Todd Wagner Watermark Community Church
Watermark Community Church Lead Pastor Todd Wagner announces to his church he's taking a break from ministry to address a pride issue. (Video screengrab)

Pastor of Dallas Megachurch Dogged by Allegations of Spiritual Abuse Announces He’s Taking a Break

By Julie Roys

Todd Wagner, senior pastor of Watermark Community Church—a multi-site megachurch in the Dallas area with an average attendance of 11,000—announced yesterday that he is taking a break from ministry to address the sin of pride. This comes about a year after a blog called No Eden Elsewhere published several posts alleging spiritual abuse at the church. 

Wagner told his congregation that he is not guilty of “disqualifying sin” like sexual immorality, financial misconduct, or “foul language.”

Yet, Wagner admitted that friends had confronted him about behaviors stemming from pride, which initially was hard for him to see because “I know who’s built Watermark. It’s not me. I know who gives gifts. It’s not me.”

But Wagner added, “Pride is not simply being overly impressed with who you think you are in terms of accomplishment looks or position. It has most often to do with the position of your heart. It’s got to do with not listening, not being as hard on yourself as times you’re with others. It’s not humbling yourself to listen to others. It’s not thinking of God first and others first.”

In 2019, No Eden Elsewhere published several articles by anonymous sources alleging that Watermark exercised excessive control and spiritual abuse of its members.

One post relayed the story of “Susan” who alleged that Watermark encouraged her to disclose personal sins and family secrets that were then used by the church to control her. She also alleged that the church pressured her to disclose personal financial information like how much she earned, spent, and saved.

Similarly, a second post reported the story of “Michael” who said that after leaving the church, he feared that he would be surveilled and his reputation or employment harmed. 

Yesterday, @noedenelsewhere tweeted the news about Wagner’s announcement. And in the comment thread, Wagner apparently posted and then deleted the comment: “Mission accomplished.”

Wagner founded Watermark in 1999 with the expressed purpose of ministering to “the unchurched, dechurched, dead-churched and unmoved.” The church grew rapidly and now has campuses in Dallas, Frisco, and Plano.

The church also produces a popular marriage curriculum called re|engage that is used in more than 370 churches nationwide. Watermark also has developed a popular 12-step recovery program called re:generation, which is used at many other churches, as well.

Wagner is author of the book, Come and See: Everything You Ever Wanted in the One Place You Would Never Look, which was published in 2017 by David C. Cook. Wagner also hosts a weekly podcast, Real Truth Quick, which answers questions about life, leadership, faith, and “the world we live in.” And he has written articles for The Gospel Coalition.

According to Elder Brian Buchek, Todd is “repentant.” The church did not state how long Wagner’s leave will be or whether it is a paid leave. 

I reached out to Watermark for clarification on these issues, but the church did not respond by time of publication.

Below is video of Wagner’s full announcement yesterday:

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18 thoughts on “Pastor of Dallas Megachurch Dogged by Allegations of Spiritual Abuse Announces He’s Taking a Break”

  1. I have been Julie’s articles for 5-6 years. Moved to Irving Texas in July of 2019 and joined Watermark immediately. Have had a great experience at Watermark, but like all churches human nature creeps in and often a few individuals take matters into their own hands. This does NOT describe Todd. He responded to Biblical counsel of his peers that he was trying to do too much himself.That he was determined to push through the troubles that 2020 has brought about. This decision is nothing more than a child of God responding to his close friends to reevaluate his priorities. As for “Susan” and “Michael’s”, based on my experience any pressure they may have felt, likely came from lower level leadership and not from the Elders. It is unfortunate, but not unexpected, as every church that has flawed humans, will inevitably fail someone. Why this is a news worthy is curious to me. I will continue to be a member of Watermark and strive to love God and love others.

    1. Actually knowing just how toxic and abusive Todd is Re more coming out soon – he is a disqualified pastor. He secretly and deceptively makes himself god over certain individuals who have light inside them that he will never have. He plays games with members lives and inserts himself between people and their families so he can control and manipulate all information; preventing Gods natural flow and order for these peoples lives. His sin of Pride does top the list, but if any enlightened person with open eyes sees the behaviors and actions the leaders of this place exert and Hide from the public, the place would come crashing down. Of course they have people sign oaths subject to fear of punishment if they are in the closed loop I am referencing. They built a shell of popularity and country club style church. Only people who get to the innermost core are allowed to see that this is really a cult pastor whose hidden motives and behaviors in reality mimic satans false church we are warned about in our bible. Even I was deceived by the populist social popularity of the place till I finally got a look at it’s hidden inner core of dominating and controlling people making them slaves to the mantra that places this “church” as the foremost authority over the lives of anyone fully ensnared by their core. What sort of FOOL believes The Real True God is more concerned about perfect following of rules over the Heart? Jesus would ask Toad who are you? This place throws people away like trash if they do not want to become one of their cloned versions of a Christian. They reward anyone willing to conform themself into the image of its leadership, while destroying Gods individual design and creation of each unique human. It is a blasphemous church at its core and Toad is in his soul evil masquerading as light deceiving even the elect. As the Bible warns us of.

    2. This is news worthy because of Julie Roys! I find it comical that her tag line is Reporting the truth! Restoring the Church! She has done nothing but try to destroy the church!! This is what she does and has done it to multiple pastors across the country!! Special place for you Julie!!

  2. Kent,

    Are you in a community group? Are you required to share of all of your sin struggles and all of your financial data with the group? Are you required to get advice and/or approval from the group before making any major decisions?

    Curious if Susan’s and Michael’s experience is unusual and if most of the members are not subject to this process.

    1. To the skeptics and those who have not themselves experienced membership at Watermark Community Church:

      I am in a community group at Watermark … in fact my wife and I lead one. Know that our greatest desire is to follow Christ in all areas of our lives, as we understand Scripture. One key way we do this is through our community groups, which can provide a foundation for loving and being loved by one another in a more intentional way than what is possible in a large church body alone. Hebrews 10:24-25 is a passage we seek to live out: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” This is our goal, because this is how we believe Christ has called us to live.

      It is understandable that in context to today’s culture, it may seem to some that Watermark is a ‘cult’ (after all, they do exist), but if you read Scripture, especially the New Testament and the epistles that cover church order, I think you will see overall we are attempting to obey Christ. If you want to judge Watermark, its leaders, members, structure, etc., do so against the backdrop of the Bible. If you believe Watermark is not following Scripture, then call it out specifically, and with examples. But again, if you judge Watermark against culture, then yes, it will offend people, because culture does not seek to follow Scripture. It follows itself; it always has. And remember, what Jesus said often offended people. This is why he was crucified.

      From experience I can tell you that the community groups are all different, different ages, different stages in life, therefore different needs and areas of focus. If groups talk about each other’s finances, it is because they want to encourage each other to keep Christ in focus, not money which would be idolatry. If groups discuss big decisions, it is to practice listening to others who might have life-giving advice to offer. It is not to dominate others for the sake of controlling their minds or pocketbooks. We know the misuse of money and bad decisions can wreck families, marriages. When we joined our group, we said, “Hey, I want to be known and know you, so that we can help each other live lives that honor God. I give you permission to speak into my life.”

      Are there abuses that might occur in some groups? Maybe. I don’t know, because I’m not in any other group. If anyone on this blog has direct experience (not second hand) of abuses, then as a member of a group, it is your responsibility to speak up as Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother/sister sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Watermark did not make this up. These are words from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ himself, whom we worship and trust.

      I heard Todd’s announcement yesterday, live, and the additional comments from the elders. I have no evidence or reason to believe it was anything other than what they say it was. If I start speculating, I am guilty of gossip, and character assassination. We should take it for what it was, and I am thankful for the confession and grace I witnessed first hand. I am grateful for Todd and the elders, for their lives and passionate pursuit of Christ, and I am praying for them as they seek to follow Christ. If you profess to follow Christ, my hope is you too would join in.

      Peace.

      1. It’s not surprising to read this. A couple years ago Watermark sent notices to many churches in the country that were also named Watermark that they were to change their church name or face legal action. I had a call with them and our church refused, as did others. We were 50 people 1000 miles away and were not a threat to their ministry but they still wanted us to change the name. The height of pride in my opinion.

    2. If their experience was unusual, it’s because the groups are not following protocol. The screenshots of Watermark’s community group curriculum were in the posts, and it was plain to see that the church is asking for people to turn over their financial information, engage in endless confession and it looks like, create a new family out of their community group. It reeks of Scientology group-think, very insular, requiring people to give over private information-the only thing missing is an e-meter.

      1. I recently left Watermark after attending there for around 10 years. The issue was community groups. Todd Wagner stated from the pulpit on numerous occassions that “The Bible is not a rule book.” However, when you go thru the community process, you are given a 118 page “Community Handbook.”

        Ron Smith was assigned as our fledgling groups “Group Launcher” but proclaimed he was our “Group Shepherd” and when I stated that I was hoping the group would have Bible Study, he informed me that “Bible Study is not part of Community agenda.” When I texted the group and stated that I was contemplating leaving the group and asked for any compelling reasons as to why I should stay, Ron Smith replied with the following:

        “The #1 compelling reason for community is that Watermark elders have made it mandatory for membership in the church, hence the name Watermark Community Church. They have stated 6 Core values for every community member to adhere to in order to be a member of the community.”

        Also, there is an expectation you give your “Life Map” to everyone in the group in the first few weeks of meeting them. I leave it to each reader to draw their own conclusions.

  3. It is kind of interesting-most men I know would admit that when the job is causing problems, there are usually issues at home as well. It manifests itself in either depression, kicking the cat (kidding) or being sharp, unresponsive, irritable or just not communicating well. When their is not a sharp distinction between work and home, we can imagine other complications. Not that any of this has ever happened to me-my friends told me:)

    Also,

    When pastors apologize, they mostly refer to how hard they were working and that they just have to slow down. As if this will explain bad behavior. Just some thoughts.

    I wish Watermark and Pastor Wagner well. Hopefully, all will work itself out in the right timing.

  4. How gracious is the Lord – to provide such Godly men to surround this pastor and also to make provision for his sin-killing work by time off with pay for this. (who out there in the world receives such generosity). Still, how encouraging it is that if we ask for the Lord to be purifying His church in these times, He answers. (for ourselves and elsewise)

  5. I’m sorry if I’m the only one who laughed when I read that foul language was a disqualifying sin, but his abuse of people was not. So being an ***hole is not disqualifying, but saying the word is.

    1. Yeah, that was strange and perhaps telling. Sort of like when Mark Driscoll was canned and Mars Hill reassured people that there was no “immorality” involved — as though abusive leadership and misuse of funds were not immoral.

    2. Saw this Show Already aka satans fall from heaven

      You know it’s really difficult to lead a church as a false prophet. You do not have the advantage of The Holy Spirit writing Gods laws in your heart and guiding your conscience ~ assuming you have one to guide you at all. The plight of a narcissistic is not to be taken lightly. The liturgical churches with their flaws are appearing much safer than the Games and Schemes these men come up with making themselves god over their members. The story about satan trying to take on Gods role had a very clear outcome. I saw another article quoting him as saying he needed to “sharpen his axe” which if your in the business of Slaughtering Sheep makes perfect sense!

  6. Attended Watermark for about a year in Dallas, 10 years ago, give or take. We liked his preaching, but did not connect with anyone – too big, and we were always in the overflow room with our little ones.

    I hated the skits and videos displaying how people hated church until they found Watermark. It always struck me as gross and inappropriate.

  7. I’m keeping my eyes on this one. There’s been several situations like this, in recent history, where someone “steps down” and then more comes to light. Andy Savage? Mark Driscoll? Perry Noble?

    Look, I certainly hope no more comes to light but it’s odd to me Todd Wagner is stepping down simply for pride. It’s too subjective. Why isn’t he publicly confessing particular sins if his sins have been public? He also asked Mark Dever for forgiveness, and Dever posted it on his instagram.

  8. Here was my Yelp Review of Watermark in 2018:

    Watermark Church sells their Re/Engage curriculum to churches in Austin and we sent a 6 page written letter to them about how the leaders of our Re/Engage group were verbally aggressive, cult/like, and removed us from the group for questioning (in private) some of their “prosperity gospel” statements they made to the group. For months Watermark did nothing about the problem and I finally asked to speak with the writers of the curriculum at Watermark. Today we spoke and they spoke to us like false teachers. They tried to use Matthew 18 oppressively to convict my husband and I of not following correct procedures in reporting the problem, rather than focusing on the actual leadership problem. We met multiple times with the abusive leadership who gaslit us and falsely rebuked us. With wisdom, we instead chose NOT to have a 4th meeting with this church and this is what we were again rebuked for. For this we were told we were not seeking peace. (See this video to understand the problem with churches like Watermark engaging in Matthew 18 abuse: youtube.com/watch?v=K85x…).

    They tried to shift the focus onto us as if we were the problem for reporting the problem. When I asked, “would you force someone who has been sexually abused to confront her abuser using Matthew 18?” he said, “not alone- but yes.” This is pretty horrible and this man should not be a person who writes marital curriculum. When I asked, “aren’t you appalled by the behavior of these Re/Engage leaders?,” he quoted Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” As if we were fabricating the story- yet they did not offer any facts to oppose our written recollection of the leadership abuse we saw take place. They kept skirting around the actual issue of spiritual abuse and when finally I asked, “did you even READ our 6 page letter?,” they had not.

    In an email before our phone conversation, I asked that this phone call ONLY be scheduled after the letter had been read. They did not honor that request and instead argued with us reporting the abuse without having any facts about what the abuse was. They engaged in pretense almost the entire phone conversation saying things like, “you are getting all animated yet here we are all calm and collective” (implying that they are more Christian). This is such a ridiculous argument in the face of what just happened to us. If Watermark Church read our letter and understood the leadership abuses that had taken place at Re/Engage, they should have been angry and not apathetic. I do not trust this church one bit and I am skeptical that they are just trying to sell their product and don’t care how cult-like the people are who implement it.

  9. My niece moved to Dallas and has begun a residency at Watermark. Our family is deeply concerned about what sounds like brainwashing and ridiculous views on the role of women in church. I am no fan of evangelical churches, but Watermark methods are more reminiscent of Scientology than a Christian church. The word “indoctrination” comes to mind. I do not trust any institution, religious or otherwise, that encourages its members to abandon critical thinking and champion patriarchal “Elders” as the only ones setting rules by which all membership must abide. I can see the path ahead of my niece, and it troubles me.

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