Part of the purpose of InFocus is to develop the Australian blogosphere. We do this by providing an Australian section in our blogroll, by linking generously to Australian blogs, and by encouraging Australian readers, thinkers, and theologians to blog.
I want to further support this purpose by focusing today on the question “Should pastors blog?” I’ve interviewed two pastors to ask them this question. Today’s interview is with Bob Bixby.
Jason Harris interviews Bob Bixby for InFocus
JH: I know your time is valuable so I really appreciate you agreeing to this interview. Could you start out by giving us a quick overview of who you are and what you do?
BB: My name is Bob Bixby. I am one of three pastors at Morning Star Baptist Church in Rockford, Illinois. Our church has about 230-240 that attend each Sunday and about 100 of those are under the age of 18! I am the founding pastor (we started in 2002 with about 35 core people) and am by virtue of my tenure sort of the “lead pastor” although I am not personally fond of titular distinctions. My role in the church has been changing from being the sole teaching pastor to sharing that role with one of the other pastors. This has allowed me to invest more time in thinking about the future as well as preaching (although “Pastor for Preaching and Vision” as John Piper is called at Bethlehem would be far too grandiose a title for what I actually do.) My visioneering consists of asking ministerial imponderables such as, when I consider the leaders God has brought to our church, “How can we keep all this giftedness around here without any money?” It also includes a more active interest and involvement with the children and teens, the future of the church.
I have a wonderful wife. We’ve been married for 20 years this coming June and we are not ashamed to say that “most” of those years have been wonderful. I was a Type-A, work-obsessed, driven person for too long and it took a toll on our relationship but it did not diminish my wife’s love for God, the ministry, or for me. Perhaps I’ve over-corrected now. The pendulum has swung to the always-so-glad-to-find-another-excuse-to-stay-home-with-the-fam side, but the marriage is so much more fun!
I serve in an amazing church. Jennie and I are in awe about what God has done here. God has collected a very interesting and eclectic group of people with some outstanding gifts and has planted all of us in a city with a very bad economy and absolutely nothing more exciting than the occasional opening of a gonna-last-only-three-years restaurant. And yet we grow. Truly, I have learned that the obsession with demographics that so many church planters have is over-kill. If God wants a church some place, it’ll happen. Period.
JH: I’ve followed your blog, Pensées, for many years now (both the old one and now the new one) and have found it very helpful. First, can you tell us the background to the name of the blog and tell us how it’s pronounced. (!) But second, can you tell me why you, as a pastor, choose to blog.
BB: There is nothing mysterious about my choice of a blog title. Actually, when I started blogging, I literally knew of only two people that blogged. I was kind of a pioneer from my own perspective. At the time I felt kind of outside of fundamentalism because of a bad experience, was suddenly on the bad side of the good old boys, and had no audience but the 30 or so people that came to our church plant. Somebody told me about blogging and I decided to try it. When I was asked to give the designer a title (I don’t think Blogspot or WordPress even existed back then), I tried to think of something that would represent me. I thought of the word “musings” because that would imply that I could write something without too much accountability for grammar or historical accuracy! I was just musing after all; not writing a dissertation. And my musings would be short (so I surmised). Anyway, that made me think of Blaise Pascal and his famous collections of short thoughts (Pensées) and I thought it was fitting since I had grown up in France. Thus, the title. And the subtitle, Musings of a Contented Misfit, still fits. You pronounce Pensées pAHn-say. Kind of. With a French accent, of course.
Honestly, I wrestle with the blog thing. Perhaps it’s the comments section I should can. I don’t know. As my church grows I get busier with counselling and I simply don’t have the time. I have a friend who pastors a church with over 3,000 people. He says that the hardest time of his ministry was when his church was in the 150-300 range because it’s big enough to demand lots of time, but not big enough to have an adequate staff. On the other hand, blogging is a way to gain influence. There is no doubt that my blog has made friends for me and drawn people to our ministry. (We’ll ignore for now the fact that it has also made some non-friends, “enemy” being too harsh a term for professing brothers!). I actually have another blog that I do with the other pastors and it targets our congregation. It is very useful to disseminate all kinds of information and thoughts to them. As for Pensées, the new site has not fully taken off yet because I have not really sold my soul out to it yet. It’s demanding.
Should pastors blog? I think the answer is yes. But it probably should be more like the site that I share with the other leaders in our church. See, for example http://msbcstuff.com/. We also put up the next Sunday’s liturgy and book reports, etc. Whatever we think is helpful. However, the beautiful thing about a blog that targets a larger audience is that you don’t have to fight for an audience. If you write well enough on any topic, you’ll get discovered. And it’s not arrogant to want an audience. As ministers of the Word we believe we have something to say that needs to be heard. I liken blogging to standing on a street corner and speaking as loudly as you can!
JH: So you’ve highlighted a distinction between the personal blog (Pensées) and the “church blog.” I think that’s a helpful distinction because a lot of pastors tend to associate blogging only with the blog wars they see now and again. So looking at your “church blog” specifically, what percentage of your members would you estimate read your posts there regularly? Also, do you find that it is less time consuming than Pensées?
BB: The church blog is less time consuming because the other pastors contribute to it as well. I do not know exactly what percentage of our congregation reads that blog, but I don’t think I’d be off the mark to say the large majority. Our church is a young congregation and so they are pretty in tune to the whole connection by internet concept. Interestingly, a very small percentage of people in my church read my main blog, the one that outsiders know about. And, frankly, I’m happy with that. I don’t really think it’s necessary that they experience the “blog wars,” etc.
JH: Let me change direction here for a moment and ask you about the macro trends for ongoing learning for pastors. In the past, I think pastors have tended to read books and theological journals as a way to stay sharp on theological trends and larger issues and then subscribed to a few magazines to stay abreast of the latest developments in matters relevant to Christianity. Could you comment on how you think this has changed or might change and what role blogs can/should/will play in ongoing pastoral learning?
BB: I think blogs are overrated. I hardly read them myself. I have about twenty on my reader and every third day or so will peruse the titles to see if anything catches my eye. I doubt I read more than two whole blog posts a week. I’m old fashioned when it comes to reading and do not feel like I have really absorbed something unless I have physically held a book or journal in my hand. So, I’m a bad person to ask about this subject. However, having said that, I also think that blogs are underrated. They are not going to go away. They’re available and accessible at all times. My blog will lay dormant for a long time, but if I write something provocative I’ll have over 600 reads a day for an extended period of time. That is something you certainly cannot do with the printed page. And, additionally, the readers are presumably interested readers. If they selected your blog post it is because they are interested in the topic. I had lunch with Justin Taylor and several other pastors recently and this very topic came up. The pastors were all from very large churches and they all said that they hugely benefit from Justin’s “Drudge Report”-style collection of articles and information that is going on in the evangelical world because they are too busy to keep up with what is going on. I can sympathize with that. At the same time, I found it fascinating that Justin seemed to shrug off the impact of blogging and its long term role in pastors’ ministries. I do not know why. Perhaps, like me, he doubts the value of getting information overload.
JH: Information overload… that’s a good segue to my next question. As with anything new, there will be benefits as well as dangers. What do you consider to be the biggest dangers for pastors who blog? Perhaps you could also comment on how you seek to address these pitfalls in your own blogging.
BB: I think that there are potential pitfalls for the blogging pastor. If you allow commenters to opine on your blog you always risk getting ensnared in a debate that has spun away from the original track. Some people seem determined to miss the obvious intent of the blogger and they are so effective at it that you wonder if they went to school to learn the skill. Blogging is risky in that you really don’t know who will read your post. I once saw an article that I wrote about my daughter and adoption posted on a radical feminist blog in which everything that I said was ripped out of context and I was being villainised and people were pitying my daughter as if she had been captured by a cult!
A more subtle danger is that a blogger can both overestimate and underestimate his influence. I think both possibilities are risky. Overestimating your influence is obviously dumb, but it could lead to an over-investment of time in something that distracts from one’s main ministry. Underestimating one’s influence is also dangerous because it could lead to a carelessness about what one writes or how he writes it. I have erred in both ways.
My own solution is to treat my blog as a “ministerial hobby.” Generally, hobby and ministry would not go together. A hobby is supposed to be a distraction from the pressures of ministry. But in the case of my blog, I don’t commit my soul to it, don’t worry about investing lots of time to keep it up, and do it when I have time that does not take away from my local church ministry. But, I’m trying to think more ministerially about it and reflect a little bit on the pastoral/ministerial goals I could pursue with the blog.
JH: It’s important to be aware of the pitfalls of blogging, but let me finish up by asking you about the benefits of blogging. What have you found most rewarding about blogging as a pastor?
BB: Blogging has opened up many vistas of relationships, connections, friendships, and influence that I truly do not believe I could have had otherwise. I’m shocked by how many people tell me that they’ve read a blog post and what it meant to them. Though, I’m not nearly as active now as I used to be, I still get mail from people I’ve never met that ask questions or say nice things about what they’ve read. It’s been a real blessing.
I think the biggest blessing for a pastor, however, is that the blog enables him to leave his personal opinions about almost everything away from the pulpit and just exposit the Word. Pastoral opinions matter. They should matter to people. But in the end they’re just opinions. The blog affords an opportunity for the pastor to opine on many real-life issues and frees him from the temptation of trying to sneak it in during his pulpit ministry. Blogging has helped my preaching stay purely expositional and I have hardly ever wandered off into secondary issues to opine or coach our folks on how they ought to think about a particular matter. They get my opinions, but not from the pulpit!
JH: Amen. I really appreciate your perspective on this and look forward to continuing to follow your blog.