Christian Bloggers and Platform Building – when to say no

I went to a high school football game Friday night.

We showed up in time to see the second half of the junior varsity game, the one with players from the school my wife works at. I hadn’t been to our town’s high school for a game in a few years but the experience was familiar: parents and younger siblings sat with their gazes fixed on the game, while the players’ fellow students in the stands were as apt to be fixed on each other as the action on the field. I confess we got caught up in some conversations too as we saw old friends arriving for the game.

Then the JV game was over and as we waited for the varsity game to start I saw a lot of movement to the left, down the track that circled the football field. Fifty students started gathering together, one of them directing the others to get in some semblance of order, one kid running through the ticket gate at the last moment with a pair of huge cymbals hanging by their straps from his hands.

The pep band had arrived.

My People

I wanted to quit band in 8th grade, but my older sisters convinced me that I’d miss out on a lot if I didn’t stick with it. They were right.

In high school, band brought everyone together: jocks, brainiacs, cheerleaders, thugs, gearheads. I didn’t belong to any of those groups, but I still found myself in the concert band, buried deep among the woodwinds where no one could see – or hear – me playing my tenor saxophone. By the time I graduated I added timpani to the sax as an instrument to perform on, became the drum major my junior year and student conductor the year after, and played in the Concert, Marching, Jazz and Pep Bands throughout.

I was the ultimate band geek.

I loved my tribe. It was the place where people from all the other tribes could join together without concern for whether they belonged. Everyone belonged, even the people who were odd, or a pain, or stuck up, or whatever their hang-up was.

Even me.

My hang-up? I was the most obnoxious teenager the ’70s ever produced. Yet I was never an outsider in band. Neither was anyone else. If you could play the majority of the notes in a song right, you were in.

Building a Tribe

In Jesus, we’re told:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29.)

Paul wrote those words 2000 years ago, so this is nothing new. In fact, it wasn’t even new for God’s people at the time. Approximately 1400 years before Paul, Moses told the Israelites how to live for God and explained that these same rules applied to non-Jews living among them too:

You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord … . (Numbers 15:15.)

The Israelites – a tribe that became a nation – certainly considered themselves to be Abraham’s seed, as Paul used the phrase, and would have known from Moses’ writings that to God there is no difference between them and non-Jews when it came to who could be considered part of the people of God.

This is how God builds his family. No matter what group someone is from, the family of God has a place for them.

I try to remember that when I write.

Blogger Tribes

I went to the West Coast Christian Writers Conference last February. Conference Director Susy Flory and the entire organization she heads did a wonderful job bringing in seminar leaders, plenary speakers and talented musicians to make the weekend conference instructive and worshipful.

My friend Keri Wyatt Kent led the platform and marketing track:

One thing I appreciate about Keri’s take on platform and marketing is she doesn’t make anyone feel intimidated by using arcane language or acting as if it’s a matter of getting into some hard-to-crack inner sanctum. She speaks instead of how to connect with people and use the skills you already have to tell them about your writing. This is the kind of book marketing I can get into. And even though I was at the conference for the non-fiction track, she asked me to stop by her third session to talk to her students about how I build connections with people on-line.

Do you want to know what I didn’t tell Keri’s students? I didn’t give them five easy tips to build a tribe of blog followers. (Neither did Keri, by the way.) Not that I know five easy tips to build a tribe, but even if I did that’s not what I would teach when it comes to making connections with people on-line.

What did I tell the writers in her group? I told them that people like and need encouragement in their lives, and that I try to bring that into my writing here on the blog and when I leave comments on other people’s sites.

For me, blogging is not about building a tribe. It’s about honoring God and encouraging people, as the phrase in the banner at the top of this page puts it. The best way I know how to do that on-line is through being in community with people. It’s what social network types might call a virtual community but I think it’s actually quite real if done sincerely.

It also means not trying to build a tribe. In fact, I’d rather foster community than be its leader. Sure there might be more like-minded people here than those who disagree with me, but I still want those who disagree to feel the same hospitality is extended to them as to those who agree with something I write.

After all, whether I think one way or another on a subject is irrelevant to the fact that even those I disagree with need encouragement in their relationship with God.

I hope you agree with me on that.


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30 Responses to Christian Bloggers and Platform Building – when to say no

  1. Dee Parsons says:

    You are a friend to all and that is a gift. Here is how I approach blogging. Every comment represents a person who is created in the image of God. Behind the wall are readers who are seeking to understand their faith and how it is expressed. before I began blogging I chose the following quote from CS Lewis (The Weight of Glory) to remember each day I blog. Thank you for all you do.

    “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

    • Tim says:

      That is my favorite passage form Weight of Glory, and one of my favorite form him or any other writer at all. I also like your line, Dee: “Every comment represents a person who is created in the image of God.” I hope ot remember that as well.

  2. Jeannie says:

    This is great, Tim. I agree with you about blogging and other social media being a place to build community. For me it’s a place to share: share my thoughts and opinions, yes, but also support others, participate in what they’re doing, and let them know someone’s listening. Thanks to Dee for that C.S. Lewis quote too: it’s perfect.

  3. I really like this post Tim, and I like it because you practice it with your blog. It is a place of encouragement and not tribe building. You comment graciously to people who comment on your blog, even those who may not be very gracious. It’s rare to find someone who comments on all or even most of the comments left. It’s what I would hope to do on my blog, but commenting on spam comments won’t get me too far I don’t think.

    • Tim says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Jeremy. back when I started this blog I told my wife that I felt I should respond to comments because if someone took the time to write then the least I could do is write back. I mentioned this to Keri’s class at that writer’s conference, but I also said that my response rate is not 100%, and that this is by design. I don’t want to come across as the blogger who always has to get in the last word.

      As for spam comments, I must admit that some of them can be pretty funny.

      • Yeah I totally understand the last word thing. I think partly it’s the awkward nature of things like blog comments or even text messages, they don’t have a clean ending point. You don’t want to be rude by stopping the conversation, but you don’t want to be perceived as always needing the last word.

        On spam, yeah some can be pretty funny. The tough ones are the ones that seem like they could be legit, but are just so generic or end with trying to advertise a product or website out of the blue.

  4. Great post. I’m not a big fan of tribal language as I think it has often been used as an excuse to not really engage each other, “sorry, don’t be offended, we are just in different tribes.” And I’m not a big fan of the big man tribal leader implications. I’ve got one leader and he isn’t a tribalist. Although he’ll visit any tribe to share the good news. Anyway, great thoughts.

  5. Judy says:

    Your attitude about building community is very encouraging, Tim. The idea of building a “tribe” has always kind of bothered me, for it seems self-serving at its root. I guess it all depends on the heart behind the actions. Thanks!

  6. Lisa Deam says:

    I agree with what you’re saying, Tim, and I wish everyone were as encouraging and community-building as you are. I’ve come across plenty of Christians on social media who, frankly, don’t want me to participate in their conversation (and I’m sure it’s not just me). Their group is closed, and it seems very much like a “tribe.” So my first point is that it sucks to be on the other side of a Christian tribe.

    What some of the “tribe” advocates say is that you don’t have to wait to be invited into someone’s conversation — instead, start your own conversation. Start something new. Be with people who want to have community with you. What do you think about this idea? I’m not necessarily in favor of going off and building a tribe, but I’m probably going to put more effort into “building” something with people who want to talk to me (on social media, anyway – I’m not sure this applies to “real life”). Does this make any sense?

    • Tim says:

      How do conversations develop then if people are always starting a new one for themselves rather than join in with the conversations already going on? That seems odd.
      I can see the need for new discussions but that doesn’t mean the old ones should be closed. That doesn’t lead to community, just cliques.

  7. Lisa Deam says:

    I really appreciate how welcoming you are, Tim. I was just trying to say that not everyone on Christian social media is the same way. Thanks for always being encouraging to me.

  8. Sharon Gerdes says:

    Great post. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to go about trying to build a platform so this was good timing.

  9. I’m new here.
    Well, not really. I’ve been blogging anonymously for four years, then recently decided to start a new blog with a new purpose. I’m hoping it will be a book someday.
    While I don’t want a tribe, I do want a following. My primary motivation for wanting one is I really, really want people to think about the topic I’ve chosen because I think it’s super important for Christians to think deeply about what I’m discovering.
    How do you keep the balance between wanting popularity for its own sake and wanting popularity because you want people to think about something important?.

  10. “I hope you agree with that…” Love your humor! Great post.

  11. Nancy Le says:

    You do always behave like that, always. And I know everyone appreciates it .

  12. NJ says:

    I’m a little late to comment, but when I read this post I had to. I also was a thoroughgoing band geek with my clarinet starting in the 4th grade all the way through high school, which was the best. My freshman year I was in concert band until halfway through, then tried out for symphonic band. Ordinarily you had to wait for your sophmore year to join the big boys, but I was one of the few who made it. Then I did marching band, pep band during our basketball games, jazz band on piano, as well as the various solo/ensemble competitions with other schools.

    The large band room was our defacto homeroom where just us band kids could come to watch videos while eating lunch, instead of in the common area. You are absolutely right about band being comprised of all sorts of people; the only category I would have added would be us nerds. I had long been the kind of person who tended to find the other weirdos, outcasts, loners, sci-fi geeks, etc. as well as other Christians. In the band room though, everyone was equal. It definitely felt like a tribe, and the coolest one at that.

    I think it was C.S. Lewis who once compared the body of Christ to a long corridor with many rooms off of it. In my adult years, I’ve come out of the room I was raised in, spent 15 years in another one, and am contemplating whether my final abode in this life will be in yet another room. Lewis was right; one can’t stay in the corridor. Hopefully with all the ecclesiastical tribes out there I can find where I belong. In the end, after all, we’ll be together with Him anyway.

    • Tim says:

      That Lewis description of the way we congregate is great. NJ, and fits in so well with my take on being in band and being in the body of Christ.

  13. Bev Murrill says:

    You;re a good guy, Tim… thanks for this.

  14. JYJames says:

    Cormac McCarthy is a great writer, IMHO, who neither speaks nor builds a tribe.

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