There is a reason very few who write articles for the various “preacher” online services such as churchleaders.com, sermoncentral.com, and crosswalk.com reply to those who leave comments.
It messes up their day.
Case in point. This morning, I decided to check the replies on an article of mine which one of the above services had sent out recently to 50,000 of their closest friends. There might have been 15 or 20 comments. Several said things like, “You didn’t give us a remedy” or “You misinterpreted that text” or “You didn’t quote Bonhoeffer” or “What do you have against preachers?”
Ugh. I hit reply a time or two and left notes. And then regretted it. It’s so hard not to sound defensive when you are trying to explain why you said one thing and not something else.
That’s what has prompted this. I’d like to explain a couple of things about these articles and then make a suggestion or two. As always, your comments are welcome at the end. (Whether I will read them or not is another matter. Smiley-face goes here.)
1) Most of the articles in those online magazines are lifted in whole from the authors’ websites. And that’s important.
On my blog, www.joemckeever.com, there must be a thousand or more articles penned over a decade. And sometimes, the online mag will lift one from a couple of years back.
In most cases, this blog was NOT a carefully researched article written for some print publication at the invitation of an editor who then sent a check. They are rather hastily done, sometimes several a week. And they are only one aspect of everything the writer has to say on that subject, one sliver of his thinking. (This morning, one person slammed my piece because I didn’t offer remedies for angry pastors. The fact is I was not writing to the pastors; I was telling church members to avoid angry pastors, and search committees how to identify them.)
So, keep this in context. The article may be only one segment of the writer’s thoughts on a particular subject. To get the full range of his views, you’d have to read everything he has said, or at least several of his pieces.
2) In 90 percent of the cases, the writers do not know when the online magazine will pick up an article and run it or which article they will use or if they ever will. (In typing this, for instance, I hope each of them will run it. But I have no idea. In fact, I don’t even have a contact at most of their offices. We simply have an agreement, one I gave them a couple of years ago at their request, that they may use any of my stuff at any time.)
And, the writers are not paid for their material. Most of us are just honored that someone thinks we’ve written something worth sharing.
I for one am not writing with “the world in general” as my focus. I’m not even writing to Christendom in general. I am a Southern Baptist preacher of fifty-one years experience, and that is my frame of reference. (So, in the article from this morning, when someone criticized my reference to “an African-American woman pastor of a United Methodist church,” by asking if I always give the race and sex of people in my stories, I replied, “It’s just so unusual.” Now, in many circles, that would not be a rarity. In my world, it’s unique. She is the only African-American woman I ever met who pastors a UMC church.)
1) Read these articles looking for helpful insights.
I expect most bloggers/authors do not read the comments because people can be so negative, can criticize what they know so little of, and slam someone whom they have misunderstood. Reading them would be like self-flagellation. Therefore, my suggestion is this: “Read these articles with a view toward finding anything helpful, period. If there’s nothing helpful in the first one, go on to the next one. But if you read it looking for faults, you will always find them. Always.”
Love does not look for faults. And it also covers a multitude of sins. (I guarantee you some reader will attack those two statements from Scripture.)
There’s not a pastor on the planet who wants church members to listen to their sermons looking for something to criticize. But it would appear that quite a number of preachers open these articles intending to find fault. (Frequently, after reading an article by someone else, I’ll scroll down to the comments. It never ceases to amaze me how people can find something negative about the most inspiring of articles. “You left out this” or “You overstated that” or “you offended this group” or “you clearly do not believe such-and-such a doctrine.”)
2) Leave positive, helpful comments at the end of articles. Or, if you must criticize, try to do so as a brother or sister in Christ.
That’s just basic Christianity and one would think it does not need to be said to people in the Lord’s work.
But it does.
My wife says, “If you can’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it at all.” A good rule.
Part of the problem is the impersonality and remoteness which the internet fosters. Since we can leave instant responses, the temptation to do so is overpowering. Whether doing so was wise is another matter.
So, having let eight hours elapse since I read the harsh comments at the end of my recent article, and after spending two hours in church this morning, I’ve reconsidered and decided not to trash my laptop or take the cyanide pills.
I plan to stay with safe subjects for a time, those which everyone can support and “amen,” such as gun control, abortion rights, Obamacare, and whether preachers should wear blue jeans in the pulpit.
That’s a joke.