I personally got into new media when I built my first church website in 1997. Using HTML and a dial-up connection, I inserted a ton of hyperlinks and made tables to frame it all up. It had some killer clipart. When blogging came around I tried my hand at that in 2002 through a blog called “Bull Street.” I was hooked.I have a background and a degree in English and communications and I love words. So writing for ministry just made intuitive sense to me. But over the years, as I’ve delved into it more deeply, I’ve had to think about the reasons why we write for ministry.
At one level it is obvious why priests would write. After all, the Gospel writers wrote down what Jesus said, and St. Paul wrote to the churches. The New Testament is full of written letters. And all of the New Testament writers were reading the Hebrew Bible, with its written history, prophecy, and poetry. The written word is a constituent part of our Faith.
Down through the centuries the written word has been used to communicate, to teach, and to evangelize.
And Christians have always been inventive and adaptive in the media they used. Starting with parchment scrolls, and quickly moving to bound books (some believe that early Christians actually invented Western book binding, or codex form), Christians wrote. They creatively invented new forms of media, and also new paradigms for exploration. Augustine’s Confessions is considered to be the first book that examined the inner, psychological experience of a person. He wrote this book to do what we would today call “sharing his testimony.” As soon as the printing press was invented in the West, a Bible was printed on it. It was used by both Catholics and Protestants to print sermons, tracts, and of course books, during the Reform period.
The age of print was (is?) an age of evangelism for Christians. Printing presses and publishing houses published Bibles, along with the writings of pastors and lay people.
Of course, unless you’ve printed this out on paper, you are reading this on a computer, tablet, or mobile device. We Christians got in on new media publishing early on as well, using the internet to communicate across the world.
It’s True Because I Read it On the Internet
But, alas, everything out there that goes under the banner “Christian” is not good. In fact, much of it is downright harmful.
Abuse and manipulation of words are part of the reason we have to be reflective about new media and print media. There are millions of religion books out there, and hundreds of thousands of religion webpages. “Of writing many books there is no end” wrote the writer of Ecclesiastes. So many books and websites are full of messages about getting rich through faith, or are abusive and manipulative, or are part of a cult of personality. Sometimes we get the feeling that many Christian websites or blogs are really just trying to get readers, or grow a platform for personal success.
But this has been going on forever. New media doesn’t cause human ego, it only channels it, but it channels it more broadly and more accessibly than ever before.
So, knowing that media can do harm, why write for ministry?
Because we must. Not every ordained or lay minister is called to be a writer. But some of us must write. We must use all available means to write and publish. We must write for the same reason John wrote down his Gospel, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John didn’t write because he wanted a personal platform, or to copyright his personal sayings about Jesus, but because he wanted people to believe in Jesus. He was pointing to him.Writing is a part of Christian ministry. It isn’t the only part, but it is a part. Those who can write, should. And we should master the medium and craft, as best we can. In a massive sea of words, words about Jesus and the Gospel will still be visible, because he said if we lift him up, he will draw all people to himself.
7 Ways to Write for Ministry
1. Love it, do it
If you love to write, then you should write. If you hate it, then you should probably not write. That’s not to say that people who don’t like the process of writing shouldn’t publish anything. On the contrary, some of the best books were transcriptions of speeches or sermons, or were written with the aid of editors. But if you are someone who just has no interest in writing, then that’s a sign to apply yourself elsewhere. But if you love to write, love words, and enjoy learning how to communicate, you should begin today.
2. Start small
Write a journal or personal blog. Write for the church newsletter. Write articles and reflections that will help and inspire people. Listen to feedback.
3. Focus on what you are passionate about.
I’m passionate about how worship connects to everyday life. You can’t get me to shut up about how worship is not just some unreal coping mechanism, but is the very center of the reality of our lives (here I go again!). Because I’m passionate about that, I write about it with passion. I also obviously love the Anglican tradition, and I love seeing other priests share their pastoral perspective. Again, because I’m excited about these things, its natural for me to write about them, and foster writing about them.
4. Write as yourself
Write from your perspective and your own voice. Always ask yourself if you are writing “as yourself.” Non-fiction writing demands that we be who we are. We shouldn’t use our writing as a place to hide, or to posture, or to present a false image. Of course, as fallen humans, we will do that. It is inevitable. But by ruthlessly repenting of our falsehoods, something of our own soul will show through, as it did when Augustine wrote the Confessions.
5. Listen to your supporters
Haters will always hate, and anytime you publish anything (even a handwritten note!), you become vulnerable. Leave analyzing or responding to the psychology of “trolling” to someone else. Instead, focus on the feedback of your supporters. These are people that believe in what you’re doing, and often their encouraging words will point you in a direction. Their criticisms will be constructive as well.
6. Pay attention to the medium and the audience.
Write for a website, write for a book, write for a magazine. And think about your audiences. Write to them, for them, because of them. Write in a positive, irenic way that keeps doors open. Write in an inviting way, even when writing about unpopular or tough topics. Keep thinking about the audience.
7. It is finished
Last, and most important, its about the Gospel. Writing for ministry is writing for Jesus. Weigh that out. Ask yourself if you are merely putting forward a personal political viewpoint, or are condemning a class of people, or are ostracizing someone Jesus loves. I would suggest putting a crucifix up above your computer. Whenever you start to question whether something you are writing is merely personal or self-promoting, look up at Jesus on the cross. He won’t be there condemning you, he’ll be saying “It is finished.” Yes, it is finished, we can leave our pride and our self-centeredness there at the foot of his cross.
So there you have it. If you love to write, then start today. Write down a paragraph or two. Put it in the church newsletter. Start a blog. See what happens!
Photo: Public Domain