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Interviewing the ProBlogger

An Interview with Darren Rowse.

Darren Rowse is the original ProBlogger, presiding over ProBlogger, a site that draws tens of thousands of visitors every day. After stumbling across blogs in 2002, Darren began a site of his own that explored “issues of Pop Culture, Spirituality and Blogging.” The pastor of a small, emerging type of church, Darren has become a full-time blogger and the coordinator of a large blog network.

Because I’ve attempted to make a point of giving a lot of thought to issues regarding faith and blogging, I thought it would be interesting to gain Darren’s perspective on some issues. Though there would be some obvious theological variance between Darren and myself, I couldn’t think of too many people who have given more time to this subject. So here is a brief interview I conducted with him.

Tim Challies: The discussion about Christians who blog reminds me a little bit of the similar discussion with Christian music. You are a Christian who blogs but would probably not be considered by most people a “Christian blogger” because your blog does not deal primarily with faith issues (kind of like how Switchfoot doesn’t care to be labeled a “Christian band” even though they are all Christians who play [really good] music). Yet I’m sure you do not draw a distinct line between who you are in Christ and what you do for a living. How does your faith impact how you pursue this vocation?

Darren Rowse: It’s an interesting discussion point and one that I’ve considered quite a bit over my 5 years of blogging.

My first blog was a ‘Christian Blog’ in many senses (not that it had a conversion experience…). I started it to talk about issues of faith, spirituality and church. It became reasonably well known in Christian blogging circles and I had a lot to do with other Christian bloggers. One of the things that I became a bit frustrated with over the two or so years that that blog was active was that I saw the majority of Christian bloggers gathering together to talk about subjects that related to them - but very little outward focus or interaction with the wider blogosphere.

While I think that there is definitely a place for Christian bloggers to do more inward focussed blogging (fellowship and doing faith together is a big part of what I see us called to do as followers of Christ) I wondered whether we were ignoring another part of what we’re called to be on about - mission.

My critique of Christian blogging is actually similar to my critique of much of what I see happening with the Church today - an overemphasis upon gathering together as believers - at the expense of ‘going into the world to make disciples’.

I came to a point where I saw incredible opportunity in blogging to ‘go’. People are gathering around the web through blogs to learn, build relationships, have dialogue, share their lives, talk about every aspect of their existence - but the majority of Christian bloggers that I knew at the time (including myself) were gathering together in our ‘Holy Huddles’ to do ‘Christian Things’.

I made a decision to spend more time focussing upon going and participating in what I saw happening outside of the ‘Christian Blogosphere’.

What I found is that there are some amazing opportunities in the wider blogosphere to connect with people - to share your life with them and to make a difference. I also found that there are a lot of bloggers with similar faith perspectives doing similar things and not getting into ‘Christian Blogging’.

TC: Do you think ProBlogger would be different if you were not a Christian? If so, how?

DR: I’m not sure. I think ProBlogger is an extension of who I am in some ways and much of it would be similar whether I was a Christian or not. I do see ProBlogger as a tool that not only provides my family with an income but as something that helps others - but suspect that this would be important to me whether I was a Christian or not. It’s very hard to answer that as I’m not sure what I’d be like if I wasn’t a Christian - let alone what my blog would be like.

TC: How has blogging impacted your faith?

DR: There have been times when I’ve felt incredibly blessed and enriched by blogging. I learned a lot and made some great friends in early days of my first blog when I was connecting with and learning from other church planters around the world who were planting similar kinds of churches to LivingRoom (our community).

On the flip side I came away from some of what I saw happening in the ‘Christian Blogging community’ feeling quite depressed. In some of the debates between different ‘varieties’ of Christians I saw terrible personal attack and disunity which left me feeling somewhat jaded and frustrated.

Since spending less time in the ‘Christian’ blogosphere I’ve found my faith challenged and enlivened in many ways. I now run a large blog network with hundreds of blogs and lots of people working for us. Being involved in a large business in this way brings a lot of challenges in terms of the decisions you have to make and the interactions that you have with others. I think I pray a lot more than I used to as a result!

TC: Would you like to see more Christians blogging beyond the realm of the so-called “Christian blogosphere?” Do you think there would be spiritual benefit in having Christians impacting other areas of the blogosphere? Do you know of Christians who are blogging in other areas and having a significant impact?

I’d love to see more Christians to catch a vision for being more outward and missional in their outlook in every area of their lives - including their blogging.

I think there is an incredible opportunity to be a part of the seeing in of God’s Kingdom if we do so.

I have met a number of Christians who are exploring this in similar ways to me and have seen numerous examples of where God’s used them/ us through our blogging.

TC: As Christians blog about other topics should they seek to do so in a way that makes it clear that they are Christians?

DR: I’ve never been one to thrust my faith upon another person.

My own understanding of missions is one that we’re called to:

  • have Proximity - to go into the world, be near people, rub shoulders with them etc
  • have Presence - build relationships, walk with people, hear what’s going on in their lives, share out lives
  • be Powerless - (wrong word, but this is a 4 ‘P’ sermon) - to be humble, to allow God to be the great missionary and do his work and to allow the other person to have some power in the situation
  • Proclaim - out of these other 3 steps we need to be ready and willing to proclaim the Gospel. I think that often as Christians we rush to the ‘proclaim’ stage but miss out on relationships

As a result in my own blogging on ProBlogger I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Christian (and a minister of a small church) - but I don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve mentioned it from time to time - but my approach is much more about getting to know people on their terms and to allow things to progress naturally.

TC: New bloggers seeking to find ways of increasing readership will undoubtedly find long lists of ways they can do so and will see that many of these require drawing attention to themselves. Do you feel that the desire to draw attention to one’s blog (and hence to oneself) can be reconciled with the character of a Christian? Is there a danger in pursuing many of the ways that bloggers can draw traffic to their sites?

DR: It’s a fine line and one that I’ve grappled with numerous times. Self promotion is something that you need to be able to do to some level as a blogger - but I guess it’s the same in many areas of life (eg - getting that promotion at work, you sometimes need to put yourself out there and prove yourself to get it).

I guess for me it’s about knowing who you are, knowing what your values are and putting yourself out there in a way that is consistent with this.

Also - I actually find that blog readers respond very well to humility and to people who are not all about promoting themselves.

While sometimes self promotion works - the most successful blogs are built on the back of them being useful to their readers in some way. I often write on ProBlogger that the key to building a great blog is to find ways to enhance the lives of your readers. I think that this fits pretty well with a Christian perspective also.

TC: With so many tips available on how to write good blog posts (keep the word count low, write a pithy headline, write a post that can be easily skimmed, etc, etc…) do you think bloggers risk losing the message in the means? Can we become so carried away with writing posts that are going to do well in search engines, social media sites and the like that we miss writing significant content?

DR: Yes - some bloggers get so bogged down in this kind of thing that they forget to write quality content that helps people.

However I think that if you get the balance right between all of these techniques and having a blog that is useful you can achieve both. It takes time to find what this balance is - but it’s achievable.

TC: When someone writes a history of the church of the 21st century, do you think he or she will need to include a chapter on blogs? Will blogs be shown to have that kind of significance or will they eventually just be forgotten?

DR: From what I know of the development of the Printing Press (a technology that changed the world) - Christians were at the forefront in using this tool to print Scripture. Many futurists believe that what’s happening online at the moment is as significant as what happened with the Printing Press - the world is changing. I guess my question is - are we as the Church embracing and using this new technology - or are we being left behind?

As I said above - Web 2.0 is surging ahead and developing all kinds of wonderful websites and applications that draw people together for community, create conversation, help people achieve their potential and equip them for life - but sadly the Church seems to be be missing from the conversation.