Following on from last week’s interview with Bob Bixby, I’ve interviewed Al Garlando, an Australian blogging pastor.
Jason Harris interviews Albert Garlando for InFocus
JH: I know you’re a busy man, so I appreciate you taking the time to share with us. First, just let us know a little about yourself. Where you pastor, your family, background, etc.
AG: I am married to Rachel (18th anniversary last November) and have one daughter, Lily who turns 5 at the end of January and will be starting Kindergarten in 2011.
I am a lead pastor in an independent church in Kogarah NSW called Grace Chinese Christian Church (GCCC). I lead one of the English language congregations.
I was born and raised in Ingham, North Queensland as a nominal Roman Catholic. I came to Christ whilst in high school in March 1985 (and was baptised a bit later) through the ministries of the Ingham Independent Baptist Church, pastored then by Wally Jaworski. While in year 12, after hearing a series of messages by Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., I applied to Sydney Bible Baptist College to pursue training in vocational Christian ministry.
I served in various Sydney based Independent Baptist churches in the capacity of an Assistant or Associate Pastor (sometimes with the title, sometimes not). In 1997/8 we had an opportunity to travel to East Africa and do itinerant gospel work (teaching, training, church planting, starting clinics and schools, etc.) in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. I’ve returned since to speak at training seminars and conferences for local pastors.
For most of my ministry I’ve worked bi-vocationally. That is, I worked a full-time normal job in addition to my ministry role. This isn’t uncommon amongst Australian churches, especially independent ones, but many still consider it a bit strange and don’t count it as “real” ministry. Following a redundancy from one of my “normal” jobs I started seeking full-time paid ministry roles. After a short time, GCCC called me and here I am.
JH: I’ve followed your blog, God is My Constant, for several years now and appreciate how you use it. Can you give us an idea of how you got started blogging and why you choose to blog?
AG: When we got back from Kenya the use of personal websites by the likes of Yahoo and a few ISP’s was popular. Back then they were mostly used to post pictures of pets and hobbies. A few churches had seized the opportunity to set up rudimentary websites with basic info. I started doing this for Grace Baptist Church in Seven Hills. I readily used Phil Johnson’s Bookmarks as a resource and eagerly followed his early Pyromaniac blog.
I had a go at setting up my own blog with an apologetic emphasis and even had the name “apologies” (in fact the default url of my WordPress blog still has it). Now, when I write, I am primarily thinking about my own congregation. I want to encourage them to think through issues, events, and art from a gospel perspective. I don’t often comment on the big controversial doctrinal issues that the evangelical pundits are fighting over unless I get asked about it at church or it has the potential to influence my people.
A benefit of a blog is that I can supplement my preaching and teaching and expand on some details. When I write (at the moment 2-3 times per week), I can also provide snippets and introductions to other authors, blogs, and books. My goal is to stir people up and provoke them to think a little more deeply. For instance, I can write something about gambling around Melbourne Cup time that equips people to be more thoughtful and intentional about how they live and breathe the gospel at their work place. Rather than trying to “fit that in” to my sermon the Sunday before, I can better shepherd and feed my people God’s counsel. It also frees up my preaching to be more focused on expositing the text rather than only reacting to issues.
JH: What kind of time commitment does your blogging habit (makes it sound a bit like a bad addiction!) require?
AG: How long is a piece of string?
Depending on the type of article or entry, I may spend about one hour “blogging.” I allocate time in my schedule, usually Wednesdays, for writing. This includes blogging, sermon preparation, and other teaching and writing I am involved with. I try, as much as possible, to integrate my blogging with my reading and studying. That way I’m not distracted and the blog becomes just another perspective or medium to discuss things I’m already involved with. I will usually prepare a few articles or posts and then schedule them to be posted throughout the following week. If I see, hear, or read something somewhere else that prompts a spontaneous post then I can quickly include that also, but most of my articles are pre-scheduled.
JH: Is blogging for everyone? For instance, I think some pastors feel like they don’t have the technological know-how to blog. Is blogging just for the younger, tech-savvy pastor?
AG: I think my answer is, it’s not for everyone… to the same extent. Some are put off by the “techy” bells and whistles that some churches and pastors use. As a result the pastor thinks blogging is not for him or his flock.
Whether it’s a sermon outline, bible study questionnaire, devotional paragraph, or a full doctrinal position statement, every pastor is capable of writing. They may just need some help transferring their content to a blog medium.
John MacArthur is a good example. He doesn’t own or use a personal computer (see here, footnote 3) yet he is a prolific writer and author. Phil Johnson and a team of others transpose his work into various formats including blog-type articles. You don’t need to be John MacArthur, but there’s a good chance someone in your congregation knows their way around a website. When I started a website for Grace Baptist, I used my Senior Pastor’s sermon notes (that he provided) as material. Maybe there is someone in their church that can serve in this way as well!
JH: Over the years, have you ever had someone visit the church or find out about the church from the blog? Has it ever provided you with evangelistic opportunities?
AG: I have seen a handful come visit in the last couple years. Not sure how many have stayed on. I have had one guy that had drifted away, come back to church as a direct result of some interaction with the blog.
There have been a few gospel opportunities that have come as well. I have had many substantial conversations with non-Christian friends over things that I have written, quoted, and commented on (they usually respond to a Facebook or Twitter link to the blog). One thread in particular had a few people chiming in. It was reminiscent of the old bulletin board and forum days.
JH: Every medium has it’s benefits and dangers. What are the biggest dangers of blogging for pastors? What tips can you give for dealing with these dangers?
AG: The biggest issue, certainly that I have witnessed is to not be gracious with either readers or writers. Certainly the medium runs the risk of being a little too impersonal—but then the same could have been argued about books, pamphlets, articles, monographs used effectively by pastors, teachers, writers, speakers, etc. throughout all history. A book written in 1700 is no more or no less “personal” than a blog post. However both readers and writers seem to be a little less tolerant and forgiving in the “blogosphere.”
As a pastor, beware the temptation to “vent” on your blog without being accountable for what you have written. I have been guilty of this in the past and subsequently have withdrawn or deleted blog posts. Blogging tends to be short, concise, and more abbreviated than a drawn out conversation or lecture so bear that in mind when writing. Break up your posts into parts if needed and be more self-critical of what you write when you do. Don’t compromise your ministry and integrity through a silly blogging indiscretion.
As a reader, be gracious to other writers, remembering that just as you misspeak when preaching and mistype when blogging, others do also. If something sounds a little off, or abrupt, or inaccurate, learn to politely inquire before you launch your “heretic-seeking missives” in the comments field.
JH: Let me wrap it up with one more question. What have you found most rewarding about blogging as a pastor?
AG: In my homiletics class at bible college, the teacher stressed one very important principle that many a young preacher (and old ones—myself included!) need to hear repeated often: “The mind can procure only what the seat can endure.” Or perhaps the more well known admonition: “KISS” (Keep It Simple Stupid). In other words, don’t do what I am doing here—waffle on!
Blogging is helping me be more disciplined in my teaching and communication. The brevity of the medium forces me to be more precise and concise in conveying my thoughts. The rewards I’ve experienced during “blogging” have given me an opportunity to think more deeply about scripture, the nature and character of God and ministry, and then in turn try to write about that succinctly. That’s an area of personal growth that I am still developing.
JH: I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for sharing with us.