What marks the relationships with the people in your life you are closest with? Are you committed to others, and do you have anyone that is committed to you? As we continue our series, Better Together, Beau Fournet, David Leventhal, and Brian Buchek teach us why Watermark is so committed to community, why your community group might be struggling, and how to help your community group grow.
Engaging Missionally in Frisco
Community Part 5: Engaging Missionally
Community Part 4: A Call to Shepherd One Another
Counsel Biblically | How are you feeding others?
Authentic Confession and Encouragement | How are you feeding your flesh?
Bible Intake and Relationships | How are you feeding your soul?
What marks the relationships with the people in your life you are closet with? Are you committed to others, and do you have anyone that is committed to you? As we continue our series, Better Together, Beau Fournet, David Leventhal, and Brian Buchek teach us why Watermark is so committed to community, why your community group might be struggling, and how to help your community group grow.
Beau Fournet: Hello, friends. I got to introduce myself earlier. I get to be part of the elder team here. As you know, Todd, over the last three weeks, has been talking about Better Together and our core value of community and how we can gain ground in that area. Today, you get to hear from the other three elders…myself, David Leventhal, and Brian Buchek…as we talk about three aspects of community.
One is just trying to share why we are so committed about this and why we call every member of Watermark to be a part of community. Then we're going to acknowledge it's difficult. We have a lot of groups that say, "I want community, and this doesn't feel right right now." Then we'll talk about how you can gain ground in growing in health in Community Groups.
We're going to go through a lot of Bible, and I'm going to get us started with sharing why the elders feel a depth of responsibility in shepherding the flock. I'm going to share two passages. The first one is in 1 Peter 5, where Peter is speaking and he says, "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you…"
Elders are called to shepherd the flock. Then he clarifies by saying, "…exercising oversight…" There's an aspect of shared leadership in shepherding the flock as opposed to the elders being in every single conversation with every member of a local church. It goes on and says, "…not under compulsion, but willingly…"
That's a passage the elders really feel a burden for. The other one is in Hebrews 13:17, where it says, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account." There is a burden and a responsibility the elders have for all 8,000 members of this local body of Christ to shepherd the flock.
We believe we will give an account for every one of you. Now, the good thing for you is that when God calls somebody to do something and they are faithful at it, God uses that as a means of grace and blessing to others. We pray often that as we try to be faithful in shepherding the flock, every one of our members would grow in the full knowledge and peace of Christ.
So then there's a question of…How do you shepherd a flock? Last Saturday, I opened up to Romans and read through the 21 epistles and highlighted every passage where I saw the concept of shepherding a flock to see what it looked like. I'm just going to share quickly from three of the 21 epistles.
Romans 1:11 says, "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you…" The first picture I see of shepherding is longing to be with people. There's really a personal aspect of this. It goes on and says, "That we may mutually encourage one another with our faith." There's a picture of encouragement as a part of shepherding. To encourage someone, you have to spend time with them.
Then we go on to 1 Corinthians, chapter 5, which is a really instructive passage. It says, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world [nonbelievers] , or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters…" Just saying sinners of the world. "…since then you would need to go out of the world." There's no way of avoiding sin in a broken world.
He says, "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother [a member of a local church] if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard…" Basically, unrepentant sin. If you have unrepentant sinners in a local body of Christ, he's saying, "Don't associate with them."
Then he says, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?" We are called to judge. It says, "God judges those outside. 'Purge the evil person from among you.'" As I read that, I just wrote down, "We are called to get into people's business." That's why we talked last week about admonishing faithfully, and we talked two weeks ago about pursuing relationally. We get really involved.
I'm going to skip over 2 Corinthians and go to Galatians for one last picture of this. In chapter 5, it says, "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry…" Again, Paul is just saying sin. The works of the flesh are sin, unrepentant sin. Then he goes on and says, "I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
That's a showstopper. He says unrepentant sin means you're not going to inherit the kingdom of God. So he has everybody's attention. Then he goes on in chapter 6. It says, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."
In these first three passages, just brief passages, I saw six ways that they were shepherding. There was personal shepherding, one-on-one or one-on-small-group. There was longing to get time together. There was mutual encouragement of one another. There was calling out sin. There was leading one another to repentance. It's not just acknowledging sin but repenting, and it's bearing one another's burdens.
That sounds like what we're talking about with community and what we want everybody to do. We're called to shepherd the flock, we're going to give an account, and we think the best means of doing that is through community. With that, you might say, "Well, Beau, you know there are 8,000 members. That's 1,000 Community Groups. So how can you get comfortable, as an elder, with giving an account for 1,000 Community Groups, and how is that going to be a blessing to me?"
Once again, God's Word is our authority, conscience, and guide, and we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. So we're going to go to Exodus, chapter 18, where Moses has just left Egypt with all of the Israelites. They're in the wilderness, and there are problems. It says, "The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening." You see these people waiting in line for help, as if 1,000 groups were waiting to get some help from the elders.
Moses' father-in-law saw this and said, "What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?" He's basically saying, "Why aren't you being an overseer? Why are you doing this all on your own?" "And Moses said to his father-in-law, 'Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes…'"
We always talk about, "Hey, you don't go to church; you are the church." Moses was creating a "go to church" model. He came, he stood, and hundreds of thousands of people waited to meet with him instead of people feeling the responsibility for shepherding one another. So then his father-in-law says, "What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice…"
He talks about how he's supposed to pray for the people, which our elders do often. We get together and just pray for our body. Then he says in verse 20, "…and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do." There's a one-to-many piece of this, and that's why we come together every weekend and say that this is a pastors' conference. We are equipping the kingdom of saints.
The reason we're doing that we see over the next two verses, where the father-in-law says, "Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy [and put them over thousands, put them over hundreds, put them over fifties, put them over tens] ." So, divide and make sure you're having a span of care.
He said, "And let them judge the people… Every great matter they shall bring to you…" There are times when the elders get really involved. We've been deeply involved in some pastoral care things this week with individual groups. He said, "…but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you." That is what Paul talked about: bearing the burdens.
So, that's the model we're trying to take. That's why we call every member to be in a Community Group. I'll show you a schematic. Every Community Group has a group of people. You have members, and they make up a Community Group. There are generally 8 to 10 people in a group. Once again, we want leaders of tens, so we have the Community Group leader. Brian will talk about how everybody in the group needs to feel responsibility for the group, but we have a leader who we can make sure is a point of contact who we can reach out to and should go to bed at night feeling the burden of accountability for shepherding the people in the group.
Once again, Scripture says you need leaders of fifties, so we have community shepherds. The community shepherds are lay leaders who have the highest calling in our body. They're fully devoted followers of Christ to whom we're saying, "Can you jump in and help out three to five other groups?" So they're meeting with those groups. That's the point of contact. We want every member of a Community Group to know who their community shepherd is.
With that, sometimes they need help, need a little more support. This is where we get to our first and only line of staff in this, which is our community directors. Our community directors oversee 80 to 100 Community Groups. Look at those as leaders of hundreds or thousands if you have 10 people in each group. They'll jump in and help, and then they can reach out to the elders whenever we need to jump in.
So, that's our span of care to make sure everybody is healthy or being served where there's a lack of health. I'm going to ask my friend David to come up and talk about the reality that as we pray and dig in and get updates (Thursday night, I had 20 of them I was reading), there are challenges in groups. There are lacks of health. I've asked David to jump in for me, and he's going to talk a little bit about why we have some struggles in groups.
David Leventhal: Good morning, Watermark. How are we doing? Great to be with you again. As Beau mentioned, the elder team is passionate about shepherding the body. The reason we are is because God's Word is clear that we ought to all be passionate about this topic. We know that when the body of Christ works effectively, when all of the members are functioning in their role and there's unity and oneness, we are better together, but we also know there are a lot of us in this room who don't feel better together.
If you do anything long enough, you begin to recognize patterns. As we've been shepherding groups for a long time, we have begun to recognize there are some things in common with groups that are struggling, groups that would say, "I hear what you're saying, but I don't feel better together with this group of people." I want to share with you this morning six reasons that we have seen frequently for why your group may not be better together.
If you're here and you're in a group that doesn't feel better together, listen up. There may be some things in here you can identify with. Brian is going to help us figure out what your next steps are. If you're in a group where you would say, largely, "Hey, we're doing great," then I would encourage you to listen, because there may be a core value you might want to reheat or begin to focus on. Okay? That's where we're headed right now.
1 . Your Community Group may not feel better together because you may be confused on what community is, in spite of the way we describe it frequently. You may be thinking supper club versus life-on-life or book club versus life-on-life or community as a place to share decisions and things you're doing rather than process decisions and things you're doing. Listen. We get it. We know that in our body we have folks who have come here from all over.
Some folks have never been in a church before they've come to this local expression of the body of Christ, and others have come to Watermark from places where the New Testament value of shepherding one another was not held high, and we understand that the water can feel really cold. My wife and I have been in this body for 20 years, and it doesn't feel as cold to us, because we've been swimming in it. We have seen the benefit in our lives and in our marriage and the way we parent, but we acknowledge that for some folks, this is new and hard and scary.
What I want to do is I want to re-read to you (we've done this before from the stage a number of times; Todd read this a couple of weeks ago) the "one anothers" of Scripture where we compress them, aggregate them together, and we create a paragraph of "This is what community is meant to be." Before I do that, I want to highlight something about your New Testament that may or may not be intuitive.
When you read the Epistles, Romans to Jude, one of the things you'll notice is that there are a lot of personal pronouns. Do you remember this? I'm going to throw you back to high school grammar. I, you, he/she/it, you singular, you plural. Do you remember those things or have we all forgotten that? I promise it is useful, students, just not as useful as you might think. In the New Testament there are a ton of personal pronouns, so I went and looked at all of the personal pronouns.
One of the things that may be confusing is when you look at the personal pronoun you, singular and second person plural, in English, you don't know if I'm talking to one person, you, or if I'm talking to many. If you were in my house and you were in the kitchen and I was in the living room and you heard me say, "I want you to go clean your room," you wouldn't know if I was talking to one of my children or all seven of my children (usually it's all seven), because in English it's just you.
In God's grace, he has given us the original language of the New Testament in Greek and Aramaic, which is really colorful. You can tell in the Greek by the way it's written if it's singular or if it's plural. So I went and looked, and I discovered… First, I went to the Bible software I use, and I said, "I want to create a visual filter. I want you to show me all of the personal pronouns. I want you to highlight them in green, and all of the singular personal pronouns I want in red."
I just grabbed three sections of Scripture: Colossians 3, 1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Peter 1. One of the things you will notice is a lot of green, a lot of plurals. The New Testament pronouns are almost all plurals, and most of the ones that are red refer to Jesus: him. Then I took it one step further. I said, "I want to look at all of the second person personal pronouns, just the yous." I went through and looked, and there are 1,084 second person pronouns in your New Testament epistles where you is used. Of that, 181 of them are singular, you individual, which means there are 903 yous that are plural.
Why in the world am I telling you this? I'm telling you this because when you read your epistles, sometimes we read it as though Paul was writing to David individually, and he wasn't. There are a couple of letters that were written to one guy, Timothy and Titus. Most of them were written to communities of faith.
So when Paul says, "I want you…" he's not talking to you; he's talking to you. We make the mistake, often, of reading the Scriptures in a singular fashion. So, I want to reread you all of the "one anothers," and I want you to hear them in the plural. This is why we do this together. Are you ready? Community, plural.
Community is where we live out the "one anothers" of Scripture before a watching world, where we love one another, care for one another, serve one another, admonish one another, show forbearance to and forgive one another; where we keep fervent in our love for one another, are hospitable toward one another; where we employ our gifts in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; where we greet one another, are of the same mind toward one another, are kind to each other.
We speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We build up, we comfort, we pray for, we encourage, we live in peace, and we seek after that which is good for one another. It's where we clothe ourselves in humility toward one another, where we live in subjection to one another, where we stimulate one another toward love and good deeds. We confess sins to one another, live in peace with one another. We give preference to one another in honor. It's where we encourage one another day after day, lest any of us become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Does that sound like your Community Group? Does that at least sound like the target for what you're aiming for? Supper clubs and book clubs have their place, but you're not going to be able to do what God calls us to do in one- to two-hour increments every week or two weeks. This requires a life-on-life, Spirit-led investment of time, effort, and energy. Some of us aren't better together because we are confused about what community is.
2 . Some of us aren't better together because community is not a priority. If your perspective is that community is a book club or a supper club, or whatever, then yeah, I understand why you wouldn't make it a commitment, because the commitment for that is much different than the commitment to share life with one another.
Frankly, if I could say this as gently as I can, many of us allow the world to so dictate our schedules… We are overcommitted into our kids' sports activities. Some of us have taken jobs that keep us on the road an unacceptable amount of time per week. Some of us play too much golf, spend too much time in a deer blind, spend too much time in self-care activities. Some of us have allowed the world to determine our schedule, and there's nothing left over for the body of Christ.
Paul, in 2 Timothy 2, reminds Timothy, "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits…" Why? "…since [a soldier's] aim is to please the one who enlisted him." We have a lot of folks in this body who are engaged in civilian pursuits, and it's taking too much of their time. In Hebrews 3:12-13, the writer of Hebrews reminds us…
"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you [second person plural] an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you [second person plural] to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day [not at some weekly check-in, but every day] , as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Some of us aren't better together because we have not made living out the New Testament "one anothers" a priority in our lives.
3 . Some of us are not better together because we are biblically illiterate. I'm going to spend just a little time on this, because Todd's entire message last week was about counseling biblically, but I want to summarize that by saying, "Garbage in, garbage out." If your counsel is coming from Oprah or whatever blogger you follow and you're peddling worldly wisdom in your Community Group, then no wonder it's not better together.
If you put garbage in, you're going to get garbage out. When you counsel with the world's wisdom, you get the world's results, and sin always leads to death. Always. Some of us are biblically illiterate, and we don't know God's Word, so we don't counsel that way. God has given us the instructions we need in his Word. Some of us aren't better together because we're not biblically literate.
4 . Some of us aren't better together because we struggle to be courageous. We still believe that having hard conversations is to be avoided. Look. I get it. You don't want to be that guy or that gal who has to point out the elephant in the room continually, but Scripture is clear that if we're going to move toward Christlikeness, we are going to need people to help us identify when we're not acting like Jesus.
Which is why Paul, in Ephesians 4, says, "Having put away all falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth…" That speak the truth is a second person plural verb. "…speak the truth with his neighbors, for we are all members of one another." The body of Christ is only as healthy as its weakest member. Don't think about membership like your Costco club. That's not what the body of Christ is about. Think about your finger or your foot.
If there's unhealth or infection in your leg, it has the potential to destroy the whole body. We are a part of the body of Christ. We need each other to remind us of when we're not being the man or the woman God has called us to be. In Galatians 2, we see Paul. He's summarizing this conversation he had with Peter. Peter was saying some things, Peter was doing some things that were inconsistent with what Jesus had taught, and as a result…
When you do things that are inconsistent with what our Savior has taught us to do, it creates problems, and it hurts the ministry and hurts your personal testimony. So, Paul went to Peter and said, "Bro, what you're doing is not right. You need to pivot." Peter needed Paul in that moment to say, "What you're doing is not right." Paul had to be that guy, and Peter needed him.
I need to have Pauls in my life, and you need to have Pauls in your life, and we need to be a Paul to each other from time to time. Yes, we want to do it tactfully. We want to do it graciously. "Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in the right time." There's a way to do it, but we need to speak the truth in love. Some of us aren't better together because we struggle to be courageous.
5 . Some of us aren't better together because we have confused preferences, convictions, and sin. This is a big one. We see this a lot. Let me remind you, if we have the same goal, if we can all agree, or at least get a quorum, that our target is to be made into the image of Christ, our target is to see more personal holiness from our lives, to see us hate sin more than we do today, to see us be salt and light to the world…
If we can agree that that's the target, then in areas that are not sin related, there are a variety of tactics by which we can accomplish that, but when we confuse sin, convictions, and preferences, it leads to great frustration. What do I mean? Let's define them. Sin. These are universal, black-and-white, chapter-and-verse items that God has told us, "This is right; this is wrong." There is objective truth. This is Ephesians 5:3: "Don't let there be a hint of sexual immorality." This is Colossians 3:9: "Don't lie to one another, because you put off the old with its practices."
This is where you can say, "Here's God's Word. Here's what it says. Here's what I see you doing. This is wrong." Proverbs 28:13 reminds us, "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy." So, in areas of sin, our response to our brothers and sisters should be, "Listen. I love you, and what you're doing God has said is wrong. I am pleading with you to confess and repent."
Convictions. What's a conviction? A conviction deals with sin but on a personal level. It's informed by Scripture, dealing with sin on a personal level. Think about Romans, chapter 14. In Romans 14, Paul is sharing with the church in Rome that there are some who are tied up on some issues, like, "Hey, what's the right day to do church? Is it Saturday at 4:00 or Sunday at 9:00? One is right and one is wrong. What about meat sacrificed to idols?" There were some folks in the church in Rome who said, "I can't eat meat that's sacrificed to idols. It's against my conscience."
Paul says, "Listen. There's no such thing as an idol. If you want a ribeye from a sacrificed idol and you can get it on sale at Kroger, go for it." There are some who say, "I can't. My conscience forbids me." There's room for differences of opinion in convictions. In our world today, these may be things like, "What's the best way to educate your kid? Public, private, or homeschool?" I know there are some of you who bristle at that, because you're like, "No, no, no! There is only one way to educate your kid. You have to put them in public so they can be salt and light."
"Oh my gosh! You put your kid in the midst of the den of demons? You can only do private, because that's where you protect their precious little hearts."
"You would pay that much money for private? That's not a good use of your money. Homeschool is where it's at."
Some of you are like, "That's not a preference; that's a sin issue." I'm telling you, you're wrong. It's a conviction. There's freedom. Should you go to the wedding of somebody you don't think should be getting married? Conviction. What about drinking alcohol? Conviction. Proverbs 27:19 says, "As in water face reflects face…" You see your face in the pond out there. "…so the heart of man reflects the man."
Our job is to ask questions to try to see if there may be some motives that are not in line with God's Word. It's to make sure they're using Scripture properly to inform that conviction, and then you say, "Listen." Here's your response: "I hear you saying that you studied God's Word. You've prayed, we've processed this together, and I hear you saying that, for you, it would be sin for you to [fill in the blank]. Great. Be free."
Then preferences. These are a variety of opinions. People who love Jesus can go a number of directions. Should you get a cell phone for your kid…at 13, 15, never? Should you make your kid pay for their insurance? Whataburger or Chick-fil-A? Ford or Chevy? McDonald's coffee or Starbucks coffee? Although that may be a conviction. Proverbs 20:5: "The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out."
We want to be people of understanding to draw out, "Are there some motives that are not God-honoring in your preferences or in your convictions?" If there are, we should talk about that, but if there's not, your response is, "Be free." There is so much freedom in Christ. Some of us are putting each other in a personal prison cell based on our own convictions. We are not called to be the Holy Spirit to one another.
It's not "Father, Son, and Leventhal." It's "Father, Son, and Spirit." Our job is to point each other to Scripture. In matters of sin, we call for repentance. In matters of convictions and preferences, we give freedom. We ask thoughtful questions, and then we release each other to live a life of freedom. Some of us aren't better together because we have confused sin and conviction and preferences, and we are putting people into a spiritual prison that God never intended for them to be in. Yeah, that's a life suck. That's why some of you aren't better together.
6 . Some of us aren't better together because we think it's too hard and it's not worth the effort. I get it. If you're confused about the purpose of community; if you're in a group where people aren't prioritizing being the hands and feet of Christ instead of whatever the worldly thing is keeping their schedule tied up; if all you hear and all you share is more Oprah than Jesus; if you have folks who are trying to squeeze you into their preferences and convictions rather than allowing you the freedom that Scripture allows you to have some different opinions on some things that are non-sin-related, yeah, I get why you would say, "That's just not my game. That doesn't sound fun to me."
I get it, but we should acknowledge up front that community is hard. Living the "one anothers" in Scripture is hard. Do you want to know why it's hard? It's hard because you're in your group. It's hard for our group because I'm in my group. I'm insecure, and I'm odd. I have quirks. I say things at the wrong time. I try to make jokes about things that aren't funny. I'm stubborn. I'm prideful. Just like you.
Community is hard because it's filled with broken people who are slowly, over time, measured in months and years not days and weeks, moving toward Jesus. This is why your New Testament is full of the repeated call to fight for unity and oneness, from Matthew to Revelation. We see it in John 13, in John 15, where Jesus calls his disciples to oneness and unity. We see in John 17 Jesus prayed for his disciples to be one, and he prays for those who would come later (that's us), that we would be one as he and the Father are one.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13, Romans 13, Romans 14, Ephesians 4, 1 Thessalonians 3, calls us to fight for unity, to fight for oneness. Peter in 1 Peter 3 calls us to it. James, the brother of Jesus, in James 2 calls us to it. The apostle John in 1 John 3 and 4 calls us to unity. Why do you suppose it's repeated throughout the whole New Testament? Because God knows that left to ourselves, we will drift apart, because our sin pulls us to isolation.
Baked into the very fabric of Christianity is the fact that you and I can't do it on our own. We can't achieve salvation on our own. We can't work our way to God. We need a Redeemer to come and save us, and as we live out the Christian life, we need each other to help us get there. Some of us aren't better together because we think it's too hard. Yes, it's hard. Jesus said it would be hard. The road is narrow. "Deny yourself. Take up your cross."
Our enemies are plentiful. Sin is everywhere. Our flesh still bubbles its head up. There's pride. There's intolerance. Yes, it's hard. Jesus said it would be hard, but remember, we are better together. This world is not our home. We are not home. I feel in my gut the ache to be released from this bondage of sin. Can you feel it? Until God comes and gets us… I pray more fervently for the return of Jesus today than I have in my whole life. To live is Christ; to die is gain.
Until he comes and brings me home or takes me home, I need you to walk with me in community to make sure I am the guy God created me to be, and you need each other. Community is not better together because you think it's too hard and not worth the effort. So, what do you do if you're stuck? What do you do if you're in a group and you realize, "Man, there's a lot of what you just shared that is spot on with our group"? Well, good news. My good friend Brian Buchek is going to come up here and share some next steps for us.
Brian Buchek: Thanks, David. So good. Well, I have the application section for us, and I'm going to help answer the question…What should you do if your community is just not flourishing? Because we've heard it. The New Testament is so clear that members in the body of Christ should be growing and thriving and increasingly Christlike. We see it in 2 Peter 1:5-8. Peter gives a list of qualities we should be growing in.
We see self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection. In verse 8, he says, "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." There's a plural you there. It's true for communities of believers, that together, as we gather together, we should be increasingly conformed to his image, increasingly healthy and fruitful and effective at making disciples.
As Beau noted earlier, it's our job as elders to make sure that, as a church, we're doing our best to make this true, but the reality is we know there are pockets of unhealth in our body. There are Community Groups that are not healthy. They are not getting the job done. They are not marked by the aroma of Christ and having a mission mindset. Frankly, we have some dead churches in our midst. Jesus had something to say to the dead church that I think we should pay attention to. There's a warning in Revelation 3:1-3. Jesus said:
"I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you."
That's strong. He says, you have the reputation of being alive, because maybe you're in a Watermark Community Group, but you're not living life together. So we need to strengthen what remains and is about to die. We need to remember what we've learned, what we've received. Some of us need to repent.
If ever a crack were going to appear in the values that support our foundation as a church, I really, personally, don't think it would be because of unbiblical teaching here. We have a lot of leaders who love God's Word and are committed to teaching the Bible accurately. I think if a crack were to appear here, it would be because we have an increase in the number of members who are not biblically shepherding one another, when we see an increase in the number of members here who say they want to be about it but, in actuality, their lives don't reflect it.
Their lives, as David just talked about, prioritize everything else, and everything else squeezes out the time. It's about making money and their favorite sports teams and kids' activities, the next vacation, the next…whatever. It squeezes out our time so much we have nothing left to grow in brotherly affection for those we're in community with.
The interesting thing is if you ask the members of some of these groups, "Hey, how are you doing? How's your group really doing?" they say, "We're doing okay." But guys, just okay is not okay. Right? We all know the commercials. AT&T has bombarded us recently with these, and they're funny, because they're true. Just okay is not okay.
The surgeon one is hilarious. He comes in to speak to his patient. He hasn't quite been reinstated yet for surgery, but he comes in and says, "Are you nervous? Yeah, me too. Oh, don't worry about it. We'll figure it out. I'll see you in there," as he walks out of the room. It's funny because we know it's not okay to go into surgery with a surgeon who's just okay.
The same is true, guys, that your community, my community… It's not okay to just be okay, because then you're not okay. Let's be clear. Guys, the church and your Community Group should be the epicenter of human flourishing where there is joy and health and fruitfulness abounding, being and making disciples. There are some common denominators in the healthiest groups at Watermark, the ones that are not just okay but are marked by increasing love and Christlikeness.
In these groups that are the healthiest, we see, largely, they're made up of members who are devoting to Christ daily. These are members who are opening God's Word seven days a week. Not once or twice a week, but seven days a week they're opening God's Word, trying to abide with Christ daily, and then, importantly, these groups are made up of members where each member has decided to have personal responsibility and ownership over the health of the group.
They're not just looking to the Community Group leader on paper to bring health into the group. Everybody in the group is trying to be a leader and continually drive toward health and fruitfulness. So, if your group isn't growing and thriving, if you're not a healthy local church, then I'm going to look to you and ask you to take the initiative. You own the responsibility, because apathy is sin, gang, and passivity is a growth killer.
I'm going to give us eight practical steps to help you if your group is not flourishing. This can apply to any spectrum. It could be a group that needs to go from a 2 to a 6 or a group that's doing okay and needs to go from a 6 to a 9. I think each of us can benefit from walking through some of these steps.
1 . Prayerfully and openly discuss with your group. There shouldn't be any elephants in the room. There should be nothing off limits. We have to openly discuss what's going on. We're going to ask you to assess and evaluate constantly. Don't just wait for the annual Community Group assessment we ask every group to take. We want you evaluating every single week. Every time you're together, you should be asking, "Hey, how are we doing? How did we do this week? Is anybody here in conflict with one another? Let's deal with it." Don't sweep things under the rug. That will not help you flourish.
2 . Loop in your community shepherd. As Beau talked about earlier, we have a shepherding structure here, and your first line of help in a Community Group is that you have a shepherd. This is a trusted, faithful member of our body who has answered the call, the ask of the elders to shepherd three to five Community Groups. They are there to jump in with you, disciple you, walk you through hard conversations, address the things that need to be addressed.
Every single member in our body should know who your community shepherd is, not just the Community Group leader. We want every member to know who your shepherd is. If you don't know yours, email today email@example.com and ask, "Who is my community shepherd?" We want every member to feel the freedom to always be able to reach out to that person. You don't have to rely on the Community Group leader to reach out to the shepherd. Any member can reach out to your shepherd and say, "Hey, we're struggling. We need help."
3 . Proactively address what's hindering the group. Don't just talk about it, but bring your shepherd in. The shepherd is there to help you proactively address what's going on. Tackle it.
4 . Answer the three community feeding questions. We answer the first two so we can be effective in answering the third one. The first one is "How did you feed your soul this week?" Second is "How did you feed your flesh this week?" We answer those so we can be effective. The third one is just, "How did you feed others this week?" How did you make disciples? How were you about God's business?
5 . Use the available resources here at Watermark that we have for you. We work hard. We have some amazing teams that basically repackage God's Word in really digestible formats to help people get traction and learn and grow. The first resource we have for you… We're going to send a shepherd into your group, and they're going to have a Bible, the absolute best resource you have. A faithful man or woman who can accurately divide the Word of God is the best resource.
Beyond that, we have a community app. I want you to update it, download the latest version, because just this week, a few days ago, we put some new resources in there. They're called leadership lessons, and they're 10-minute podcasts that are on topics related to community that are there to help you.
You guys know about Real Truth. Real Quick. and Moneywise curriculum. We have the Conflict Field Guide. We have a community launch curriculum that has just recently been updated. Every group can get access to this. It's not just for new groups. On the "Sermon Guides" page in the community app, you'll find all of these resources and more linked for you. These are to help you, so utilize them.
6 . Start a daily text chain with the men or women in your group. This is so simple. Everybody in here is texting a hundred other people. Start a daily text chain, and be responsive. Nobody likes crickets. It's frustrating when you share something from God's Word, "Hey, I read this…" When we share from God's Word what we read today or a struggle we have, a prayer request, somebody in the group, please respond.
It's the way we aim to live out Hebrews 3:13, which is, "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." I need this, because my heart is deceitful, and I need the men in my group texting constantly. And they do. They're faithful with this, to put God's Word in front of me. It helps my heart to not be distracted and deceived.
7 . Schedule some time away together with your group. Even just 24 hours. This will propel you forward relationally in a big way. When you plan your time, have some fun. Play together. Pray together, and open God's Word together. If you don't know how to schedule this time together and how to set an agenda like that, ask your community shepherd to help you. They would love to help you.
8 . Stay committed. Don't buy the lie that isolation is easier or better. It's not. I've lived it. Prior to coming to Watermark 15 years ago, I was really isolated. It's not easier or better to live in isolation. Trust that when we go through hard things, God is sovereign. He's in it with you, and oftentimes, this is what he uses to grow us the most.
When we go through difficult things, even in community, that is how God is sanctifying us to make us more like Christ. So don't hit "eject." Stay in it. Galatians 6:9: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."
Well, what do you do…? Much of the time, the right answer is having your community shepherd jump in or just having more discipleship on specific topics, but there are times when there is so much disunity and discouragement and unhealth in a group that the right answer could be that the group needs to disband.
We don't want you having those conversations on your own. Please, invite your shepherd into those conversations from the very beginning so we can join you and help navigate and address the issues that are there. We don't want to send unhealth and dysfunction into a different group. We want to deal with that first. Sometimes it's the right answer that members would step out of membership for a season before getting into another group.
Then lastly, let me just answer this really quickly. Sometimes it can be frustrating here if you feel stuck in the assimilation process, if you don't know what your next step is. You're trying to become a member or you're trying to get into community for the first time. Let me just encourage you for a second.
First off, we know our processes are not perfect. We are continually refining for improvement. We hate it when process gets in the way of people, because we want to love people. We want to help people connect here quickly and get in a Community Group where they can be shepherded by others toward Christlikeness.
So, if you've already completed the first three steps of membership and you know that you have, your next step is community formation, which here on the Dallas Campus is every Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m., in the East Tower, where you can find community, begin that process. If you're stuck…you just don't know what to do next to become a member here or to get in a group…email firstname.lastname@example.org, and somebody from the Connecting or Community Team will reach out to you and help you. You don't have to feel stuck. We want to help.
Then lastly, if you're in a healthy group that is thriving, that is flourishing, that is making disciples, keep going. Stay after it. Then I want to ask something from you. Would you pray and process with your group considering adding a new member or a new member couple who is looking for community for the first time? What an amazing discipleship opportunity to grab somebody new who's kind of in the logjam of trying to find community and to invite them in and disciple them and live life on life with them. That is an amazing opportunity.
All right, church. Shepherding in the body of Christ is a big deal. If you haven't figured it out, we are passionate about this topic. Why? Because the New Testament calls us to it. Jesus calls us to this, and it is an incredible privilege that he has given his church, but the time is short. Our days go fast. Our years go really fast, and there is a lot of work to be done. There are marriages to be restored and strengthened.
There are children to be discipled and adopted in this city. There are folks all across this city we need to have an impact on, to be salt and light out there. To do that more effectively, we have to be serious about the business of shepherding one another. We want to help you experience being better together, the joy and the blessing that comes from that. So if we can help you in any way, please initiate with us and let us know. All right. Let's pray.
Father, we are incredibly grateful for your kindness in not leaving us to figure this out on our own, that we don't have to try to follow you on our own, but you have given us the body of Christ, and not just church with a big C but the local church and our Community Group, the brothers and sisters right here in our midst, to spur us on, to help us follow you, to admonish us when we need it, to be gentle and patient with us when we need it.
For those in here this morning who just need some extra encouragement, God, I pray that they would hold fast to the promises of your Word. The Scriptures that were shared this morning… I pray that they would reflect on them, meditate on them, and believe in them, because you want to lead us toward life and joy, and it's only found in you and with your people. Would you help us to do this, for your glory and for our good? Amen.