The Foundation, Fabric, Mortar and Maintenance Program of Everything

How He Built This

As we begin our 20th year of ministry, Todd shares how Watermark wasn't just built on the foundation of prayer. Prayer is the entirety of the work of the church. As we each individually make up the church, we learn to live our own lives prayerfully as we join together in the work.

Todd WagnerJan 6, 2019Luke 11:1; Ephesians 6:18; Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:28-29

Good morning. It is awesome to be with you, all of my friends in Plano and Fort Worth and Frisco and right here in Dallas and folks who are watching online. This is an amazing time to be together, and I am really excited about the series we're beginning here in 2019 that we're going to study together. We're doing a series called How He Built This.

We're going to talk about the fact that Watermark is a community of people that has not always existed in amazing structures off of 75 up there between Spring Valley and Legacy, right off I-30 there at Cherry Lane and off the tollway up there right by Frisco High School or off 635 here in Dallas. We are not a community of friends who have always had these kinds of facilities.

I think it's easy to turn off the tollway or 635 or I-30 or 75 and assume you're pulling into this monolith of a box church that just wants to process people through here and get folks to show up on the weekend and what we're really about is getting you to come back and listen to us online. You couldn't be further from the truth. You need to know that 20 years ago… We're about to start our twentieth year of ministry together as friends here in this Metroplex area and around the world, and it's amazing.

It's amazing to think about what God has done these last 20 years. We thought, as we head into completing our second decade and starting our third, it would be really good to remind all of you friends who have joined us over the last number of years exactly how God built this. He didn't do it with buildings. He didn't do it with charismatic personalities. He didn't do it with programs. He did it with people who were completely yielded to him.

As I looked at what we were going to do as we talked about this series and the ways we were going to tackle major building blocks, pillars that have strengthened us and have influenced and informed everything we have done over these last 20 years that has become this thing you're walking into, this people you are gathering with… It's important you know that when you are welcomed here to our different places, we don't say, "Welcome to Watermark."

Watermark is not a place; it's a people. We can't welcome you to a place. What we can say is, "Welcome to this gathering of the people of God in this community in Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, and Frisco." This is a gathering where we're together to encourage each other and remind each other of what is true. We famously have ripped down the words worship center on the places we gather in our large gatherings, because we don't want you to think these rooms are our worship centers.

This is the worship center. Anyplace that somebody who knows God walks and abides with him…that's the worship center. This is called Stage 1 on all of our campuses. It's our largest stage where we can gather and communicate to one another and remind each other… I like to call these rooms the R&R, because we come in here to remind ourselves of the greatness of God and remember how we want to respond to the greatness of his love for us.

These are weekly pastors' conferences. These are gatherings of his people, and we welcome folks who don't know him yet or who are not yet part of this community of priests and pastors to be in here with us, that you might hear us talk about the greatness of God so you would come to know him or that you might see us responding to him and want to join us in living a life of great faithfulness.

As I thought about what we were going to do each of these weeks, I was not happy with something that was kind of lacking inside each of my intended topics. I also wasn't wild about the fact that I wanted to talk about this one thing, but I knew it needed to be addressed somehow. So as I wrestled it, I came up with a solution, and I think you're going to be encouraged and bothered all at the same time.

One of the things that happens when you get to my life stage… Many of you who have been around here for very long know I'm a dad of six kids, and my kids now are largely out of the home. I have two in college, three who are out of the house, married, and parents themselves, and one who's still with me in the home. He happens to be a freshman in high school.

I'm at a life stage where some people look at the Wagner clan and go, "Hey, Todd, Alex, you guys seem to have done a decent job or something good has happened there. Your kids love each other. They largely love you. They all radically seem to be pursuing this Jesus." I was so encouraged this morning to get a text from one of my kids, saying, "Dad, remember that thing we looked at?" It was three years ago. I completely forgot it.

He goes, "Can you help me remember what that was? I want to share it with some friends this morning." As he was trying to spur others on, I was spurred on to go back and remember what we did in July of 2015 together. My kids are on the journey with us. Sometimes people say to me, "Todd, would you just talk to us a little bit about parenting?" and I go, "Yeah." So what I did is I kind of put together in my mind over the years four major principles when I'm talking about parenting.

I'm going to share them with you really quickly, and I think you're going to see why I'm going to do what I'm going to do this morning. Whenever somebody asks me to talk about parenting and I have a short amount of time, I kind of spit off these four things, and because I'm an idiot and I want to remember them, parenting starts with a P, so I came up with four Ps. Here are the four things I always tell folks.

If you want to be a good parent, you have to have a plan. It's not just happenstance. You don't fall into successful, intentional human development. I always say, "Don't get intimidated. Don't try and go, 'By the time my kids are 10, they're going to know classical Greek and have read all of the classics. They're going to memorize the Psalms.'" That's not a bad idea if you can pull it off, but about the third time you try to do a 45-minute family devotional with a bunch of 3- and 5- and 6-year-olds, you're going to just cash out right there.

You want to have a plan. Extraordinary kids don't come from ordinary homes. Extraordinary homes don't just let things fall their way. I tell people, "Come up with something you intend to do. Start simply and simply start." Most of us have a plan for our fitness, a plan for our eating, a plan for how to develop our careers, a plan for our retirement, and we don't have a plan for the most precious stewardship in life that God has given us: the ability to give birth to and shape to eternal humanity made in the image of God.

So develop a plan. One of the things I love about this place is if you want to partner with other parents, we help new moms in Square One. We have a ministry called NEST that helps moms develop a plan. We have a ministry for dads called DadU. We have a blog ( where you can get weekly tips from other parents who are giving you ideas about their plans, and you can learn from them. We have resources online. So get a plan. Start simply and simply start.

Secondly, I always tell people this is probably the number-one rule of parenting: be present. You must be present to win. You cannot influence somebody else you don't have a relationship with, who you're not present with. When Jesus, in fact, wanted to make disciples, he didn't call them to a lecture. In Mark, chapter 3, it says when Jesus selected his Twelve, he called them, that they might be with him.

You can have a great plan, but if your plan is to advance your career and to travel and to be gone and not be present, not be home, not be at family meals, not be there at bedtime, not be involved in their life and their games, then you will not do an effective job of shepherding the life of a child. You must be present to win.

Thirdly, you have to be a parent. Your kids don't need a buddy. They don't need a friend. They don't need a peer; they need a parent. They need a mother and a father. They need somebody who is going to love them, who understands sacrifice, who understands a call to responsibility, who isn't tied up in giving their kids blessings so much that when their kids need something pulled from them they're not so anxious to give it to them because they love the idea of sharing this with their kid that they can't deny them that right in that moment.

They need a parent who says, "No," who's willing to do what the Scripture says, which is to say, "We're not like every other parent. We are aliens and strangers in this land. Just because all of your friends have cell phones, just because everybody else is doing this, it doesn't mean you should." I was having a conversation with my freshman this week, and I just looked at him and went, "Bro, do you understand the principle of delayed gratification? Do you know what delayed gratification is?"

You would have thought I was asking a third grader what the Pythagorean theorem was. I go, "Go ask Alexa what delayed gratification is." So he walked over to that Homeland Security spying device that's in our home, and Alexa had no idea what delayed gratification was. So I sat him down and said, "Let me tell you what delayed gratification is." You have to be a parent. Your kids need an adult.

Fourthly, if that adult who's present, if their plan is not to be radically involved with Jesus Christ, it doesn't really matter what you do. Your kids are going to learn to love what you love and do what you do. Kids often fail to do what you say, but they rarely fail to do what you do. You have to be a passionate follower of Christ. I have shared with you before that one of the things I did all the time is I would give my kids a parenting survey. I would just ask them questions. I would write them down.

There would be a series of questions that were on the survey. I'd make them up. Every time they'd be different, like, "What was your favorite memory from this last year? If you could do anything with your dad this next year that you think would be really fun, what would it be? What fear do you have that you aren't really sure you can share with somebody? What do you wish God made different about you? If you could go anywhere on a fun little trip inside our community, where would you go? What's something you want to learn this next year?"

I'd just make up different questions. "What do you like more: frozen yogurt, homemade ice cream, or Bahama Buck's slushies?" Then at some point in the year, before the next survey, I would take them and do something with them along that regard. All of those questions were fluff, and they were always there so I could ask one question that showed up every single time I did a survey. It was always buried in there. It wasn't in the same place, but the question I always put in there was, "What is your dad most passionate about?"

That's why I asked all of these different things. I wanted to know what my kids thought I was most passionate about, because if they said "Your job," if they said, "Watermark," if they said I was most passionate about college football or about fitness or about keeping our car clean, their grades, their appearance, my reputation… I don't know what they might have put down there.

If they put anything down there in answer to that question other than, "Dad, you're most passionate about following God, remembering his goodness, honoring him, being attentive to his Word," then I knew whatever I was doing in my presence as a parent, my plan was going to be ineffective. I wanted my kids to know the thing I was most passionate about was knowing and enjoying God and declaring his glory to everybody I met and having it impact my life.

So those are the four things I typically say. Now you look at that, and you're kind of like, "Really? When you said four Ps, I was sure there was going to be another P on there." There really kind of is, but if somebody comes up to me and says, "Todd, what should I do as I try and disciple another person?" and I just go, "Well, you should pray," you're going to be like, "Okay, good. Thank you. I appreciate the fact that you said pray."

Of course we should pray. We pray before everything. There are some people who get mad at me every week. "How come you don't pray before you speak? Why don't we pray more in the midst of a service?" We don't start anything… We don't start city council meetings still, by and large, without some ceremonial prayer. When people ask you, "How do I parent?" if you don't say "Prayer," you're messed up.

"Well, Todd, you didn't really say prayer." That's because I don't want to lose you by having you sit there and take notes while I go, "The first thing you have to do is pray," because somebody is going to elbow their wife and go, "Okay, when he's done talking about the obligatory prayer thing so he sounds spiritual, let me know when he goes to the second piece so I can take notes," because of course you pray.

Or what somebody does is they go through their four Ps, like I just did, and then they add this at the end. Of course, all four of those things have to be constantly informed by and laced with prayer. We talk about prayer like it's this thing we have to talk about, but do we really do it or do we just go back and kind of add it on, like, "Oh yeah, and don't forget to pray"?

Prayer is one of those things that if I told you how God built this was prayer, you'd go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's what every church says." But I want to tell you something. That's not just what we say; it is true. Here's what you need to understand: I don't care so much about people being involved in the activity of prayer as I do people continually living with an attitude of prayer.

I'll say it this way. I don't really get too worked up about people being committed to being on their knees as I am absolutely committed to having people being on their feet prayerfully. I don't care if people are on their knees praying as much as I care about the fact that they're continually on their feet prayerfully.

There are in Scripture two different ways to look at prayer. One is the activity of prayer. You see this in Luke 11:1. It says Jesus was praying in a certain place. Then it says, "After he had finished, one of his disciples said, 'Lord, teach us to pray like you in that place were praying.'" He was in the activity of prayer, and his disciples saw him actively praying and went, "Teach us to do what you're doing over there." That's the activity of prayer.

You see the same thing in Mark 1:35, where it says, "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there." The activity of praying there. One of the problems with the activity of prayer is when we say, "Amen," get up off our knees, out of our prayer closet, done with our quiet time. We kind of now charge into the day.

It's kind of like I had my good breakfast, and now I can go to work and use the energy of praying. That is a problem. When the activity of prayer substitutes itself for the ongoing abiding… That's one of those words we all talk about and don't really know what it means. When the activity of prayer pulls us out of the constant attitude of prayer, there is a problem. What Jesus did continually was remain with the Father.

He said, "I and the Father are one, not just when I'm in the activity of prayer, but everything I do, the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart are constantly acceptable to God. I am running everything I do through this grid of, 'God, what do you want? Not my will but your will be done right now.' Your will is not that I pray a little bit and then get busy without you but that I remain with you continually. The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith."

The attitude of prayer shows up in Scripture this way. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 there's this word that says, "…pray without ceasing…""What does that mean? Should I be on my knees all the time?" Of course not. It's talking about the attitude of prayer. Ephesians 6:18 says to us, "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and [this way you will] be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…"

We're to pray at all times in the sense of, "Hey, God, what is controlling me, what is directing my life in this moment is how I can glorify you and enjoy you by being obedient to your will and way, because I realize that my will and way is always going to end in trouble. So even when I'm not in the activity of prayer, I want to be attitudinally surrendered to you." That's what the Scripture means when it says, "Be filled with the Spirit."

"Be continually being controlled by the love and goodness of God and intimately walk with him in all things. Don't be controlled by anger or lust but by the love of God. Let it constrain you. Don't walk in the counsel of the wicked, stay on the path of sinners, sit in the seat of scoffers, but delight yourself in the law of the Lord, and on that law…" What does God want? "…day and night, meditate on it." How shall I respond to this person? How do I respond to this pain? How do I respond to this trial?

Watermark was built on prayer. I'm not talking about this. When we first met… Literally, in 1999, before we actually launched, we gathered together as friends who looked and didn't really see a place that we could invite people to and welcome them to with great joy and just say, "Gather with us as we abide with Jesus in this community." We got friends together, and this is Watermark. This is like week two or three or four of Watermark, when eight friends invited about eight more friends. We went, "Let's just start praying together."

The activity of prayer had begun, and then we got done with the activity of prayer and we said, "Let's all live prayerfully this week. Let's encourage other people to come. At my house this Wednesday night we're going to gather friends, and we're going to get in the room and talk about what God wants his people to be in a city." We would do coffees where we would prayerfully discuss what God wanted his community of people in Dallas, Texas, to live like.

We looked at the Scriptures and prayerfully spoke to one another and encouraged one another. Prayer activity, prayerful living, community of saints praying, community of saints living, talking about what the church should be, what a community of Christ followers do. It's what Jesus said we have to do if we're going to be successful for him as his people.

This is the problem with most of the church in most of America. It has "Come and listen to me" church. "Come to the church, the building, the place for an hour and do church with us for an hour." That's not how Watermark was built, and it's not how Watermark is going to finish its second decade and go into its third. We want to be the church. We don't want people to come to the church gathering; we want the church to gather to prayerfully be reminded of who God wants us to be. So we have to continually spur each other on.

We have to sometimes go through the activity of prayer, where we meditate on God's Word and remind ourselves of things God wants, because most people think prayer is this chain we pull to ring in heaven and get his attention to go, "Do you see what's happening on earth? Can you change what's happening on earth?" That's not prayer.

Prayer is not getting earth's will done in heaven; prayer is meditating on heaven's will so we can live the way God wants us to on this earth that is still going to have sickness and death and disease. We have to remind ourselves of things that are true, prayerfully. Jesus says, "Hey, church…" In Acts 1:8, the church was just beginning to meet. He says, "…but you will receive power…" The word is dunamis. It's where we get the English word dynamite.

"You're going to blow that place up when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall then be my witnesses right there in your own little city and in the larger county and then in the larger region and all over the world. Something is going to happen through you, because you are going to blow it up. You're going to go into the darkness and become light. You're going to go into the decay and be preserving salt. You're going to be my people if you live prayerfully when the Holy Spirit comes upon you."

"Well, how does that happen, Todd?" It happens when you trust in Jesus who pays the debt that separated you because of sin from God. He bridges the gap, and you now walk with him, and you restore Eden that was lost because you're with God. You no longer do what you think is good and avoid what you think is evil. You trust in the God who is good and say, "Not my will but your will be done," continually. You don't go to an action of prayer; you begin to live prayerfully.

When you see the goodness and beauty of God is all that matters, you are attentive to his will and way, and you begin to live in fellowship, and then even sometimes in your fellowship with a gathering of other believers who know the goodness of God you do things that aren't what God wants you to do, so you prayerfully respond to your sin and seek forgiveness from one another and extend grace to one another and confess what you just did wasn't consistent with prayerful living with one another, and you spur each other on and you become his church.

This is what Paul said. The main beginning missionary leader in the early church after Jesus was a guy named Paul. In Colossians 1:28-29, Paul said, "We proclaim Him…" We talk about the goodness and beauty of God. "…admonishing every man…" Every human is the idea, male and female. "…and teaching every [human] with all wisdom [that we get from God, not from us] …"

It's not Todd giving his best ideas. His four Ps are only good if they're informed by what God has produced to preserve for us. "…so that we may present every [human, every man and woman we're near] complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power…" My prayerful living. As Jesus operates in me, as I decrease that he might increase, something amazing is going to happen in my Jerusalem.

Watermark wasn't just built on the foundation of prayer; prayer is the entirety of the work. It is the foundation, the fiber, the mortar, the maintenance program of this place. Even when I'm not in the activity of prayer, if I'm doing anything useful to God, it is because I am living prayerfully. Anytime there is conflict and anytime there is tension I'm causing, it's because I am not living prayerfully. But here's what we're going to do. We're going to pray. We're not going to teach on prayer; we're going to talk about how we built this.

Today, we're going to do two things. If you are a member of Watermark and you go, "Wait a minute, Todd. I thought today was the day we started telling people that Watermark has zero members…" Every January we have zero members. We want to find out again who wants to prayerfully live with us in obedience to Jesus because of the glory of God's love expressed through the cross. In all of our imperfection, we're going to say, "God, we love you. We see your kindness for us, and we want to respond to it."

What we do is we all re-up every year. If you have been through the membership class where we talk about what it means biblically to prayerfully obey him and you have then said this is going to be the small community of friends where you have at least three other members of Watermark you're committed to, where you're tied in to a shepherd or a staff person who is probably just one or two degrees of separation separated from me…

If you're in a Community Group and have been through membership class and have deployed your gifts for the work of ministry, which is what every member of the body of Christ is to do, then you're a member of Watermark, and you know who you are. You need to fill out the 4B form before the end of January or you're telling us, "Not this year. I'm done. I'm moving on to other things." We'll encourage you and love you in every way we can.

What I want to say to you is that if you're one of those members, I'm about to ask you to leave and do what we did in the early days of Watermark. Not believers but members. We're going to give you the 1999 prayer guide. Here's what you're going to do. You're going to go to, and there are two prayer guides there. One of them is the 1999 prayer guide we used every week to pray as we began the work, the activity.

The other one is praying through our 4B form, our desire to help others believe in Christ, as believers in Christ, who then will belong to his body and be trained in truth, that we might be strong in a life of ministry and worship. They're both there. Every one of you can get it. When you walk out in a minute, dispersed all around the campus (and each of the campuses, I'm going to let you go), you'll see there are people out there to hand those things to you.

In fact, what I want to do right now is we're going to let each of the campuses go, and then your local leadership is going to take over and explain how you're going to do it on your campus. We're going to have times of prayer and a coffee. So we'll see you, Fort Worth, Frisco, and Plano in just a moment, and online folks, you can go to and see what we're doing. The rest of you, stay here with me.

About 'How He Built This'

As we approach Watermark’s 20th anniversary, the “How He Built This” series examines the ideas, decisions, and values that God has used to shape this community of faith.