Build relationships with authentic blogging

Earlier this year I was asked to write an article about how the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand are using blogging. I’m not religious myself, so this was quite a novelty. I was asked to interview several people, and from their responses I put together the article below.

Something I found particularly interesting was the spiritual aspect. At times I’ve had a bit to do with the world where blogging is seen as a way to make money. Those bloggers are very concerned with catchy headlines, content that drives and retains traffic, building an audience.

The bloggers I interviewed for my article though had quite different concerns, centred around relationships, community and authenticity. I found that very refreshing. But, here, read for yourself.

The following article was titled by the editors: Church leaders connect through blogging.

At the heart of community is communication. When we communicate with genuineness and authenticity we build relationships and strengthen our community. We humans can’t seem to help but communicate, by any means available to us.

One popular way is to write a blog. For this article I interviewed several people currently or formerly active in the Presbyterian Church who also blog. All spoke about community, relationships and authenticity.

The Rev Martin Stewart says:

A friend/colleague put me on to blogging, a way of networking and conversation that traverses the usual circles one operates within both geographically and theologically. I guess I am wanting to encourage community and the opportunity to connect with perspectives that encourage good thinking and imagination.

A blog is like a series of postcards we write as we engage in our journey through life. A blog post is public for all to read and perhaps respond to.

The Rev Dr Mark Keown says:

I simply speak into the ether and whoever is interested reads it. I will respond and have discussions with people who read my blog and comment. Some of these have been very long and interesting threads with atheists, agnostics, the doubtful, and faithful commenting. Sometimes it gets quite intense. I have learned an immense amount from people who have commented particularly those whose view differs from my own.

The blog post is published to a web page, with as much ease as posting a postcard: write a subject line and whatever you wish to say then click a Publish button. The blog software takes care of all the rest, making your words available for the world to read.

The Rev Phil King of the Global Mission blog tells us:

An unexpected audience has emerged with people overseas finding the site and making occasional comments and requests for more information. One was a film-maker researching the history of mission in the Pacific and that led to an email exchange helping him find more sources for his research.

But we need to take a step back, as before you can share ideas in a blog post you must first sign up for a blog. One of the most popular free blog services is WordPress. Visit the website, supply your email address, and choose a username, password and blog name. Then you’re done and can start sharing your thoughts with the world.

Look at the blogs from those interviewed here and see how each is different from the others. Each looks different; each person writes about different topics. Some write often, others infrequently. Yet each is reaching out to the readers, inviting them in to share the thoughts and experiences of the writer.

Martin says:

My blog reflects my interests, ideas and thoughts… ranging around theology, music, books, photography, humour, earthquakes and aftermath, and lifestyle.

By leaving comments the readers can transform that monologue into a dialogue or a conversation with many participants.

Mike Crowl says:

Blogging has led to some interesting connections around the world that would never have happened otherwise. People come out of nowhere and comment on something you’ve written.

The key to a good blog is that it is a genuine expression of the writer. It should represent who they are and what their concerns are, even if it’s just writing for the enjoyment of writing as Mike calls it.

Mark says:

I began blogging because I like writing and thought that I would create my own vehicle to express my view on stuff. I am also aware through my ministry that there are some people out there who seem to value my viewpoint. I have a sense of calling to comment I suppose. I have no real goals with the blog except to express my point of view amidst the cacophony of voices that run through our world. I have a strong faith in God and have studied Scripture and wanted to give an evangelical perspective on issues in the world. I hope it causes people to think more about the world through the lens of Christ.

But even if a spur to blogging is for the enjoyment of writing, it may have a more meaningful motivation, as Mark mentions. Mike also hopes the readers of his blog will think:

The Daily Writer is aimed at people who want to read something regularly that they can think about.

Mark cares about authenticity too. He says about the length of his blog posts:

In trying to keep short you can evacuate the blog of any real depth of thought. You have to strike a balance between brevity and depth of thought. Being succinct and thoughtful is the challenge.

Cate Burton blogs.

Cate Burton blogs.

Genuine expression can change how we are in the world, and how we relate to other people in our community. As Rev Cate Burton says:

I wanted to write honest reflections on life and faith that people could relate to. So, I have shared on my blog ways I have encountered God in some everyday situations, as well as poetry which at times reflects a deeper truth I cannot explain any other way, and also reflections from my own life, journey and relationships. I want to share with people my stories and God’s stories so that they may just have the encouragement and the boldness to share their own.

Martin develops the relationships theme:

A blog is a vehicle for relationship — or at least one level of relationship … I have a range of congregational members who access it…

Blogging has allowed me access to other blogs and the wonders and tragedy of internet life thus I am influenced and affected — but the upsides are that there is a community within the congregation who connect a bit through my ‘agency’ and things I post are the occasional topic of conversation. I have some deeper friendships with some people because they feel they have a better sense of what I am on about because of the blog.

Jill Kayser blogs.

Jill Kayser blogs.

Cate touched on what motivates a person to blog, a thread picked up by Jill Kayser, Kids Friendly national coach:

I started blogging on the advice of my daughter who had blogged all the way through her architectural master’s thesis. In 2012 I was heading to Cambridge University in the UK for a term’s sabbatical of reading, researching, exploring and discovering and Jessica said: Mum you should blog. It’s a fantastic way to record your impressions, experiences, reflections and research. (she’s right)

There are many in the world whose main motivation for blogging is to make money. While it’s important to earn a living, a financial motivation can distort the communication and expression of the true self. Martin reminds us:

I would encourage some constant examination of your motivations… do you want and need an audience vs are you making a contribution to the betterment of things?

Jill may have started with recording, but the betterment of things is her goal now:

Since returning from my sabbatical I changed the name of my blog from The Kids Friendly Coach Blog to The Kids Friendly Blog and now I encourage anyone from the Kids Friendly Network to contribute. I want it to engender that sense that there are many Kids Friendly experts out there who we can all benefit from hearing.

So is it worth it to spend time blogging? Phil balances his desire to share his Mission against time constraints:

The biggest hurdle is my lack of time to write the blog and add the photos. I always travel with a camera, and like to include photos to help tell the story. This adds value to the blog but editing and selecting photos also takes more time. … My blogs tend to have long periods of inactivity, and I sometimes wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew; but I think overall it is better to have it than not.

The rewards are considerable, for both readers and writer, as Cate points out:

Blogging has made me better at self-expression, and it has made me a better writer too. I have been delighted when people have identified with what I have written on my blog, when they have a me too! response and were just waiting for someone to say it out loud.

The article was written for and published (slightly modified) in SPANZ magazine, Autumn 2014:

The autumn edition of Spanz magazine … We explore how an increasing number of Presbyterian church leaders and ministers are using online “blogs” to communicate with their communities and strengthen relationships.