Bruce Reyes-Chow, our good Moderator of the General Assembly, is kicking our collective Presbyterian rears into the 21st Century. And since we’re already eight years into said century, it’s not a moment too soon.
Bruce asked a general question: Why blog?
It’s a good question, and it’s one I’m asked a lot. In fact, it is something I often ask myself–especially right now, as I’m racing toward the deadlines for two articles and my second book. As I balance writing on top of being a full-time pastor, regular speaker, and a responsible mother, I sometimes have this conversation running in my head: Why am I keeping up the blog? There are plenty of authors who do really well without blogging. You notice that the grown-up church experts don’t blog….
But I do blog, and I will blog. And this is why.
The first reason is that I enjoy it. I love reading and writing posts. I love watching this larger conversation unfold, and I’ve formed a certain community, a network through blogging. The conversation affects my writing a lot. I can tell what generates excitement, frustration, or controversy through the immediate reaction of my posts.
But even more than that, I know that expectations have changed. I’m a product of a different generation, and there’s been a subtle shift in our culture–and I’m not sure if technology is the result of the movement or the cause of the movement–but people think a bit differently now.
At Western, where I’m a pastor, we encourage people to question our sermons, disagree with us, and go into deeper discussions about them. In our Order of Worship, we invite people to email responses to our sermons. We post our manuscripts on a blog and we accept comments on our podcasts. Our congregation rarely sits back and agrees with everything, nor do we want them to. They want to be challenged by and engaged with the text.
I’ve noticed the shift at conferences as well. When leaders come together to talk about vital ministry, it’s less about hearing a lecture from the expert, and more about a conversation with friends. Which means that two things have to happen in order for me to be an effective communicator in a shifting culture: (1) I have to have some sort of mechanism in which I can hear readers talk back and (2) I need to be accessible and able to develop relationships with people.
I’ve gone to many conferences, seminars, or denominational meetings where Dr. So-and-So, the pastor of The Super-Huge And Prestigious Presbyterian Church, blows in, tells us what he thinks, and leaves. As we watch him fly out, there is a gaping disconnect between what he is doing, with all of those staff members and that giant budget, and what we’re doing as pastors in small- to medium-sized congregations. We are impressed with his ministry, but it can also leave us feeling frustrated rather than inspired in the long run.
Sometimes, his ideas are so radical that they shatter everything that we’re doing, and so I feel like running after him and yelling, “Wait a second! Wait! What does that look like? Could you clarify a little bit? How do we do that in our church? What’s the first step? What about our particular context?” But there’s really no questioning the expert. There’s no way to ask for clarification.
We’ve been doing our continuing education like that for a long time, and it’s worked for a long time. But church leaders in a new generation are itching for something else now. They’re putting down the pages of unresponsive magazines that rarely have voices that sound like their own. They want to engage the opinions of the experts. And so you can often find them on blogs, thinking about ecclesiology, discussing what works and what doesn’t.
Now, I’m not saying that I don’t have a one-way information dump. In the church, we preach. And depending on the size of the group, when I lead workshops and conferences, I often have a lecture. But, I also take the questions I receive and develop them more on the blog. People email me and I respond here. We’re often hashing stuff out on this site.
It’s a shift in culture and expectations. People want a space where they can share their opinions and form ideas in a thread of comments. They don’t want to just hear from the pastors of the Big Church, and constantly feel frustrated because of their lack of resources. They also want to talk about ideas on how to do effective ministry with their peers, in congregations like theirs. And blogs allow that space.
The shift is not just something that’s happening among church leaders, it is happening all over. With restaurant reviews, book reviews, and politics, people have an expectation that their opinions will be heard.
It’s not always good. Sometimes the on-line conversation can be dominated by the loudest or most obnoxious person. Sometimes blogs can spread nasty rumors… but good and bad, the shift has happened, and we need to be ready to communicate effectively in the ways that people are ready to listen.
And that’s why I blog.
Interested in other responses? Robert Austell writes about Google Reader. Monte writes about facebook. Shawn Coons, Fritz Gutwein, and Adam Walker Cleaveland tell us everything we need to know about twitter. Jan Edmiston, Monte McLain, Bruce Reyes-Chow and Ryan Kemp-Pappan also tell you why they blog.
Photo’s by Dom Dada