“Don’t let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me”

“Don’t let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me” February 10, 2014

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.

As much as I want to be just Morgan everywhere, there are some people for whom I will always be Pastor Morgan. There are several people in my church who never call me anything but “Pastor” and “Reverend.” At first, I would try to correct them and say, “Just call me Morgan,” but then I realized that they needed to have somebody in their life whom they called “Pastor” or “Reverend,” and the least I could do is just honor the role they had given me. So I can’t just “wrestle” and “get things out” without considering the implications for the people who have given me authority that I didn’t necessary want to have.

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.

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  • Dave Farmer


    Keep up the good work!

  • KA Crosby

    I’ve come to see that Romans 15 passage to be about not being offensive to those who have “higher” moral standards.. i.e. those who are free to do whatever they feel in Christ, should not flaunt it in front of those who have greater restrictions on themselves in Christ. This flips the idea of “strong” and “weak” from what traditionally gets taught.. that it’s not necessarily about recovering alcoholics being weak (although that’s a given) but maybe about those stuck in a legalistic/Pharasaical mindset. To me this makes a lot of sense in light of Paul’s audience.

    • MorganGuyton

      I agree. In Paul, it’s pretty clear that “weak” means legalistic. It was also the case that the less educated and less wealthy members of the Christian communities tended to put greater restrictions on themselves as a means of feeling superior to the wealthy members who were actually able to afford to buy things like sacrificial meat and had sociopolitical reasons for participating in pagan religious culture.

  • David Pitchford

    This is really convicting because I think I tend to do the same thing on my blog. Not being in ministry or authority, I feel freer to shoot my mouth, thinking no one’s faith could suffer as a result (even though, paradoxically, I do want my blog to positively influence people). Often, like you, I am trying to undermine theological positions I disagree with, especially ones that I used to hold but “escaped” from. As you’ve indicated in the past, it’s really hard to be respectful when people sincerely believe things that you feel did you harm. For example, I’m transitioning from the more penal substitutionary view of the Gospel as a message about “how you get saved” to a kingdom-focused definition more after N.T. Wright, while remaining at a church, filled with people I love, respect, and spend time with, that strongly and fearlessly preaches the old view, with the Spirit moving and working through it. I’m still working out how to strike this balance.

    • MorganGuyton

      It’s hard!

  • EarBucket

    Powerful stuff today. I’ve been seeing the internet more and more as a scorched-earth warzone lately, and I’m not sure how to act as a peacemaker in that environment. I think it starts with shutting up and sitting on my desire to correct other people, though.

    • MorganGuyton

      Very apt metaphor.

  • This is good. Thanks for sharing bro.

  • JoFlemings

    This is really good. I think what you are aiming for is an honorable and integrated, authentic adherence to the 2nd commandment and the 8th commandment. I am not sure how much of these Protestants really dig into these days- when I was one, I did not get much: don’t use God’s name in vain and don’t lie about someone else in court- was about as far as my understanding went on these two points. There is a lot, lot, lot more to these commandments than those limiting and limited aspects I mention.
    The Lord one time counseled me to ‘have a care for souls’, especially those I am directly responsible for forming, and to cultivate modesty and discretion, especially in my use of language and expression- (I am a slow study.) Transparency is sometimes warranted, clarity is often needed, but humility is always essential. In the world of words, those who are particularly talented- and that you are- have a more tortuous path to navigate in cultivating these virtues, and most of all purity of intent.
    If I were advising a friend on this, I would say to make these things a daily checklist for an end of the day examination of conscience- not to pick it to death, but to ask the Holy Spirit to constantly illuminate for me the areas where ego is lurking or playing shadow games with the keyboard.
    (If all else fails one can usually be sure one’s readers will be more than willing to help! :o) )

    • MorganGuyton

      I do think a checklist is worthwhile. I have thought about employing something like Ignatius’ examen for quite a while. I’m so ADD though that I struggle with implementing these sorts of things. But that’s a great idea.

  • MarcAlcan

    As much as I want to be just Morgan everywhere, there are some people for whom I will always be Pastor Morgan

    Why would you want to be just Morgan everywhere? If ordination is serious business, should you not be Pastor all the time or at least in that mode of being in God all the time? Otherwise you end up with a compartmentalized personality and compartmentalized life. A kind of schism within one’s elf which ends in diminished integrity. Instead of asking whether you should be just Morgan, I think the more important question to ask is whether Christ is your centre. If so, this false dichotomy will cease because “just” Morgan is Pastor Morgan – both centred in un-ambigously in Christ. The only time it a dichotomy would exist if being pastor is just a job.

    • maguyton@gmail.com

      So in other words you agree with the sober recognition of my responsibility that I’ve made in this post but you needed to get a jab in about my integrity. Yes I should be a faithful witness and teacher all the time. Of course. I’m glad you’ve learned how to do that. Please pray that I would catch up with you.