A well-known Christian fella wrote an article within a week of the tragedy of Robin Williams’s death. His approach was that of the veteran blogging guardian of truth. His title was catchy with just the right amount of controversy. His content was fair and boasted compassion without ever delivering. At least, that was my take. The article caused great hullabaloo on my Facebook and Twitter. It even disrupted my home life as my wife, Karen, and I spent a small part of our 19th wedding anniversary day in disagreement. Like most of our arguments, it was less about content and more about feeling heard. Rest easy, we’ve become pros at diagnosing and we’re really good at making up. I’m confident we’ll be celebrating 20 years and more.
The argument stemmed from my anger regarding the author's approach. I felt he was writing for the controversy, which, in the day of shares, and likes, and retweets, is an intoxicating temptation every writer knows well. To me it seemed he was leveraging the tragedy for readership. And it was working. He had more shares than the cutest kitty video and more retweets that Ellen DeGeneres. I wanted to address the fella with strong adjectives and maybe an expletive as well. Karen wanted me to take a breath and maybe practice what I preach. She was right. She normally is. So I waited.
In the following days I began to re-evaluate my own approach to writing, especially when tackling a potentially sensitive subject. As a writer, I know titles are important, almost as much as the content. As a writer, I can tell you I prefer to write articles people will read – to the very end and then share. And as a writer, I want to empower my reader to new thoughts, hopefully better thoughts.
But I’m a son of God before I’m a writer. I represent my Fathers heart when I write. That’s a core conviction for me. It influences every article I release. That’s right, some articles have never left my MacBook. Why? The timing was wrong, I was angry when I wrote it, I was more interested in correcting a lie than in revealing God's love, I was keener on exposing hypocrisy than in honoring my fellow God created human being. And finally… I was writing for the controversy.
One of the quickest ways to gain readership is to write a controversial article. Homosexuality… that will get you readers. Attack a leader… readers. Address hypocrisy… readers. Suicide of a famous person… readers.
I wrote a response to Mark Driscoll’s apology letter months back, it's still the most read article on my website. It’s an honoring article written from love, but it's not lost on me that of all the other more powerful and transformative articles I have written over the years, the one with Driscoll’s name in its title is the most read.
You see, the more readers I have, the better my wife and kids eat. So the temptation is obvious. And so, I have to take a long look at my motivation before I publish – even at the risk that the current event becomes old news.
Please understand, I am not suggesting controversial topics shouldn’t be addressed. But I want to call on all my writer brothers and sisters, those who are friends and representatives of Jesus, those who write for a living, and those who want to; before you release the article ask yourself these questions, am I angry, am I hurt, am I anxious, am I afraid, am I out of control, and finally, am I writing for the controversy - to gain readership.
Jesus operated from one motivation, what was on His Father's heart (John 12:49). Jesus never lost control, He never reacted out of anger, or fear, or pain, or to gain more “readership”. And He was the most controversial person of His day and still to this day.
I am not suggesting as writers we won’t offend people, of course we will. The goal isn’t to write fluff that makes everyone happy, Jesus never did that, but Jesus never lost his peace when someone didn’t get it or when someone attacked His ideas or even His person. In fact, hanging on a cross, the only “right” person among millions who got it wrong, He says “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” There was no sarcasm in Jesus prayer, no self defense. His was a message of redemption, His prayer empowering millions into the truth that would set them free.
Here is how you will know if you released an article too soon or maybe one you shouldn’t have released at all. When it offends people and they attack you, you become defensive.
If you write from a place of wholeness and self-control, if you write to reveal God's heart just as Jesus revealed His Father's, then you will have compassion, even for those who vehemently disagree. When you write from wholeness and self-control and people get mad, you will want to grow in your craft so the next time you will write with more grace. The idea isn’t to offend or create controversy unless you are seeking readership. The idea is to empower new thoughts, good thoughts, hopefully a better perspective. We have an obligation as writers to present truth that sets people free.
After we made up, Karen said “Jason, you need to have a little patience for the controversy seeking authors, those finding what's wrong and exposing it, you used to write like that.” I smiled and said, “You are right, I need more patience. That said, you do remember how much fun it was to live with that guy?” She smiled and said, "carry on."
Know this, if you write from a place of wholeness and self-control you will empower generations into life. If you write to expose hypocrisy or a lie, or if you write for readership, you will become trapped into supplying vitriol for a controversy-crazed audience. They are out there and they are ravenous, demanding and unforgiving.
My point, check God's heart, and then yours, and then again, and then again before you publish. Be “in the Father” like Jesus, before you publish; be whole and in control of yourself before you publish, especially when it’s controversial. Then be willing to apologize when you get it wrong, because you will.
In all things seek to honor your readers, all of them, even those who challenge, especially those who challenge – they too are made in God's image and He loves them. And keep writing, we need your insight, your gifting; we need the grace you have been given.
I pray you have more readers than you’ve ever dreamed and that your wife and kids eat steak every night, or for my less carnivorous writer friends, asparagus.
Jason Clark is an author, singer/songwriter, speaker and Director of A Family Story Ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to live sure in the love of an always good God. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children. Jason’s new book Prone To Love is available now.