Interview: Analysis of blogs written by pastors

A couple weeks ago I got an email from a Journalism graduate student at the University of Kansas. She’s conducting an analysis of blogs written by pastors and asked to interview me for her project. I’m posting the interview because it contains some insights into my personal blogging habits and my perspectives on evangelical blogging. Also, I’m interested in hearing how you guys would answer some of these questions, especially the ones at the end.

Specific Questions About My Blog
[Niswonger, Leslie]: Under the title of your blog you have the following statement: “The thoughts of someone passionate for America’s teenagers.” This statement seems to imply both a purpose and an audience for the blog. Is this true?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: Well, not really. That’s just what I picked when I started blogging back in 2005 because I thought it described me personally. I didn’t know anything about blogging at the time, but other people picked up on the sub-title and started linking to it, so I haven’t changed it.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: After reading your blog, it seems your audience leans toward those who work with youth or want to work with youth. Is this correct? If not, who is your intended audience? Whom are you trying to reach?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: Yes, your presumption is correct. The intended audience is youth workers, both volunteer and paid.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: Can you sum up the purpose of your blog in one sentence?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: To equip and encourage youth workers by providing resources, ideas and thoughts for discussion.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: Do you encourage your parishioners to read your blog?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: It’s certainly open to them, but I have not yet intentionally encouraged them to do so. However, I will be sending them links to some of my posts within the next week or two as I write some material for them that may also be helpful to the youth ministry community in general.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: How many hours a week do you commit to blogging?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: It varies, but it probably totals about two hours a week. Most of my blog posts consist of material I have to write anyway for reasons within my ministry, so I just take it an extra step by editing it for the general public and posting it online.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: How often do you post on your blog? How do you decide when to post on your blog?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: On average, I post about four times during the week and usually not at all on the weekends. My blog statistics show that Saturdays and Sundays account for only 11% of my site’s total traffic (Wednesdays and Thursdays being the highest traffic days), so if I have something to blog during that time, I usually save it as a draft and publish it late Sunday night or Monday instead.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: Where or how do you develop topic ideas for posts?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: Very rarely will I sit down to write a post and have nothing to say. In fact, I usually have about 15-20 drafts in progress at any given time. (I have 17 different drafts right now.) Most of them start as ideas, questions, discussions or experiences that arise within my own ministry. Others consist of material I had to write for something anyway. Sometimes my posts are reactions to other people’s posts, too.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: What do you do with the comments on your site? Respond? Inspiration? Ideas?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: Yeah, I try to respond to each comment on my site. I love the dialog and I think it’s important that people know that I value their input and appreciate their interaction. Sometimes people comment ideas that are better than my original post!

[Niswonger, Leslie]: You seem to use hyperlinks sparingly. Is there a reason for this?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: Umm… no, not really. I like to generate most of my own blog content, which means that there’s not always external links to reference. When I do link, though, it’s for two reasons: 1) It’s a quality reference that I know will benefit my readers; 2) To tribute the original source of any information I use.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: Because the focus of my study is how pastors’ blogging affects the traditional church, I must ask: Do you see every aspect of your life affecting the kingdom of God in some way, shape, or form? What impact do you then believe your blog has on your church, your community, and those who are seeking to find the truth out about who God is?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: I certainly hope every aspect of my life affects the kingdom in some way! I’m not sure I can be the ultimate judge of that, but it’s definitely what I strive for. I know my blog impacts the kingdom for God by encouraging and equipping other youth workers around the world because I often receive emails from people telling me so. It’s always energizing to hear stories of how the ideas and resources I post impact other students and ministries. I doubt it’s had any affect on my own church and community yet since I’ve only been at this church for two and a half months, but I know it has left an impression around the country.

As for the last group of people you mentioned, those seeking the truth about God, those people are not really in my intended audience, so I don’t write much for them. That’s not to say I don’t care about them because I do. Part of my job is reaching those very people in our community, but the scope of my blog is not geared toward that audience.

Questions About Evangelical Blogging
[Niswonger, Leslie]: What do you think blogging means/contributes to the “traditional” church? What could it mean?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: Given a little more time, I think blogging will begin to change how churches communicate. It will change how we tell the stories of God’s interaction with our churches. Years ago when email was the new technology, no one was quite sure how to use it. We forwarded jokes to each other and other weird information that later turned out to be false. It took a while, but now we’ve finally figured out how to use this tool and most of us are now swamped in email that we can’t live without. People who don’t have an email address are very few and far between. I think blogging is like this. It’s still relatively new and we’re still trying to figure out how to use it to communicate, but once we do, the church will find endless ways to use it. Unfortunately, it usually takes the church about 10-50 years to stop being afraid of new technology, but once we do we’ll have no idea how we functioned without it.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: In your opinion, what is the future of evangelistic blogging?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: Sharing stories of how God’s worked in our lives. There’s plenty of apologetic blogs out there, but not too many blogs dedicated to testimonies. No one can argue with a personal experience, but we can debate science and philosophy for the rest of our lives. I’m looking forward to seeing some gifted storytellers arise who will blog about God’s work in their lives in ways that compel unsaved readers to respond.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: What do you see as the positives of pastors’ blogging?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: Wow, there’s a long list of positives of pastors blogging. Here are 10 of the initial reasons that come to mind:

  1. Churches across America generate tons of content every week, use it once and then let it sit on their hard drives collecting digital dust. With a blog, pastors can easily share this material with each other and improve their content and ideas with input from the blogging community. It’s also a huge help to missionaries.
  2. It gives pastors a platform to earn respect from non-attenders in the community.
  3. It expands the scope of the ministry from the church to reaching the world.
  4. It establishes a platform for publicly responding to current issues and criticisms.
  5. It creates a window into the personal life of someone most people only know as the “person up front.”
  6. It’s a great way to push your upcoming sermon series and let people know what’s happening at the church.
  7. It’s an opportunity to continue teaching throughout the week.
  8. It allows the pastor to encourage the congregation throughout the week.
  9. It creates responses and interaction with material in ways that a traditional Sunday sermon can never do.
  10. It gives your church members a personal resource to recommend to unsaved friends in their evangelistic efforts.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: What do you see as the negatives of pastors’ blogging?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: This list will be a bit harder because I’m not sure there are too many (being a bit biased, of course).

  1. If you let it, blogging has the potential to suck up a lot of time.
  2. There’s a greater backlash with greater consequences if you post something that is inappropriate for public consumption.
  3. If you’re not genuine, authentic and vulnerable on your blog, it will backfire and actually establish a negative reputation. The nature of blogs is to serve as a window into who a person is, not just to create information.

Each of these negatives contains an “if,” which means they are not certain negatives that WILL happen. They’re all avoidable.

[Niswonger, Leslie]: What criticism or questions have developed or will develop about how the style and medium of blogging affects the content of the message?

[Schmoyer, Tim]: The medium of blogging levels the playing field and gives everyone the potential of an international audience. This means that pastors can reach infinitely more people than before, but it also means that those with false theology can do the same. It used to be that theology was taught only by an elite group in academic or church settings, but now anyone can spew their ideas no matter how absurd. I don’t really see this as completely negative because I think it creates important and necessary dialog and makes it all the more necessary for legitimate pastors to enter the blogosphere, but it does affect the message and how it’s communicated.

Also, blogging moves the message from the left side of the brain to the right side. Books, monologues and planned sermons are linear in nature. Successive paragraphs and arguments build off the one before and work toward a conclusion. Blogging, however, is very non-linear. It interconnects thoughts, arguments and ideas with links. There is no beginning, middle or end. Coming from a western linear perspective, many view this as “watering down” the message, but I’ve noticed that most of those people are engineer bullet-point lovers, linear thought at it’s best. Personally, I believe it is beyond paramount that we handle God’s Word with integrity and accuracy, but it doesn’t bother me one bit if we let scripture drift to our God-given creative right-brain sides. In fact, I think it’s detrimental if we don’t.

Posted on May 14, 2007

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