Fifteen years ago, Blake McKinney began a daily email devotion to connect more closely with members of his congregation.
“One of my passions in ministry is to help people live out their faith on a daily basis,” said McKinney, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, Mo. “The email hits people in the middle of their day — a divine interruption, so to speak. It’s meant to be brief and easy to read and includes a practical step to pray and move toward application.”
In 2013 he compiled a year’s worth of devotions into a book, “Refresh: A Moment with God in the Middle of Your Day.” The book, like the emails, has allowed McKinney to encourage family, friends and congregation members present and past with daily spiritual encouragement.
“A Sunday morning sermon has some impact on that, but I wanted to find a way to connect folks with Scripture more often, to pay attention to God in the midst of daily life,” he said.
On average a pastor has two or three hours a week to speak directly to church members. For each of those hours spent preaching and teaching, dozens more hours are spent in prayer and study. Pastors who find a way to share some of that research and insight through a writing ministry have an opportunity to connect with church members, the broader Christian community and even those outside the church.
“Today’s reality is that fewer and fewer people are going to church. And the ‘unchurched’ are unlikely to enter the buildings or spaces we typically occupy that they feel are religious,” says Terrell Carter, pastor at Webster Groves Baptist Church in Webster Groves, Mo., and assistant professor and director of contextualized learning at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan. “In order to meet them and build relationships with them, we have to find creative ways to connect with them and/or get their attention.”
Writing is a way to communicate the message of the faith to readers, Carter said. Writing also helps clarify misconceptions about what being a Christian is and is not.
“What is portrayed in the media is that in order to be a Christian, you have to occupy one side of an argument or the other. We are not told that there are multiple gray areas in Christian faith,” said Carter, who is the author of multiple books like “Walking the Blue Line: A Police Officer Turned Community Activist Provides Solutions to the Racial Divide,” “Machiavellian Ministry: What Faith-Filled Leaders Can Learn from a Faithless Politician” and others. “With many of my writings, I’m hoping to touch on the gray space so people understand that life is not always either/or. Instead, there are multiple options that can represent authentic faith.”
When it comes to certain aspects of the Bible, writing can help clarify truths and put more complicated texts into context to help readers better understand the message. That was the goal of “The Feasts and The Future: The Cross to New Creation Foreshadowed in Israel’s Feasts,” a book Jim Bender, pastor of Nashville Baptist Church in Ashland, Mo., wrote in 2016. The idea was born out of discussions between Bender and his co-author, Daniel J. Fuller, about the seven special feasts described in the Old Testament that God commanded the Israelites to observe. Bender said he saw many pastors and theologians using the New Testament, especially Revelation and current events, to read into the significance of the feasts. He felt that was a backwards way to study the Scripture.
“We started with the idea that we should start with the feasts and move to the future, not vice versa,” Bender said.
For Bender, writing the book was a way to examine a difficult topic — the connection between the Old Testament festivals and the end times — and to make the information accessible to more people.
And as technology continues to change the way people process information, making Scripture more accessible will continue to be a challenge for pastors and others who teach the Bible. In an interview with Faith & Leadership, author and business consultant Haydn Shaw noted that churches today have five generations among their members — something that has never happened before.
“It’s throwing off some sparks,” Shaw said.
Generational preferences for consuming information vary widely. The popularity of social media sites like YouTube and Instagram indicate a strong interest in videos and images as a source of information, especially among young people. But a 2016 Pew Research study suggests that young adults prefer reading news to watching it.
The increasing popularity of podcasts is a significant trend as well. The 2017 Infinite Dial Study by Edison Research and Triton Digital found that an estimated 67 million Americans listened to a podcast monthly in 2017, and respondents on average listened to five podcasts per week. At the same time, book sales have been on a five-year upward trajectory, according to Publishers Weekly. Sales of print books rose 1.9 percent from 2016 to 2017 and since 2013 print sales are up almost 11 percent.
The increasing variety of media means more ways for churches to reach and teach, and seekers and believers alike may be more receptive to these new forms of communication. Carter said he believes writing, video blogs and other media can be more effective than sermons alone because they give listeners to opportunity to mentally digest the information, carefully consider the material and immediately interact with the writer and other readers on the topic.
“As much as I enjoy preaching, I know that most people will forget what I have said within an hour of hearing me,” Carter said. “But when I write something, I know they can go back to it multiple times. Hopefully, each time they interact with a writing, they have had a chance to think through whatever it is I have written, compare that to what others have said or their own ideas and allow their assumptions to be challenged. I think this is how younger, more visual and audial generations learn and interact with information.”
Carrie Brown McWhorter writes for several publications, including The Alabama Baptist newspaper and Missions Mosaic magazine. Find her on Facebook @McWhorterMedia or visit her website, carriebrownmcwhorter.com.