If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does the tree make a noise? If a pastor writes an article and sends it into the expanse of the internet, do the words have any impact?
Admittedly writing and the conversations about writing have felt a little bit like narcissistic navel-gazing. For sure I don’t want my writing to be without readers, or even worse, without sense. But I don’t always believe I have so much to say.
So, why write? Why attempt to put words to a page and ask you to consider my thinking and maybe even maybe hope that it makes an impact? That’s a very good question.
A few weeks ago the writing ministry that I lead, Gospel-Centered Discipleship (GCD), took eleven developing writers into a six-month workshop/masterclass to help them level up and grow in the craft of writing. Our first guest mentor, Jen Oshman, was tasked with speaking into the question above, why write? Her instruction to us as writers was to develop a mission statement. Simply put, develop a clear statement that will form and shape the framework for why you write.
I’ve struggled with various forms of inertia over the last several years in getting the gears moving on writing. For one; writing personally, even on a blog, was verbally abused right out of me. I was told it was a distraction, an idol, even a waste of God-given time and money. I quit writing out of fear.
The other issue was time. Writing takes work, it takes time, it takes a few things to say and some motivation to get it done. Thankfully, I’ve had some opportunities to piddle and plod here and there with various writing opportunities. I’ll keep up on those.
The greater takeaway from that conversation was something I didn’t expect — a challenge. Often, I struggle to write something and publish it on my blog or an article because I feel like I don’t have anything exceptional to say. I’m pretty ordinary, my writing is pretty ordinary. I don’t have a huge platform or pastor a big church.
So again, if a pastor writes an article and sends it into the expanse of the internet, do the words have any impact? If he’s worried about his metrics, impact, or reach… perhaps not. But if he has a mission, and an aim in his writing, then quite possibly his work will have a great impact (although it may never be known to him).
All of this to say, in a rather circumspect way, I have to write, and I have to write as an outworking of my pastoral vocation. When Eugene Peterson talked about his writing and pastoring as “virtually the same thing for me: an entrance into chaos,” I understood his attempt to bring clarity to what was chaotic in his thinking and living.
When historian David McCollough says, “writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly,” I get what he means. I have to write sermon notes each week so that my preaching is as clear as I can make it before the deadline of actually preaching hits. But writing to manage chaos and writing to think clearly isn’t necessarily enough for me to pursue a reading audience. If that’s all writing is then, I shouldn’t probably post anything online and should just keep my writing to myself.
The thing is, I don’t think my gifts in writing are merely for myself. If they are truly gifts then my writing should be a means of benefitting others, which flows out in two ways. First, this means the Reformation doctrine of Soli Deo Gloria has to be close at hand. My writing must be under the scope of being “to the glory of God alone.” With that freedom in hand, writing becomes a Godward ambition.
The second outflow is that my writing is for you. I must work as a servant to whoever is reading what I write. The things I write, if written for the glory of God, should be efforts to help you know God and to glorify God yourself. The metaphor of a travel-guide comes to mind. I want you to see all that is in God well, as best as I can, with the result that you will love and enjoy and worship God “with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This also means, my writing isn’t to be a means to an end for me. It’s not so I obtain a larger audience or a platform, or a book deal, or make money, or anything that brings an increase to me. I have to write with the posture to serve you.
Which leads me back to the whole point of this article; developing a mission statement for myself as a writer. GCD’s mission is to produce resources that will help “make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus.” As I’ve reflected on that purpose statement, and wondered about crafting my own, this purpose has resonated more and more for me.
The mission of my writing is to make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus. I want to glorify God and serve my readers, whoever you are, by helping you become, grow, and even reproduce yourself as a disciple of Jesus.
The bottom line is I have to write. Otherwise, I’m living outside the mission, which is simply a tree falling in the forest that makes no sound… and that makes no sense.