Christian Writers Are More Than Carnival Barkers


Far too often it seems building a writing platform is a carnival. We each have our own booth to hawk our wares, and the crowds flock too the loudest screamers with the best visibility. We have all heard the shouts of the best carnival barkers:

Seven Steps to Guaranteed Success!

Thirty Days to a Bigger Twitter Following! 

The Four Things You MUST Do to Build Your Business!

Find Your Voice & Build Your Following!

The folks selling us a successful platform usually mean well. Indeed, often they are telling their own story, and they believe we should experience their success. And yet, something still doesn’t set well in my spirit. Each time I see something written in a heavy-handed sales tone of voice, I feel a little ill in my spirit. And I imagine I am not the only one.

Three Parts of the Illness

Something isn’t right about this carnival approach to creativity and artistry, and it’s not just me. There are three aspects of classic platform-building that stir anxiety, self-deprecation, and selfishness.

1)   Jealousy.  I wish this wasn’t true, and I can try to hide it behind religious undertones, but the truth is that I want to be as successful as these self-proclaimed experts. And some part of you feels the same way.

We long to be so confident about what we create that we can boldly proclaim it will solve everyone’s problems. We also want to be the creator of something so worthwhile that we can brag about its awesomeness loudly to anyone who walks by our digital carnival booth.

But it’s not just the well-known names that produce this anxiety in us. When we see a friend get a lot of love for something she created, the ugly green monster of jealousy can raise it’s head. Platform-building operates under a scarcity mentality, meaning not everyone can succeed; therefore, every success is one less opportunity for us to win. 

2)   There are no guarantees in this life. The list of guarantees in life is very small, but we’d never know that by perusing the Twitterverse. Every seventh tweet is somebody promising results about something, it seems. Whether is a triplicate increase in Facebook fans, a completed book, or a seven-figure income, the promises are pretty close to ridiculous. Social media feels nearly overrun with digital telemarketers.

This does not align with my life experiences in any way. Just like each of you, I have seen a lot of busted promises in my life. Whether it is an estranged relationship with a father instead of a loving daddy or a failed marriage, we all know the pain of brokenness. And yet, those hawking platform success try to convince us that their process will work for us….guaranteed.

3)   A platform can create an idol. The last thing I want is to have thousands of adoring fans, looking up to me as I stand upon a raised stage to share the secrets of my success. I refuse to be the digital Bono. I do not want to be the isolated expert, above the fray, with fans swearing they won’t ever wash their shirt again if I will only touch it with my hand.

As followers of Christ, we are fundamentally called to bring glory to Jesus. What that means for each one of us can look radically different, but for me it means I should never be the focus. It should not be about me. In my mind, it is difficult to reconcile rock-star-status platforms with earnestly reflecting Christ.

There is an Antidote

We don’t have to buy the promises or the products that the carnival barkers are selling. It is not necessary for us to measure our success by Facebook likes, or comments on our blog, or the number of email addresses we own on our subscriber list. An antidote is available to us, but it is a bitter pill to swallow. We must come to grip with two things:

1)   We are more than the words we write. This is hard to believe. Every writer puts their heart and soul into every word, every paragraph, every post, every chapter. We want our words to be loved, and somewhere along the way we get confused. We begin to believe that our words define our worth.  Any negative comment transforms into an attack on our humanity. A blog post met by resounding silence tells us we have nothing of value to offer the world. We must separate our creation from our personhood.

2)   We are not defined by any numbers contained anywhere in this world. Let me put some specific examples around this piece of the antidote. You are not more successful as a writer if you have 10,000 subscribers instead of 7. If one of your blog posts goes viral and has 750,000 views, this does not make your platform more meaningful. The currency of views and likes and subscribers has no value in the real world.

Once we are able to swallow these truths and have them settle into our spirits, we are left with a powerful question – what is the point of writing, if not to lift up our own greatness?

So why do it? Why burn the midnight oil, or the morning candle, or skip your lunch, or whenever you create? WHY BOTHER, if it won’t make us feel better, solve our problems, or make us money? There is only one reason to write:

We must love the process of creating. We must feel a call to craft words into sentences, then paragraphs and finally stories. We must know our lives are incomplete without writing.

A Much Larger Calling

But love of the writing craft is not enough either. In a sense, it would be easier if the reason we wrote was to show off our awesomeness. Once freed of the burden of the blogging currency, we could remind everyone of our greatness without fear or shame. But we miss the larger picture if we keep the focus on us.

It has never been about us. We have been given the gift of words from our God, and it’s not to show off. Our gifts are given to us so we might serve others. This is a radical paradigm shift, one that impacts every aspect of our creativity.

We must write from our hearts to capture the attention of others. Once we have their attention, our task is not over – it’s only begun. Now comes the real work, where we pour hope, joy and a deeper understanding of God into their heart. Perhaps we can lend our words to help our readers further understand why this world is so busted and how God is still good even when He seems absent.

Or maybe we can be the person quietly whispering to the person on the other end of the website: Don’t give up. It will get better. This is not the end. You are not alone.

Measuring Success in a New Paradigm

Even though we have closed up our carnival booth, even though we are not trying to yell louder to share our guaranteed secrets to the good life, we can still measure success in a mildly objective way. Let me warn you on the front end though – these measurements do have more art and nuance to them, and they are not as easily identified as the size of your subscription list

1)   The content of public comments. In this economy of servanthood, it is possible for a single comment to demonstrate more success than 250 comments. We look for a specific type of comment, one that indicates the lending of strength or encouragement. The following are nice to hear as a writer, but do not indicate success:

Well written!

So true!

Loved it!

Don’t mishear me. These comments are so encouraging to us, but remember it’s not about us anymore. We seek evidence our words have produced change in thought or deed. Here are some comments from my site that I count as successes:

You spoke right smack to my heart.

Via words and song, you have provided us with a safe harbour, a welcome place for the wounded, an arena to air our own anxieties and fears and the overcoming of them.

So much here resonated with me; this is one I will bookmark and revisit often!

 These comments show me I have touched success. I was able to speak hope to a downtrodden soul. I provided a safe harbor. I created a resource someone will return to. In these moments, for these few, I have served well.

2) Private Communication. Often our words stir deep waters in another’s soul, the scars of unhealed emotions and events. Because of the tender emotions evoked, a comment on a blog or a tweet is just too scary. In these moments, we might receive emails from our readers. Cherish these emails – I know I do. This is the highest form of success.

Every few months, I receive an email from someone who bears his heart and soul to me. He shares how my words were as life from the dead for him. How thus and so chapter in the book I wrote (and will someday publish) made him cry, because he realized he didn’t have to stay broken. My friends, this is success, and of far more value than any new subscribers I might gather.

Success Costs Us

It will cost us when we choose to step away from the creative rat race, when we walk a different path. The price is high, so we must make this choice with open eyes.

  • It will cost us our “expert voice”. We have all heard the “expert voice” come out of our mouths, whether the discussion was about the best local restaurant for Italian food or the best book on writing. There is a special combination of arrogance, lack of teachability, and an unwillingness to even consider we might be wrong. When we choose to serve with our words, we let go of the right to be an expert. Instead, we become fellow travelers with our readers.
  • It will cost us our privacy. No longer will we be able to write from a safe place every day. Servants do not belong above the fray, and neither do we. We will learn how to share the grit and grime of our lives. As we open up old wounds, others will find the courage to do the same. Our humility and transparency cultivates a place of safety. Slowly, our readers will set aside the masks they wear every day and begin to share from the deeper parts of their hearts. But only if we set the example and go first.
  • It will cost us our pride. This is the hardest for me. I guarantee we will watch some carnival barkers succeed in many ways. Their books will become bestsellers. Their courses will be purchased by thousands of people. If we let it, these moments can crush us, and make us feel less-than. Instead, we must remind ourselves that we are not building a platform to shout from, and we are not walking the same path.

The choice is yours. Consider your words a gift from God, and use your gift to be a blessing for others. Regardless of what the we hear at the carnival, a platform is nothing more than what it has always been. A hunk of wood (or perhaps plastic or metal) to stand upon to say something that matters. If we are not careful, we can get so busy crafting that hunk of wood, we forget our calling: To craft words that count, that bring hope, that change lives.

QUESTION: What is the main goal you hope to accomplish when you write?

Photo Credit: gtall1 via Compfight cc

  • Chris, you have written some wise words here. As Christians, we need to remember who we serve – the One who called us and gave us this desire to write. We’ve shared our thoughts on this subject a few times and I’m grateful that you have put them into words for others to see.


    • I mentioned this on Facebook, but I am grateful for friends like you who have helped me to come to an understanding of what I wrote above.

  • Am I allowed to write “So true?” Because what you’ve written is. As for an answer to your question … I have none. The surface answer is to make money, but we both know that that’s not an adequate answer. When I write for myself, I hope my aim is to encourage people to seek God, a tiny megaphone in a sea of carnival barkers.

    • Love the imagery of a tiny megaphone in a sea of carnival barkers. It is hard to stay focused on a ministry mindset, even more so when you are self-employed (I would imagine). For what it’s worth, I believe you do encourage people to seek God in your writing.

  • My main goal is to speak to people about what I have found. By telling them what Jesus has done for me, I hope to provoke them to an envy that translates into action. Because I’m investing my own financial resources into this, my goal sometimes getting blurred – I would at least like to get to where I break even.

    • I don’t think it is wrong for us to look to make money or break even though. I love your heart here!

  • Chris, what you’ve done here is beautiful. I can surely attest, that your story is very much my story and from the circles I’ve traveled, it belongs to many others as well. Great post!

  • I appreciate your openness, and your honesty in saying what many will disagree with. And I like the term carnival barkers. Oh to find the balance. I have to tell you how discouraged I use to be when we’d be at craft fairs, sitting for hours after carrying plastic tubs of our poetry pieces, hoping to make sales, yes, but hoping to touch hearts. We’d see so many people walk by with items on sticks. My husband used to say people will buy anything you put on a stick. But some would stop and read words God had put on my heart. And a box of tissues would be there on the table. Would I make money? Sometimes I would. There were times I broke even and even times I made more. But I came to realize I was there for those who hurt. And the comments they made, well they are stored in my heart forever.

    We are here to serve, and we need to know what that looks like in each of our lives.

    • Look, it’s really easy in one sense for me to write these words, since my financial livelihood isn’t attached to it. I have a day job, in other words.

      I do believe with all my heart though that it’s necessary for those of us who follow Christ to carefully consider what kingdom we are building, whose fame we are promoting.

      I love things on sticks! 🙂

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    A very thoughtfully written piece Chris. I admit, I’ve gotten *really* discouraged when I pour my heart into a blog post and then…crickets. I’ve really had to ask for divine help in not putting value in “the numbers” and still, it’s just hard. It’s a flesh thing, I know.

    I’ve come to realize (for me) it’s about connection. I’m such a people lover and value relationship so much that it frustrates me when I can’t connect (via conversation otherwise known as the comment section). What I need to understand is, my words ARE connecting with people, I just don’t always get to see it…like many other ministries (or jobs)…we may never know this side of heaven who we’ve impacted or encouraged. And that keeps us humble. Honestly, it’s probably none of my business. Once I hit ‘send’, I have to trust that God will send His Word wherever He wants to and that it will not return to HIM void.

    I really appreciated all of your points here. I’ve always been a fan and your writing just keeps getting better and better. Thank you for this timely, encouraging reminder, ” These comments show me I have touched success. I was able to speak hope to a downtrodden soul. I provided a safe harbor. I created a resource someone will return to. In these moments, for these few, I have served well.”

    • Caryn, I love your comments here. That’s precisely the issue we strive for. We want God’s glory to be made known, not merely our words. Thanks for sharing your heart.

      • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

        Absolutely Charles 🙂

    • Caryn,
      First, thanks for the compliment. I think we are all in process, trying to feel our way around in a dark and strange environment. Especially if we take the view that our writing is a ministry first and foremost.

      I wrote this a while ago for a different purpose, so in rereading it as I prepared to share it here, I was struck again by the struggle. I have caught myself looking to measure impact with clicks and views. But God is good in my weakness — He brings me into contact with someone who has been strengthened by my words whenever I start to lose hope

      • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

        As He does with me Chris, almost every single time. 🙂

  • I love that so many of these comments are thoughtful responses. Thank you to everyone Though I guess I did sort of request to NOT have the short “Loved it” comments 🙂

    Nevertheless, thanks for pouring your heart into these responses. Wonderful to connect on a deeper level with you

  • Love this! So true Chris. I so easily get seduced by the numbers. Thanks for this.

    • The analytics game is a hard one to stop playing (I know)…especially when we’re talking about writing for God’s glory, rather than page views. 😉

    • Can I be honest for a moment? I tried to log into the back end of this site to see how my article was “performing”! HA!

      It’s a tough disease to rid ourselves of…

  • Anastacia

    Well written, Chris!

    Oh, yeah and I really enjoyed it too. 😉

    Okay someone has to leave a short comment, right? LOL. Everyone else gave all the good comments.

    • You probably don’t know this, but watching how you interact in our little WUST group really helped me to see my writing in the right light. It is a ministry, pure and simple. To view it as something less, is just dishonest to the calling of God on my life. So thanks for modeling obedience to me

    • Anastacia, the short comments are loved as well. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Chris, I loved your heart in this article. I feel we really get to know a part of you that is deeply in love with Jesus and wants His glory to be made known among the nations. Thanks for writing this and sharing it with us!

    • I appreciate the opportunity to share this article!

  • Chris love this dude… Oh it needs to be longer. Through this process of writing and living there’s a struggle. A struggle to be more like Christ. To serve others better. To use our words as more than a funnel to collect funds and accolades. As you stated, it’s not about us. It’s about using our gifts to touch others. But it’s also a battle between our human nature and the Spirit that lives within us. I hope that more than crafting great words God can touch hearts with them. More so that He can touch mine so I can bless others. Thanks for continuing to inspire me Chris. #dudewriters4ever

    • I think we could really go somewhere with the marketing funnel, if we apply that to Christ and the kingdom of God. Maybe we start with this question — how can what I create allow me to funnel people to God, to understand Him more, to be more curious about His ways, to find comfort in His grace?

  • Chris, as always, thanks for your powerful words. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with platform jealousy.

    • It has taken me a long time to realize that I am jealous, but that jealousy speaks to a deeper sense of malcontent. I think the worst thing that could have happened to me in the early stages of my writing was instant success. I would not have had the strength to find the way to minister most effectively with my words. Not to insinuate I have that figured out, but I am sure closer than I was when we first met each other in the digital world.

  • Chris, how absolutely timely. In all seriousness, this spoke into my life at a time it was much needed. It’s uncanny.

    But God is often like that. 🙂

    • Chad, wish I could put words to how meaningful that is to me. Well, I guess in a sense I did talk about it above, but still, you know what I mean.

      I have to regularly remind myself that I don’t write to be famous, but for some reason I keep forgetting that…despite massive evidence that I am at no risk of being recognized on the street by a fan any time soon. 🙂

      So thankful that my words can minister to you. It’s usually the other way around, my friend.