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Episode 31 - 5 Nov 2018

A Leader and Their Family

Todd Wagner (Watermark Senior Pastor) and two of his children, Cooper and Kirby, join Adam and John to talk about leadership in the family.

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Episode Summary

Introduction (0:19)

Kirby discusses that she has never identified with the typical implications of being a “pastor’s kid.” She says that her father was always just her dad. Todd is a dad before he was ever a pastor. Another reason for this is because church wasn’t just a place her father went. It was a place where they all wanted to be. Everyone felt involved. The family was involved with the mission together.

Todd talks about how he never really considers himself a pastor. The fact that “pastor’s kid” is a pejorative term for “dysfunctional” tells you that there are a lot of pastors that aren’t righteous, in that they aren’t living rightly. Psalm 37:25 says that never has the author seen the righteous forsaken. “There is no amount of joy or success in the church world that would overcome the pain I would have if my kid is a prodigal because I was absent as a dad.” If you live rightly your children are a blessing. 3 John 4:4 says there is no greater joy than watching your kids walk in the truth. “There is no title greater in my life than ‘dad.’”

Cooper discusses that the only time “pastor’s kid” was brought up was when they emphasized that there is nothing special about that. Pastor’s kid and “son of Todd Wagner” was never his identity. He was always invited to be owners and partakers in the ministry at Watermark Community Church. Both him and his sister went through membership classes and encouraged to make Watermark their church home.

Pressure to Perform? Unmet Expectations? (5:59)

In addition to the propensity for dysfunction, Adam brings up that there is also a stereotype among pastor’s kids for a pressure to perform or an expectation that cannot be met.

Kirby says she never felt that she was under the microscope or burden. Her parents made sure she knew that there was joy and blessing when following the Lord. She is motivated by the stories that she got to hear at church.

Todd mentions that he didn’t want the church to make him or his kids someone that he can’t be.

Cooper admits to placing more pressure on himself than was placed on him by others or his parents. He understood that his name carried with it a temptation to maintain an image.

Todd reminds that Cooper struggled with that temptation not because he was a Wagner or a pastor’s kid but because he was a human. There is no need to pretend that pastor’s kids have to be perfect. There don’t need to be secrets in the family regarding sin or struggle. Todd never uses an illustration on stage that he doesn’t have permission from his kids to use. Kids are not illustration production. They shouldn’t fear being made fun of.

John comments that the way Todd has led his family has set the tone for the way that other families at Watermark steward their own roles. Part of the reason John’s own kids turned out the way they did is a result of the authenticity displayed by the families at the church.

Something Worth Investing In (15:16)

Kids that were 4-6 when Watermark began are now 24-26. It has been so encouraging watching the way that they have grown and seen the Lord use them. Kids need to see church as something worth investing in. The 20 year goal for church should be that kids grow up to love the church. Be a leader who becomes a life giving spirit.

Kirby notes that church is something that is so much bigger than herself. When the church is genuinely adventurous and celebratory it makes it incredibly attractive.

Todd notes that the church is not simply a building or a place. It is a people gathered and walking for Christ together.

Coaching in the Community (19:37)

Todd coached 69 or more sport teams for his children when they were growing up. He determined that coaching was going to be one of the ways to be present for his children. It lets Todd be in the community, a part of the local school, and spend time with his children. Coaching is also a great way to build relationships.

The number one rule of parenting is that you must be present to win.

4 p’s of Parenting

  1. You must have a plan
  2. You must be present
  3. Be a parent, not a pastor or a friend.
  4. Passionately follow Christ.

Malachi 4:6 says that there will be a day when God will turn the hearts of father to their children. It is shame when pastor have a heart for their ministry and church but neglect to have a heart for their children. If Todd doesn’t do his job in the home, then he shouldn’t be an elder or a pastor.

Different Definition for Ministry (24:09)

John mentions that everyone at Watermark always knew that Todd was involved with his children’s lives. He never felt worried to leave work 30 minutes early to go to a game or be with family. When Todd asks a staff member how their ministry is, he isn’t asking about their 9-5. He is asking about how they are loving their family.

Cooper reminisces that his father was indeed incredibly present. So much so, that Cooper noticed when his father wasn’t there. The Wagner family made sure that the kids knew it was always okay to be different. That might mean that the kids don’t have an iPhone. It also might mean they love their family.

Importance of Playing Games (27:45)

John says that if he has one word to describe the Wagner family, he would choose “Fun.” He asks about the memories that might highlight that dynamic.

The Wagner family discusses the importance of playing games as a family. There was a plan for time together as a family to be the happiest time on earth. Todd spent time thinking about how to have his kids actually be excited about time spent with family. Then there was an opportunity to invite others into their home. Parents should have genuine fun alongside their kids.

The common characteristic among children who leave for college and still love the Lord all have families that are very fun. There needs to be a commitment to leave the pastoral at the church and then return home and do hard work to make memories.

Everyone continues to share several personal anecdotes and fun stories from the Wagner family.

What Does Discipleship Look Like? (36:36)

“The greatest family devotional you can do is living a devoted life in front of your family.” - Todd Wagner

John poses the question about what discipleship looked like in the Wagner home. Discipleship usually fit into the natural rhythm of the home. Bible study, teaching, quiet times, and discussion were occasionally circling up on family retreats or vacations, but often these discipleship times happened around the dinner table. Often food would get cold, because they determined to slow down enough to actually talk to one another, resolve conflict with one enough, and laugh with one another. This conveys a huge investment into what discipleship looks like. Cooper remembers that his parents would insist to run through a Proverb a day. The energy around God’s word should often be one of celebration rather than solemn focus. The growing faithfulness of the children would always be celebrated or rewarded.

There should be a constant desire to seek feedback from your family. Ask your children how they think you are doing and what they think you value.

“One of the best ways you can love and lead your children is by confessing ways you have led poorly and then asking for forgiveness.” - Todd Wagner

Invite each other into the brokenness and mistakes that you make. Model this behavior in front of your kids. You can own your problems.

Conclusion (52:04)

You must be living out what you do in ministry in front of your family first. “No man will ever rise above the opinion of his children.” Todd closes with a thought about how they wish they would have talked more about the importance of the covenant relationship of marriage.

Upcoming Event

From May 25-27, Watermark will host the Awaken Conference for anyone ages 21-34 who want to see the church thrive in their city. Happening at the Dallas Convention Center, the conference will inspire you with amazing teaching, world-class worship, and discussions on what it means to be and mobilize the church in your city. Visit for more information.

Questions or comments? Email

Hosted By
John mcgee 20200223 wcc headhshots 001447
John McGee

Sr. Director of Watermark Resources

A tarnow
Adam Tarnow

Cohost of Church Leadership Podcast