "Hey, sweetie, just chill a little bit," and there are times she says to me, "Todd, don't be an enabling dad. Don't be just a good ol' guy. You have to call them to something." We help each other both ways. That's what we do. We complete one another all the time.
What Paul is doing right here, though, is he's saying if you're just like a mother with a nursing child and never like a father exhorting and imploring and encouraging, something is not going to go well. You won't produce the kind of disciples you find right here in Thessalonica. Let me just show you what kind of church is in Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1, he says, "You are, in fact, in God and in Jesus Christ. You are the true church."
He goes through. In verse 2 he says, "The kind of church that produces thanksgiving." I'm so glad these people exist in the city, people who have a genuine faith, a picture of it, because they have a faith that works, a love that labors, and a hope that endures or is steadfast. It's not just a church that sings about the love of God and then never works it out. No, it's a genuine church, and because of that Paul says, "I know you are really God's church." That's what he said.
"I see God chose you. In his sovereignty and grace he elected you to be his people. You are his workmanship. It is clear, Thessalonians, that God has called you to know him, and you become imitators of us." That's in verse 6. The true church imitates the apostles or imitates Christ. They're faithful followers. You'll find in verse 7 the true church is an example to others. In verse 8 it says, "The Word of the Lord has sounded forth from you." It's an evangelistic, teaching church. They care about the Word of God.
You see in verse 9 it's a transformed community. Something really happened in their life. They no longer worship idols. They turn to God from idols. Then in verse 10 it says, "You are waiting for the Lord's coming. You have an eternal mindset. You're not living for this world." Where does a church like that come from? It comes when the leadership calls you to know of the love of God and then to respond to it.
One of the things that sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out is when people go, "Well, Watermark, man. Be careful over there. That's a do church. You go to Watermark, and they're going to ask you to respond and walk with Jesus and practice the 'one anothers' of Scripture. As each one of you has received a gift, you're going to be asked to employ it as good stewards of the manifold grace of God in serving one another.
You go over there, and they're going to ask you to be in community and love each other and really get after it. We're a gospel church over here. We just preach the gospel and the love of God. We're a be church." I'm like, "What? What?" It doesn't even make any sense. The true gospel is not just, "Come here, baby. Come here. Just be nursed in the love of God. Aw, here comes the never-ending, unquenchable, reckless love of God.
We just want you to know every week that God loves you just the way you are, and we just want you to come back next week, and we'll tell you how much he loves you again." That's half a gospel. That is so true, and you'd better preach about the love of God and the love of God demonstrated, but you also have to say, "You are his workmanship, and I exhort you and implore you to respond to the love you've been given."
By the way, there are some churches that are like, "Hey, you'd better get with it. You'd better earn your salvation." That's not the church of Jesus Christ. We never do things so God will love us, and we never say God loves us so it doesn't matter what we do. Those are both heresies. What God calls us to is to be people who get after it.
Two weeks ago, we had my friend Gary Haugen with IJM here. What kind of ministry do you think IJM is? Do you think that's a do ministry? This week's Real Truth. Real Quick. is…Is Modern Slavery Real? I'm not just talking about metaphorical modern slavery. I mean are people today physical oppressed and terrorized into servitude? Yes, to the tune of 40 million, more than ever in the history of the earth. We talk about that and what we should do about it.
Do you think there's some little girls right now caught up in sex trafficking who are going, "Man, I'm so glad the church in America today is just singing songs about God's love for them and how God cares about justice and poured out his wrath on Jesus on the cross so they could understand they can be forgiven because the wrath of God has been propitiated and satisfied through the payment of the sacrifice of Christ. Oh, I'm so glad they know that"? No. No.
There's a little girl somewhere being caught in a sex trafficking ring, being oppressed and enslaved, and she goes, "I am so glad there are doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude themselves." We don't work for our salvation. God in his kindness has delivered us through works he has accomplished for us, but we do work out our salvation with fear and trembling, lest we are people who love him in word and not in deed. In other words, we know the story; we just don't know a Savior and the way he transforms us.
When all you have is a church that emphasizes the tenderness of God and not the call of God, then you have a perverted church. That is why we call you. Do you want to know why so many people in the next generation are leaving? They're leaving because they don't see the generation ahead of them going, "This is worth living for forever. This isn't just to get you to behave in high school; this is where life indeed is," and you model that for them.
These are the words of Moses. He says you should teach your children when you sit in the house, when you walk in the way, when you lie down, when you rise up. It should be evidenced in the work of your hands. It should be in the frontals of your foreheads. In the way you speak and think, it should be obvious that you love God. It should be on the door of your house, and it should be at the entrance to the gate to your city. It should be everywhere. People who see you and everything you do should see your love of God.
This is what Paul did. Paul said, "We didn't just impart to you the gospel but our very lives as well, and our lives showed you the love of God and a right response to him, and we encouraged and exhorted and implored. We weren't concerned you were going to leave us, because we called you to something." That's what the church does. Look at this. Do you want to be a little bit convicted? This is how Paul led.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:5, look at what he says. "As you know." Chapter 2, verse 1: "For you yourselves know." Chapter 2, verse 5: "As you know." Chapter 2, verse 7: "We proved." Verse 8: "We imparted to you our lives." Verse 9: "You recall because you saw us live this way before you." Verse 10: "You were witnesses of the way we lived." Verse 11: "Just as you know." Paul said, "You know this is the gospel because you saw me live it. You saw me talk to you about the love of God, the fact that his Son went to the cross for you, and you saw me respond to the cross."
This is what the church does. There are so many pastors who are just like tender mothers gently nursing their babe. They say, "Just come here. We're not going to ask anything. We'll change your little diaper. We'll burp you. We'll never ask too much of you. You just come back and love Mama." Pastors are cowards in this country, weak men, because they don't call people to be disciples. We're not going to make that mistake here.
We want you to know if you missed out on those seven years where somebody knew you and accepted you, taught you about Jesus, and challenged you to grow, we want to do that for you now. This isn't just a high school ministry. I'm telling you, if you're an adult with high school kids or children, they're going to be a one-in-fifty freak of statistic that they'll follow Christ if you don't commit, if you don't contribute, if you don't submit to authority that shows that you matter so you want others to love and spur you on.
We want to disciple you. We want to come alongside of you and invest years into you so you can be the kind of spiritual leaders who produce kids who are worth giving thanks for, who have a work of faith, a labor of love, a hope that endures, who are examples to all other humans, who are imitators of Christ, who the Word of God goes forth through, and who live for an eternal mindset. That's not going to happen unless it happens to you. So let's go, church.
Let me just wrap it up with this, because you kind of go, "Well, gosh, Todd. I don't think I've done a very good job. What do I do?" Well, first of all, we all have a little bit of that sense. None of us are perfect. Every single one of us, though, can humbly pursue our perfect Father and seek to represent him as we depend on him. We have to just go, "God, your strength is sufficient in my weakness, and I'm going to depend on you and trust in you that you're going to help me." So you cry out to God for help.
Secondly, you cannot serve your Father and teach what your Father wants to teach unless you spend time with him. That's how you know him. You have to be with your Father to learn from him so you can represent him. Jesus in his High Priestly Prayer in John 17:17 said, "O God, sanctify them. Make those moms and dads, the leaders of the church, people who are like you and me. Sanctify them in the truth. Your Word is truth."
Are you devoting daily to God's Word? Is it on your heart so it can be on your tongues so your hands are informed because God's Word is on your mind? Can you say to your kids, "As you recall. As you saw. You were witnesses"? Lastly, I just want to remind you trying to teach others without being a student yourself is the best way to ruin your student. Luke 6:40 said, "A pupil is not above his master, but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be just like Daddy."
So what does it look like for you? You want to be like Ezra. Ezra didn't just tell the people what to do. That's how you create PKs. Ezra 7:10: "Ezra set his heart…" It was a commitment he made. "…to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and then to teach it." If you need somebody to teach you, disciple you, help you, we want to do that.
We want to come alongside of you and let you know how known you are by God and accepted anyway through the provision of his Son. We want to teach you about Jesus, and we want to challenge you to grow, because that's what a healthy church does. Every single one of us has that chance. We'll pour into you just like we pour into high school kids. For the sake of the next generation, let's go, church. Let's pray.
Father, I thank you for a chance to be together this morning and just remind ourselves of what makes a healthy church. It's spiritual leaders who aren't weak, who don't just show what are the tender aspects of your nature, and they're not abusive. They don't just show what is the high call of your holiness, but they are full of grace and truth just like Jesus.
They speak tenderly and kindly and remind them of grace, and they speak exhortingly and remind them what a right response to grace looks like. Would you help us to be that church? Would you help us to love others that way? Would you help us to give you our hearts and be people who respond in every way you would intend for us to? Thank you for the example of our student ministry. Thank you that that is consistent with what's happening all through the church.
If there are people here who need to be re-parented, if there are people here who missed out on being discipled in those high school years because of just showing up, Lord, would you let them raise their hand and say, "Will somebody teach me about Jesus and challenge me to respond fully to the way you know me, accept me, and love me, and have provided for me?" Make us your church. In Jesus' name, amen.