God spoke to me this weekend through some loving criticism I got about my blog and a verse from the Daily Office last week that I had decided to memorize in Hebrew, Psalm 69:6. The verse says in English, “Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.” I memorized it because it seems like a very important prayer to say as a pastor every day. And God used it to confront me about my motives for writing on my blog.
I don’t like having authority. Really I despise it. The problem is that I’ve got authority because of my roles as as an associate pastor and as a blogger who has developed a small following. What that means is that people are influenced by what I preach and what I write online. I tend to be very deliberate about not bringing anything that isn’t from God into the pulpit. But I cut myself a lot of latitude on my blog by telling myself that this is the place where I can “wrestle.” I think wrestling is legitimate, and I also think that it’s better for congregation members and readers to see my cards than for me to put on a public face of theological certitude and only ask questions behind closed doors. But I’m also realizing that I don’t get to take off my pastor hat just because I’m not robing up in my alb to write blog posts.
One problem is I often write to “get things out.” The friend who told me off about my blog asked me about something I’d written: Who are you trying to help? Then reading Psalm 69:6, I thought my goodness, how many readers have I caused shame or dishonor when I just needed to “get things out.” One example of this was the blog post I wrote right after I found out I hadn’t been ordained. I rationalized it to myself by thinking if only I can get this out of me, then I will be able to function and do my job, but until I get it out and make my “official statement” to the world, I will continue to sit and stare at a blank computer screen.
One of the points that I tried to make in that post is that there really are three very different things that people can be talking about when they use the phrase “boundaries.” There’s having a self-awareness about what you’re carrying into ministry so that you don’t get into inappropriate, destructive relationships with your congregation members. There’s making sure that you “cover your assets” (CYA), doing things in such a way so that you can’t be accused of anything. And then there’s propriety, conducting yourself in whatever way your particular community considers to be “proper” for a pastor, which can be different in different cultural settings. I think it’s legitimate to point out that these three types of boundaries are different, but that doesn’t mean that any one type of boundary isn’t important.
In the post, I belittled the concept of propriety, basically saying that it amounted to “politeness” (which real authentic people like me don’t have any time for). What I’m realizing now is that propriety is actually quite important, even though my pastoral instinct is often to be unexpectedly rough-edged and irreverent to break through to people who have written off Christianity. Propriety is basically what Paul is talking about when he says not to be a “stumbling block” to others (Romans 15:13). I’m used to connecting that verse to physical behavior (like not drinking a beer in front of an alcoholic), but writing is behavior too.
Another ugly motive I’ve had for writing is to fire artillery at the “other side” of the battle for Christianity that I consider myself to be waged in. It’s the fundamentalists vs. the good guys, whoever the good guys are. So whenever I can come up with a zinger to score a direct hit on the fundamentalist battleship, I scurry over to my laptop to crank it out. I often justify the war zone mentality by looking at Jesus’ battles with the Pharisees. But what came to me today is that instead of seeing Christian discourse as perpetual psychological warfare, I should patiently teach whatever truth I’ve been given to teach and not throw it in anybody’s face, but trust God to use it for the purpose that He gave it to me.
Last, perhaps my biggest weakness is to write for the sake of building my platform. I’ve just finished the third chapter of the book that I hope to take around to publishers. Publishers take people seriously whose blogs are shared on Facebook by thousands of people, not thirty or forty. Since this book feels like legitimate teaching that God has given me to share, I feel justified piggy-backing on controversial topics to get a viral post that will expand my reach to the point that I can a freaking publishing contract signed, after which I tell myself that I will never write about a sleazy topic again.
Now I don’t think I can swear off writing about controversial current event topics. But what needs to happen is teaching rather than mudslinging or point-scoring. Bottom line is I don’t want anyone to be hurt or put to shame because of what I write. My call is to teach. I’m having a lot of fun writing my book with an fantastic small group of people from my church who are going over each rough draft chapter with me every week. I can’t wait until I get to share what I’ve written with you.