A recent Twitter conversation among writers sparked several really good articles about writing, building a platform, and branding. One sentence in particular made me especially grateful for the slew of people keeping me in check as I live and do ministry:
I don’t know Chris Martin from Millennial Evangelical, but he’s spot on.
I would never conversationally tell anyone that I’m a writer. I write sometimes, sure. But I know brilliant men and women who are incredible communicators. I’m a wife, a mom, and a full-time biblical counselor at a local church, in that order. I spend an enormous amount of time meeting with hurting families, troubled women, and in serious situations that are often a matter of life and death as people come before God with their sin and suffering. But, I’ve found that to be faithful in the things God has given me to do, it’s helpful for me to work at writing. When I write, I become more faithful in personal ministry. And when I’m in ministry, I become more faithful in what I write.
As the discussion on branding and platforming has unfolded, how can we help one another to heed the ton-load of wisdom in these short articles? If Christian writers shouldn’t be seeking to build up self, then what should they be doing? We ought to be exalting Jesus and building up others (Phil 2:3), but how can we tell if our writing is doing that?
To answer these questions, we must be able to honestly answer why we’re writing in the first place.
Here are four sets of questions to help Christian writers discern their hearts.
Do you value popularity over faithful content? Does wanting a platform control your content?
I love being a biblical counselor—honestly, I think it’s the best job on the planet. It’s hard and it can be stressful, but I get to watch God redeem unthinkable situations. But, I absolutely must always choose content over popularity in the counseling room; only God-breathed content has power to change lives (2 Tim 3:15-17). For instance, helping a woman live out 1 Peter 3:1-6 is relationally uncomfortable, but 1 Peter 3 has eternal value! My personal popularity is only about fleeting, selfish moments. Writing should be no different.
Writing is a gift that can help us minister Christ to one another, but it’s never about making us popular for our own sake (Gal 2:20). Will people read more of an author’s work if they believe him/her to be likable (1 Cor 9:19-23)? Maybe, but Christian writers must not exchange personal popularity at the cost of making Christ’s name known (Is 12:4).
Would you write if the Internet wasn’t a thing? Would you write even if no one read it?
I believe John Piper when he says, “If nobody wanted to read what I write, I would still write, because it’s how I see things, and how I savor reality.” I believe him because I’ve read what he’s written. Piper clearly doesn’t write to get personal followers, but as one who is relishing in the biblical truths that produce Christ-followers. If the Internet wasn’t around and the publish button wasn’t so readily available to anyone who wanted it, would you still sit at your computer and hone your writing craft? If you write as an avenue of faithfulness to God alone, then your answer is yes (Ex 20:3-5).
Are you exploiting yourself or displaying the power of Christ (2 Cor 12:7-10)? Do you mimic others with the hope of getting their gig?
In the last several years we’ve seen numerous authors create brands by being “normal” and unfiltered. It’s made for some entertainment, posed theological questions, but also exposed issues with how the local church (women in particular) are being ill-equipped to study the Bible. In response, Christian culture, hungry for authentic and seemingly relatable material, decided if these authors (who feel like their BFF) can write, then surely, they can too. The problem with this is that seeking a platform based on personal authenticity by telling the “raw truth” can create virtual spaces that leave the reader without true, biblical help (2 Pet 1:3). Adding Bible verses to unfiltered testimony can never sufficiently replace face to face one-anothering to which God calls every believer (1 Thess 5:11-14).
Vulnerability shouldn’t be used as a gimmick; it should be used as a gift. Shared poorly, unwise vulnerability can cause great damage (Matt 18:6). While public vulnerability has worth, it must first be met in real community (Prov 27:6). Vulnerability should never encourage readers to make provision for the flesh by celebrating authenticity over holiness. Confession is a display of our need for Christ that should lead to prayer and correction, not for other’s entertainment (James 5:16; Matt 18). Useful vulnerability doesn’t display personal greatness, but God’s redemptive grace.
Are you qualified to be heard? Do you feel like it’s your right to be heard?
What we realize when we personally witness faithful people handling God-given platforms is that with a true platform comes grave responsibility. This is a really big deal (James 3:1). To desire this kind of authority and influence is like a foolish child who thinks he should be king (Prov 21:2). If a person is lusting for a platform, then they surely don’t understand what a platform is or does. If it’s truly something that’s faithful to Christ, it won’t make you feel joyfully famous, it’ll be heavy and sobering (Phil 1:29). And if it’s just about you, then it will crush you instead of glorify Christ (Prov 14:12; 16:18). A platform isn’t something to long for, but something God gives by his grace alone, so that Christians can be faithful to him, not to depraved dreams (1 Cor 3:9-10).
Discerning the Heart
For some, thinking about heart motivation may mean you close down a Twitter account; for some it may mean stepping away from the computer altogether; for some it may mean a more purposeful face to face ministry; for some it should mean that content grows stronger as faithfulness grows in the daily dying to self that writing involves. But certainly, for everyone it should mean that we’re faithful in studying God’s Word and caring most about what God has already written.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.