10 ways to stop watchdoggers from barking

There’s another breed of watchdoggin’ bloggin’ out there. You are already familiar with the normal watchdog blogs that protect God’s church from the scum of the blogosphere by posting daily about how far the church has moved into Babylon. They do this in a general way, occasionally picking on a few individuals [like the evil Rick Warren and the dastardly Brian McLaren] but very rarely do they land on a single person and try to blog him out of existence. Usually, its trends and streams and influences that get barked at by the watchdoggers.

This time it’s personal.

However, In the past few years, some blogs have appeared that are designed to air a personal complaint about a Christian leader or organization and to bring them to justice. These blogs sometimes add another side to the story of a successful pastor, or bring to light a discrepancy in their reputation. Sometimes they allow people who have been spiritually abused to speak out publicly.

At best, these blogs add a new level of honesty, balance, justice and accountability to high-profile leaders. At worst, they generate gossip, promote an outlet for jealousy, and show the world that the church cannot get along with each other.

Recently, things have gotten nastier. Courts and lawsuits. And even Google being called in to bring anonymous bloggers out of the closet. Like they did with Thomas Rich, a disgruntled Southern Baptist who was not happy with his pastor at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. His blog is FBC JAX WATCHDOG. Other blogs were investigated but let off the hook – tiffanycroft.blogspot.com and newbbcopenforum.blogspot.com. More squabble blogs than watchdog blogs. Nothing much to see, folks.

But what I find fascinating here is the role of Google as the keeper of records, the witness to ill intent, the courtroom spotter who identifies the accused.

“It’s hardball,”  Rich said of the church’s tactics in uncovering his identity. “It’s hardball religion, is what it is.” Jacksonville Times

Our new future, as I see it, involves opposing voices having a stronger voice than they used to have. In some ways, its a return to the village where everyone got to say their peace, including those who were disgruntled. Nehemiah had his detractors yelling insults to him over the wall. Jesus had the murmuring Pharisees in the back of the crowd, whispering and complaining as he was teaching. Street preachers have hecklers. And now, thanks to social media and micro-blogs, every mega-church pastor and high-profile Christian leader will have his or her blogging nemesis as a normal part of ministry. Better get used to it. It’s going to get hotter.

What to do when the watchdoggers are nipping at your heels? Here are 10 ways to deal with them:

1. Don’t be a jerk in the first place!

2. Be honest and live a holy life. Secrets get shouted from rooftops.

3. Build your own social media platform and keep friends close to you.

4. Take your online profile seriously. High Google ranking will enable you to tell your own story. [See my blogging tips]

5. If you are too busy to maintain a social media presence then have someone close to you do it on our behalf. John MacArthur (who actually has an untainted reputation and almost non-existant fallout online) has Phil Johnson. John Piper has Justin Taylor who handled the recent “Warrengate” issue. Who do you have?

6. If you fly around in a jet then you should be the first person to tell your church that you fly around in a jet.

7. Educate your watchdogging critics on private email. Don’t belittle them publicly. Love them and befriend them as early as you can.

8. Own up to your faults. God might be using the watchdoggers to purify you.

9. Don’t get paranoid. You don’t have time to track everything that is being said about you and it will be a real bummer to read it anyway.

10. Ask God for mercy because we are all jerks sometimes.

UPDATE: Uber-watchdog blogger Pastor Ken is giving me a hard time on his site for my “condescending” blog post that you have just read. Pastor Ken Silva is the most relentless watchdogger I know and his daily diatribes have earned him a very high ranking. Now, to be fair to Ken, although he occasionally peddles in the trivial, his site is a real watchdog blog and not a squabble blog. And actually, my post was a little condescending – my apologies Ken. But I was not thinking of you when I wrote this. And Ken, I dropped the “emerging church” label a long time ago so please honor me by keeping up with the Joneses.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

18 Comments

  • Thanks for this. I have a pretty strict “do not engage my detractors” policy, but I should say that one of my watch-doggers has ceased to talk about me on his radio show. He is now my friend, a blessing which continues to unfold for each of us.
    Peace,
    Nadia

  • I have only once had an accusation thrown at me over the internet and that was for being green. Apparently you can’t be green and care about people. It had me spitting feathers for a few days before I came to a similar conclusion as you that I might as well get used to it if I am to partake in the blogosphere.
    Never thought of emailing them directly but not really sure if I would have been able to do that. I guess there is still rather a lot of learning to do.

  • Thanks. A few reflections from someone who satirizes the church and has been at the end of some incredibly horrid slams.
    1. I agree with Nadia not to engage your detractors if they’re calling you a &^%$#@ Christian destined for H-e-double toothpicks (or worse). You will end up being dragged down to their level. No one wins. If you are going to develop a public persona (and this includes bloggers with a major ranking, pastors, teachers and published authors), you have to develop a thick skin so you can learn not to let these comments bring you down.
    2. Expect major pushback if you’re taking controversial positions. Rather than dismiss anyone who dares to differ as a dumbass, try to dialogue when possible vis their blog or email. I’ve made some amazing friendships started this way.
    3. Along those lines, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it. If you don’t want people to use words like Hitler, Mafia, Antichrist and the like to describe you, then don’t use these terms in talking about other people.
    4. If you post facebook postings, tweets, blog postings, etc. that have a frat boy quality, don’t be surprised if no one takes you seriously. 🙂 People have lost jobs, college applications, etc. because they didn’t realize that social networking sites are not private.
    5. Disclose if your blog is sponsored by a publisher or if you are being paid to hawk a certain conference, book, or other product or you will be called on the carpet. Some of the very angry pushback I am seeing is caused when people think they’re participating in a genuine convo only to find out they are participating in building up an author’s buzz.
    6. Form an accountability group around you that consists of a range of people with differing views and listen to their input.
    7. Be humble – and when need be, seek forgiveness and reconciliation. I started the new year off with this post on the God’s Politics blog. http://tinyurl.com/y68vxkd

  • Andrew – you are the gas that fueled my engine on this one. (Insert fart joke as you wish):)
    And speaking of gassy – to add to your jet comment – EVERY author/speaker should disclose publicly their requirements for accepting gigs to avoid having these items end up as theological tabloid fodder. Shane Claiborne has set up a model that I adapted for my own use. http://www.thesimpleway.org/shane/speaking

  • Wow, I didn’t see any mention of know your Bible and quote Scripture to back up your position.
    If you preach the gospel of Christ crucified and stick with that, your only detractors will be the unsaved, and that’s who you should be trying to reach anyway.

  • hi amy. i think my readers are well versed in the Bible so when i say stuff about holiness, accountability, keeping friends close to you, loving your enemy, asking God’s mercy, etc, i am assuming that the bible verses that inspired those posts are triggering the same verses or similar verses in the minds of my readers. thus, i dont tend to put the chapter and verse next to all my thoughts.
    when fundies read it they don’t see any bible verses listed because they are implied and not obvious and they freak out but i think its more of a stylist issue than a substance issue.

  • For the most part the blogosphere is a giant, carnal kalaidoscope. Anyone who takes it seriously is genuinely deceived. It is a product of western prosperity and too much time on our hands.
    It is kinda addicting like video games, but for the most part it is just another form of entertainment. But like Dungeons and Dragons, some get all caught up in it and assume a reality that was never intended. The “battles” are usually self elevating fantasies.
    The believers in Darfur don’t care. I’m reasonably sure the Risen Christ has little interest as well. And after only a little over a decade, it has morphed into a redundant echo chamber with entrenched voices targeting people as enemies.
    But it passes the time…

  • Hi Andrew, can I use your blog to announce to the world that I would *like* to fly around in a private jet, but cannot do this at the moment, partly because I cannot afford one, but also because British air-space is currently closed due to a rather messy Icelandic volcano. So I would like to make it clear that I will continue to get around by pedal-cycle until the Lord provides me with a private jet. ps. You didn’t say what we had to do when everyone in the blogosphere was laughing at us for being a jerk…

  • Paul – are they laughing with us or at us? If it’s the former, join in. 🙂 And if they’re laughing AT us, then assess what we’re doing that’s giving them fodder.

  • Tiffany Croft’s blog helped exposed a pedophile predator pastor. Her blog was not “investigated.” She blogged openly. Why fbcjax higher ups wanted to look into her personal information is a mystery, but there was no “crime” they could have been investigating because she wasn’t even in Jacksonville. It seems like they just figured that as long as they were looking up Rich’s identity, they might just as well look into other bloggers critical of Baptist churches at the same time. Can’t think of any other reason.

  • Whatever happened to the freedom of the Internet? It really is turning into a police state when you can be sued for what you say on a blog or Facebook. How on earth are the police going to police it all? They’re going to get extremely sick of people saying, ‘Yeah, but you should see what he said about ME on MySpace!’ followed by, ‘But I only said that because of what she said on Beebo! Soon everyone will need insurance against being sued or in order to sue and then everyone will sue just to get each others insurance money back.

  • Dear Andrew,
    I don’t want to post this comment publically, but I could not find a “regular” contact me button. This is the first time to visit your blog so I was wondering if you had your testimony posted somewhere? Just curious? Hope I am not messing up protocol. Obviously I am fairly new to the whole blogging experience.
    Kept in His grip, Mary

  • I think you make some very good points about blogging, and give excellent advice to pastors who might be blogged about. I would add number 11:
    11. Don’t use the local authorities to find the identity of an anonymous critic, and if you do, and the plot is put on the front page of the newspaper, please pastor, don’t slander the anonymous blogger by calling him a “sociopath”
    I do have to clarify a few things in your post about the FBC Jax Watchdog lawsuits.
    One lawsuit is a federal first amendment free speech and establishment clause lawsuit since the detective who obtained my identity was also an employee of the church, personal friend of the pastor, and the pastor’s body guard.
    The state court lawsuit is a slander lawsuit because the pastor, when the plot to find my identity by the friend/body guard of the pastor through subpoena power was on the front page of the newspaper, called me a “sociopath” and “mentally unstable” and “obsessive compulsive”. Yes, he did that, and never apologized or retracted his remarks.
    The detective and bodyguard of the pastor, after it was revealed publicly on the front page of our newspaper what he had done, claimed he was doing a criminal investigation. Once he got the information from Google and Comcast, he closed the investigation, gave my name to the church leadership, who then promptly issued trespass papers to me and my wife. Keep in mind, the detective never interviewed me, never, ever let me know that he had subpoend my information.
    Not only did he subpoena information about my blog, but two other blogs that were critical of Baptist preachers, one of them a blogger in Tennesse critical of a friend of my former pastor. You say they were “let off the hook”…actually, all three blogs were “let off the hook” in the sense that he opened the investigation, subpoened the information, then closed the investigation stating “no criminal activity was found”, and then he destroyed all records pertaining to his subpoenas to minimize the chance that no one would find out about the subpoenas.
    In the federal lawsuit, the judge just recently ruled that the lawsuits can continue as she confirmed that the right to speak anonymously IS protected in this country, and that if what I allege in my lawsuit is true and I can prove it in a court of law, the state attorney violated the very essence of the establishment clause of the first amendment.

  • hey – me again. i ran out of internet juice on my gsm usb dongle in north africa and its taken me a while to recharge
    but i am back.
    tom – appreciate the background info. and number 11
    Mary – i dont think i have blogged how I came to Jesus, and every time I share it the story comes out different depending on who i am talking to and their background. but i might look around.
    why? curious? actually its a pretty basic story and probably not much different than yours.

  • I wanted to echo #11 – one of the most hurtful things in all of this is Christians making accusations by calling someone names like sociopath, wingnut, Hitler, antichrist, nutjob, batsh*t, poisonous source… you get the drift. It’s clear to those in the inner circle whose being targeted. But for everyone else, this becomes a guessing game of sorts that can produce a very dark cloud that can really wreck a ministry and ruin lives.
    IMO, Matthew 18 gives us a pretty good format for how we are to settle disputes as the body of Christ. And if some Christian leaders (and this includes author/speakers who market themselves to Christian audiences)aren’t following the teachings of Christ, we need hold them accountable. And in the words of Matthew 18, that means if they won’t work towards reconciliation, we’re to pick up our bags and move on because at that moment, Jesus has left the building.

  • I would add one more item.
    #12 Allow comments, but be willing to moderate them. The appropriate moderation level keeps the conversation civil and respectful, while allowing for diversity of thinking.

Leave a Reply