I recently had a very important conversation with a good friend who had the courage to share with me that some things I had written online were hurtful to people I care about. It was hard to hear, but very helpful at the same time. I’ve been trying to wrestle with what to do about it. At first I wanted to protest that other pastors are doing the exact same thing I am, but then I looked around on the web at other pastors’ blogs and found that they’re mostly a lot more vanilla than mine is. I know “vanilla” is the wrong term. I just spent fifteen minutes trying to decide whether to use a different word, but I’m sticking with it because it expresses what might be my attitude problem or at least my stubbornness in resisting the way I think I’m probably supposed to be. Basically, the pastors’ blogs I looked at were edifying, gentle, and prudent in a way that I can’t seem to make myself be. Most of the other Christian bloggers who write in the prickly way that I tend to do are seminary students, professors, and laypeople, not pastors.
I have two basic assumptions which are hard to shake that undermine my ability to be edifying, gentle, and prudent in my writing. One is that I feel like my blog is supposed to be a place where I wrestle openly and say smart-alecky things that are unbecoming of a pastor in the hope that I can reach people who don’t fit in with all the other Christians and think that pastors are probably completely pious people who always have the right thing to say and couldn’t possibly understand what they’re going through. This is because when I was a rebel teenager, my grandpa played this role in my life. He evangelized me by being deliberately irreverent around me even though he was a Southern Baptist deacon. Some things were certainly non-negotiable, but he used humor and horseplay to create an environment in which I felt safe asking questions that I would have never asked my pastor about Jesus.
The other assumption I have is that a blog post worth reading is supposed to say something like, “Everybody else has always told you X, but here’s why X is wrong and Y is right.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard it said ____, but I tell you ____.” I often assume without giving it too thought that I’m supposed to smash a sacred cow of popular Christian theology every time I sit down to write. Ever since I got indoctrinated by the deconstructionism of postmodern literary theory, it’s hard to think any other way than as a critic debunking the Enlightenment presumptions I’ve been taught to see behind everything that’s wrong with the world. It’s hard to be comforting and encouraging with what you write when you operate under the unconscious assumption that you’re always supposed to be critiquing something. But if my primary calling is to be a shepherd, then should I be critiquing every time I write just because that’s how I learned to write papers in grad school?
So I’m still wrestling. I still have an attitude problem. But God is working on me. I hope that I can learn how to be prophetic without being cynical. I hope I can learn how to be irreverent without being disrespectful. What I write on here will never have the same level of pastoral discretion as what I say from the pulpit, because when I preach, I’m supposed to be sharing God’s word with God’s people. When I blog, I’m sharing my foolishness with my friends so that by wrestling together with me, they can hopefully straighten me out. So please call me out when I say something ignorant. In the meantime, I’ll try to be more thoughtful and sensitive and mindful of my pastoral responsibility.