Pastors and Blogs
If pastors and elders are to serve their congregation well, what are their responsibilities when it comes to being aware of what Christians are reading? I'm sure that a mere twenty years ago, aspiring pastors never thought that reading or writing blogs would be a valuable resource to their ministry.
Back in the day, I co-owned a coffee shop in downtown Frederick, Maryland. Part of our mission was to facilitate an atmosphere that was prominent during the golden age of coffee. Coffee houses used to be the center for intellectual, social, and political discussion. Did you know that Daniel Webster referred to the first American coffeehouse that opened in Boston as the "headquarters of revolution," as John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere were regular frequenters? After the taxation of tea by King George, the resulting Boston Tea Party was instigated in the Green Dragon Coffee House. The French coffee house, Café de Procope, drew in a diverse crowd including Voltaire (who drank fifty cups a day), Rousseau (who called for coffee on his deathbed), Diderot, and a visiting Benjamin Franklin. All over the world, coffee houses were the meeting places for ideas.
And so the slogan that appeared under our logo of a pig reading a book in a cup of mudd was "fuel for the thinkers of today."
In many ways my vision came to fruition. A neat thing happened. Although we didn't advertise as a "Christian" coffee house, customers began to notice the content of the books on our shelves and it would spark conversation. The next thing I knew, we became somewhat of a hub for the Christian bands to play live, the local Catholics to meet on a Saturday morning after their study group, the teenagers from youth groups to have a relatively cool, safe place to hang on a Saturday night, the destination for book club meetings and Bible studies, a hang-out for stay-at-home moms on a Tuesday morning, and an approved place for those in the Rescue Mission to swap addictions.
However, we were never exclusively Christian in our target. It wasn't a "Christian" coffeehouse, but a coffeehouse owned by Christians. We hosted poetry slams and classic rock entertainers, showcased local artwork, and were a favorite casual meeting place for businessmen and women. We weren't serving the gospel with each cup of coffee, and I don't believe any political events arose from discussions at our establishment. But if a pastor wanted to get a good idea of the thoughts, concerns, and ideas in both the "Christian" and secular culture of that time, all they would need to do was drink some coffee at The Mudd Puddle.
It's pretty strange to think about how technology has transformed the notion of community and the meeting places for ideas in just a couple of decades. Now we can stay in our pajamas and thoughtfully interact with people all over the world right from our kitchen table. I think that blogs may be a major spot for thinkers of today to interact (aided by the fuel of coffee, of course).
Pastors have an opportunity like never before to be well informed in contemporary Christian thought. Just a mere ten years ago, we might think it strange for a pastor to be blogging, and maybe a waste of time for them to be scanning the latest blog posts written by lay people, authors, and fellow pastors. We want to be confident that our pastors are spending even more time than we are in the study of God's Word. And wouldn't their extra time be better spent being hospitable or sinking into the Letters of Samuel Rutherford? Much of it would.
And yet, if a pastor is to be a good shepherd, he needs to have an awareness of what Christians are talking about, tempted by, what current false teachings they are up against, along with the ability to discern the challenges, encouragements, and needs of the people they are called to serve. Pastors are not meant to be kept locked away in their office 60 hours a week. They need to mingle with people and ideas.
This week's Mortification of Spin addresses a best selling book that claims to be Christian. I do hope that pastors are aware of what their congregants are reading. I would like to think that they are researching the sales in the "Christian" publishing market so they know the current environment to which their people are exposed. A good shepherd needs to be mindful of their surroundings.
As vital as it is for pastors to invest their time into preaching the truth to their flock, a good teacher also needs to know the context that they are serving in. Not every pastor needs to be a blogger, although I do find it an honorable service to both their church and to the wider community of Christians for those who do it well. But pastors do need to be informed, and so they should at least be reading some of what is offered as Christian commentary on the internet.
Sure, time is limited and the internet poses a whole new challenge when it comes to discipline and management of our time well spent. There are some helpful websites, such as The Aquila Report, that can be great one-stop resources for pastors. And there are some very practical ways that pastors can think of to help the people in their church share and discern what they intake. Maybe a "what are you reading these days?" quarterly book club would be a good way to get face-to-face discussion going. Perhaps pastors and elders could delegate someone from the church to help navigate them on where to read about trending ideas. I also think it's important for a pastor to be reading both old and contemporary books that he can recommend, as well as some of the ones that he would not recommend.
The point is that pastors need to be engaged. Blogs shouldn't be the only avenue, but they have become a wonderful resource for ministers to do just that. They can help pastors and elders navigate through the latest Christian best sellers and give them more insight for serving in the current evangelical climate. And what pastor wouldn't appreciate a free resource?