Part of my trip to Louisville for Together for the Gospel included attending a pre-conference event hosted at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and organized by Tim Brister. If you ever attend T4G, Tim’s Band of Bloggers is the best money you’ll spend. You get a free lunch and more free books than the main conference. This year’s panel discussed platform building.
That’s an important conversation--especially with the rise of celebrity pastors and the abuses that go along with it. How does one navigate these murky waters?
It’s important not to conflate pastoral ministry with the work of a writer. As someone who writes about theology, but isn’t a pastor, I may have a helpful point of view. Conflating these two has caused some of the celebrity pastor problems the evangelical church is facing down right now. It seems part of the path to celebrity is having a mega- multi-site church, making the conference rounds as a sort of tribal leader (a phrase I loath), and writing books. Sadly, many of these pastors walk this path without any gifting for writing. This problem is compounded by the practice of ghostwriting. A lesser know writer with an actual gifting for it writes books under the name of a celebrity pastor. You get the best of both worlds (supposedly)--big name for sales, and good writing.
However, we must free our pastors not to writeif they are not gifted. Jared Wilson, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and Carl Trueman are the exception, not the rule. These men have clear writing gifts that they use for the kingdom. I would encourage those in ministry to find your gifting and exercise it daily for the good of the church. If it’s writing--good and well. If it’s organizing, use that. If it’s counseling, do that. If it’s speaking, use that. But don’t feel pressure to write if you are not gifted in that area.
When this becomes an expectation of all pastors, it diminishes those in the church who have the actual gift for words--whether pastor or layperson. Can you imagine the expectation that all pastors should have a talent for fixing cars, building stuff, or filing taxes? It cheapens the God glorifying gifts of others, while also adding to the Biblical qualifications for the pastorate.
Conflating these two--ministry and writing--causes misunderstanding in how we share our creative work. During the Band of Blogger event, the question was posed, “Is retweeting a compliment wrong?” Justin Taylor, vice president of book publishing at Crossway, immediately responded with, “It’s a sin.” That took me back. When asked if he wanted to nuance that at all, he stood firm, “Sin.” I agree that it may be sin. But I’m not sure if I could so boldly declare it sinful for every person, at all times. I would have loved to had a couple guys who do this on the panel to offer some push back (I’m thinking Tullian, N. D. Wilson, or Anthony Bradly--pastor and writer; philosopher, writer, and professor; and academician, writer, and professor).
I had a wonderful conversation with Matt Heerema (who by the way is a great guy. His group was gracious enough to include me on multiple occasions in activities and let me crash in their room--my hotel was farther away) after BoB about this question and he had some great insights. He pointed out the compliment retweet is an issue of the heart.1 If you don’t retweet it, but pride is in your heart than you’ve already sinned. Interestingly, he also noted that in his industry, which is web design, sharing compliments, accolades, and accomplishments is standard industry practice. This brings me back to the conflation of ministry with writing and also a hard and fast divide between sacred and secular work.
As Christians we must tether our ethics to Scripture. Are there overarching principles we can apply in this situation? Scripture is clear that where it is silent and where a case cannot be made by “good and necessary consequence,” we have the freedom to act in faith. Paul says, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. . . . But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:4, 23).2 If you can in good conscience without pride and in faith retweet the compliment, then it can’t be a sin.
Also, imagine that you are a Christian who makes movies, paints, or designs home. Imagine hearing that you may never retweet a compliment for your business. It sounds silly. If I am working in love for neighbor and doing it with excellence, why should I not be able to share what others praise in that excellence for the glory of God? My meager excellence, in that context, is a reflection, even if poorly, of the excellence of God in creating. When we out and out condemn it as sinful, we are making judgements on the heart and intentions of another man’s servants.
I say all of that to say, I don’t make a practice of doing it, but partly because it is highly frowned upon in my circles. It would actually hinder what I’m trying to accomplish. I do regularly make it a practice of sharing what I find excellent in others and encourage you to do the same. Also, if you are doing this, if you are not constantly focusing inward then why should you not be able to share the occasional tweet as compliment? I regularly make decisions on where to eat, stay, vacation, read, or purchase based on the testimony of others. I want to know what real people are saying about a product, service, book, hotel, restaurant, or whatever. It helps me make smart decisions.
So at the end of the day, if you can retweet the compliment in good conscience before God and in faith, I say go for it. If your conscience prevents you, then don’t. But I would encourage others to be slow to judge another man’s servants.
[Editor’s note: I re-arranged multiple sentences in the seventh and eighth paragraph to distinguish between my own thoughts and the one’s shared by Matt Heerema. Matt’s main point was that it’s a heart issue. I also added two sentences to the eighth paragraph: “As Christians we must tether our ethics to Scripture. Are there overarching principles we can apply in this situation?”
One final note since there’s been some pushback. I’m not arguing it’s positively good and we should all do it, rather that if you can in good conscience do it, you shouldn’t feel shame for doing it. And we shouldn’t immediately judge the heart. I’ve also seen some still conflating ministry/writing in addressing the topic and I don’t think that’s helpful. It blurs the lines unnecessarily.
The best argument against it I’ve heard (from Nathan Bingham) is that it’s not accepted practice and doesn’t reflect Christian excellence in using the medium. If you Google, retweeting compliments there are articles against it, and there are some for it, but practically I have seen businesses, bands, authors--from the least to greatest--doing it. All that to say I’m not convinced that it’s not accepted by the people who actually use the service because I see it regularly--some tastefully and some not so much. In the end, I choose not to do it, but I’m not going to make a big deal about others who do. If it annoys me and goes beyond what I consider good taste, I’ll just quietly unfollow them.]
1. Matthew 15:10-20 “And he called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.’ Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.’ And he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.’”↩
2. Proverbs 27:2 “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” This verse was used as an example of Scripture condemning the compliment retweet. My immediate thought was, “Isn’t that exactly what’s happening?” The person isn’t praising themselves. They are letting the other person praise their creative excellence and sharing what’s been said. ↩
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and has written for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.