The Dilemma of Christian Marketing

I was sitting in the middle of marketing training when I read the tweet: “Can Donald Miller and Henri Nouwen speak in the same language, or are they fundamentally opposed?”

Conor Sweetman, founder of Ekstasis Magazine, was genuinely curious about his query—and so was I. As a writer and editor in a marketing department, I think about the topic quite often.

I work for Prison Fellowship, the largest Christian nonprofit in the United States serving prisoners and their families, and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform. As part of my duties, I draft and edit everything from emails and donor newsletters to marketing materials and op-eds.

Is my work a sham? I’ve sometimes wondered. Am I no better than the manipulative algorithms behind your Twitter stream and Facebook newsfeed? Or is it possible that there’s some middle ground—you know, somewhere between Donald Miller and Henri Nouwen?

Read the rest at Ekstasis Magazine.

George Orwell’s Advice for Writing with Precision

George Orwell is perhaps best known for 1984, his scathing indictment of totalitarianism. Just two months before its publishing in 1949, he published an equally biting essay about the English language.

The essay, “Politics and the English Language,” has been widely read since its publication, and for good reason. In it, Orwell eviscerates the state of language in general, but especially when it comes to politics.

His basic concern is the vagueness of modern speaking and writing, and how that obscurity shapes the public. Words, after all, have power, as he wrote in 1984: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

Though some words have the power to corrupt one’s thinking, others can cleanse one’s thinking. The right words can purify the thoughts. Then those right thoughts train the mind to discern what is good (see Rom. 12:2).

Read the rest at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Tips on Tidying Up Your Writing

Clutter is the disease of American writing,” William Zinsser said.

He means that much of our writing is bloated with fluff that adds nothing. He cites examples like, “We no longer head committees. We head them up. We don’t face problems anymore. We face up to them when we can free up a few minutes” [emphasis added].

This is important, he says, because “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.”

As an editor, I must agree with Zinsser, though it pains the writer in me. Why do we writers add so much fluff?

Most fill their drafts with clutter because they’re trying to hit a word count or sound unique. Clutter does add length, but it distracts the reader. And you don’t have to write more to find or strengthen your voice. Zinsser correctly notes, “Most first drafts can be cut by fifty percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.”

If your goal is to serve the reader, then cut the clutter, starting with these common culprits of cluttered writing.

Read the rest at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

How to Warm Your Readers’ Hearts

Something happens when I listen to a Tim Keller sermon.

About two-thirds of the way through, my heart starts to swell, lightly at first, then faster. Like a hot air balloon, I gently lift off the ground before rising higher and higher.

Hot air balloons fly because the hot air applied inside the balloon makes it lighter than the cooler air around it, which causes it to float.

Just like a skilled hot air balloon pilot knows when how to make a balloon sink or float, Keller seems to know just when to trigger the gospel to heat my heart and send it soaring.

As writers, we can similarly warm our readers’ hearts with the gospel. And we do this by showing them Jesus.

Read the rest at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Does Willow Creek Really Want a Senior PASTOR?

Willow Creek has been through a lot. Founding and senior pastor Bill Hybels resigned earlier than expected after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

To fill the leadership void, Heather Larson took over as lead pastor and Steve Carter filled the role of teaching pastor. Then more allegations against Hybels arose.

It wasn’t long before Larson and Carter, along with the church’s elder board, resigned.

For a church that had become a mainstay on the evangelical scene and perhaps had more influence on the idea of church in America than any church in the last three decades, this was a nightmare.

It seemed to me like they were entering one of those seasons a sports fan dreads: a rebuilding season when a team is dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up in hopes that it will be stronger on the other side.

That’s why I was surprised that the job description from their senior pastor search looks the way it does; namely, that it looks just like the role Hybels filled.

It seems odd to me that you wouldn’t seek to break the mold that resulted in toxic leadership. To think it was just the man and not the environment is to grossly misunderstand what happened at Willow Creek.

Scot McKnight, a professor at Northern Seminary, notes a similar concern:

Willow Creek’s job description is little more than a repetition of the reshaped pastoral role as defined by and embodied in Bill Hybels. A culture was formed during his years leading Willow — and it is clear to those of us who care about the colossal influence of Willow Creek that the DNA of Willow Creek has not changed since the resignation of Hybels.

McKnight’s concerns center on the job description’s emphasis on Willow Creek as a brand and not on the historical, biblical qualifications of a pastor.

The role of pastor, biblically speaking, is outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9. You should read those yourself, but the gist of the passages is that a pastor should be:

  • Above reproach in his life and conduct
  • Married to one woman
  • Hospitable
  • Able to teach sound doctrine and rebuke false teaching
  • A good and loving husband and father who manages his household well
  • Thought well of by outsiders

And they should not be:

  • Given to drunkenness
  • A lover of money
  • Quarrelsome
  • A recent convert
  • Arrogant
  • Quick-tempered

The only thing I could find in the description that seemed to mirror these qualifications was one bullet point: “Exemplify a life of walking closely with Jesus, including strong spiritual leadership in the home.” That’s headed in the right direction, at least.

McKnight goes on:

The absence of these features as the central terms, ideas and categories for a pastor’s qualifications reveals a culture at Willow that does not perceive these as important and therefore one that does not relate well to such terms. This can only happen because of a dismissal of the foundational importance of biblical teachings about bishop/elder qualifications and their importance in the entire history of the church.

Why is that important?

When we shift our central terms from pastors and priests and elders to leaders and entrepreneurs and managers, we leave the biblical images and reconfigure pastors with models designed for something else entirely.

I think that’s right. Pastors and CEOs are not the same things. The primary imagery used for pastors in the scriptures is a shepherd. CEOs are decidedly not shepherds, and necessarily so. So when you ask for one over the other, or someone functioning as both, you get something altogether different.

McKnight again:

Willow will get what it wants but what it wants is not what the Bible wants. You won’t find Willow’s favorite terms in any word cloud about Jesus’ pastoral life, or Peter’s pastoral life, or Paul’s pastoral life — or, truth be told — about the pastoral role throughout the history of the church.

Willow Creek’s influence cannot be overstated. Therefore, whatever happens there matters, both to the local congregation that needs to be shepherded and to the world beyond.

Like McKnight, I know that “To change a church culture like Willow’s — and those it has influenced — requires a conversion so penetrating that everything is born again.”

I’m praying that happens, and that the church finds a pastor who will feed God’s sheep.