Don’t Follow Your Passions…Follow Him

As I sat down January 1 to shepherd myself and my kids I decided to come up with a group of questions that we could ask ourselves EVERY DAY to evaluate how we are abiding with the One we profess to follow.  It all starts with daily learning more of Jesus and His ways and continually yielding to His Spirit which dwells in all who believe.  My deep conviction is that as our lives increasingly have full and meaningful answers to the following questions our lives will increase in joy, fullness and serve as a greater source of glory to our King.  I am sure you can improve on my list of questions, but as for me and my house, we are going to purpose to improve our ability to faithfully answer them every day (Matt 6:33-34).  Feel free to add your own….but in all your adding stay focused on using them to sharpen each day the Lord gifts you (Psalm 90:12). Check out more on these by listening to what I shared at Watermark this past Sunday here.  Hope you are encouraged!

What have you done to grow in wisdom and stature today?
What do you know today about God, His Word or His purposes that you did not know yesterday?
What are you going to do differently as a result of what you have learned?

1 Tim 4:7; James 1:22

How is this world or are others better today because you have stepped up and been God’s servant?
When you showed up, how was evil restrained, injustice conquered, love multiplied, captives rescued and/or joy increased.

Luke 4:16-21

What have you done today to make someone else know of God’s great love for them?  Has your motivation for everything been love of God and others?
“May this small act of kindness remind you of God’s great love for you.”

1 Cor 13:1

Have you laughed out loud today?
Have you laughed uncontrollably?
Have you laughed till you cried?
Have you made others laugh much today?

Prov 17:22

LIVE generously:
How have you shown generosity today?  Who is better off because God stewarded you with His resources?

2 Cor 8:9

LIVE with gratitude:
How have you expressed a heart filled with Thanksgiving today for the multitude of blessings you have received?

Eph 5:20;

LIFT others up:
Who have you encouraged today with a word, a phone call, an email, a note or a card?

Heb 3:13

LEAN on others:
Who are you relying on to spur you on?  Confront you? Shepherd you?
Who has access to your heart? Who faithfully reproves you?  Sharpens you?  Admonishes you when you are unruly?
When is the last time you repented and changed because someone who loves you “smote you in kindness”.

Ps 141:5; Pr 13:20

LIVE it all by faith (by yielding to the Spirit):
What have you done today that only makes sense because you believe in the grace of Christ and the resurrection of the dead?
Have you lived today by faith? By the power of in constant relationship with the Spirit?

Col 1:29; Eph 5:18


Generation Why


Many of you have asked for the “Generation Why” letter that I read at Watermark in response to the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.  If you weren’t with us on December 16th and missed hearing the message on “Darkness in Newtown and the Light of the World”, I’d encourage you to check it out here so that you are equipped to answer questions posed by those who are appropriately hurting, confused, and skeptical that the God we serve is in control of such evil.  The letter was originally written in response to the Columbine shootings by Marcy Musgrave, who at the time was a junior at Texas A&M.  I hope you read this and are spurred on to pray diligently for our country as darkness continues to increase.  My prayer is that after watching the message you are ready to join me in lovingly shepherding the lost and hurting people around us. Pray with me friends…first for the church to do its job (Matt 5:14-16; 1 Peter 2:9; Phil 2:14-15) and for the families of those who lost loved ones in Newtown. May the Gospel bring comfort and peace into a town and country where chaos and confusion are increasing daily.

I am a member of the upcoming generation—the one after Generation X that has yet to be given a name.  So far, it appears that most people are rallying behind the idea of calling us Generation Next.  I believe I know why.  The older generations are hoping we will mindlessly assume our place as the “next” in line.  That way, they won’t have to explain why my generation has had to experience so much pain and heartache.  “What heartache?” you say.  “Don’t you know you have grown up in a time of great prosperity?”  Yeah, we know that.  Believe me, it has been drilled into our heads since birth. Unfortunately, the pain and hurt I speak of can’t be reconciled with money.  You have tried for years to buy us happiness, but it is only temporary.  Money isn’t the answer, and it is time for people to begin admitting their guilt for failing my generation.  I will admit that I wasn’t planning to write this.  I was going to tuck it away in some corner of my mind and fall victim to your whole “next” mentality.  But after the massacre in Littleton, CO, I realize that as a member of this generation that kills without remorse, I had a duty to challenge all of my elders to explain why they have allowed things to become so bad.  Let me tell you this:  These questions don’t represent only me but a Whole generation that is struggling to grow up and make sense of this world.  We all have questions; we all want explanations.  People may label us Generation Next, but we are more appropriately Generation “Why?”

“Why did most of you lie when you made the vow of ‘til death do us part’?” “Why do you fool yourselves into believing that divorce really is better for the kids in the long run?”

“Why do so many of you divorced parents spend more time with your new boyfriend or girlfriend than with your own children?” “Why did you ever fall victim to the notion that kids are just as well off being raised by a complete stranger at a day care center than by their own mother or father?”

“Why do you look down on parents who decide to quit work and stay home to raise their children?” “Why does the television do the most talking at family meals?”

“Why is work more important than your own family?”

“Why is money regarded as more important than relationships?” “Why is ‘quality time’ generally no longer than a five- to 10-minute conversation each day?”

“Why do you try to make up for the lack of time you spend with us by giving us more and more material objects that we really don’t need?” “Why does your work (in the form of a cell Phone, laptop computer, etc.), always come with us on vacations?”

“Why have you neglected to teach us values and morals?”

“Why haven’t you lived moral lives that we could model our own after?”

“Why isn’t religion one of the most important words in our household?”

“Why do you play God when it comes to abortion?” “Why don’t you have enough faith in us to teach us abstinence rather than safe sex?”

“Why do you allow us to watch violent movies but expect us to maintain some type of childlike innocence?”

“Why do you allow us to spend unlimited amounts of time on the Internet but still are shocked about our knowledge of how to build bombs?” “Why are you so afraid to tell us ‘no’ sometimes?” “Why is it so hard for you to realize that school shootings, and other violent juvenile behavior, result from a lack of your attention more than anything else?”

Call us Generation Next if you want to, but I think you will be surprised at how we will fail to fit into your neat little category. These questions should, and will, be asked of the generations that have failed us.  You have pursued your selfish desires for years, but now is the time to reap what you have sown.  Some rude awakenings like the Littleton massacre have occurred and probably will continue until you can begin to answer our questions and make the drastic changes to put us, your kids, first.  Time is running out, for in just a few short years, we will be grown, and it will be too late. You might not think we are worth it, but I can guarantee you that Littleton will look like a drop in the bucket compared to what might occur when a neglected Generation “Why” comes to power. 

May 2nd, 1998 edition of the Dallas Morning News.

Diving In: Books of the Bible


I got this question earlier this week, and thought it would be helpful to share my response with you. No matter where in Scripture you choose to dive in deeply, may God use that to inform your life in a way that transforms it!


From: Xxxx Xxxx

Sent: Tuesday, December 04, 2012 7:43 AM

To: pastoraloffice

Subject: need some wisdom…


I am planning out my 2013 goals and one of those is to slow down and dive deeply into 3-4 books of the bible.

I was hoping I could lean on your wisdom and see if you had any recommendations of books for me, knowing my life stage and spiritual maturity (lack there of).

Any insight into books that helped take you from baby believer to the man of God you are today would be much appreciated.

I am discussing with a friend next Tuesday.




From: pastoraloffice
Sent: Friday, December 07, 2012 1:31 PM
To: Xxxx Xxxx
Subject: RE: need some wisdom…

Wow…hard to narrow that down but here goes.

Genesis…the book of foundations.  Everything starts here and builds from here.  You have to know Genesis to know your Bible.

Proverbs….daily, practical, straightforward and brilliant.  Endless conversations and help for every area of life.  Perfect book for the way you describe yourself.

John…see all I have been saying lately about why.  Written by John for us to see Christ in all his clarity and fullness.

Romans….see my intro to this last year’s Summit on why this book is essential. 

Since you are in John and in Romans…think about Acts (progress of Holy Spirit in accomplishing God’s will through church) and Revelation (culmination of history and God’s sovereignty and purposes.  The letters to the churches at the beginning are a study in church history in and of themselves).

If you are looking another book from OT I might recommend one of the prophets…and either Daniel (how to live in a Godless age and how God is working throughout the ages) or Isaiah (the first of the great prophets the one with the most clarity about the coming Messiah and his Kingdom).

If you want an historical book learn about the all the Kings: 1-2 Kings or Israel’s greatest King (David) in 2 Samuel.

There you go…you have heard me say many times that my favorite book of the bible is the one I am studying..and that is a FACT.  Love you passion and intentionality.  Stay at it and let me know what you decide, and I will give you a few more tips/resources that may be helpful to you.



Leadership Matters Like Nothing Else

questions to ask church elders

Leadership matters like nothing else.  If you need convincing, spend some time in Galatians 5, specifically verses 16-25. Who or what is leading you? Based on this passage, how concerned would you be if your spouse was led by their flesh? How many of you would be thrilled to hear your daughter was dating someone who was committed to following their flesh? Believe me, leadership matters. Eleven years ago when we were prayerfully selecting men who would lead us as a body, I gave a message titled, “Introducing our Elders: A Great Day or the Beginning of the End.” You can find it here.

The process of selecting our Elders is another post for another day (if you want to get some insight into our thinking on Elder selection and roles, click here,) but because I have been recently asked by several friends, I wanted to share some of the questions we asked every man we considered so that they could share with us their “leadership take” on these topics. We knew that our Elders’ positions on these topics would have ripple effects in our body, city, and world for generations to come, and so we carefully listened to every man as he articulated from God’s word his understanding of the Spirit’s opinion on each of these issues.

Before we started building our body, we wanted to interview future architects. What was their blueprint on truth in each of the following culturally demanding, doctrine-shaping questions? If you want something to do in your time with the Lord in the days (weeks/months?) ahead, grab this list and get busy with your community wrestling with what the Spirit says about each of these issues. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that He has recorded His thoughts in His word and His thoughts are going to run contrary to the world’s and our flesh’s leanings  (Prov 14:12). I pray your study and alignment with the Spirit’s leadership in each of these areas will lead to great days in your life and in the lives of those you lead. Leadership matters like nothing else.

Leadership matters like nothing else.

Elder Questions

Please give a short paragraph answer as well as a longer more in-depth answer of each of the following. Answers should be given both pastorally and theologically. Be able to defend and explain your position from Scripture.  Be able to explain the weakness of your position as well as articulate the best arguments against each of your beliefs.

  1. Divorce and Remarriage. Is there an allowable basis, and if so what is it? Can a person who divorced be remarried?
  2. The Gifts. Are they all still being used?
  3. What is the purpose/calling of an Elder?
  4. End times. What is the rapture? What is the millennium kingdom? How do the church and Israel play out during these events?
  5. Women in the Church. What role should/can they play? Should/can they teach, and if so is there any restriction? Can they be an Elder/overseer?
  6. What is the difference between Dispensational and Covenant Theology?
  7. What is the purpose of the Church? When did it begin? How do you measure its success?
  8. How do I /can I know God’s will? What is God’s will for our lives?
  9. Calvinism/Arminianism. Historical background. What is predestination & election, and why do they matter?
  10.  Share the gospel: Lead me to Christ (Romans Road, Bridge Illustration, etc.).
  11. Is Contemporary Worship, even if Anthropocentric, okay?
  12. Do I have a guardian angel? Can I be one?
  13. Is it okay for Christians to date a non-Christians?
  14. What is the purpose of missions?
  15. Do babies who die go to heaven?
  16. How do you know the Bible is God’s word, and why is it different than other books that claim to be divine?
  17. Explain the hypostatic union.
  18. Do Christians need to obey the Old Testament Law?
  19. What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? How do you live the spiritual life?
  20. Aren’t all religions basically the same?  What makes Christianity different?  What is your basic understanding of Muslim, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, New Age Movement, and Unitarianism?
  21. Be able to discuss the philosophies of the day (post-modernism, fatalism, nihilism, naturalism, relativism, etc.)
  22. Why do trials occur and suffering happen? What is the purpose of James 5?
  23. What is God’s position on homosexuality? Are people born this way? How do you answer those who believe that redefining marriage to include same-gender couples (or any other redefinition of marriage)?
  24. Why does doctrinal competency matter?
  25. What is a seeker church? Are we one? Is that good or bad?
  26. Is it okay for believers to drink? What does the Bible say about areas of conscience?
  27. Is tithing biblical? What is different between Old and New Testament giving?
  28. Is debt biblically allowable? Should Christians have debt, and are there different types of debt?
  29. Should we ever recommend a licensed counselor? What does it mean to counsel biblically?
  30. What is community?
  31. What is accountability? Are there any areas that are off-limits within an accountability relationship?
  32. Should we be a place that is “confidential” or “safe”? What is the difference?
  33. Baptism: Who is it for? Should people baptized as infants be baptized again?
  34. Differentiate between creation, evolution, and theories of Genesis 1.
  35. Is it okay for believers to use contraception? Artificially inseminate? Freeze embryos?
  36. Read the Manhattan Declaration. Should believers sign this document? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

Expositional or Topical?


Since we do get this question/comment a lot at Watermark, I thought I’d go ahead and post this email exchange from a question we received on our website out on the blog for more to see.  May we all be faithful vessels of God’s truth and communicate it clearly, boldly, and without hesitation!

Question: I came to your service Sunday November 4th and enjoyed it, but (Don’t you hate But) – I also looked on your web site nd noticed that you have no Verse by verse teaching through books of the Bible. I was hoping to find verse by verse teaching. Since Todd went to DTS – I assume he studies lead him to the Original Greek and Hebrew and would teach verse by verse from the original languages. If I am wrong please let me know. Thank you.

From: pastoraloffice
Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:32 PM
To: Xxxxx Xxx
Cc: Scott Michael
Subject: RE: WATERMARK CHURCH :: Contact Form Response

Xxxxx…thanks for your question. At Watermark, we don’t consider teaching verse-by-verse any more instructional than topically, or vice versa.  As I know you know…we are to “preach the word in season and out of season”, not verse by verse.  We are to teach “the whole counsel of God” and teach others “to obey all that our Lord has commanded” but that doesn’t have to come verse by verse.  We are to “work hard so we can present ourselves to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth”…not being consumed with it being necessarily “verse by verse”.

As I have said many times,  I consistently get two main complaints on Sunday…1.)  we do too much expositional “verse by verse” teaching and 2.) we don’t teach “verse by verse” enough.  Amazing how people form perceptions/opinions!

Currently we are in the middle of tackling John “verse by verse”, finishing my 44th message on John a few Sundays ago as I wrapped up John 12.   You can find past messages  at The John series is titled “The Visible Image”.  Hope you get a chance to go back and listen!  We are starting John 13 on Sunday, and I hope you get the chance to visit with us again.  You will also find numerous other books of the bible that I have taught through from beginning to end. Mark, Obadiah, Colossians, Galatians, Ephesians, Malachi just to name a few.  Dig in!

If you are interested in my take on seminary/DTS, you can check out:  .

Thanks for the comment Xxx…would love to help get you further connected here at Watermark as well, or at least introduce to some other friends who can help you feel welcome here with us.  I’ve CC’d Scott Michael here so that he can follow-up with you/get you information on upcoming connecting opportunities.

However you study and teach God’s word this week…I pray it makes an indelible mark on your heart, head, and hands.




What do I do if want to be God’s man? How can I grow to love and lead like David?

Ok Porch (and all blog friends)…here is the short note I sent to someone a few years back that I promised last night I would post for you.  Below you’ll find my response to a question about how they could take new ground in their relationship with Christ and grow to love and lead like David.  So much more I could have said….but if you want a good quick response to the question, this short reply will serve you well.  I know I was spurred on myself when I reread it.

I LOVE your question. Good for you for asking…the test of your heart will be in the doing. In the end, what you need to do is easy….but difficult.  The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat. (Prov 13:20)

Learn.  Learn constantly.  Read.  Read well.  Meaning read the right stuff…which obviously means read God’s word ferociously…it alone is profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction and training in righteousness.   Ask people you respect what book has impacted them the most.  Read broadly…not just the pop Christian stuff…read old books that have stood the test of time.  When you read the bible…read it with a pen in your hand and an expectation that the Lord is going to give you something to deal with/learn from/act on etc……Read to ACT.

Lead.  The best way to grow is to put yourself in a place where you have to learn…and place where you have to stay fresh…a place where you need God to show up or you will crater.  A place that demands your attentiveness to Christ.  A place where you can give so you have purpose in your getting.  Teach.  Do not shy away from hard conversations.  Don’t let someone put a ceiling on you.  Dream, believe, act.  Responsibility is laying around everywhere…pick some up.  SERVE.

Be Loyal to your Lord.  “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man.” (Prov 20:6)  Make it your goal to be a man that the Lord wants to strongly support.  (see 2 Chron 16:9, Isaiah 66:2)

Choose your friends wisely.  Make allegiances with or depend on no one except sold out followers of Christ who want to see Jesus made more famous.  It is amazing how quickly we become like those with whom we spend time. (This works BOTH ways: see Prov 13:20; 1 Cor 15:33) Don’t allow folks with fortunes or fame to influence your actions….move by the leadership of the Spirit. 

Finally, seek the Lord…not leadership.  God uses faithful men…not self-promoting, inpatient men.  Be a Joseph and Pharaoh will find you.  Be a fraud and you will be found out.

Learn and lead….grow and give…don’t wait, start now.  Reject passivity, hate apathy, assume it is your time and your moment. Be a man of action. The precious possession of a man is diligence.. (Proverbs again!) You know the Lord wants you to be His if there is not a steady sanctification in your life, it is not a problem with HIS will, it is a problem with yours. 

Praying for you friend…may both of us be overwhelmed how the Lord works in and through you.

Joshua 1:8,


Bono at Watermark?

More than a few folks asked me if I knew about Bono being at one of our services yesterday.  My response when asked was…”I hope he was and pray by God’s grace he was encouraged by the truth shared from the Word and  the truth we declared in song.  As the questions persisted and the pictures circulated…I decided to at least send the below email to my staff team.  Thought y’all might also be helped/encouraged by reading it.

Guys…I have heard some say that we had a “celebrity” hanging around Watermark yesterday.  I frankly don’t know if it is true or not (and if you ask me to speculate I would doubt it…look a likes abound) and I frankly don’t care.  I do care that we love all people well and that we help our people love all people well.  It is a completely normal and unsinful response to do a double take when you see something you don’t expect or have a chance to see something of beauty, tragedy, rarity (see also 2 tickets at fair to see big alligators, short horses, etc….) but, after the initial human response, we, as people informed by a Christ, are not to have a normal response, but rather a supra normal (see also divine) response that rules us.  

Our job is to lovingly help those who are less mature in their faith, or who have no faith yet, act in a manner that makes everyone feel welcome and communicates that we love people because they are people, whether they are homeless or heroes.

I was going to sign this James 2:1-4…but I know I don’t have to.

Let’s make Watermark famous for how we love lost people, care for one another, speak the truth in love and hold fast to our hope and anchor…not for who may or may not have attended.

Love y’all,



Update….I heard later from the friends who brought their friend that my speculation was correct.

If you are interested…this is who was there.  I pray by God’s grace Pavel was encouraged by the truth shared from the Word and the truth we declared in song.

Why it would be a better world if we were all from Texas A&M

I went to the University of Missouri.  My wife went to Baylor.  My oldest daughter goes to Oklahoma State.  I don’t own any maroon.  I am constantly, expectantly, lovingly, and annoyingly (cultishly?) interrupted by “whoop” anytime the word Aggie is mentioned.  I could go on and on about the many, easy-to-make-fun-of quirks that friends in College Station have, but the truth is we need more of what this university bleeds in every college and corner of our country.  The picture and post below from an A&M ethics professor compel me to not be an anonymous Aggie fan any longer.  I hope my other kids go there…or at least I hope what goes on there goes on in them.

Aggies…you have my honor freely given.  Whoop.

The picture above looks innocuous enough. Students are often in line—waiting to get into an exam or a class, waiting for tickets to a football game, waiting for a bus. But this line was different. Without my knowledge, my TA emailed my class and told them she would have a get well card for my wife, who has been challenged with heart issues over the last few months. What you see is my TA’s snapshot of the 30-minute-long line that ensued.

These students are currently in my class. Except for one or two, I have only known them for four weeks, and I am still learning names and faces. They have never met my wife, and they know her only by her official title, The World’s Most Beautiful Woman. We have not mentored them or invested in them. In fact, I have not even given them an exam yet.

What you are seeing expressed is honor. Honor is why we blow Silver Taps every month to remember fallen Aggies and why we softly call the Muster. I saw it last Saturday night at Kyle Field, as the entire stadium rose to honor the oldest living Aggie. I saw it even more intensely as everyone rose to applaud for a small group of disabled veterans who were sitting in the end zone bleachers. And the crowd repeated it, section by section, as those veterans moved by on their way out of the stadium in the second half.

Honor, freely given, is a powerful antidote to cynicism. I have observed that one of the characteristics most frequently mocked by detractors of A&M is our unflagging optimism, even in the face of contradictory evidence. I teach professional skepticism to young auditors like the ones you see standing in this line, so it is easy for me to let skepticism devolve into cynicism. But the experiences of my life since coming to Texas A&M have changed me, and I think for the better.

I am looking harder to find the good in things, and I am reconsidering my views when they are not well-informed. I am sitting still more often and taking a step back, rather than immediately trying to solve everyone’s problems. When I receive criticism, it still hurts, but I am less likely to lash back at the critic, and more likely to consider how I should change.

I do not mean to imply that being here has fixed my character problems. (If you cut me off in traffic, I will probably still honk.) But it has undeniably made a difference in my life. These voluntary expressions of honor—by my TA in arranging a card, by my students standing in line—have made it impossible for me to just careen into being a grumpy old professor.

Today I am trying to figure out ways that I can do things better and make the classroom experience richer for my students.

I keep going back to that picture of the line. What do you see there? Boredom, texting, a smile or two, conversation. What do I see?

I see the reason I invest my life at Texas A&M.

What I Wish I Knew Before Watching Porn

I just reread Lauren’s great post (see below), and all I can say is Amen.

I am still afflicted by the “spoils” that never made it to the recycle truck, from the Boy Scout paper drives I took part in from 4th-7th grade.   Believe me, I got a lot more than an Eagle badge and letter from then President Gerald Ford as a result of the magazines we stashed away and passed around as elementary/jr. high students.

I am not grateful for the Porn I was exposed to in those early years of life…and I wish someone would have told me what was going on before I started looking at porn.  Increasingly hard core images and movies followed as friends discovered their Dad’s or older brother’s stash of trash hidden among closets and under beds.  I can only imagine how deep my life wounds would be had porn been as accessible back then as it is now.  The poison of porn is just now being fully understood as we see marriages continually fail, kids increasingly exposed to graphic sexual content at younger and younger ages and larger and larger numbers of men AND women becoming cavalier toward and increasingly addicted to its content.  Dubinsky does us all a great service by assembling this well written piece (with embedded links) that provide clarity for all of us.  Make no mistake, the ambrosia of self-indulgence in sexual fantasy has a wicked after taste, and my prayer is that this post will keep you from having to say, “I wish someone would have told me about the poison of porn”.

The lie that porn doesn’t hurt anyone (even if you want to buy the lie that people in the porn industry are happy and love what they do) is exposed in this article.  You are now officially on notice that YOU WILL pay a high price for lowering yourself to feed on the sadness that is pornography.

So read on…listen up…and if you have a stash of porn you keep returning to, may this post open your eyes to the real price of free porn.

What I Wish I’d Known Before Watching Porn Lauren Dubinsky  Founder of Good Women Project. Posted: 07/23/2012

Pornography is a charged subject, and it’s a word that rarely crosses the lips of most women. Yes, there are now breeds of the modern woman who watch, talk and joke about it regularly, but most of us still stay farther away from speaking the word than we actually stay away from it.

Over the last couple of years, men have begun to enter the discussion, but women have remained primarily silent. For most of us, it’s still the men’s world, but statistics show that, at least in Australia, more than one-third of pornography viewers are women. Just last week, I received an email from a girl who leads a small women’s group; they’d just discovered that every single one of them were watching porn.

When I was in high school, pornography was on the long list of “bad things” that I didn’t know much about — and unfortunately also on the list of things I had participated in. Nevermind why I was watching it, the how is the same for nearly all of us: We stumbled upon it because of someone else. And none of us knew what to expect, or how to handle it.

Later in life, I caught myself remembering how I used to watch it for a few minutes here or there, and wondered strictly out of boredom if it would fill the big, empty space of loneliness in my late nights. There were no parents around to hide from anymore, and no one checking my Internet history. Pornography was easy, and I never exactly knew why it was bad, particularly since I wasn’t actually having sex. To me, it was just something dirty that you probably shouldn’t have anything to do with. But “probably shouldn’t” never stands up against loneliness and boredom.

I am not one with an addictive personality. Meaning, I binge and then drop things quickly. I knew this about myself, and so I used this as an excuse for watching pornography. (I also used it as an excuse for getting wasted at other times in my life, but that’s besides the point.) I’d watch porn every night for a couple weeks, then not at all for a few weeks. Always off and on. Clearly I wasn’t addicted. Just like I smoked and never became addicted to nicotine and drank, but never became an alcoholic. I was just watching it, and could stop anytime I wanted. No damage done, because I was still in control. Right?

Not really. Nicotine still seared my lungs, and alcohol still did some decent damage to my liver and personal life. Just because we aren’t addicted doesn’t mean it does no harm. Even while I wasn’t “addicted” to watching pornography, I always wanted more. It existed as a guaranteed time-filler and pleasure-bringer, and when you get an hour to yourself, that’s an easy default. An easy default activity that establishes a heavy precedence in what you do with your next bad night.

I wish that 10 years ago someone had educated me on pornography. What it is, what it does and what it reaches in and destroys in the hearts, minds and bodies of men and women.

I wish that someone would have told me that researchers have suggested it sabotages your sex life.

I wish someone would have explained how dopamine, the chemical that is released every time you experience pleasure, drives you to return to what provided that feeling before.

I wish someone would have told me that the kind of pornography you’re most turned on by is usually linked to a corresponding hurtful event in your life, further injuring your brokenness.

I wish someone would have told me pornography would normalize things I wasn’t emotionally or physically ready to handle in my relationships with men, making me feel like I had no options or control over my sex life, filling me with much regret and physical pain.

I wish someone would have told me I would begin to objectify men, build up images in my mind and think of sex day in and day out, to the point where I couldn’t remain focused on anything else.

I wish someone would have told me it would make me feel less valuable to men and bring up insecurities for years in the bedroom.

I wish someone would have pointed out pornography can establish your sexuality completely apart from real-life relationships, causing huge problems in your intimacy with real significant others.

I wish someone would have explained what “sexual anorexia” was and that countless young men are unable to get erections because they’ve been watching porn since they were around 14 years old.

I wish someone would have told all the men I’ve dated that the porn they are watching is keeping them from being turned on by me, ultimately destroying our relationship.

I wish someone would have told me that the dopamine and oxytocin being released from my watching certain types of pornography would cause me to question my sexual orientation, which in turn cost me relationships with friends.

I wish someone would have told me it would subtly create a “victim” mentality in my mind, causing me to be even more sensitive than I already was to catcalls, whistles, and even sincere compliments.

I wish someone had talked about how women watch it too, so I wouldn’t have had to spend years living under the shame that comes with being “the only one” and thinking there was something wrong with me.

My “I wish” list is nowhere near complete, either. In the end, I simply wish someone would have told me why it was so harmful, instead of simply putting it on a list of things we don’t talk about. We all know our rights and wrongs, but seldom do we know what makes them so. Had I known how much it would have harmed me, I would have left it alone.

If you’re a woman who has watched pornography, or is watching pornography, studies are now showing that we make up more than one-third of pornography viewers. It’s no longer a taboo topic, and I would personally like to give you permission to speak openly about it. I guarantee you that you have friends who watch it, and are desperate to talk. Even in your church. Especially in your church.



Seminary: to go or not to go…that may be your question. Part 2

I wanted to throw this article up there right awayas well because I think Stackhouse makes some excellent and necessary points to all of us who are serious about this conversation.

He sums up his article perfectly here. 

In sum, academic snobbery–”Every pastor ought to be a seminary graduate”–flies in the face of church history and contemporary experience around the world.

Yet anti-academic snobbery does, too–”No pastor needs to go to seminary, and I sure don’t.” The church has been too richly blessed by well-trained leaders–from Paul to Hildegard, from Augustine to Luther, from Aquinas to Bonhoeffer, from John Wesley to John Sung–for us to cavalierly congratulate ourselves on our avoidance of formal training.

The church today needs a wide range of leaders with a wide range of preparation. Let each of us, then, seek the best education available to us: counting the cost, yes, and also the benefit of it–to ourselves and to all those whom we will influence.


Seminary: Who Needs It?

[This is a copy of a post that has received a lot of attention, so I thought I’d put it up also as a page in case it can be useful to more people.]

If you survey leaders of megachurches in the United States…if you consider most leaders of the burgeoning house church movement in China…if you examine the leadership of exploding congregations in Africa…you notice one striking commonality: Most of them have little or no formal theological education.

A North American correspondent writes:

“Is theological education necessary for people engaged in occupational ministry? If so, is the contemporary seminary scene the best form for education to occur in the future?

“I have been wrestling a bit with this regarding the emerging church, rising student debt, and the complexity of the postmodern world. I think we live in difficult ministry times that demand excellent formation and education, but it seems the pragmatic opportunities for such education is being limited by ‘market realities.’”

I think this friend puts it well. Every leader does need to be “excellently formed and educated.” Those who seek to lead without being properly shaped as persons and educated as leaders may well attract a lot of followers by dint of charisma and hard work. But the lack of well-formed hearts and well-informed minds will put their congregations and themselves in peril: in peril of narrowness, of shallowness, and of heresy. God certainly has guided the church in the past through people without seminary education–indeed, ever since he called fishermen. But he also provided the early church, and every church since, with educated leadership, such as the carefully-trained apostle Paul.

Does a Master of Divinity degree necessarily produce and then certify a fine church leader? Certainly not. But does theological ignorance and immaturity of spirit somehow improve the picture? Hardly.

Yes, seminaries can and do narrow one’s options, but they are supposed to help students avoid bad choices and make good ones–about doctrine, about piety, about liturgy and evangelism and polity and the rest. Yet sometimes seminaries do narrow the options too much, so that those who are not socialized in such places sometimes are the ones who spontaneously innovate.

Creative people, however, normally have a considerable store of knowledge of a field before they innovate–in a way that produces lasting, influential, and positive results. Anybody can do something merely new in church: that doesn’t require knowledge, insight, or special imagination. Just have everyone who leads the service wear a pink hat, or just have everyone who attends a service keep hopping from one foot to another. (I hope I’m not giving anyone any ideas….) But lasting, influential, and positive results normally come from people who know a given field well–so well that they can see what needs changing and then how to change it for the better.

(A terrific book in this regard is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity [Harper, 1996].)

Still, most aspiring pastors aren’t looking to be especially creative, but competent, compassionate, and Christ-like. So do you need to go to seminary for that?

Well, yes. At least, some people do.

Obviously, for at least some kinds of ministry among some kinds of people, a high degree of sophistication is necessary. To be sure, well-educated congregants have the same basic needs as everybody else. But they have other needs as well that require leaders to have thought about a number of things and to have thought through at least a few of them. So those who are considering pastoral work among university or high-tech populations, therefore, will need to take seriously the peculiar intellectual demands of such work.

Yet ministry among anyone can be improved by good theological education: among kids, among teenagers, among the oppressed, among the interested and the confused of any age and situation.

For everyone asks about the problem of evil. Everyone wants to know about how to interpret Genesis 1-3. Everyone wants to know how to take the Bible’s “tall tales” of Flood, Exodus, Jonah’s fish, and Jesus’ resurrection. And everyone wants to know how to find Christ, follow him, and enjoy his company forever–in a way that avoids extremes, or compromises, or imbalances, or pat slogans.

So who shouldn’t get a proper Christian education? (That’s why I like teaching at a place that educates even more laypeople than it does pastors.) Yes, theological school is costly. But, as the old saying goes, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

Okay: so far, this is what you’d expect from a guy who earns his bread at a theological school.

So let’s recall again that lots of leaders around the world today don’t have seminary education and seem to enjoy God’s blessing. And that’s been true in every era of the church.

You don’t need a seminary education to introduce people to Jesus. You don’t need it to preach the gospel. You don’t need it to administer baptism or the Lord’s Supper. There is much that can be done, has been done, and is being done by simple Christians with a simple understanding–and much that puts our educated, sophisticated churches and leaders to shame.

The point is not, however, whether God uses some people in some situations to do good pastoral work. The point, rather, is whether God is calling some people in some situations to do pastoral work that really does require sustained education in the Scripture, theology, history, liturgics, administration, counseling, and other staples of contemporary seminary education.

The point is whether God is calling such people to join seminary communities in which, for a few years, they can be immersed in an environment of mutually reinforcing teachings and practices that will form them in a fundamental way for a lifetime of fruitful–and, doubtless, also creative–service.

And the point is whether we ourselves want to be pastored by people who have never been taught even the basics of Bible history, of how to interpret a parable, of the history of missionary success and failure, and of what makes for a good marriage. Yikes, I say.

I know seminary costs a lot. I didn’t earn a typical seminary degree at a typical seminary, but my theological education cost a pretty good whack of cash and it took me quite a while, so I sympathize.

Medical education and engineering education also require a lot of money and time, however, and I don’t think that pastoral work is any less conceptually difficult than medicine and engineering. I want my surgeon to know what and how to cut, and I want my engineer to know how to build a bridge that will stay up, and I want my pastor to know how to lead us to become a better church. So the money and time is justified if the education helps a lot toward that goal.

Thus the question is whether, in fact, seminaries offer good, and good enough, education for those whose callings require it. And I would then say that some seminaries do, and some don’t. Some are academically arcane; some are dogmatic and authoritarian; some are sloppy; some are only warm and fuzzy; and some are self-righteous–and guess what kinds of students they tend to attract and to produce? Yikes again, I say.

So this is not a brief for seminary education in general, nor is it a blanket endorsement of every theological school. Heavens, no! But it is an encouragement to those serious Christians, like my friendly correspondent, who wonder if the time and money is worth it. For some people, at the right theological school, it is. And maybe it is for you, too.

In sum, academic snobbery–”Every pastor ought to be a seminary graduate”–flies in the face of church history and contemporary experience around the world.

Yet anti-academic snobbery does, too–”No pastor needs to go to seminary, and I sure don’t.” The church has been too richly blessed by well-trained leaders–from Paul to Hildegard, from Augustine to Luther, from Aquinas to Bonhoeffer, from John Wesley to John Sung–for us to cavalierly congratulate ourselves on our avoidance of formal training.

The church today needs a wide range of leaders with a wide range of preparation. Let each of us, then, seek the best education available to us: counting the cost, yes, and also the benefit of it–to ourselves and to all those whom we will influence.