When Platforms Become Stumbling Blocks

For the first few years I wrote my blog, it was the number one source of stress in my life — more than moving to a new state, having two kids, starting a new job, or getting diagnosed with an incurable condition.

It wasn’t the writing that bothered me though — I loved that. What stressed me out was my persistent angst over the number of people who were reading my blog — or, more accurately, my angst over the number of people who weren’t reading my blog. I couldn’t shake the desire to closely monitor the numbers, the likes, and the shares that wielded so much power to validate my ideas.

I asked God to set me free from the self-conscious thorn in my side, hoping He would zap the vexing insecurities out of me. He took the long route instead, letting me feel the weight of my pride of authorship and the shame of being ignored by readers whom I hoped would be more interested in what I had to say. I was trying to build a platform, but God was doing construction work in me, showing me how easily public ministry can get poisoned with self-centeredness.

God can redeem anything though, and to my surprise, He often took my not-so-humble efforts and used them to encourage many readers, some of whom let me know how God had spoken to them through something I had written. God hadn’t withdrawn His blessing from my writing just because I wrestled with mixed motives. If that were the way He operated, I would still be waiting on Him to bless my efforts today.

All writers or public speakers — no matter how big or small our audiences — appreciate a little encouragement, but sometimes we need it too much. That doesn’t mean we should hang it up or hate ourselves for being human. Public ministry isn’t the real problem — not any more than a loaf of bread is the real problem for someone who tends to overeat. The real problem with platforms is the constant risk of losing sight of why we’re standing on them.

In “Only One Platform Will Last,” author Karen Swallow Prior talks about the many times she has met people who desire to serve in public ministry, but they’re “more concerned with seeking a platform than with practicing their craft or discerning a needed message. … [T]his problem occurs when public communication is seen as a means of self-fulfillment rather than a type of work.” I’ve been there plenty of times as a writer and I still have to fight the impulse, which requires me to ask myself a couple of questions as I’m writing.

What about this is true?

There’s a temptation to write something simply because I can, and the internet and its capacity for instant publishing makes that particularly alluring. One way I put the brakes on is to ask myself whether I’m writing about something I know is true. That is, have I either taken the time to learn it, or have I walked through an experience and can testify about it with credibility? If I can’t answer those questions in the affirmative and I write something anyway, I’m basically just taking advantage of the fact that, for whatever reason, I will talk and you will listen. That ties into the next question I ask myself.

Who am I serving when I write this? 

The internet is full of writers who offer the public shameless vulnerability, stories that they would never tell in the break room at work. Much of this is done in the name of helping others — and I think it can. But sometimes it feels like you’re watching someone emotionally undress when the person could just describe the painful experience of being left naked and vulnerable. Other people bless the world with their raging rants that are intended to make a point, but not a difference. I’ve done both, and neither of them feels quite right, because they’re never tailored to serve much more than my desire for attention. I’ve found a surprising antidote to those tendencies, however: praying for my audience.

Praying for my audience directs me upward and outward. It makes me less likely to want to offer a journal entry to the world and more likely to want to offer an anecdote that helps people see God’s love more clearly. It reminds me that my writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, that it’s at its best when it blesses God and a reader (even one) — not when it gets more attention on social media.

We’re all published writers these days — for some, it’s at widely read websites. For others, it’s via status updates and tweets. Whatever the platforms, we are called to be stewards of them. We are called to treat them as a gift that we give back to God, and we do that by using our writing to do what Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood described as his purpose for being on television: “to spread grace throughout the land.”

None of us will perfectly execute our callings for public ministry while we’re here on this earth. It’s a grueling experience in sanctification sometimes, but we can rest assured that God is more than willing to lead us further down paths of righteousness as we use our gifts — for His name’s sake, not ours.

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