This is a collaborative article written by Dr. Mary Hess and Dr. Christian Scharen.
Hi. I’m Mary Hess, joined by co-author Chris Scharen, and we’re bloggers.
On our blogs we write, post, link and embed materials that are largely about faith and culture related to our ministries as teachers and academics and as preachers of the gospel in the broadest sense. Blogging is a key communication medium and one that pastors and other congregational leaders should explore as a way to enhance their ministries. Here are our respective thoughts about why blogging is important. If you’re new to blogging and its components, here are some links that will help you:
Chris: In his article, “Why I Blog”, in The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan describes the word “blog” (which can be a noun or a verb) as a conflation of web and log, as in “World Wide Web” and “ship’s log.” Many platforms now exist for blogging — most of them free. Sullivan compares blogging to traditional journalism (his writing for the print version of The Atlantic, for instance) and says blogging is, “spontaneous expression of instant thought — accountable in immediate and unavoidable ways to readers and other bloggers.” It is, he argues, “now” writing. While reporters can wait — must wait — until every source has been confirmed, and a novelist can spend months or years before committing words to the world, for bloggers the deadline is always now. In a lovely description, Sullivan says “blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is in many ways, writing out loud.”
The best blogs are about life as you see it. You end up writing about yourself because you choose what to write about and how to frame the issue. Still, Sullivan warns, don’t think too hard before writing. “Write as in an e-mail, but with a mite more circumspection. This is hazardous, of course, as anyone who has ever clicked ‘send’ in a fit of anger or hurt will testify. But blogging requires an embrace of such hazards, a willingness to fall off the trapeze rather than fail to make the leap.” This passion, this now-ness, and, and this personality is what gives blogs a character, and the character draws readership.
Mary: It’s also what should make bloggers more humble! I love that I can change my mind and write about my thinking in process, not as a finished thought. Sullivan humorously notes that “many forms of writing [ sermons?] are essentially monologues published [preached?] to applause, muffled murmurs, silence or a distant heckle. With blogging, the feedback can be instant, personal and brutal.” Sullivan is responding to the comment feature in most blogs that allows readers to respond with their thoughts. The feedback loop is crucial and part of what makes blogging a conversation, not a monologue. To avoid heckles, some bloggers disable the comment feature, but I think blogs should always have commenting implemented. Doing so may even lead to changes in the practice of preaching!
Sullivan also quotes Matt Drudge, who argues that blogging rewards brevity, immediacy and dies if it stops moving — like a broadcast lapsing into dead air. While that may be true for blogs tightly tied to fast-moving spheres like politics, there are lots of different kinds of blogs, and now with RSS (a way people can sign up to get an alert whenever a blog has a new post) people don’t have to publish all the time. Blogs don’t need huge readership to be valuable. I think that I blog, for instance, because I need a place to put links that I don’t want to lose. If no one ever reads my blog, I’d still keep it. What’s been most gratifying about blogging is to discover that other people find it useful. Pastoral blogs in churches can be a way for a pastoral leader to “think out loud,” and they may or may not draw any clear traffic.
Chris: I love the idea that blogs create conversations with both people you’ve never met and with people you see regularly. Sullivan describes the blogosphere (the online world of bloggers, blogs and the interaction produced), at its best, as a conversation rather than a production. He offers a model from another age: Pascal’s Pensees, perhaps the single greatest piece of Christian apologetics, written as a series of meandering, short, and incomplete stabs at arguments, observations, and insights. Such a mode of writing encourages engagement and responses: “The blogger is like a host of a dinner party. She can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but she must also create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.” Could the discipline of blogging help to foster in pastoral leaders this key capacity of hosting the party, fostering participation?
Mary: How does someone foster participation and create the atmosphere for discussion? Blogs take on many forms, but one of their most stable, ubiquitous features is the use of hyperlinks. These connections link to “other objects on the web, including text and video.” Sullivan suggests that this “little technological miracle” called the hyperlink transforms the experience for the reader. The ability to access the primary material instantly — in as careful or shallow a fashion as you choose — can add much greater context than anything on paper. Hyperlinks also connect users to other writers, bloggers and sources of all sorts to make blogging a collective enterprise. Linking is a key component of blogging.
Chris: In closing, pastors should blog because a blog can inform and enrich worship and sermons and serve as a kind of free-form free-association research. A blogging pastor also has to plan thoughtful and engaging worship, including preparing a sermon, but it will likely be more considered, balanced and evenhanded if the pastor has blogged about the ideas ahead of time Two of my favorite blogs:
Mary: Pastors should also blog because it can be a way to “let people in” on what you’re doing in pastoral visits and other tasks, and by doing this, create other unexpected connections and conversations between pastors and their congregations. Some of my favorite pastoral leadership blogs include: