A Conversation and a Clarification

Well, that was a bewildering experience… Usually my blog gets a couple of hundred hits a day, maximum. Last week I got half as many views as I’ve had in total since I started writing in 2014. And I think I also used the word ‘p**n’ more last week than in the rest of my life to date.

The experience has given me a lot to ponder and a lot to learn from. It wasn’t entirely enjoyable! I’m grateful for the new readers, the new followers, the positive comments, the thoughtful responses, the insightful questions, and the good-natured pushback. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that even those who disagreed with me generally did so respectfully. I’ve also learnt a few lessons about unintended consequences of my own writing!

It’s a strange thing being misunderstood, misquoted, or misrepresented, and I’ve found it a challenge to know when and where to expend energy clarifying or correcting ways that people had misunderstood what I had written (or as was sometimes the case, reacted against it without having actually read what I had written!) I still find that a challenge.

There’s lots I could say, but I’m quite keen to lay this topic to rest. I won’t promise this will be my absolutely final word on the subject, but it’ll do for now. Rather than writing anything new, let me just point you to two things I’ve already said, which may be helpful.

A Conversation

I received a few requests for conversations, podcasts, and interviews, and I turned the majority of them down. Not that I wasn’t flattered or genuinely grateful, but I really don’t want to become the very thing I critiqued: a nu-expert who talks a good game, but lacks the ability to actually make a difference !

That said, I did record one conversation with Glen Scrivener and Nate Morgan Lock from Speak Life. It was the first time I’ve done anything like this, so an interesting learning curve. It gave me an opportunity to clarify a few things, develop some thoughts further, and demonstrate for the avoidance of all doubt that I have more questions than I do answers!

A Clarification

There was one thing I felt compelled to clarify in writing, so I issued this tweet thread, the substance of which is pasted below.

‘A couple of clarifications, most of which I already said in the article, but for various reasons seem to have been missed, or not communicated as clearly as I’d hoped…

Firstly, I think the team at Christianity Today has done an excellent job on the podcast. It’s thoughtful, insightful, well-crafted, and timely. I’m sure many people would have done it differently, but few would have done it as wisely and as well as Mike Cosper has! I’m a grateful listener.

Many times in my article, and in the one that preceded it, I said it was an important listen, and I commended the team for their careful and prayerful approach to putting it together. (And BTW, we should seriously keep praying for those guys. As the latest episode highlighted, working on a project like this is gruelling and heartbreaking, and I can’t imagine how draining it must be to be confronted with so many stories of pain, and to feel the responsibility of representing the voices of hurting people well.)

My aim in writing was not to critique the podcast, but to help us – the listeners – critique ourselves. Some readers seem to have missed that, so to be as clear as possible, I do not think that the podcast is failure porn.

What I like about the original quote is that it clearly said the line between cautionary tale and porn is in the heart of the listener, not the podcast itself. Assuming the creators have done a good and godly job (which I believe they have) it’s down to us to listen and respond well.

For what it’s worth, if I were writing the article again, I would ditch the phrase from the title, because even though I felt I’d been clear in the body of the article, it’s such a visceral phrase that I think some people read it with an already-fixed idea in their minds and missed the distinction I hoped to make. (Unintended consequences, huh?!)

This piece by Brad Hambrick is really helpful, and a great clarification of what I was trying to say.

My emphasis was on the listener. I wanted us to reflect on the way we respond to the work the team is doing, and to highlight that if we were to listen badly, we could unintentionally perpetuate some of the very problems the show is highlighting. That would be a tragedy.

I tried to tease out the potential unintended consequences not because I think they will happen, but because I hope they won’t. And ensuring that they won’t is the challenge the podcast presents us with: Listen well, learn from it, and act upon it.

I also understand the impulse to not listen. That may be a good choice for many, particularly for those for whom it is triggering and painful. But for me at least, and for many church leaders I would suggest, not listening could be unhelpful. As I previously wrote,

There’s also a way of not listening which is no better in the long run. Part of me just doesn’t want to know. I want to keep my head down, do a good job, not be distracted by stories about a preacher nobody in my circles is listening to anymore. And hope to God I will never have a podcast series made about my life’s work. Whilst some of those motives can be good, they can also be an abdication of responsibility. Wilful ignorance.

The truth is, I need to listen for the good of those I care for who have been affected more than I have by the ripples of fallen pastors. I need to listen for the good of those who will ask me what to make of it, and how to stop it happening again. And I need to listen for the good of myself, so I can spot where I am more like Driscoll than I dare to admit.

My hope, prayer, and genuine belief, is that the good that will come from this podcast will vastly outweigh the negative. Let’s continue to listen with humility, prayerfulness, a desire to learn, and a willingness to change and be changed more into the likeness of Christ.’

Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

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