Why We Write

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calvin-writingI remember the puzzled looks we got back in the early days of PS23 as more and more people found out we were writing on a blog. Some asked, “Is that really good use of your time?” “Don’t you think you’re already doing enough writing?” We still get those questions, and yes, we did a lot of writing. In fact, I did a little math and figured we submitted somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000-3000 pages of writing in seminary (and of course, that’s just one of many disciplines in seminary. We were told in orientation that we’d write about 20,000 pages in totum during our M.Div. We’re still uncertain if that was true, or just a scare tactic. If it was a scare tactic though, it worked! I still remember grown men crying during orientation at the prospect of the next several years before them).

So why in the world did we want to write more than we were already doing? That’s a legitimate question. As for me, I wasn’t the scholar. I wasn’t the intellect. But the truth is, there were many reasons I wanted to write even though I was already writing in seminary. Those reasons are the same reasons that keep me writing even after seminary, and why I think you should write too.

Writing keeps me thinking.
What!? You don’t have to write to think. True. But you have to think to write. I have found that many times I thought I had worked out an issue in my mind, only to discover that once I began writing about it, I had gaping holes in my reason I was unaware of. In other words, without writing, I was not thinking well. Eric Dodson actually pointed this out yesterday. There is such a thing as polluting our minds with large doses of information without taking the time to think about that information. We’ve become nothing more than regurgitators of what others think, which is a great recipe for undercutting the process of developing discernment.

We need to think. After all, the Apostle Paul admonished Timothy to “Think over what I say.” That implies a significant difference between informational submersion and and intentional interaction. Writing forces us to engage and interact. Then, because we interact, we remember, and we remember because we think:

I wrote in Seminary because it was required – I write now because I learned to do so in Seminary. What I mean is, writing is an opportunity to extend the teaching ministry God has made me steward over. Writing is a great way of preserving what has been learned in order to remember and relearn those lessons over and over.

– Andy Lynch

levels of thinkingWell said. For Andy, he writes for two primary reasons. Writing is what we’ve been trained to do. We were taught to take in massive amounts of material, think about it, engage it, then write about it. As we do that, it also helps us remember. What a waste of time and money just to forget everything we learned! Every seminarian and his family sacrificed deeply, no doubt more than we ever thought we would. And it was worth the sacrifice… unless you just walk away and forget everything you’ve learned.

Writing expresses leadership.

I write because Al Mohler told me to.

– Greg Peterson

Of course, Greg says that somewhat in jest, but he makes a great point. In Conviction to Lead, Al Mohler makes a strong and compelling case for both writing and blogging. After all, “You have a message to communicate, and there is absolutely no virtue in failing to communicate that message… blogs, whether labeled as such or not, are now one of the most significant platforms for our cultural conversation.”1 So why then wouldn’t we want to write? By writing, we help shape the way people think.

If you want to make a difference as a leader, you should write; you might even say if you’re a leader and not writing, you’re being negligent. And since you’re writing, you might as well write on a forum where people can learn from you. Blogging is a great place to do that. Put technology to good use:

If the leader is not leading in the digital world, his leadership is, by definition, limited to those who also ignore or neglect that world. That population is shrinking every minute. The clock is ticking.2

If you don’t think writing reflects leadership, just think if all the great men of the Christian faith didn’t write. But they did. How is it those men still influence is today? The answer is obvious. They were prolific writers. Cotton Mather, for instance, wrote over 450 books in his time. Was he being neglectful? Hardly. He was being a leader. And was he the exception? Well, when we look at the greatest leaders of Christianity, I don’t think so. Jonathan Edwards’ published works are now consolidated into 26 volumes containing 16,000 pages. If you want to buy them all on Logos, it’ll run you almost $1300. Those are just two. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox… okay, just about every man we know from church history was a dedicated writer.

Writing is refining.
It surprises me sometimes to think how much my writing has improved since blogging (that is not to say I write well now, but just how bad I wrote before). Because writing forces me to think logically and comprehensively in an organized fashion, I have been better able to communicate and express my thoughts… not to mention figure out what I actually think! After just a few months of blogging consistently, I found that I could write much more quickly. In fact, the amount of time I needed to budget for writing changed significantly.

Let’s say I was writing a 20 page paper. After all the research and note-taking was done, I needed to budget about 1 hour per page to write. Now that time has been cut in half, and even 3/4’s if I am really familiar with the subject. Does that mean I don’t spend as much time? No. I simply allot more time to the research so my writing is more comprehensive, thorough, and (hopefully) helpful.

But that’s just a practical trade-off for writing. Writing has helped my preaching too… a lot. what-did-you-just-sayThey are not the same disciplines, but there is much overlap in the ability to express thoughts clearly, concisely, and in an organized fashion:

I write because we’re communicators and I want to be a better communicator. Writing and speaking are two different arts. So this provides an outlet for me to help think through world-views and minister to others.

– Jason Vaughn

Likewise, writing helps me think logically and comprehensively. That’s nothing new. The church leader Augustine (354-430 AD) wrote, “I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress because he writes.” I think we’re all that way:

The biggest benefit to writing is it forces clarity.

– Allen Cagle

Sure, not everyone will reflect the same degree of skill when they write, but everyone will make progress because they write.

Writing is in our DNA.
Although there is no question that the one who writes is the one who benefits the most from his writing, we don’t write exclusively for our own benefit either. We write because we’ve been trained and called to be shepherds.

I write first and foremost because I know the church reads it. I write to extend my ministry. And I write because I want to be a good steward of the abilities and the training that God has given me.

– John Chester

By default then, we inherently care about our congregations and Christianity at large. When we see a lack of discernment, we want to correct it. When we see error, we want to correct that too. We don’t like letting uninformed opinions persuading people we know. But it’s more than that. We want Christians to think biblically and discerningly. We are persuaded to offer insight whenever we can to help shape the way our churches think about the Bible, culture, and Christian living. I like what another blogger and pastor, Clynt Archer said:

When a pastor feels the pressing blessed burden of God’s call on his life, it fuels him to be useful to the kingdom. Eternal rewards are at stake. Souls are in the balance. Truth is in question. Pastors find it difficult to relegate this responsibility. They feel it is their call to duty to answer every question, address every need, attack every error, and defend every assault against the truth. So, having a habit of reading what’s cooking in evangelicalism, an internet connection, and the passion of the call in their bones, it’s is a recipe for an enthusiastic blogger! To ask him to stop blogging would be like begging Rambo to hide in a foxhole until the war is over.3

I couldn’t have said it better.

Writing disciplines us, and we enjoy it! But we also write to minister to people. We love people! The qualification “hospitable” means that very thing. We love engaging. We love interacting. We have convictions and because we hold convictions, we want to communicate them to others.

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No doubt there are many other reasons why we write. This really just gets us started, but hopefully we at least gave you the tip of the spear.

  1. Al Mohler, The Conviction to Lead (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2012), 178-79.
  2. Ibid., 176.
  3. Clynt Archer, http://www.clintarcher.com/why-so-many-pastors-blog-rambo-bourne-piper-and-you/
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Matt Tarr

About Matt Tarr

Matt currently serves as pastor-teacher at High Point Baptist Church, Larksville, PA. Prior to his ministry at High Point, Matt also served in the counseling department at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, and as a chaplain at the Scranton-Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission. He enjoys spending time with his wife Melody and his two children, Jonathan and Timothy.