Today’s post is contributed by Derek Ouellette, who blogs at Covenant of Love.
Over the years of blogging I have learned through trial and error many Christ-honoring principles. In this brief testimonial, I offer four. I have no doubt that if I were to write this article again, four completely different principles would emerge.
Principle #1: Nobody likes somebody who writes against everybody.
When I think back to my first attempt at blogging four years ago, I’m actually quite ashamed. It was as though I had an axe to grind. Blogging became my vent, my release, my grinding mill. I convinced myself that I was blogging to “explore” theology, but in short order my posts began to take aim at every view I had come to reject. At the same time I wondered why I had virtually no visitors to my blog. I let all of my friends know about it, but none of them ever seem to have visited more than once.
Today, I am not surprised that I had so few visitors back then and that nobody ever left a comment. Axe-grinding requires a heavy hand, and it’s the same when blogging with an axe. Exclamation marks [!], CAPLOCKS, as well as bold and underlined words and sentences were all common features of my blog. I thought I had an important message to get out, so I added emphases as often as I could. But for the reader, this translated into a lack of substance. I remember reading somewhere that, like 24-hour cable newscasters, we compensate for the unworthiness of our meanings by being emphatic! Ouch. If everything is emphasized, nothing is. I felt I had an important message to get out, but no one was listening because I was saying it too loudly.
Principle #2: Less is more.
Seeking a fresh start, I opened a new blog and named it Covenant of Love (inspired by N.T. Wright’s book, Climax of the Covenant and Deuteronomy 7:9). I began to make an effort, sometimes with notable relapse, to bring an even-hand to my articles, to write for things I’m for and not just things I’m against, and to add emphasis in a manner that enhanced and strengthen my message. Slowly I watched my stats rise. Occasionally, people would leave comments. But this presented a whole new dilemma for me: not everyone agreed with what I had to say, and often the discussions that ensued would turn ugly, especially if I felt like my views were being challenged (which was always). At this stage I quickly learned two more things:
Principle #3: Know your stuff. Be certain, but be humble.
I blogged like I was the jack of all trades and the master of none. That is, I had an opinion about everything, but was an expert on none of it. Yet the internet is a big place; filled with experts on stuff I didn’t even know people could be experts on. And so these people, more capable than I in their field of interest, would often correct me. It was irritating – like a stranger barging into your home and telling you how to run it. I discovered that something had to change. I had to apply greater care to my words, have some basic critical knowledge of my main points and I had to learn to write in modesty (keeping in mind that certainty and humility are not antithetical). I also had to learn to be teachable, engaging, un-defensive, non-argumentative and a whole bunch of other adjectives that bring me back to Philippians 2:4-11.
Principle #4: Always answer direct credible questions; engage often in conversation; reply occasionally to opinions; never respond to trolls.
I often received blog advice that instructed me to respond to as many comments as possible. The thinking is that if the author personally replies, the audience will return. But I discovered how dangerous to the health of your blog that can be. Not every comment is worthy of a response. Some people think they know everything and feel the need to make the world agree with them, usually by means of derogatory force. By responding to these people you actually lower yourself to the level of the troll and in the process you discredit yourself in the eyes of your regular audience. Other times people just want to give their opinion about your post, often there is no need to reply. And still other times your audience will engage each other in conversation.
Over the past six months my readership has grown significantly. I’m learning plenty of cool stuff from my readers, and they seem to be learning some things from me. Someone notable recently sent me an email saying “I also like the irenic atmosphere of your blog. I like low decibels and an atmosphere where Christian differences are respected.” When I read that I wanted to cheer. Four years ago nobody would ever dream of paying my blog such a compliment. It’s a testament to a new plateau in my journey.
If you are on this blogging journey too, I hope that my testimony would encourage you to stay the course, make necessary adjustments where needed and strive above all to blog in a way that honors Christ. N.T. Wright has said “It really is high time we develop a Christian ethic of blogging” (Justification, p.26). This is true. I’m looking forward to someone writing that book, but in the meantime, I have signed the Blogging with Integrity pledge, and I encourage you to do the same.
What is one blogging principle you have learned through experience?