Vulnerability vs. decorum in public writing

This is kind of an open question to my readers. I got called out a little bit for yesterday’s rant about Christian celebrity in which I laid out pretty volcanically my own struggles with narcissism and probably didn’t differentiate enough between my own baggage and whatever Jon Acuff is or isn’t teaching people. One of the things that caught my eye and troubled me was a comment that I was undermining my credibility as a teacher. So I wanted to pose the question to you since I really believe that God tells me what I need to hear through your feedback. Should I write with less vulnerability and more decorum or does the rawness speak to you in a way that’s edifying?

I have often wrestled with the question of vulnerability vs. decorum in my role as a teacher and pastor. My role model as a pastor was my grandpa since he’s the one who really kept me Christian when I was a teenager. One of his primary evangelistic tactics was to be intentionally irreverent with me in order to win my trust. He told me jokes that Southern Baptist deacons aren’t supposed to tell. We had secrets that never came out anyplace except on the country roads of south Texas. It worked. Because it caused me to trust him with everything and I figured that if he could be a Christian, I could too.

That’s why I basically adopted his way of doing things as a high school teacher and a youth pastor. Obviously when you’re dealing with a large group of kids en masse, decorum is important as part of classroom management. But one on one, I found that I built trust in my relationships better if I was real with the kids about my own doubts and struggles rather than being “the adult” who doesn’t have any problems and knows everything. And sometimes I would even use language that teachers aren’t supposed to use, particularly if I was talking to kids who were used to being the “bad kids.” I’m still not sure whether my approach to teaching and shepherding youth “worked.” Many of my former students are now facebook friends, whatever that means. I do know that the mentors who have had the most influence on me are the ones who let me see them without their pastor face on.

I’m not sure that my sensibilities as a youth pastor and high school teacher are necessarily transferable to blogging. Writing a blog is a very strange phenomenon because it feels private but it’s completely public. It’s a bit dangerous because I can hit “Publish” whenever I feel like it. I don’t have an editor giving me a word count and refusing to run anything that isn’t timely or heavily researched. I wouldn’t have the time or energy to write professional, carefully nuanced pieces supported by quotes and statistics that would be worth putting in physical print. If that were all that were available to do as a writer like it was 50 years ago, I would be spending my time otherwise.

I feel like my blog posts are divided between topical, headline-based rants in which I dump out the contents of my heart about Christian culture or current events (which gets the most hits), and Biblical and theological musings that fascinate me but often go into esoteric territory that not a lot of people are interested in. So do I need to shut off the former and focus on the latter? Do I need to conduct myself with more decorum and less vulnerability? Are there other aspects of what I’m doing that are a distraction? By the way, I’m not fishing for affirmation, so don’t feel like that’s what this is about. If that’s all you’ve got to say, I will receive it graciously, but what I’m really inviting and coveting are words that will challenge and convict me. So bring it. I promise I won’t bite. Maybe you’ve got something God has been wanting to tell me.

17 thoughts on “Vulnerability vs. decorum in public writing

  1. For me, the vulnerability is an attraction for your blog. I like the feel of the honest pub discussion over recent issues and theological topics that are always beyond our less-than-adequate wording. It’s personal and honest, committed and open. But of course, this makes for an easier target. The range of your posts should also continue with a wide gammit of issues; from personal, to theological, to rantish, to deeply reflective, even explorative. In short its like life, and some of my favorite literary moments is reading Martin Luther’s table talks, and though I know his theology is a different brand altogether his snarky off-the-lip rants are priceless next to his more serious work. If I were to offer some advice, if any, it would be to have other trusted brothers/sisters review it before publishing. Some of my best work is when I held off for feedback. Blessings.

  2. In re: decorum or “candor”…St Paul said it well, I shall be all things to all people to win them to Christ”…implied for EACH CHRISTIAN N “ALL THINGS FOR ALL PEOPLE” necssitates
    VERACITY, DIGNITY, INTEGRITY & EQUALITY…”We are blessed to become a BLESSING”…paraphrase of GENESIS 12: 2🙂

  3. Morgan, you are a prolific writer and have a command of theological and philosophical language that I have to work to keep up with. I think that some arguments you make are against an audience that I have not had history with or do not encounter ( or am not aware of) on a regular basis. I believe you have excellent teaching skills and perhaps that aspect of your call is yet to be lived out fully. Perhaps a seminary or university would be as blessed by your ministry as the local church. Working out our passionate response to God’s gracious love and distilling it for the sake of others is our lifelong work. Being vulnerable is exhausting, if you have a balance that works for you, then keep on with it.
    Beyond your teaching, your vulnerability in providing pastoral care is one of your gifts. Peace to you, brother.

  4. Everyone is vulnerable and weak, whether they choose to show or even acknowledge it or not. Being human is being vulnerable, thinking anything else would be deceit… So I prefer vulnerability and don’t generally trust those who artificially seem to ‘have it all together, and are the authority on everything…

  5. A blog gives you the personal latitude to “run open”, where the pulpit is abit confining, and with a captive audience. Certainly you can do both, but you admit it gets confusing for you when your readers offer little response to some blogs.
    Vulnerability is subjective—some will choose to see the strength and wisdom behind your words because of your journey, and some will choose to see a weakness and lack of control to modify your words, as a result. Both are valid descriptions of any passionate blog entry. As much as you would like to, you cannot control what people think…or hear. Any effort that makes your meaning accessible (in a “voice” that speaks to your target audience) will find hearts open to your message.

  6. Should I write with less vulnerability and more decorum or does the rawness speak to you in a way that’s edifying?

    I think you are in a false dichotomy here. Vulnerability and rawness are not the same thing. You can be vulnerable without being impulsive. Henri Nouwen, to use one example, or Anne Lamott write with great vulnerability, but are also reflective and careful not to slip into the kind of emotional nakedness that may be more appropriate for a less public forum.

  7. I am encouraged by your “real-ness” (I think I just made up that word! Lol) Your blog is refreshing to me whether or not I agree with your opinion. For instance, I had never heard of Jon Acuff, so I went to his blog to which you referred. I definitely understand where you are coming from and that is that IT IS NOT ABOUT US! I wholeheartedly agree. When I read Jon’s post, I saw a hurting soul in his words. I completely agree with your viewpoint on the topic, but I can see where he has personally internalized the viewpoints of others. In other words, I think he feels threatened and is trying to “show” us that he is worthwhile. I don’t know… Just my take on it. But, it’s different with you. Your posts are real and not a projection of a hurt, real or imagined. You are sharing your heart. That speaks to me! There are too many others who “hide” behind their words. Decorum, as you say. Yes, there is a time and place for decorum. However, your blog is you. I appreciate your vulnerability which is your honesty. In fact, I wish I could come to your church! Lol… God’s blessings & thanks for sharing your heart.

    • Thanks Deborah for your help with my discernment. I think I’m probably oblivious to the fact that people who have “made it” still have wounds and a need to tell their haters off. Perhaps I need more sensitivity rather than decorum. I’ve been told that the most important task of a pastor is simply to walk with Christ and share their journey with others. That’s basically what I try to do on my blog.

  8. I have also chosen much vulnerability in my own blogging, and I also do it in my messages and teaching. Personally, I think honestly and openness lead to far greater hope of transformation than opaqueness that can easily turn to whitewashing what I think is a universal truth: we are all struggling to sort out our lives, first as human beings and second in our various relationships with God. I’ve learned much from you–and hope you continue to do what you do.

    • Thanks. I think what I need to figure out is how to handle calling out what I think I’m supposed to call out prophetically in a way that is dignified and how to be honest without being overly self-indulgent. I hope that I’m growing in that discernment over time.

  9. Morgan,
    One of the things I enjoy most about reading your blog is your willingness to question yourself and your motives for writing the things you write. That, to me, is the kind of vulnerability that is helpful. It causes me to ask soul searching questions to myself about my own motives as I react to situations and the opinions of others. So if you have to choose between vulnerability and decorum, and I’m not sure you do, go with the vulnerability.
    Andy

      • If there’s one piece of feedback I can agree with is your own judgment right here: impulsiveness. I think vulnerability is one of your strengths, but a measured, thoughtful one is needed. Not that yours isn’t thoughtful, but your ability to write in torrents sometimes gets ahead of you, and the teaching role means there’s a greater weight to rants. I have trouble with that in everyday conversation, in my off-hand comments with my kids. I’m intentionally vulnerable at times, and they definitely know I’m not perfect, but I’ve realized my own impulsiveness is something I need to dial back a bit.

        • That’s the growing edge right there. Whenever I write, it’s a bit of a tornado. Perhaps I need to let the eruption happen offline in a Word doc or something, then go back and post it after I’ve cleaned up the mess. I’ve talked about doing that before. Please hold me accountable. Just say dude you should have let that one percolate longer or something. I won’t lash out.

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