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4 years.

Hard to believe I’ve been hacking at this blog for so long. It was a bit rocky at first, but I think I’ve found my voice and my niche in the blogging world. I’ve formed real friendships, fostered off-line ones, challenged, and been challenged. I’ve grown immensely through the community that’s continuing to grow here.

4 years.

Still growing.

image credit: CreationSwap user Bokeh02

In this 4-year process, I’ve learned some truths. Some that are personal. Others that are more general.

7 truths in 4 years

1. I love writing.

I gain clarity through writing. My thoughts make better sense to me when I can extrovert them through writing. In fact, I’ve found that when my blogging frequency decreases, clarity around key ideas and issues I’m dealing with decreases as well.

My challenge to you: Find a way to communicate. Hone your craft and hone your ideas through some sort of open forum publicly.

2. Writing impacts people.

I know, I know…this isn’t revolutionary. Words are powerful. I’ve tried to become increasingly cognizant of this truth, knowing that words carry weight in incredible ways. This causes me to pause before I ever hit “publish.” I reread, re-pray, and edit more thoughtfully with the understanding that real people with real struggles in real communities can be profoundly impacted as God uses words to change hearts.

My challenge to you: Write thoughtfully. Write a lot.

3. Sometimes I get it wrong.

I never try to let “I might be wrong” keep me from writing. In the early days, I did. I was hesitant that I’d put a thought out there and completely miss the mark. And you know what? I did. Quite a few times. :) But I’ve learned that “I might be wrong” is never reason enough to not write.

My challenge to you: Wrestle with tough concepts. Challenge your readers. Challenge yourself. If you get something wrong, admit that you did and move on. Or delete the post and act like it never happened. :) Getting it wrong is better than not getting it at all.

4. Authenticity is king.

My favorite posts to write, and the ones that get the most interaction, are the ones where I share personal stories and personal details. Those are the glue that help people stick to the truth.

My challenge to you: Be the best “you” you can be. The best “you” is always better than being who you think others want you to be. God’s created you uniquely, with unique gifts, talents, and passions. We need you!

6. Evernote is my best friend.

I use it constantly. I’d be a terrible blogger without it. Seriously, this is where my ideas go initially, where they’re fleshed out, and where they find their substance.

My challenge to you: Capture every idea that crosses your mind, and find a way to store those. Having a wealth of ideas is invaluable on days when ideas are dry.

7. There are blog posts around every corner.

Sometimes blog posts have cropped up out of meetings, at Starbucks, at the golf course, or at the beach. Other times, they’ve happened at the gym, or while running. Yet others have happened while preaching. I’ve learned to constantly have my eyes open, which has made me a better observer of life.

My challenge to you: Observe life. Live in the moment. Enjoy every gift, large and small, that God gives.

Question:

I’d love to get a better handle on the readers here on Life & Theology. If you’re a reader, whether regular or sporadic or a first-timer, leave a comment below with your name and the city where you live. 

 

image via iStock Photo user: Maurits Vink

I’ve written a few times about my love of Evernote. I’m a big fan.

I use it in so many ways, and it’s become my go-to app for writing, idea generation, travel plans, meeting notes, and collaboration. I wanted to share a couple of new ways I’m using it. Last week, I led a missions team to Costa Rica. Evernote helped in big ways.

Next time you travel, I think it will help you, too.

Using Evernote for traveling

1. In coordination with IdeaPaint

I shared last time that I had a white board sticker that I put on my wall. The only problem with the sticker was that it kept falling down, which is not very professional during a meeting. So I decided to use IdeaPaint, a paint that is used like a whiteboard. I can write and erase on it, and it leaves no ghost marks or faint colors behind. As I was planning things out for our trip, I could write them on my wall, snap a pic when I’m done, and save the pics to Evernote.

2. Scanning in important info

As part of being a team leader of our trip to Costa Rica, I had to gather lots of info from each team member. And lots of info for the organization we were going through. And lots of information for Grace. And I needed to have all of that info with me. I had passports, emergency contact info, insurance information, etc. I had hundreds of pieces of paper I needed to travel with. So I scanned every one of them in to Evernote, and they were instantly searchable. So, for instance, if I needed to search for Justin’s drug allergies, I didn’t have to dig for the right paper…I just typed it into Evernote and voila!

3. Collaboration with key documents

I’m the small groups pastor at Grace, not the missions pastor. So I don’t personally need to keep a record of everything from our travels to Costa Rica. That’s the responsibility of Lindsey Frey. So I “shared” the “Costa Rica” notebook with Lindsey, and she’s able to file away every document I put together. And when I make changes to the notebook, those changes are reflected in her notebook, too. Which means I don’t have to make a second copy of everything, or update her every time a change is made.

4. Keeping up with travel arrangements

I saved all of our itineraries to Evernote. Most of our team were traveling on the exact same schedule. Two team members, however, were traveling back home 3 days later. So things could easily get a little sticky. But with Evernote, I was able to keep the itineraries separate, and quickly and easily pull up the various airline information for each team member. Which was nice, because I was able to share those itineraries in a flash with our team, and with anyone in the States who needed the info.

5. Writing blogs

I wrote blog posts every day updating our progress. When I was at The Abraham Project, I didn’t have access to internet. But even without access to internet, Evernote works. So I’d jot down my blog post ideas throughout the day, then when I got back to the bed-and-breakfast where we were staying, Evernote would sync up, and I’d have access to the notes on my computer. Rather than just trying to remember my thoughts throughout the day, I had downloaded them when they came to mind. Which made the writing process much quicker and easier.

Next time you’re leading a missions team, or taking a trip of any kind, consider using Evernote. It’ll make your life much easier.

Have you converted to using Evernote? Are you “sold” on it?

* image via iStock Photo user: Maurits Vink

 

When Blogging Slows Down

Ben Reed —  December 22, 2011 — 7 Comments

image credit Creation Swap User Vicky Smit

There are some books that are so over the top that they break me.

For instance, I love Stuart Scott. He was one of my favorite professors in seminary. And his book is one of the most Scripturally sound books on the role of a man in the home. But at the end of the day, the book is so difficult to put into practice that I’m almost left just throwing up my hands saying, “If that’s what I’m called to do, it’s just too tough!”

Likewise, when I read others’ posts about blogging, it breaks me. They say things like:

“On the days you don’t feel like writing, just write.”

OR

“On the days when you’re busy with other things, just write.”

Sometimes I wonder how these guys do it.

‘Hustle!’ they espouse.

‘Umm…I thought I was…’

‘Get up early to write…’ My 3 year old is up between 5:30 and 6:00. Every morning.

‘Stay up late…’ I have a 3 year old that gets up early. See above.

‘Work hard…’ I am. I have a family at home, a full-time job, and just opened a new store.

This line of thinking is so black-and-white, so difficult that it could break me if I let it. But the lure of it is the challenge, the chase, the adrenaline, and the product that ships.

At this point, I think I need a pass. A throw-in-the-towel, wave-the-white-flag pass for a moment. And I can only guess that if I need one, there are a handful of you out there that need one, too. Whether that’s a pass from your “slacking” on blogging, Facebook, Twitter, or any various other personal/public endeavors you’re chasing. I’m going to publicly give myself a pass. And I’m going to give you the same.

I get a pass

It’s been a busy month. My wife and I, with my and sister-in-law have opened a new store in downtown Clarksville. Our small groups team is in heavy recruiting mode for January. We’re also in heavy planning mode for a new system of leadership development we’ll be rolling out next year.

I have a 3 year old son who vies for my every moment when I’m at home. And 1 Timothy 3:5 haunts me. Not to mention that I love playing with him!

I also have an amazing wife I’m trying to be a good husband to, who’s been as busy and overwhelmed launching the new store as she’s ever been.

Note to self: it’s ok, Ben, that you don’t blog everyday. In fact, thank you very much Jon Acuff for the idea, it’s ok if you post your top 5 blog posts for 2011 during the last 5 days of 2011. Which is what I’m going to do.

I give you permission to slow down your blog, too. There are other, more important things in your life.

 

Feel free to pick it back up in January. And in the meantime, relax. Have a merry little Christmas. Or a merry big Christmas. Enjoy the time away.

* image credit: Creation Swap User Vicky Smit

 

 

Photo: Creative Commons User: Polježičanin

Information isn’t the most important thing anymore. We live in a world where content isn’t king.

Right content is king.

Today, you can turn anywhere and find any answer to any question you can come up with.

Message ChaCha and within 60 seconds, you’ll have your answer. From a real person!

“Google” is a verb used in common language.

Information is abundant and around every corner. You can have nearly every major newspaper delivered wirelessly to your Kindle.

Our culture is on information overload. The answer is not found in more information.

The answer is in curating the right information.

Which explains the success of sites like Take Your Vitamin Z, Monday Morning Insight, and Between Two Worlds. This generation is not just looking for more information. We’re looking for the right information.

  • I don’t just care to go to a movie because it’s a big-budget blockbuster. I’ll go because someone I trust has recommended it.
  • I won’t read your book because a big-name publisher has printed it. I’ll read it because someone I trust has reviewed, or recommended, it.
  • I won’t watch a TV show because a television network pubs it. I’ll watch it because someone I trust encourages me to do so.
  • I won’t buy a product because an advertisement sells me, but because you, whom I trust, “sells” me on it.

Trust is rooted in relationship

And there are a few things you can work on to build trust in others. You can build the same trust you’re looking for in others.
  • Social media interaction helps engender trust.
  • Real, offline relationships help engender trust.
  • Consistently helpful information engenders trust.
  • Honesty engenders trust.
  • Vulnerability engenders trust.

If the next generation of writers, communicators, and leaders wants to be effective, they’ll learn to develop trust, not just rely on content. And trust is rooted in a relationship.

In a culture of information saturation, we’re looking for a reason to follow someone’s lead.

Pastors:

Are you finding this to be true in your church?

 *Photo Credit: Creative Commons user Polježičanin’s

 

A site you’ve got to visit

Ben Reed —  September 29, 2011 — 33 Comments

iStock photo user: Arakonyunus

I’ve done this before (HERE), and I want to do it again.

I want to help one of your friends pub their site.

In the comments below, tell us about a blog (or a site) that you read that you think we should know about. Tell us why you love it. Tell us what they’re doing to make a dent in the internet. Tell us why, if we’re not reading it, we’re missing out on some of the best that the internets has to offer.

Don’t nominate yourself. That’s silly and selfish. If you nominate yourself, I’ll delete your comment.

I’ll choose one of the sites you mention in the comments and write a full-length post about them and why the readers here at Life & Theology should immediately head over and join in that community.

Sometimes all a site needs is a little publicity. That’s what I want to do.

And I’m just trying to practice what I preach. I think that social media is at its best when people are being truly generous. (see what I mean HERE or HERE or HERE)

So go ahead and leave a comment. Tell us about a site we can’t live without.

To jump straight to the comments, click HERE.

*Photo credit: iStock Photo user Arakonyunus

 

via iStockPhoto user: Rubber Ball

When I finished graduate school, I was asked if I was going to go on and get my doctorate. Here was my response:

Nope. I’m going to write about what I want to write…and read what I want to read.

I didn’t want anyone to dictate the content or the timing of my reading and writing. And I found great freedom in that.

Then something happened on my blog. I fell into the trap that says you have to create certain content on certain days. For instance, last week marked the 10-year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The blogging world dictates that you need to put up a post about that…reflect on how life is different or share a story about where you were. You know the drill. You should do this because that’s how you’re going to grow your blog…lots and lots of content driven by what’s happening in society. This is the pressure of content creation.

And then there I was, right back into the rut of others dictating what I wrote about.

So how do you get out of that rut? You create new, fresh content.

Easier said than done, right?

“I’ve got nothing to say!” you purport. And that’s where you’re wrong, my friend. You’ve got plenty to say. You’ve just got to start thinking differently about gathering, curating, and producing content.

Ready to start producing consistently high-quality, original posts? Then get ready for some hard work.

 7 ways to Produce Creative Content on your Blog

Idea Capture

Always be ready to capture…because you never know when inspiration is going to strike. I use Evernote for capturing many of my thoughts. (in fact, I email myself many ideas. Evernote has a feature where you can email info and have it go straight to the folder you designate. My friend Jeff Goins wrote about that HERE). But I’ve also been known to write ideas down in my Moleskine…the problem is, I often leave the Moleskine somewhere other than where I need it. But I’ve always got my phone, and capturing an idea is key to having content to share.

Observe life

You’ve got a unique angle on life, because you’re the only you. Only you have your job, your family, your church, and your community. Only you have your story and your gifts and your passions. Observe life through your lens and share your observations with us, whether that’s through photos, the written word, or videos.

Share a tool you’re using

Is there a new, helpful app you’ve stumbled on? Some new software that’s helping you be more productive? Maybe a new piece of hardware that you love? Share that with us, and tell us how it’s changing the way you work, play, produce, and enjoy life.

Vblog

Try videoing yourself instead of writing your post out. Having to speak into a camera is a whole new challenge…maybe that’s just the motivation you need.

Interview someone else

Pick an author, a blogger, or a leader you respect and interview them. Most people, if asked respectfully, would be honored to digitally sit down with you and answer some questions. This way, you have fresh content and get to introduce your readers to someone whom you respect and follow.

Read incessantly and share your learnings

I read mostly on my Kindle, and when I do, I highlight sections. Amazon makes all of your highlights and notes available (you can find yours HERE), so when I’m done, I can peruse back through my highlighted sections. Pick a quote you love and write a post on that. Pick 5 quotes and paste them all into a post and share them as proof that we really need to read that book.

Ask a question and aggregate

Try asking a question on Twitter or Facebook. Take the responses and aggregate them into a blog post (making sure to give credit where credit is due). Make sure to add your own thoughts into the mix. This is a great way to create fresh content.

Time to get to work. Start capturing ideas and sharing them with us.

Question: What do you do to create fresh content? What ideas could you share with us to help improve our blogs?

 

 

Don’t be tempted by the cop-out

Ben Reed —  September 12, 2011 — 9 Comments

image via iStock Photo, Rellas

I recently posed a question (HERE), “What’s a win for your blog?”  In the post, I said that a “win” for me isn’t the number of comments or tweets I receive in response to my writing…it’s getting the chance to articulate my thoughts.  And many of you heartily agreed with me.

But I began to wonder.

Is that just a cop-out?

Is that just the Resistance (re: The War of Art, Steven Pressfield) saying, “Don’t work harder…it’s not worth the effort.”?

Because if something is written well, shouldn’t it connect and inspire and spark?  Shouldn’t it be helpful for others?  Maybe it won’t be helpful for everyone, but shouldn’t it be helpful for some?  If I’m using my gifts, shouldn’t others be impacted and benefit? (re: 1 Corinthians 12)

It’s not that I need to start writing in order to get comments and shares. That’s backwards and fake and forced. Nobody wants that. That reeks of inauthenticity.

I was talking with a worship leader about his performance between songs on Sunday mornings.  When it comes to speaking between worship songs, he admittedly stumbles over his words, not sure what to say or how to best communicate.  He gets nervous and clams up.  I told him

Just be yourself. Talk about how God’s been speaking to you throughout the week. If God’s been pounding you over the head with the concept of grace, then share that with us. If He’s been convicting you about holding a piece of yourself back from Him…share that with us. If He’s been prodding you to do something new…share that with us. Share from your heart, not just from a canned piece of information that, on paper, connects the dots from one song to the next. If God really is moving your heart throughout the week, and you share from that experience, it’ll connect.

Do the work

Don’t miss this: that statement is predicated upon his hard work in seeking God throughout the week.  Don’t miss that!  It’s only after he’s done the hard work of seeking God throughout the week that he can truly share from his heart.

Writing a blog is a lot like that. Do the hard work of being real, improving your writing over time, asking probing questions of your own heart, observing life well…and the result should show an engagement with others at some level.  Am I wrong?

Justifying mediocrity

In the church world, where I operate, I’ve heard people use the phrase, “It’s not about the numbers” to refer to the fact that they don’t exist just to simply add numbers of people.  The problem is that that statement is often used when things aren’t going well, justifying a lack of effort and innovation.*  With blogging, never ever use, “It’s not about the comments and the ReTweets” to justify innovation and hard work.  Never.

If you’re aiming for mediocre, you’ll hit it every time, regardless of your field of expertise.

Question:

Do you think, “It’s not about the comments or the shares” is ever a cop-out?

Have you ever used a phrase like that to defer criticism of your lack of innovation and hard work?

*Though this isn’t always the case, and I’m not singling out any one church in particular.

*image via iStock Photo, Rellas

 

image via Coach Jeremy

Ever gotten no response after you write a blog post?  Frustrating, no?

I’d rather have haters.  Or evil trolls.

The ‘no response’ is equivalent to standing in front of a crowd, pouring out your heart, and people just looking right past you. Or worse…as soon as you’re done, people begin chattering with their neighbors about something else entirely.

Oh well. I’ll keep working hard. Hoping something connects. And reminding myself that through writing, my own thoughts are clarified.

Winning

And that’s a win.

If I don’t consistently remind myself what I’m aiming for in my writing (for me: the number one benefit is “clarity”), then I’ll be forever frustrated.  But with the “win” defined, no amount of negativity will deter me.  It may frustrate me, but it won’t keep me from pressing forward.

Question:

What do you consider a “win” for your writing?

*image via Coach Jeremy

 

Insulting promises

Ben Reed —  August 30, 2011 — 13 Comments

image via RadioManKC

I’ve seen this a lot on people’s blogs, and frankly it bothers me.

Sorry, life has been busy and I haven’t had time to blog…

And then it’s often followed up with a promise

I’m going to be blogging every day for the next 289 days, that’s my commitment to you!

And then, 12 days later, I read yet another apology on their blog.

I’m not going to start with an excuse like that.  Because when I start with ‘Sorry…it’s been a busy season…’ I insult just about every reader of my blog. Because what I’m saying is, “I’m much busier than you. Because I assume you are checking my blog every day and are shaking your fists at me, foiled once again because you were hoping I’d write another post to fill up your day because you have nothing else to do.  You lazy sloth.  Get a job.”

Ok, so maybe I’m not actually saying all of that…

I’m not going to use those excuses, because you don’t care if I’m busy.  You don’t care how long it’s been since I’ve blogged.  You just want me to write.

And this mindset and subsequent offense happens all of the time in life. Not just on blogs. Check this out.  Maybe you’ve said something like this.

Common insulting excuses

  • Sorry I’ve been slow to respond to your email. Life has been busy.
  • Sorry we haven’t been able to meet. I’ve been really busy.
  • Sorry that I haven’t finished that project yet. I’ve been swamped.
  • I know I told you I’d help you out. I’ve been extraordinarily busy. Sorry.

Likely I’m not any busier than you are.  We’ve all got 24 hours in a day.  And we all make time for things that we value.

When I lead with, “Sorry, I’m busy…” I presume that you’re not also busy.  I presume that my time is more important than yours.   That I’m more important than you, and that your time with your job, your family, your church, and your hobbies isn’t also important.

So I’m going to quit apologizing and just start doing the work.  No promises or apologies or excuses.  Just creating art and forward momentum.

Instead of wasting the time it takes to fill you in on why I haven’t lived up to expectations, I’ll just start living up to expectations.

Question: Am I the only one with a busy schedule?

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging for 3 years now. I’ve loved interacting with you guys, building this community of people, and processing my thoughts out loud. Thanks for giving me grace to think and grow all along the way.

I’ve learned lots of lessons over the past 3 years. Many I’ve had to learn the hard way.  Hopefully I can save you some frustrations.

Lessons I’ve learned in 3 years of blogging.

1. The more honest, the better.

People will connect with you more over your honesty and transparency than they ever will over your victories and moral platitudes.  My posts that have gotten the most positive feedback have been the ones where I’m gut-level honest with my thoughts and experiences.

2. The more accessible, the better.

As I make myself accessible (here, on the blog, through comments), I find people appreciate that. To build community, you’ve got to build relationships.

3. Be generous.

The more ideas I share, resources I recommend, connections I make, and in general, the more I can give away, the more I always get in return.

4. It’s as much about ‘rhythm’ as it is ‘discipline.’

I hear lots of guys say that blogging is a discipline. And I get that. But I like to look at blogging and see where it fits in the rhythm of my life. Rather than ‘disciplining’ myself, I’d rather it be a flow of my life.  I’ve found more joy and inspiration having a blogging rhythm than having a blogging discipline.

5. Put in the work now and you can reap the benefits later.

I can look back and snag some great, well thought out ideas. Someday, I just might write a book. You know where I’ll turn first for my good ideas? The archives.  And it’s because I have put lots of work into so many posts.

6. Just publish.

Some days, my thoughts aren’t fully developed or perfect or polished. But I just have to “publish” anyway.  It’s better to float ideas and thoughts out there, and synthesize them as you go, than to every single thought fully planned out before completion.

7. I enjoy writing.

I really do.  I’ve found it a great avenue to flesh out my thoughts.

8. It’s about quality posts more than ‘technique’.

I’ve read articles on blogging technique, SEO, key words, timing, consistency, and focus.  And while those things are important, don’t forget to write quality posts!  If you write good stuff, Google will find you.

9. Mixing up the type of posts I write (video posts, social media, theology, etc.) is as helpful for me as it is enjoyable for readers.

Writing the same kinds of posts every day gets boring.  So I mix up the categories, the style, and the focus to keep things fresh, both for the readers and for my own creativity.

10. I have no idea what it really takes to write a post that’s going to take off.

I have written about this before HERE…and it’s still true.  The posts I feel will take off…fall flat.  The ones I write on a whim go viral.  I default back to #8 and #9 (above)

11. I’m not done.

And neither is blogging.  Blogging is a great tool, and our culture is continuing to turn to blogs for information, ideas, and insights.  I’m definitely not done.

If you’ve read my blog at any point over the past 3 years…thanks.  Keep sharing your thoughts, experiences, and insights.  Keep leading well, changing, and growing.

I hope I’ve helped you on your journey in some small way.