TSS Bday and Tips for Christian Bloggers
TSS celebrates first birthday
On June 17, 2006 I decided to start a little blog. I needed something useful to stay in touch with about 10 pastors I had met at Together for the Gospel and to share with them some quotes I had come across in my reading. The blog would function as a notebook of quotations for pastors. I called it The Shepherd’s Scrapbook.
As any blogger can tell you, a blog changes in its first year and TSS is no different. Far from a notebook of quotes, it morphed into a blog of do-it-yourself projects (like the Blank Bible Series) and later moved into areas of exegetical research and using the Puritan literature effectively. The initial idea of featuring straight quotes from important books was replaced with book reviews, book announcements, book photographs, book-of-the-year awards, and then on to essays on various subjects relating to the faith — like understanding legalism, the wrath of God and especially the Cross of Christ and how His Cross impacts our daily Christian lives. Then we looked at a large section of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion in a series on Humble Calvinism and blogged two conferences this Spring.
So what exactly is The Shepherd’s Scrapbook? I cannot say for certain. It’s for pastors but it’s also for laypersons. It’s for book collectors, book binders, book readers and book photographers. It’s a blog for those who read the Puritans and follow the Reformed theological tradition. But most importantly it’s a blog devoted to living a Cross-centered life. Amidst all the essays, quotes and book reviews, the single thread running through the 340 posts of our first year is an emphasis on boasting in the Cross of Jesus Christ! Galatians 6:14 is our touchstone.
Tips for bloggers
I dread reading tips from other bloggers so I hesitate writing tips for bloggers. But on this first anniversary of The Shepherd’s Scrapbook I’ll share some thoughts on some things that have helped set TSS apart in the blogosphere. So here are some miscellaneous points you may consider when starting or maintaining a Christian blog:
1. Don’t follow rules. Obviously we should limit ourselves under Scriptural standards of character. But take lightly the popular blogging structures and even the advice that follows. Know first that blogging is a free forum and, as long as you are God-honoring, you can post your wittings however you like.
2. Make Jesus famous. The trend in Christian blogging is to cover the current events and political rumblings. But there is a growing need for bloggers to use this medium to exalt in the ancient work of Jesus Christ. Even the most popular Christian blogs can go weeks without any serious mention of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Center your blog around Galatians 6:14. Cover contemporary events if you like, but discern which ones are important to the Cross and which ones are not.
3. Identify and use your particular skills. One of my most useful blogging skills is a daringness, fearlessness — and a wee bit of senselessness — to rip an ESV Bible through a humming table saw. You may not have this skill, but likely you have other unique skills that distinguish you from other bloggers that you have never considered. Think carefully how your talents can be used in the Christian blogosphere.
4. Write short posts. If a bumper sticker with 4 words gets readers to think, 250 words are sufficient to get your readers to think. Keep posts short and keep them important. “Avoid needless words.”
5. Use common words. The web is indexed by strands of words and phrases (not by pictures or songs or cool graphics). Effectively reaching your potential audience means using these common words. When you write theologically, make sure you are using the terms most frequently used for your subject. Use creative words but never forget the most common ones, too. Get familiar with the common vernacular.
6. Use creative photos and graphics. I work in retail/secular blogging so I can say with some level of confidence that Christian blogs are often the most bland when it comes to visual creativity! Don’t be the pale white Calvinist on the beach. Get some color.
7. Pray. Writing is hard enough, but when you need to write daily it takes a lot more of God’s grace. Rest in Him and pray that He would lead your thoughts. (1) Pray hard. (2) Think hard. (3) Write hard. Blogging well is tough.
8. Marry a supportive editor. My wife is a precious gift and an excellent editor. I have carefully watched her responses over the months to TSS. Never has she complained about the time I spend developing TSS and many times she has voiced her appreciation for the content and support for the work. Bloggers (and really any married person who spends a lot of time online) MUST watch carefully what effects the Internet is having on their family. When I meet bloggers or people who spend a lot of time online I try to gauge responses from their spouses whether they are supportive or not. Pastors of bloggers should ask the spouses of bloggers these same questions. If your wife/husband is not encouraging you in your blogging, don’t continue! If you are single, be on the lookout for a spouse with editing skills.
9. Be prepared for humility. The idea that people blog out of arrogance is quite unlikely. A blogger takes what is floating in his brain, expresses it to the world, and opens himself up for critical comments from about anyone online, leaving these critical comments for world to read. Honest blogging is a hard path towards humility.
10. Make your site easy to navigate. Use helpful indexes if you run a multi-part series and otherwise think of what a newcomer to your blog is going to see. Who are you? How would a visitor find out who you are? What type of a blog do you run? What’s your philosophy of blogging? Make these things obvious. (I’ve sacrificed far better-looking WordPress templates for the double-column version so all this info can be displayed on the front page of TSS).
11. Build relationships. The hits to this blog are relative to the number of close friends I have met through this blog over the past year. Building and maintaining these connections and friendships is one of the primary uses of this blog. So blog on what interests you and treasure the readers who share these same interests. Don’t blog for the numbers, blog for the friendships. Review #5 for how to find these friends online.
12. Don’t marry a blogger. I said marry an editor, but never a fellow blogger, or something humiliating like this may happen on your birthday.
Blessings and thanks for reading The Shepherd’s Scrapbook!