From the very beginning of Watermark, we believed the psalmist when he said children are a blessing, not a burden, that they are worth our very best. We are raising the next generation of leaders—our leaders. Discipling children according to God’s Word is How He Built This.
Authenticity and Repentance
Focused on Ministry and Service
Speak the Truth in Love
Relentless Pursuit of Oneness
Committed To The Uncommitted
Discipling the Next Generation
Love Is a Verb
Biblical Not Big: A Commitment to Measure Our Success by Our Ability to Be and Make Disciples
Why Not Us? A Confidence That the Lord Wanted to Glorify His Name
The Foundation, Fabric, Mortar and Maintenance Program of Everything
From the very beginning of Watermark, we believed the psalmist when he said children are a blessing, not a burden. That they are worth our very best. We are raising the next generation of leaders—our leaders. Discipling children according to God’s Word is How He Built This.
Todd Wagner: I love this series. It's intro-ing year 20 of us as a community of friends in Dallas who are trying to follow Christ. We are talking about how he (God) built this, this community of friends who are experiencing life as God intended it. We are in no way experiencing that to all the fullness he intends, but we're experiencing it more than we ever have, and we are aspiring to excel still more and spur each other on to love and good deeds and live in that life God intended for us.
God is not looking to rip us off but set us free. "The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life." I'm like, "Give me more of that." I have experienced more of that here because of this community than I ever have in any other window of my entire life. We're talking about how God built this community of friends who are in the middle of the richness of life he intends.
Even while we live in a world still wracked by trouble, even though sin still torments us, even though at times we quench the Spirit, grieve the Spirit, God is at work here, and it's amazing, and this is how he built this. As we talk about how he built this thing in this series, I'm going to start by telling you why he built this thing. Why we started Watermark, specifically, was because I was a parachurch guy. I was a parachurch guy because I didn't see any place that I, with integrity, could invite people to come and experience life as God meant it to be lived.
God wants us to be on mission with him. If you're a believer, you are a missionary. You live missionally. You don't go to a church. You're not born into America and, therefore, are born into a Judeo-Christian ethic and family. No. You embrace a Judeo-Christian ethic and choose to be a part of a godly family. But when you're part of a godly family, it should radically change everything about you.
I didn't see a community of friends who lived 24/7/365 that way. I was a parachurch guy. I was one of those guys whose life was changed because some people outside of the context of a local church, because that's where Christians kind of went to incubate, left that and started a mission and a ministry to younger folks. I connected with them, and I heard the gospel. I saw them making disciples, and it changed me.
I was speaking somewhere Friday night, and a guy asked, "How does Watermark view parachurch ministries?" I said, "Well, frankly, we don't really view them any other way than as brothers and sisters in Christ, but if you want to know what I think about parachurch ministries, I think they should be completely irrelevant." What I mean by that is the church is the hope of the world, the Scripture says.
What are you going to add to hope and perfection and God's glory established on the earth? There's nothing that needs to come alongside God's salt and light. The reason parachurch ministries exist is because the church isn't what it should be. So they really shouldn't be called parachurch ministries; they should be called people of God at work. That's what they should do, and that's what we are if we're his people.
I was part of a parachurch. It was a place where I saw God radically change lives. It happened to be a place that was a Christian summer camp. We would have thousands of kids come through every summer. At the time, they lived with us for 26 days. At the end of each of those 26-day periods, these kids would get in the gym with us, and before the parents would pick them up we'd have what we would call say so. It came from Psalm 107:2, where it says, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…"
It was a chance for young adults and kids to stand up and talk about how their life was changed. Kid after kid would stand up and go, "Man! For the first time in my life I saw who Jesus was. I understood the Bible wasn't a rulebook. I understood that I wasn't trying to build a résumé to make God love me, that God was pursuing me. He wasn't trying to rip me off; he was trying to set me free, and I'm going to live for him."
That was encouraging the first year I heard it and the first several times that summer I heard it. It was even encouraging the second year and the third year, but here was the problem. About the fourth year and fifth year, I noticed the kids who were standing up were the same kids who said the same thing the year before. They were kids who were saying, "Man, I know I said last year and the year before that that Jesus is everything that a man should want at my age, but I don't know, man. This year is going to be different. I'm going to go back and live differently for him."
I finally started thinking, "What in the world is going on? Why are these kids making, I think, a genuine decision for Christ and then going back and living in their communities and not following Jesus, and then coming back and repenting and saying, 'This year is going to be different'?" I'm going to tell you why.
I realized it was because we were sending them back to non-disciple-making, non-godly-father-shaping, non-godly-mother-encouraging, non-world-changing churches. Those kids were being confronted by what I would call a "last days" church. What's a "last days" church? Well, it's what you find here in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness [a churchianity] , although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these."
I realized some kids couldn't avoid them because they were being raised by them, abused by them, abandoned by them. Yesterday, a young man I have had the privilege of pouring into over the years who's now a leader at another church… I was at a restaurant here in Dallas. I bumped into him, and he was sitting there having lunch with a couple of kids. I was noticing those kids didn't look like they were enjoying themselves too much, but I knew he was there to hang out with them.
They got done eating, and those kids left, and he came over and said, "Hey, Todd. How are you doing?" I go, "I'm good. What are you up to?" He goes, "Well, I was just spending time with a couple of kids whose mom and dad go to the church that now I'm a part of. This week, all the fighting their mom and dad have had has escalated to a new level, and there's a divorce, and it has gotten ugly right away."
Those kids are just sitting there looking like, "This is the church I go to? These are the parents I have?" Second Timothy 3: irreconcilable men, arrogant, revilers, haters of good. When kids are around individuals who say they know a God who is a God who is loving and forgiving and world-changing and we can't even work through our own issues in our own relationships, it sets them back.
From the very beginning, we said what we're going to do is go into a city and establish a church that's not going to be a "last days" church. These things aren't going to mark us. What's going to mark us in all of our imperfection is that we're going to be the people of God, and we're going to love children. We're not going to just tell them to come and sit and shut up and listen and eat some Goldfish. We're going to encourage them to walk with God at a young age.
This is what the wisest men who ever lived said about God, that this is not an old man's God. Last night when I was talking to the kids who were here for DTown, I told them I've never met anybody in my entire life who's sorry he came to Christ early in his life. I've never met anybody who said, "Man, I wish I had a few more scars, a few more addictions, tore through a few more relationships. I wish I would have accumulated some significant problems in my life so I could see how desperately I need Jesus."
It is true that until sin is bitter Jesus will never be sweet, but you don't need to drink the bitter vial of rebellion to know it's bitter. There are plenty of illustrations out there. So we have to get in front of our kids… I love D.L. Moody. D.L. Moody was a great evangelist, kind of Billy Graham before Billy Graham. One night he came home, and a buddy was there. He goes, "Hey, how did the meeting go?"
He goes, "It was awesome. Two and a half converts." The guy goes, "Really? Two adults and one kid." He goes, "No. Two kids and one adult. That adult is half dead. He's half gone. Half his life is wasted to live for the King." God built this church with us believing from the very beginning that kids were worth our very best. We believed the psalmist when he said that children are a gift from the Lord. They're not a burden; they're a blessing. They are worth us doing everything we can to reach out to them.
We believe the fruit of the womb is a reward. Three of us who are on that panel on Thursday night have 17 kids between us. We have not birth-controlled children out of our lives. We think kids are a blessing. We believe kids should be not just some trophy of our fertility; we believe kids are a tremendous opportunity to have them live with us and pour our lives into them, that we could disciple them and help them be everything God wants them to be.
From the very beginning, we've said we're going to be all about our kids here. I made a deal with the guys who were over there in children's ministry. We put our best men over our children's ministry, 0 to 18. It's not something you just do for a while until you get promoted to real ministry. We have guys who have been on our staff for 20 years leading in that area, and it's why it's, I think, the best student ministry and children's ministry in the country: because they're being led by godly men who could do anything, and they know children are worth our very best. That's how God built this thing.
We're a church now being led by people who came to Christ, were children of the faith here and now are elders, now on staff, kids who were raised here. Last night, my wife and I had one child who's still in high school who was at DTown, three kids who have been through our student ministry, some who drove back from college so they could serve here this weekend, two others who are leading in small groups for seven years with kids here, because they see that they have more joy and less scars in their life because they understood at an early age, because you walked with him, that God is good. He built this thing on generational discipleship.
The psalmist said that children are a gift, and we believe that. I told those children's guys over there, "Here's the deal. I'm going to do what I can do to encourage and inspire and lead parents and remind them of the goodness of Go, so much so that if you take their kids and just give them back to them and they're still alive, they still have a pulse, they'll come again the next week, but here's the thing: I want you to love kids so much over there that if I do anything but preach heresy, those parents will be made to come back, because their kids will say, 'I'm learning things here, I'm being loved here, and I'm being shepherded here like no place I've ever been,' and parents will put up with me."
True story. I was walking out of a doctor's appointment with my aging parents about two weeks ago, and there was a doctor who was walking in, and she stopped me. We had never met. She goes, "Oh, Todd, it's so great to bump into you. We've been coming to Watermark. We're actually not coming; we're a part of the body," because that's the first thing I always say. "What do you mean, 'coming to Watermark'? Watermark is a people; it's not a place."
She said, "No, no, no. We're members there. Actually, we're telling other folks about how our lives are being changed here. I've just told them straight up. 'Listen. If you come, Todd is going to make you mad, but the kids' ministry is so amazing you'll put up with it sometimes.'" I went, "Thank you? I don't want to make you mad." I thought to myself, "Hey, that's the deal." They love their students and their children so well they're willing to sometimes come in here and be challenged and not be a "last days" church and not be left alone, to be spurred on.
Let me do this very quickly. The Scriptures talk about the fact that children are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. Let me just tell you something. Guns don't kill people. They don't. People kill people. Children, this generation that we're all so worked up about, these Millennials, these Gen Xers, this next generation, they're our children. They're our guns. They're our arrows. If they're not hitting the mark, the problem is with us.
Just a few observations. Arrows left to themselves are useless. They're helpless. It's the one who uses the arrow who determines its greatness. Again, we can complain all we want about our children, but they're our children. Train up a child in the way he should go, and that arrow will fly the direction you aim it. That's the next point: an arrow goes where you aim it. Children have never been very good at listening to parents, but they very rarely fail to imitate them.
I heard a guy say one time to his kid, "Why are you like that, son?" He said, "Because you are my father." He was right. If we don't know where we're aiming our kids, then shame on us. I don't remember a lot from all my English lit classes. I do remember Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. I remember when Alice was sitting there with the cat, and she said, "Would you tell me, please, which way I should go from here?"
The Cheshire Cat said, "Well, it depends a good deal on where you want to go." Alice then said, "I don't much care where." Then the cat said, "Then it doesn't matter which way you go." That's the way we're raising our kids. This is not new, by the way. Seneca, the old Roman philosopher, said if you don't know what harbor you're sailing to, you'll never know which wind to catch to get you there.
What we have done in our society today, by and large, is we've told kids, "Hey, you figure out which way you want to go. Your gender is fluid. You figure out which way you want to go. You define your sexuality the way you want. You decide which way you go. What's good for you may not be good for me. There is no objective standard and truth. We're going to let you figure it out." Whoa.
Our kids are filled with more anxiety, more suicidal than ever, because we have left them aimlessly to figure it out, and then God said it should not be that way. He said, "You teach them." Here's a fact. There's no pain like the pain of a godless child. An arrow is a blessing. It can provide food. It can provide life. It can provide protection. It can be a great source of blessing or it can be a source of great pain and destruction.
I'll say again: Guns don't kill people; people kill people. Arrows don't kill people; bad Indians kill people. Kids aren't a problem; bad parents are. From the very beginning, we've said we are going to shepherd the flock of God among us. That means young in the faith. We're not just going to convert you and leave you aimlessly to figure it out. We're going to walk you in the paths of what it means to be a devoted follower of Christ. That is certainly true of biological children who are given to us.
Proverbs 10:1: "A wise son makes a father glad…" Isn't that a fact? That's an arrow who is wise. There is no greater joy, it says in 3 John 4, than to see my children walking in the truth. "…but a foolish son is a grief to his mother." Proverbs 17 says a foolish son is not just a grief to Mom; he's a grief to Dad and bitterness to the one who bore him. Proverbs 19:13: "A foolish son is destruction for a father," and, in fact, destruction to a civilization.
As Abraham Lincoln observed, the philosophy of government in one generation is the philosophy of the children in the previous one. I know I am raising my future leaders. I am right now discipling the future elders of the church I'm going to go to and care for. I just moved my parents in. My mom is struggling with some mental issues, some dementia. My dad is struggling as a caregiver. We moved them down and moved them in with us for a season, and we're trying to figure out next steps for them.
I'm looking at my kids, going, "Are you watching this? See me being kind and patient? See me reordering my life?" I will tell you, it's the first time in my life I've looked at my dad and said, "I'm really close to his life stage." I've never thought that before, but I'm looking at my dad, and I go, "Hey, I'm closer to his slowing down than I am my speeding up." I am raising my caregivers. I am raising my governmental leaders. I'm raising my church leaders.
God built this because we knew from the very beginning that our success was going to be determined by our successor. We have to get after it. He built it this way because we believed Jesus when he said if you jack around with these kids… "If you receive a child in my name and you cause them to stumble," it says in Matthew 18, "you may as well tie a heavy millstone around your neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea."
God doesn't take it lightly when we mess with his kids, and what he's saying is it's not going to be life-giving to you. A warrior who leaves his arrows unintended is inviting destruction upon himself and his people, and we can't leave them unattended. I've said it before. Manson, this serial murderer, this maniacal leader… "Where do you get these folks to follow you?" He said, "They were your kids. You turned them out, so I took them in." So has the progressive liberal world.
Hosea 4:6 says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." That's what destroys people. They don't know truth. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest [my mediator] . Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children."
"You want to see pain? Forget your children. Watch the way they become addicted to opiates. You want to see pain? Forget your children. Let them live with anxiety disorders and constant panic attacks. You want to see pain? Let your kids try and figure out their sexuality without you explaining to them that sex is a gift from me, defined by me, for the glory of me and the beauty of them if they know what it is. You want to see pain? Kill the next generation of children and wonder why you can't support yourself with your little Social Security program."
God built this because we were a church in the very beginning that knew we had to be about the next generation, spiritually (see next week) and certainly the ones who are brought into our home. One time Jesus was sitting there, and they were bringing a bunch of children to him that he might bless them. Jesus saw this. The disciples were shushing them away. "Hey, he's too big-time for you." He got indignant.
The Scripture says, "…He was indignant and said to them, 'Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them…'" You hinder children when you just try to keep them alive and you don't show them where life is. You hinder children when you don't show them through your own integrity how to live that life, where you just tell them what to do. You say, "Do what I say, not what I do." Kids may fail to do what you say, but they very rarely fail to follow you.
So, from the very beginning we put our best people on this. We have to have a plan. We hinder kids when we don't have a plan, we don't know how to raise them, we don't know what to do. We hinder kids when we're not present with them. We hinder kids when we're not passionate followers of Christ who can say with integrity, "Follow me." We have been about that from day one. We've left some of our best people on it. I'm going to let you meet one. This is my friend Wes Butler, who could lead anything, and he's leading our kids.
Wes Butler: I am so pumped. I hate that Todd gets me all pumped up and then I have 12 minutes to talk to you, but here we go. A few weeks ago, I was really excited too. We were sitting down for a family dinner. I was telling my wife Brandy how excited I was about teaching this weekend, but I was telling her how nervous I was because of the timing of it. You see, several months ago I signed up to chaperone my son Malachi's fifth-grade trip to science camp, which just so happened to be this past Wednesday through Friday.
When I got this email from Todd saying, "I think we're going to do it on this weekend" a few weeks ago, I was kind of in a panic, going, "I don't know if I can do that. Maybe I need to back out of science camp." So I'm having this conversation with my wife, and I'm talking with her about it. I said, "Brandy, I just don't know." I asked Todd, "Todd, are you married to this weekend?" He goes, "Yeah, this is the weekend. We have to do it here."
I said, "I just don't know." I'm kind of saying it under my breath and was like, "And it's science camp." My son Malachi is sitting there next to my wife, and he's kind of listening. He's eating his dinner. He looks up from his plate and just goes, "Daddy, are you married to science camp?" Those words quite honestly were a dagger to my heart.
What I realized in that moment was that I was on the verge of sacrificing quality time with my son on the altar of ministry here and doing exactly what the disciples were tempted to do in that passage in Mark 10, of saying, "Hey, Jesus is too big-time. There are too many things." "Wes has too many things on his plate. Malachi, you're just going to have to hang back."
By God's grace, because of the way I've been discipled and trained here, the Lord woke me up by the Spirit of God, and I just went, "Oh, Malachi. Look, buddy. I'm not married to science camp, but I am married to you. We're going to science camp, and I can't wait." So I just got back from a few days. There are a hundred guys who could have stood on this stage this morning and talked to you, but there's only one dad Malachi has, and I'm it. I wanted to be there for him.
I tell you that story because that temptation that in that moment I was able to ward off by the grace of God is the temptation we face, quite honestly, as a church and as a community, to do the exact same thing, to look at our children and say, "You know what? We have too many things going on."
This series is amazing. It's so fun to listen to Todd share all of the stories you've gotten to hear over these last few weeks of lives that have been changed, people who were addicted who have been set free, people whose marriages were broken who have been reconciled and reunited. We see all of these things and go, "Look at this. This is amazing. Let's make sure we're all about that, and then let's make sure the kids are kind of taken care of back there."
As you heard Todd say, we never wanted that to be true here at Watermark. We believed children deserved our very best, were worthy of our very best, and we wanted to disciple them with everything we could. This message is crucial, because we still believe God is going to do something great in this world, and we are still praying, "God, why not with us?" But not just with us. Why not with our children? Why not with our grandchildren? Why not with our great-grandchildren?
This morning, I want to share with you the ways we think about your kids and about this next generation, the way we think about how we disciple these children. One of our core values is that we want to be fully devoted to Christ. One of the things we say is that we measure our success by our ability to be and make disciples. The children and student ministry here at Watermark is no exception to that rule. They, too, are disciples who are waiting for someone to disciple them, and if we don't disciple them, someone will.
We, as a church, want to step into that space and say, "Let's give them our very best, and let's point them to where life can be found, not just keep them alive." This morning, we are celebrating the fact that God has built this on pillars he has established from the beginning of time, pillars of disciple-making of the next generation that we have embraced and been crazy enough to believe that God is true with what he said, that God's way truly is best. So, this morning, I want to share with you the three pillars God has set in place that we have seen him build this thing on as we disciple the next generation.
1._ We believe parents are primary. The first divine institution established by God was the family, and by design, the family is primary. The family is _the most significant human influence on the life of a child. This week, while I was at science camp and interacting with some of Malachi's classmates, I took time, as I was walking to different places with them or sitting down for a meal… I just asked them, "Hey, tell me about your family." So they would tell me about Mom, Dad, siblings, and all that.
What did not surprise me in the least is that the children about whom the teachers and the principal were saying, "Hey, you're going to have to watch out for this one. This one is a little tough. Make sure you keep a special eye on him. These are the troubled kids…" When I would engage with them, I would hear stories of the most significant brokenness and trauma that was involved in their lives, of absentee fathers, divorce, neglect.
It just didn't surprise me. Why? Because parents are primary, because the family, when it is broken, creates broken children, yet God in his grace has given us, as parents, this opportunity to disciple our children. There are no other people on planet earth who will have more impact on the life of a child than parents. In Deuteronomy, chapter 6, we see this written. God gave us this plan. He said, "This is how I want the kingdom to be built." In verse 4 it says:
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." In other words, all the time.
See, the church isn't the place where kids are discipled. The home is the place where kids are discipled. Parents, we believe you're primary. Because we believe God has established this divine institution this way, we, as the church, believe it is our responsibility to come alongside of parents and partner with you. We are here to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Parents, you are the saints, and that ministry in your home is the most significant ministry you can give yourself to.
This morning, we put a little insert inside your Watermark News that shows you ways we are trying to partner with you, parents, because we know this parenting journey is hard, and we don't believe you need to do it alone. So we create environments like the Nest for moms and DadU for dads, and we create blog posts that show you exactly how you can engage with your kids in spiritual matters and disciple them in your home.
If you don't have any idea where to start, we want to help you. It's right here. There are tons of ways we can do that. Parenting is a hard thing, but, parents, you are primary, and it is our joy to be able to pour into you so you can pour into these little hearts that are in your home. Parents, we believe you are primary, but you are not alone, which leads to my second point.
2._ We believe discipleship is a team sport_. This is something God has always said from the beginning of time. Parents, you were not meant to do this alone. "It's not good for you to be alone," God said to Adam in the garden. So young adults, single adults, empty nesters, maybe you've tuned out because you thought this was a parenting thing. This is not a parenting thing; this is a community of faith thing, so tune back in and listen.
Here's the deal. The commands of the Scriptures to parents given in Deuteronomy 6 and other places, like Psalm 78, were commands that were given within the context of the community of faith. They were given to parents but with the understanding that parents would be supported and strengthened through the community that was around them.
Psalm 78:4 says, "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done." Here's the deal. From children's ministry to student ministry, we've been crazy enough to believe God that he has called us not just to be teachers to these kids but to be disciple-makers, and we believe disciple-making is life on life. "Follow me as I follow Christ."
That's why our student ministry says, "If you want to serve in our student ministry, come. Jump in. Lead a small group from sixth grade, and then commit with us to walk with those kids until they graduate from high school." A seven-year commitment. It's why we have looked at our children's ministry leaders and said, "Will you not just show up every once in a while, but will you show up regularly, week after week, to be a consistent voice in the lives of these children, and would you prayerfully consider years upon years of giving your life away?"
We believe kids are worthy of our very best and that discipleship doesn't just happen in little touch points; it happens with life on life. I have a ton of stories I could share with you this morning. I could tell you stories about leaders like Melissa Patton or Jay Thompson who have been leading with us since the kids they are with right now at DTown, their twelfth-grade small groups… They've been with them since they were in preschool. For over a decade they've been pouring into them.
Kim and Zech Lumpkin came up to me last night after the service and said, "Hey, Jay Thompson was here the very first day we showed up when Jonathan was a 5-year-old. He's about to graduate from high school, and Jay is still with him." I could tell you that story. There are stories around here about parents who were coming to re|engage but were kind of going, "I don't know if I should keep going to re|engage."
The kids were like, "Are you crazy? We have to go back on Wednesday night, because Training Ground is my favorite thing we do. Let's go. There are people there who love me. There are people there who are pouring into me. I don't care that you don't want to work on your marriage. I want to go to Training Ground." Every time there is a celebration night at re|engage, there are parents who stand up and say, "We're still here because our kids were loved and discipled well by our Training Ground leaders, so our marriage is a recipient of that blessing."
My favorite story, quite honestly, is a guy named Bradley Mickunas. There's a picture of Bradley and his buddy, Tyson. Tyson and his parents showed up here when Tyson was in the third grade. Tyson is on the autism spectrum, and they had been discouraged by trying to go to some churches and just feeling like there wasn't a place for them and weren't sure, but they came here and plugged into our special needs ministry.
Bradley said, "Hey, I'll be Tyson's buddy." So every week, Bradley would show up and hang out with Tyson and help him navigate through our children's ministry. When Tyson moved up through our children's ministry and began to move into our student ministry, Bradley said, "You know what? I'm going to go sign up and be one of those small group leaders, and I'm going to be Tyson's small group leader."
So several years ago, Bradley signed up to be that small group leader. This is a picture of Bradley and Tyson yesterday at DTown, because Bradley just said, "I want to make disciples. I want to support Tyson's parents. I want to help them as they shepherd this one." This is God's design for the church. It's how he built this. Discipleship is a team sport. That leads to my final pillar.
3._ We believe the future is now. In that passage in Mark, chapter 10, where Jesus looks at his disciples and rebukes them for turning the kids away… He says, "No, no, no. Bring the children to me." This is what he does _not say: "Because the kingdom of God someday is going to belong to them." No. He says, "Because the kingdom of God right here, right now belongs to them." That's what Jesus said.
So we've been crazy enough to believe that the future of our church is right here, right now, that the leaders of this church are right here, right now in our children's ministry and student ministry. First Timothy 4:12 says, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." Some of the most crucial examples that I witness in my own spiritual journey are kids who are not here this morning because they are at DTown and being poured into. They're leading me. They're shepherding me.
This is why our student ministry looks at children when they move into the sixth grade and they say, "We want to start to call you to be a part of this body and be a member here and plug in and serve." There are a lot of studies out there that talk about how kids are leaving the church and abandoning the church when they graduate and go off to college, but here's the deal. Todd says it all the time and says it very well. Kids are not leaving their church, because it was never their church to begin with. It was just Mom's church or Dad's church.
We believed and God has made it abundantly clear that this church belongs to these children, so we began to say, "Hey, kids, this is your church. Come and invest." We don't just want kids to consume the church; we want them to be contributors in the church. They are a vital part of the body of Christ. We cannot do what we're doing without them.
In fact, this morning is a hard morning for our children's ministry, because 10 percent of our volunteer base are kids under the age of 18, not to mention the cameras that can't be run by the students who are usually in this room or sound boards where students are back there or the Frontlines Team that is shorthanded this morning because students are out parking cars and greeting, because the leaders are now.
There are a ton of stories of this. We are unleashing these arrows, an army of arrows, right here, right now. I want to introduce you to my friend Kate Blocker. Kate is a gal I met when she was about 11 years old, because Kate began to serve with her mom when she was 11 years old in our Starting Blocks ministry. She just began to hang out, and then as the kids grew up she kind of moved up with them.
In our preschool ministry she moved up into K-1 Race, and then she moved up into On Your Mark. Then her mom wasn't able to serve anymore, but Kate said, "I'm going to keep going." Kate now is a senior in high school about to graduate, and she has been leading a small group of girls since preschool who are now fifth graders and about to move into our student ministry. Kate said, "This is my church, and I have something to give. I have something to offer."
I asked Kate to write down some things. Here's what Kate wrote. She said, "I have loved getting to build relationships with the girls in my group. They keep me coming back every week. When I first began serving, my service consisted of building blocks and occasionally acting out stories, scooping Goldfish for the kids while my mom taught the lesson, but now, as I have matured and they have matured, we're able to have back-and-forth discussions about God's Word, how it applies to their pre-teen lives.
Because of the time we spent building blocks and building our relationships so long ago, they trust me enough to ask the important questions, and because I have been equipped and poured into by the very same ministry, I can confidently and biblically respond to those questions. The opportunity to grow alongside the girls in my group has been a tangible reminder of God's presence and proactive power to change us." That's an 18-year-old senior in high school.
Here's what's amazing about that story. There's a little girl in that small group named Hope Bagdanov. Hope is in fifth grade this year, and three years ago she looked at her mom and said, "Hey, Mom, can we serve like I see Kate and her mom serving? Can we serve in Starting Blocks?" So for the last three years, Hope Bagdanov, an 11-year-old girl, has been leading in one of our orange classrooms, teaching kids the Word of God, because the future is now. That's how God designed it. That's how he established it.
In summary, our mission to the next generation is a discipleship mission, and we believe that mission of discipleship is built on these three pillars: parents are primary, discipleship is a team sport, and the future is now. If you want to jump in with us on that mission, again, there's this little handout in your Watermark News that just says, "Investing in the future," and there are a ton of ways that you, empty nester, single mom, young adult, can jump in with us and pour into this next generation.
I'm excited to introduce you to one of my friends who is a part of that next generation. Becca Nail is a gift to me, a sweet friend, and she has an amazing story of how God has used the ministry of this place to build into her. So welcome Becca.
Becca Nail: Hey, y'all. Like Wes said, my name is Becca Nail. I actually grew up here at Watermark. I grew up here in this church. Back in '99, early 2000, my family decided to make the move over to Watermark, so I get to tell you today how greatly impacted we were by this place. Today we're talking about how from the beginning this church made it a priority to give the next generation, these children, these students, their very best, believing that they're world changers today and they don't have to wait until they're grown-ups to make a difference.
Because of that, Christ through this church, I have been impacted greatly. Today, I'm going to tell you the story about how this church built into my parents, built into my small group leaders, and built into me. Going back to the beginning, my family was your typical Texas Christian family, the Southern Bible Belt family. The second we headed out the door it was smiles on and chins up, but the second we got back into the home under our roof it was complete and utter chaos.
Our family was the definition of a hot mess. It was just chaos. The way it used to be in our home is there was a lot of fighting, between my dad and my mom specifically. The fights were ugly. They weren't kind. They were cutting. I had a dad who was arrogant and prideful and spoke hurtful and harsh things to my mom, and I had a mom who was hurting because of that and would isolate and withdraw but then would later rage out of anger at my little sister and me.
This is part of their story. They would tell this to you freely. They know every word I'm sharing with you guys today, so don't worry. Like I said, their fights were ugly. They would typically start out in front of us kids, but then if they got more heated, if they got more escalated, they would move back behind closed doors, and that just left my little sister and me in that state of the unsettled.
But like I said, we came to Watermark, and something changed. After spending a couple of months in re:generation, our 12-step recovery ministry… They started attending, and something changed, and they were never the same. The conflict that happened in our house was dramatically different now, and the conflict didn't seem so ugly anymore. Both of my parents started owning their part in front of me, and they began to say the words, "Will you forgive me?"
So I, at a young age, began to learn that conflict was an opportunity to honor God and not something to be feared or avoided, and because this church built into my parents, they were transformed through this pursuit of reconciliation. The truth of Matthew 5:23-24 was changing our family from the inside out. I saw my dad leave his gift in front of the altar, first go and be reconciled to my mom, and then come back and offer his gift, and I saw my mom do the same.
Then they even would turn to me and ask me forgiveness when they would make missteps or mistakes. They would look and say, "Hey, Becca, I harmed you this way. I led you poorly this way. This wasn't honoring to God because of this," and then they said, "Becca, will you forgive me?" As a kid, this did a lot. I was no longer walking on eggshells out of fear of what would happen when and if conflict arose. I was no longer uncertain of my parents' love for one another, and I wasn't concerned if they loved me or not. I knew they did.
I began to see that conflict was something that could be resolved. I wasn't living in that unsettled, unresolved anymore. This served me greatly as a young adult, because I went off to college as a more equipped follower of Christ. I saw the value of Ephesians 4:1-4 lived out in my home and know today that seeking unity in the Spirit through the bond of peace is a worthy pursuit. In college, it kind of set me apart with my peers. I earned the reputation, "Oh, hey, that's the girl who always asks for forgiveness."
I'm not kidding. My roommates would look at me and give a noticeable response when I would say, "Will you forgive me for [blank]?" They would ask, "Why do you always ask for forgiveness?" I don't know what more is a tee-up to share the gospel than that. So because this church prioritized teaching my parents how to be reconciled with Christ and with one another by owning their faults, seeking forgiveness, my view of the gospel grew.
Now fast-forward to my teen years. My family is now living in Mexico. San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, to be precise. I, a hormonal teenager at the time, seeking to find my identity and just to be known and loved and understood, made the foolish decision to try to find my identity outside of Christ, and I went to try to find it in a particular young gentleman whose name happened to be Juan Manuel López Torres. As an added bonus to you guys, his street name was "The Crow."
Well, one fateful day, my dad saw me kissing The Crow, and it was a complete and utter nightmare. Like any good dad would, he forbade me to see him, and I remember looking at him through these tear-streamed eyes and yelling, "But, Dad, you don't understand! I love him!" I really thought I did. I thought I loved The Crow.
Some of y'all might be laughing because you might identify with this moody, hormonal teenager in this story, and then some of y'all might be laughing because you identify with my dad, who was most likely suppressing condescending laughs at me at the time. Either way, this is just a picture of some of the stories that happened through my teen years. Even after we moved back from Mexico, these kinds of fights were common, and they weighed heavy on my parents.
They were flat tired of the wrestling with my anxiety-ridden, "drama over everything" self, and so they called in backup. So in walk Karla Self and Karen Smith, my small group leaders. These two women impacted me greatly, because they partnered with my parents, they picked up where they left off, and these women entered into the hormone-heavy chaos and were pillars of consistent biblical counsel in my life.
Every Wednesday and countless ministry events for seven years, they beckoned me to abandon the temporal and pointed me to the eternal. Every Wednesday, the importance of John 15 was lived out and prioritized over homework load. I was offered a listening ear and counsel, and I was given new perspectives.
This would actually drive my parents crazy, because I would come home and be like, "Karla and Karen just shared the most wonderful bit of news I've never heard before in my entire life," and my parents were like, "Are you joking? We've been trying to tell you that for five years." But that's the point of it. That's the point of that partnership.
I was fought and advocated for by my parents, and now I was fought and advocated for by these two women. They cheered me on. They celebrated with me in my highs and cried with me in my lows. Hebrews 13:7 was lived out in excellence before my eyes. "Remember your leaders [Becca, remember Karla and Karen] ,who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."
As an adult now, I have a group of ninth-grade girls who I've been with since their sixth-grade year. I lead with two awesome co-leaders, Brittani Kelly and Sierra Clem, and I still today imitate the faith of Karla and Karen, and I pray that the girls I've been entrusted with will one day do the same. Because this church cast a clear vision that world change happens now through students, my leaders partnered with my parents, they stuck around, and they laid a firm foundation for my faith.
When I was graduating college, pride was a big ditch of mine (is a big ditch of mine), and I told myself when I was graduating, "I'm going to go work at Watermark. Wouldn't Watermark be lucky to have me, this product of their discipling?" At that point, I was fully convinced that full-time ministry was sitting on couches drinking coffee and talking about Jesus. Spoiler alert: it's definitely not, and that would definitely not be within my spiritual giftings either. I definitely had on rose-colored glasses when it came to ministry.
Regardless, I applied for four different positions here. I then interviewed for four different positions here, and then I was told "No" for those four different positions here. Yeah. Call me a glutton for punishment, but that was some serious humble pie I was served up by this place. I remember asking, "Why wouldn't a place that made such an impact on my parents' lives, my leaders' lives, and now my life not have a spot for me on their bench?"
But I can say today that those noes were the best thing that could have happened to me. The people who interviewed me and countless other members on staff here surrounded me during that time. The church loved me enough to tell me "No," and they cared for me enough to pour into me and admonish me faithfully through those noes. The church was doing what I had seen them do forever. I received critique and instruction to excel still more, and believe me, y'all, I needed to excel still more.
My résumé was atrocious. I use my résumé that I originally submitted as an example of what not to do when I talk to the Residents and Fellows on how to submit a really good résumé. I was reminded the importance of what it looks like to know who you are, to like who you are, and to be who you are. This place could have just stuck me behind a desk, but they actually took time to assess my spiritual gifts so I could be fully and properly deployed.
They loved me enough to tell me to find work elsewhere and get some experience under my belt, and they wielded Colossians 3:16 beautifully. The admonishment was hard, but I have thankfulness in my heart today, like that verse says. As an adult, I look back on that admonishing as some of the most refining and character-building moments in my young adult life. I'm able to take critique and feedback better…not perfectly but better…today because of this church's faithfulness to pour into me.
Because this church built into me faithfully by admonishing me and critiquing me, I'm equipped to be a better employee, ministry partner, and Community Group member. Just to kind of wrap things up, from the beginning, this church made it a priority to give the children and students here its very best, and I have personally seen and known that to be true.
So, parents, I can imagine you might be wondering, "Does my faithfulness impact my child?" I want to encourage you the answer is absolutely yes. Young adults, I can imagine you might be wondering, "Does my faithfulness impact these children and these students I'm working with weekly?" and I want to encourage you the answer is yes.
For some of you sitting in here, you might be wondering, "Does this really big church care and love me?" The answer is absolutely yes. I am so grateful that 20 years ago this place committed to giving me its very best. This church didn't just keep me alive, like Wes said. This church didn't keep me alive; I came alive here. Thanks so much for letting me share.
Todd: And that's what God wants for you. Whether you're a child of the faith or a child born into our family, he doesn't want you to just come alive; he wants you to experience life as he intended. Our success is going to be determined by our successor. Our job is to be faithful in this generation so future generations could have faithful people who can follow them. People are following us. The question is…Are we following Jesus?
God built this with a commitment from us to be serious about that. That's how we got here. That's how we're being led by the next generation. Kids don't want to grow up and be polite. If you ask a kid what they want to do, they don't say, "Oh, I want to grow up and be somebody who always uses the crosswalk, who has a nice manicured lawn and even edges it, and my kids get to school on time. I want to be a good citizen." No.
They grow up and go, "I want to see a house that's on fire and be the guy who runs into it. I want to be a superhero who takes on evil and delivers people from destruction. I want to change the world." Well, guess what. God is your perfect Father. We need to be modeling for the next generation that because he's our Father, we're those people today who are doing exactly those things, and we're saying, "We can help you join us, not in going to church but in being God's provision for the world."
I'm about to show you something I almost don't want to show you, because this is not student ministry. Student ministry is life on life for seven years on the heels of 12 years of prior investment through a lot of other teachers. Student ministry is discipleship, but every now and then we blow it out for our kids. I spent some time with them last night, and I said, "You're worth our very best, and every now and then we're just going to let you have a great time and remember that you don't need to go the world's way to have fun." This is the last 36 hours at Watermark. Check this out.
I'll tell you, it doesn't do it justice. It really doesn't. There was a lot of stuff in there. Those kids understand what was going on with those little illustrations. What was happening there was they were just seeing we love them. If we just did that and said, "Come next year to DTown" and there were 3,500 kids, who cares? If we had a bunch of kids who said, "This year is going to be different" and it wasn't, who cares?
I talked to them. I said, "If some of you guys don't think God is real because you see your parents not being radically and all in with him, will you forgive us? Will you tell us who your parents are so we can come alongside of them and love them? Because we want you to see those who are before you. Hebrews 13:7 is for us. "Consider those who led you and those who spoke to you the word of God, and considering the result of their faith, their conduct, imitate them."
Your kids are going to follow you. The next generation of believers is going to follow us. What kind of believers are we? It's why in this series How He Built This we've used this song to close us a few times. We want to do it right now. We've just had a little song that has been a prayer. We're going to be on our knees a little bit later today for First Sunday Prayer, like the other campuses do their thing.
We want to be people who have one pure and holy passion, and that is not to have more people come to Watermark but more people come to know the goodness and the glory of God. That's only going to happen when we follow Jesus. This is our prayer. Would you stand with me and sing it?
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.