Blogging gets a bad rap. For some, it’s a hobby at best. For others, it’s an art, or even a divine calling. How should Christians approach this craft?
My friend Benjamin Vrbicek, a far more gifted writer than me, is tackling some of these very questions in a forthcoming book for Christian writers. Benjamin’s most recent guidebook for pastoral job-seekers proves his penchant for producing actionable, tactical wisdom, so I think his new volume for bloggers will be a real treat.
He’s also a thorough researcher, and so, against his better judgment, he sent me a list of questions about what I’ve learned as a blogger. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I have no clue what I’m doing here.)
I don’t consider myself an expert on writing, but by God’s grace I’ve tried to pick up a few insights along the way. So, I’ve retooled my responses to Benjamin into a grab bag of seven insights—tips I wish I’d been told several years ago. I pray that it’s beneficial to you too.
1. Decide Who Is—and Isn’t—Your Audience
Just as the three cardinal rules of real estate are location, location, location, a similar maxim might apply to communication: audience, audience, audience. Know your target. Identify to whom you’re speaking and why.
Unfortunately, the scattershot nature of social media has make this rule more difficult to follow. In a world where it’s socially acceptable to photograph a half-eaten meal and share it publicly, we’ve lost the art of communicating with intentionality.
This means we must count the cost of selectivity. If you’re writing to pastors, you’ll inevitably end up talking over many of your neighbors’ heads. By targeting one audience, you exclude another. Know your niche. Think and pray about who you want to reach.
2. Identify Your Place in the Conversation
Each time I sit down, I ask myself these questions:
- Does this need to be said?
- Has it already been said by someone else?
- Do I need to be the one to say this right now?
These are good questions for any public communicator, but what makes these questions particularly challenging for online writers is the sheer volume of voices in the Christian blogosphere. Deciding when to enter a conversation takes both courage and caution, boldness, and pastoral sensitivity.
Some Christian bloggers will be Ezras, irenically exegeting Scripture and offering measured application. Others will be Nehemiahs, rebuking and ripping beards out. Each member serves a function in the body. Identify where you best fit.
3. Think Globally, Write Locally
Reassess your definition of “reach.” We tend to judge our impact by counting subscribers in the hundreds or thousands, tallying up social media shares, and receiving engagement from leaders we respect. But what frequently catches me off-guard is the way in which one’s quality of readership matters more than quantity.
Your metrics may only be telling you that 50 people read your post, but you will be surprised when that one lady from church, quiet and kept to herself, mentions that she reads your articles daily and draws constant encouragement from them. No analytic software can capture stories like hers. As in pastoral ministry, Christian blogging is more about feeding ordinary sheep and less about impressing other shepherds.
As important as it is to have national voices, bloggers can also impact their own churches and communities in important ways. For pastors who write, their best writing will be done out of the overflow of local ministry. Our physical neighbors offer built-in feedback loops that improve our work. Further, our writing will mean more when it is written to the situations of people we know.
What should the relationship of a blogger be to his or her pastor and local church? Healthy church members should submit to their leaders (Hebrews 13:17). For church members with any public platform, this does not mean that their public persona must be a direct extension of the ministry of the church. However, writers must be accountable to their church leaders. A relationship of trust and encouragement between the blogger and his or her spiritual authorities not only blesses the writer but serves the local church, extending its outreach as each members performs its function (Ephesians 4:16).
4. Exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit
Christian writers must exhibit Christlikeness down to every jot and tittle, in tone and in content. This means we cannot engage in haphazard “discernment” blogging that simply tears down those with whom we disagree.
At the same time, we cannot tread so lightly as to lose our discerning edge. There is a fine line between trying to “please everyone” in the Pauline sense (1 Corinthians 10:33) and simply chasing human approval, and it is discouraging to see how many new writers platform-build by piling on platitudes to the affirming nods of other so-called influencers. A Christian blog ought to both avoid slander (Ephesians 4:31) and quarrels about words (2 Timothy 2:14) yet remaining prophetically cutting on the issues that count.
5. Own Your Voice
Much like the young novelist who aspires be the next Lewis or Tolkien, bloggers who merely copy their favorite pundits are unlikely to succeed in any meaningful sense. Failure to operate from one’s own individual giftings is sure to yield a confused, inauthentic voice.
Few of the great men and women in church history became such through sheer force of will, deciding at the onset to stiff-arm their way into thought-leader status, shamelessly self-promoting at every turn. Instead, our heroes focused on faithfulness, and the result was that God expanded their reach. Like Paul, we must “not boast beyond limits, but… boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us” (2 Corinthians 10:13). For young writers, this means we must find our own voice, not borrow someone else’s.
6. Mind the Details
Details matter, and inattention to technical quality will impede even the best thinkers.
Recall the rules of good composition; establish one well-articulated thesis, and build the rest of your article or post around substantiating that thought.
Be aware of the basic principles of inbound marketing. Focus on directing individuals to one central “hub” for your writing, and use the various social media platform to route people to that hub.
Invest in an attractive website with an intuitive user interface that conveys professionalism. (Don’t let poor font choices, distracting ads, or long web addresses generated by free website services distract users from the value of your content.) While you’re at it, consider investing the additional time and dollars required to have a quality proofreader or web designer.
Don’t underestimate the important of having a volume of material under your name. Establish a writing rhythm that allows your followers to anticipate posts on a regular basis—after all, it isn’t inherently sinful to build your own platform if your intent is to edify your readers and promote truth.
7. Remember Your Calling
Your writing for the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:56). Although it’s easy to think that blogging has already had its heyday, the demand for long-form content, while tempered by market forces, will always remain. Search engines like Google assign more weight to long-form content. And while those less serious about writing turn to social media to express themselves, their vacating the blogging arena creates more opportunity for those more committed to the craft. God still uses well-written Christian blogs.
At the same time, we writers much watch our souls. Blogging brings with it threats within and without. Internally, I pray that the growth of my platform would never outpace my sanctification. A fool takes “pleasure… only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). Externally, there is always risk associated immortalizing a potentially half-baked opinion in paper and ink—or pixel and screen. I know that certain stances I have taken have cost me. Sometimes, in matters of biblical certainty, this is unpreventable, but more often than not, I have been to blame for my own bullheadedness. Either way, the internet never forgets. We must trust God to sovereignly work out both our personal growth and our platform.
I highly recommend John Piper’s interview on the “call” to write. In short, a calling to write consists in possessing the ability, desire, affirmation of others in spiritual authority, and opportunity to do so in service of others. That final point is not to be missed. If one writes purely for oneself and not at all to build up others, that ill-conceived motivation will manifest in the final product. Such persons would be better off prayerfully waiting until God gives them the opportunity to write for the edification of others.
If you lack ability to write, don’t. Alright, that may be harsh. At least, don’t expend disproportionate amounts of time and strength honing a craft in which you are unlikely to make major advances. Self-discipline is necessary for improvement, and a passion for writing is as much acquired as it is natural, but sooner or later the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Consider the 80/20 principle; invest 80 percent of your strength in your areas of natural ability, and only 20 percent or so on overcoming your areas of weakness. For most people, their weaknesses will always be liabilities to some extent. If you’re a non-writer by nature, embrace this reality and play to your strengths.
Why blog in this day and age? I live not far from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, recognized by many as Amish country. At times, I’m a bit jealous of my Amish neighbors across the river. They have something we don’t. By living off the grid, they’re spared the constant anxiety of information overload, incessant notifications, and dead-end arguments on social media.
Despite this, I persevere in the online world. The church in general is called to participate in the public square. For the Apostle Paul, the marketplace of ideas was the literal marketplace—the agora. But for us, truth conversations are often more likely to happen in digital spaces than in our distracting, disconnected places of physical commerce.
Engaging others through the written word is a matter of stewarding our public gospel witness. So whether we write, speak, eat, or drink, let’s do it all for the glory of God.