Competitive Christian Blogging Sucks

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Over the course of many years in Christian ministry, I have discovered there is a thick, competitive spirit in virtually every aspect of it. Our consumer-driven, Americanized Christian culture has been a primary fuel that has led many in ministry to utilize the cause of Christ for personal gain and ministry empire building—at times, myself included. Sadly, the fame-seeking sentiment communicated by Bob Wallace in the iconic movie White Christmas is highly relevant in describing much of the modern scene that is Christian ministry, “everyone is working an angle.”

The competitive currents circling within the oceans of Christian ministry can be so strong at times, it’s hard not to get pulled into its spin unaware. Soon, your entire sense of worth, success, and value as a person, Christian, and minister subtly becomes connected to the numbers—baptisms, budgets, book deals, attendance charts, speaking engagements and the like—been there, done that, have the t-shirt.

Less than a year ago, I began to write seriously as a blogger, focusing on communicating a voice of advocacy for those disillusioned and harmed by conservative Christianity—namely the de-churched, spiritually marginalized, religiously condemned, and LGBT communities. Somehow, in stepping back into the world of Christian ministry in a fresh way, I believed things would be different. Perhaps within these circles, the nobility, urgency, and plight of these causes would leave little to no room for the onset of a competitive spirit among those who seek to be a light in the darkness.

Yet, after I reached out to a few highly prominent, progressive bloggers for their wisdom and guidance, sadly, most of what I heard was centered around gaining followers, watching how many hits your website gets, and how to package your writing for greatest appeal while harnessing your personal branding. One of the top challenges asserted… how to transform subscribers into financial contributors. I have to admit, at first, I got a bit caught up in the allure of it all. My writing was gaining a good bit of attention and once again, the apple of “ministry success” was dangling all so deliciously in front of me.

That is, until the cold splash of water. A highly beloved, popular, Christian blogger clearly, intentionally, and knowingly criticized and sought to undermine me in front of my audience. The ego and purposefulness of their actions was so obvious that others reached out to me in shock. It was then that I realized, we’re not in Kansas anymore. The wild wild West of Christian ministry had indeed pushed up a stool within the saloon of my new blogging venture, revealing to me a clear problem that not only exists, but that I too could potentially become.

To be sure, I am certainly now fully aware of my gross naiveté, but back then, I truly never thought that within the arena of Christian blogging, especially among progressive circles, there would be personalities and ministries more territorial and exclusive than the Mafia in Vegas.

I find it interesting that in the New Testament, the word translated as “evil” has a deeper meaning. The Greek word “poneros” actually means, “full of labors.” When the Biblical writer asserts, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God,” the evil that is being referred to points to one who is not stereotypically carnal, denying, or doubting, but rather one who is full of labors—a person who is seeking to make a name for themselves, who embodies a kind of internal striving to produce something worthy of their life, a performance-driven mentality that looks to one’s abilities for the procurement of success. It’s the heart that concludes… my identity, worth, and closeness with God are intrinsically tied to my achievement, skill, and performance. One may never say it that way, but so many of us are living that way—self-aggrandizement, self-improvement, self-actualization. Call it what we will… “best practices,” “excellence,” “ministry effectiveness,” “promotion,” “radical Christianity,” “faithfulness,” “personal branding,” “marketing,” or “platform building.” When it’s done out of spirit of success-gaining, ministry empire-building, or competitiveness, it not only sucks, but God calls it “evil”—everyone and everything subtly becoming a leverage towards a personal ministry future of our envisioning and creating. It’s the difference between a dream and a scheme, and sadly, many of us in ministry are doing more scheming than dreaming. The same narcissistic erosion that has engulfed the contemporary Christian music industry I fear is beginning to sink its claws into the Christian blogging world. If only we can pump the breaks before we all are neck deep in the ditch.

As humans, it’s easy to medicate our insecurities with the pursuit of ministry “success.” In a performance-driven, church-franchising, personal ministry empire-building, consumer-addicted Christian culture, this becomes even more alluring and deceptively tempting.

I guess it’s unrealistic to think that any aspect of Christian ministry would be devoid of the exclusive “cool leaders” lunch table to which only the select are welcome and invited. Yet, that is all the more reason why voices like Michael Hardin, Brian Zahnd, Daisy Rain Martin, Susan Berland, Matthew Distefano and Robert and Susan Cottrell, to name only a few, are such a breath of fresh air, giving hope and a sure example upon which to aspire.

The day that the sun sets on competitive Christian blogging (and ministry) will be a beautiful day.

May the coming of that future begin with me, and begin with you.

15 Comments

  1. Chris, I wonder if you have come to recognize the difference between “called” ministry and “career” ministry. (My own reluctance to finally begin full time ministry was because I truly believe in “called by God” as the only reason for someone to choose this line of work. I also believed that I could not possibly have been called by God because I was such a mess. It took a “slap across the face” from God to ultimately get my attention, but that’s another story.) My real point is this: There are people in Christian ministry who are truly called by God to share the gospel. These are the ones who love and nurture other ministers without fear of the competition. Then there are those who choose ministry as a career, much like they might choose to be a lawyer or an advertising executive. These people fear the competition of ministry because their end game is not about the Good News of the gospel; it is about whatever good news might come with their monthly bank statements. I say this based on personal experience and observation. In my own denomination I see the different categories of ministers every day. There are people in ministry in our denomination who are obviously called and they behave a certain way toward one another. Then there are the others and they too stand out because of their behavior. It still shocks me when I witness the effects of competitive ministry, though I should not now be surprised. With all of that said, I first believe that God is big enough to handle all of the mess that we make. Let “haters hate” and let God take care of it. Keep fighting the good fight and telling the right story – Jesus approves and will see you through it.

    • ckratzer

      August 20, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      For me, in my sense of things, discerning God’s calling and things like His “perfect will” are a bit misleading and highly subjective. I personally don’t believe God has a perfectly plotted will for people nor a formalized, all-you-have-to-do-is-discern-it kind of calling either. That’s just my take, and I certainly understand and respect those who think differently. In my humble opinion, God’s will happens best when we simply do what we love to do in ways that honor God. In that sense and heart, whatever we are into, God is into. He is with us, for us, and about us no matter what. In terms of ministry, a sense of character always trumps any sense of calling or career path by intention. Whatever a person is doing, there, God is with them with His full purpose, empowering, and affirmation at any given moment. I do think God authors desires and writes within us passions and gifts, but the path we choose to embrace and embody those good gifts matters not near as much as that we simply seek to be Grace to people in all that we pursue. I have no idea if any of this makes any sense, but I hope it’s helpful. 🙂 Thanks so much for your insightful comments!

      • Can I jump in here? 🙂

        I might be a blend of both these statements… I do believe that I was “called” to minister — just like everybody else who call themselves Christians. This apparent hierarchy of ministry “jobs” is something we’ve created because, unfortunately, we are pretty competitive. Ephesians 4 lays it out pretty well in an effort to build unity in the Church, but we went ahead and started compartmentalizing, ranking, and prioritizing anyway. Competition. And here we are.

        A pastor I’d challenged once, who very much practiced the patriarchal, authoritarian model of leadership (for which I have as much use for as a trap door in a canoe) claimed that he had been “called by God” to be the shepherd for this church (where I lasted for about ten minutes) as to why he was right and I was wrong for questioning God’s anointed.

        (Puke)

        I said, “So what?”

        He lost his shiz.

        I said, “No, really. So what? You’ve been called? Me too. I’ve been called by God too.”

        “To do what, exactly?” he said.

        “To be a public school teacher,” I answered.

        And he scoffed.

        Because, really, he was an asshat.

        Anyway, I think Don makes some great points about people who are called as opposed to people who are simply making a career choice. Motivation is clearly key. But I agree with Chris too that we are free to co-create our lives with God for the purpose of equipping the saints in any capacity we choose and even excel. What is God’s will concerning us? Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God. We’d all do well to make THAT our bottom line instead of all the other crap we’re trying to chase down to validate us. I’ve done that. I’ve chased every wind that blows: unique visitors, book sales, social media followers… As if that confirms for us what we’re doing right in the world.

        Guilty as charged some days.

        That humility piece is a bugger — especially for ambitious, A-Type personalities like I admittedly have. And let’s face it — there might be a little bit of a “rock star” in anybody who claims to speak for God on a stage with a microphone… or over the internet… or someone who blogs… or someone who writes books and gets speaking gigs and gets paid for all that. A lot of us have done all those things, for what it’s worth, but at the end of the day, we ought not to take ourselves TOO seriously, right? 😉

        • I agree also that God calls everyone to something. We should definitely think of this as working with God to seek and live into what God ultimately has in mind. Not that God has everything planned in advance. God works with choice we make. God also gifts us with certain abilities and hopes we make good choices to use those gifts.

      • I like that, Chris. Reminds me of a mother superior being interviewed by a journalist. After being interrupted several times by phone calls and people at the nun’s door, the interviewer said how can your ministry flourish with so many distractions. She replied calmly, “The interruptions ARE my ministry.” Our ministry is what we do and say in response to the ordinariness of the extraordinary life of Christ in us. What you do and say, Chris speaks of a life that is authentic and grounded in the Word ho lives in all flesh. Love you, brother!

    • Well said! My husband and I have been in full time ministry for more than 34 years, both at home and abroad. One thing that’s evident is the fact that even though we are believers, we still have a sin (self centered) nature. Every day we each have a choice of whether to act out of our self-centered nature to bring glory to ourselves or act out of our love for God to bring glory to Him. Its a seductive, dangerous trap to start seeking our own glory. Satan fell into it… we see where it got him.

  2. Well said! Thank you for that!

  3. Thank you for writing this, Chris. There are some real snobs in the progressive Christian blogging world. It has the capacity to destroy our soul. Check out Ed Cyzewksi’s book about writing without losing your soul and really everything he writes. He’s got the purest heart of any progressive Christian writer I know. If you ever need my help or support, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ve been ignored and blown off by so many people over the years that I’m determined not to do that to anybody else. I think the key is to listen for God’s voice and write what he puts on your heart. Don’t be a single issue blogger. Don’t write only negative things unless you’re in a deconstruction phase which is totally legit. Find your way to the beauty and talk about that. Even if you only got a few shares. Build your platform off of quality, faithful readers rather than bored clickbait clickers. You’re called to ministry. Cry out to God in this season of discouragement. It will make you more thirsty and more tenacious in preparation for the next chapter. Keep doing it!

  4. Evangeline Elmendorf Greene

    August 21, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Chris, I so look forward to your writing. It’s brave, it’s rebellious, and it’s eloquent. While I try not to discern what God might be thinking, or His/Her reasons for doing something, I think that since God is in us, you indeed are a voice for us. Thank you for this journey, this path which you forge. Thank you for welcoming us to accompany you.
    Evangeline

  5. I’ve been reading your blog posts for a while Chris, and did send you a personal email to say thanks for them. You are a profoundly courageous voice and, I have no doubt, an easy target to be projected on to. Clearly, you have been called to this work in the fullest sense of that word.

    I am one who was ‘de-churched’ many years ago for challenging the leadership on their increasingly fundamentalist attitude, (read patriarchal, sexist, paternalist, entitled, corrupt…) My religion was raised to the ground following this and my commitment to Jesus, as one of my great teachers, ultimately deepened. The truth will set you free writ large.

    Thank you for your ministry and the healing that it is bringing.

  6. Hi Chris…

    I’ve been reading your blog on and off now since March. Thank you for accepting my friend request on FB by the way.

    In the time I’ve been reading your blog… I wasn’t certain where you were coming from until I read this post today. I suppose that’s true with many writers (bloggers or what have you). One of the nice aspects of printed material is that there isn’t the same “following” as with a blog site or Facebook page. Comments and the immediate gratification of a reply column doesn’t necessarily exist in the same way.

    I will admit that I appreciate seeing the comments of someone who takes the time to read my writing (when make time for it). I especially appreciate it when they disagree with me. Not because I enjoy drama, but because it gives me the opportunity to view the world through a different lens and because I gain an opportunity to grow.

    I’ve not always agreed with your perspective, but I’ve certainly appreciated it. Today though, more than ever!

    Jesus spoke Truth!

    He didn’t wait for accolades… He just spoke the Truth we needed to hear. He loved us and He did that in part through the Words He shared and by His example. There were those in His time too who sought to mitigate Him and the Message He brought. Of course, He’s God, but that doesn’t mitigate the need to observe that He brought the Truth of His Message with integrity and passion. It stood on its own.

    When I write, I write from the heart. It’s nice to hear words of affirmation (mostly to dispel the notion that I’m off my rocker), but I’m not in it for that reason. I write because something may have offended me, resonated with me or touched my heart. I don’t write because I want acclaim and notoriety. I also write because it’s one of the passions and abilities given to me by God. I want to honour God by both using and enjoying them. I hope and believe that it delights God to see us use and appreciate the gifts He’s given us.

    I absolutely appreciate what you’ve shared here and I would challenge you to continue in your impassioned efforts. We’re men, which is to say that we’re going to get it wrong sometimes… but sometimes, we also get it right.

    I appreciate your wisdom, passion and talent. I hope God continues to bless you with wisdom, passion, creativity and integrity as you seek to Honour Him.

    Thanks and keep it up!
    Tim

    • ckratzer

      September 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Tim, so great to connect with you again. So appreciate you and your comments, lots of wisdom and perspective throughout!

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