When we write and publish about spiritual matters, we stand in a pulpit.

 

 

We may think we are just journaling in public, writing about our day, and how we interacted with God. Readers may find our experiences and reflections helpful or not. We don’t require or even expect them to agree with us or follow our example. It all feels very low-key, just a way to express ourselves. But inevitably it is more.

 

Even when we just post on social media or blog, we expect and look for others to read and interact.  Otherwise we’d just privately put it in a notebook or computer file and leave it there, unseen by the world. Something just between me and God. Occasionally we may share some of what we write with close friends, a church leader, or family members. However, publishing such thoughts to a wide circle of friends or acquaintances or the public generally is a qualitatively different matter. Why? Because doing so raises issues of spiritual authority.

 

Authority is the power to act granted to us by others. Authority can be positional—like being hired on a church staff. But authority can also be ascribed—granted to us in unofficial ways by others. Anothe way to say this is that authority can come from above (like a president appointing a cabinet member) or from below (like the Dalai Lama who, while living in exile from Tibet with no official office or power, has tremendous worldwide authority). In a previous generation, Martin Luther King Jr. and Billy Graham held relatively minor positions of organizational authority compared to the much larger ascribed moral authority they wielded.

 

Regardless of which kind or how much authority we have, it is derived. We do not give it to ourselves. It is bestowed on us by others (Matthew 8:5-13; John 5:19-23). We may not be famous, but even if only a small group follows us as we “express ourselves,” we bear a responsibility.

 

We write. People choose to listen to us, follow us, maybe even pay money to support us, to hear us speak, or to buy our books. They give us the gift of some measure of authority in their lives. That is a trust we need to handle with care.

 

 

from “Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality” by Andrew T. Le Peau, Intervarsity Press