What If Christians Need Empowerment More Than Oversight

I’m an author and blogger from an unapologetically low church, Protestant background. I currently attend an Episcopal Church where I value our leadership while I continue to heed the insights of the pastors and family members who have invested in me. I see authority as much more of a Holy Spirit driven patchwork than those from a traditional high church background.

There remains an ongoing debate in many Christian blogging and writing circles about the place of accountability for bloggers and authors. Those from a higher church background are concerned about the possibility of error being pushed from more or less unaccountable bloggers in a theological wild west.

For instance, Jen Hatmaker’s support for LGBT relationships has received significant scrutiny. The merits of accountability aside, many noted that such scrutiny has hardly been applied to the many, many men who have built massive parachurch platforms while advocating for dubious if not outright heretical and/or violent theology. Even men who supposedly answer to elder boards or denominations have gone clear off the rails, with Robert Jeffress clearly leading the pack of unhinged conservative pastors where being “under authority” hasn’t done a bit of good.

I personally value accountability, although I maintain a low church view of it that surely won’t wash for my high church friends. I’m OK with their ire in this regard, but I also think we can move toward something better together.

I have long thought that the answer for the theological wild west of evangelicalism is better empowerment and teaching for the rank and file evangelicals. Back in 2007, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek megachurch lamented his own failure to teach his people better discernment and study. They had become too dependent on their leaders to spoon feed them theology and spirituality, and I frankly believe that too many churches are more than happy with the control that this arrangement affords them. Hybels’ assessment was spot on, and it’s worth our consideration today.

The answer to the evangelical wild west isn’t a stronger sheriff who keeps people from following dangerous outlaws or from joining unruly mobs. Rather, we need better information and more empowerment for the average Christian. We need to help people spot the counterfeits themselves and to evaluate their theology and spirituality better.

Someone once wrote about Christians as a kind of “priesthood of all believers.” There is a holy calling and responsibility on all of us. We all have our role to play in seeking the truth, living out of the authentic guidance of the Holy Spirit, and encouraging others to join us because they see the fruit of God in our lives.

I would much rather spend my time helping my fellow Christians examine the fruit of certain ministries and public teachers than to place restrictions on these ministries or to try to shut them down through external authorities. When these writers and teachers do step out of line, we can surely hold their publishers accountable, but the more effective long term strategy has more to do with what we teach and live than who we regulate under authority structures.

We have the God-given power to embody the goodness of the Holy Spirit. We have the wisdom of the Spirit to see the good fruit or bad fruit of others. Leaders can help us in this regard, but I hardly see the benefit of a system where leaders give their authorization to certain blogs and not to others.

Leaders can empower their people to spot a counterfeit and to help their congregations make decisions accordingly. This strikes me as truer to the spirit of the scriptures than a more hierarchical authority structure. Again, I’m biased here, and I am happy to agree to disagree.

Rather than setting boundaries around our theology and spirituality, I see leaders as the people who are guiding us toward Christ at the center. They should be the people who model the genuine love of the Father, the generosity of the son, and the wisdom of the Spirit to the point that boundaries become more of an afterthought. When we see the fruit of God’s presence in their lives, all other paths into error will become more of an afterthought.

3 Terrible, Stupid Things I Used to Do on My Blog

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I’ve been blogging since 2005, and that means I’m sort of an expert… at least an expert on what not to do. As I’ve tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve seen that I tended to make some really big, terrible, stupid mistakes because I fancied myself a pure, idealistic writer who does not bow to the conventions of the blogging world.

After changing a few things in my approach to blogging, I thought I should confess my mistakes so that you can avoid making them too.

 

Titles Don’t Matter for Blog Posts

I used to think that writing was all about writing amazing stories and sharing super-helpful ideas. If you spelled out the basic ideas clearly, the discerning reader would SURELY recognize my genius, brilliance, and value. These savvy readers don’t demand click bait. In fact, they’re most likely sitting by their computers right now just waiting for me to post something amazing.

But oh gosh, if Buzzfeed has taught us anything, which I highly doubt, it’s that people LURVE click-bait headlines. I should have totally titled this post: “You won’t believe what I used to do on my blog!” or “I teared up after reading the second sentence” or “This is better than tap dancing kittens on YouTube.” You get the idea. You were probably clicking all over those fake headlines just now even though you knew I was making them up and they didn’t have any hyperlinks. Admit it.

While we don’t have to give in to the Buzzfeed headline writing buffoonery that is ruining the Internet for the sake of advertising clicks, titles still matter a great deal. Every serious blogger I know spends a lot of time on their titles. These days I begin my blog posts with a title that plainly states the focus of my post for the sake of personal clarity, but then hack it to pieces and work through a bunch of different options before picking one.

Here’s the thing, there’s a ton of stuff out there on the Internet, and you really, really can’t afford to put up a bland headline that’s something like: “Musings on Stuff I Like.” First off, never, ever use the word “musings” ever again on your blog. In fact, WordPress developers, we need to add a mandatory plugin to the next build that automatically deletes blogs that use the word “musings” in contexts other than Greek mythology. But back to my point, please, for the love, spend some time writing a good blog post title. If you love your little blog posts as much as you say you do, then you need to give them good titles. Otherwise, very few people will be tempted to read your precious little posts.

 

I Don’t Have to Be Vulnerable on My Blog

Blogging used to be about ideas for me. In fact, it was all about ideas for about the first six years or so. I’d rant and rave about things from time to time, but I spent so much time believing that people just wanted to read my little nuggets of wisdom that I rarely inserted myself or my “feelings” into my posts.

I don’t know how I could have missed this for so long. I mean, yeah, people want to read smart ideas, but it would have helped if I wrote with the voice of a real person and share a little bit from my life.

Having said that, I also feared being one of those bloggers that shares all the things from his/her personal life online. I’m not quite in the Ron Swanson school of personal privacy where I’m tossing my cell phone in the sewer and burying gold bricks in undisclosed locations, but I find it really hard to determine when I’ve crossed the line from being authentic and real (in the sense of, “Keepin’ it real… yo”) into overdramatic over-sharing that violates the privacy of my family.

I can see now that vulnerability is essential for writers. Writers really do have to face our demons and set down at least part of that battle on the page.

Writers have to take risks. We don’t have to over-share or compromise the privacy of ourselves or loved ones, but we have to take big, vulnerable risks if we want people to care about our work. We have to work on stepping up to that line that divides authentic vulnerability from over-sharing, wherever it is, and give it a firm poke—just like old school Facebook.

And even if you aren’t particularly vulnerable, you have to at least care a lot about your topic. I’ve labored for hours over posts that I thought had tons of great ideas, only to see a passionate post I’ve dashed off in 20 minutes become the most popular post on my blog for all time. I’ve you aren’t personally invested in your writing, then your readers probably won’t be either.

 

Announcing “Here’s My New Blog Post” on Twitter

No one cares that I’ve just posted a blog post. No one. Probably not even my mother most days, especially if my titles are terrible. And yet, I used to complement my vanilla blog post titles with tweets that I plunked down like dry, crumbly, bland wafers.

One day I saw someone quoting from my blog post on Twitter, and I was like, “That’s awesome! I should try that!”

Now, some bloggers go a bit overboard with the Twitter quotes. They highlight the tweetable parts of their posts in bold, set up “Tweet this” links on their posts, or create little lists of tweetable quotes.

OK, I’m not here to judge anyone. This is personal confession time, and I’m confessing that I’m terrible at tweeting from my blog. Do whatever you like. I’ll just say that I saw some folks doing that, and I was like, “Oh come on! Just write something good!”

What can I say? I was born in the wrong age. I’m all “Get off my lawn!” with these new fangled marketing tactics. Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days. But back to my main point about the Twitters…

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TWEET THIS –> “Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days.” @edcyzewski

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I’ve still seen that people want to share helpful little quotes. Even if I tend to think in 1,000 to 2,000 word chunks, it won’t kill me to share a quote or two from my latest blog post if folks could find it helpful. Mind you, I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do. I’ve just realized that my resistance to posting a blog post quote on Twitter wasn’t all that smart of me

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TWEET THIS TOO!!!  –> “I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do.” @edcyzewski

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In conclusion, I’ve made some really huge, terrible, stupid mistakes as a blogger. These are all pretty basic, simple, run of the mill blogging tips that you can find all over the Internet. And still, there are tons of bloggers like myself who have resisted them. It’s time to get with the program. Adopting a few best blogging practices won’t hurt… too much. We may even get a few new readers along the way.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a blogger?