Stan Cox

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Electronic Preaching

How to Write on the Internet

The ongoing purpose of our "Electronic Preaching" feature is to assist preachers and other Christians in taking advantage of technology to spread the gospel of our Lord. The internet has afforded churches and preachers opportunity to spread the gospel of Christ through the written word. While there are technologies that exist which allow for audio and video, (and these will be utilized to a greater extent as broadband access to the internet becomes more common), the internet is for the most part a textual medium. It is also an affordable method of publishing, and accesses a potentially unlimited audience.

While Watchman Magazine is a publication primarily intended to be read by Christians, we have on the front page (top left corner) of our site an article entitled What is the Church of Christ?, which was written by Tom Roberts. This article has been read by many non-Christians, and has provoked many responses both negative and positive. It recently came to our attention that a Catholic site has linked to that article as an example of distortions regarding the history of Catholicism. Rather than the intended response, there have been several who have accessed the article from that Catholic site who have come away with a favorable impression of the Lord's church, as it is contrasted with the institutions of men. One woman wrote:

    Dear Mr. Roberts,

    I just finished reading your article on the Watchman magazine website. I want to thank you for the clear explanation of the beliefs held by the churches of Christ. I was led to the site by a link from a catholic site that was explaining why they felt that the churches of Christ were wrong but they linked to the site to give their readers a chance to read what the churches of Christ say about themselves. Actually if their mission was to disprove the COC they failed because going to the website and reading your article convinced me that the churches of Christ are more true to the bible than catholicism!...

    "...I am writing to thank you for such a clear cut and honest article on the churches of Christ. My husband and I will probably attend one of the local churches of Christ here in Phoenix in the near future. Again thank you for the article."

The gospel stands in stark relief when compared to the error that is found elsewhere on the internet. Much good can be done when the gospel is shared with those who are seeking truth. Too often, however, the truth of God's word is dimmed by ineffectual adornment. While more and more are publishing to the internet, more and more often the efforts are less than competent.

In the past there were few Christians who wrote to a large audience. There never have been a great number of journals, and so the pool of writers in the various magazines has not been large. Even fewer have the time or inclination to write books. So, except for a local bulletin, read by only small numbers each week, most preachers have not published extensively. While grammatical blunders and run-on sentences may be overlooked by gracious brethren, such incompetence is unfortunate when read by the larger and more diverse internet community.

In this article we do not intend to discourage preachers from publishing on the internet. The more truth out there the better. However, we would like to give some suggestions which may help improve the quality of writing that does appear. We do not set ourselves up as an "authority". However, with our experience in the past several years of editing Watchman Magazine, we can identify and point out some of the common mistakes made. Most of the suggestions here will have application to any writing done. We offer to potential writers the following suggestions:

  • The purpose of writing is to instruct, not to conjecture.
    It is alarming to visit a web site authored by a Christian and be confronted with lessons which generate more questions than they answer. Most sites are designed to inform the alien sinner about the church and the gospel. Articles are needed which answer fundamental questions about sin, Christ, redemption, and the church. A simple and positive affirmation of truth is needed. Conjecture, human reasoning, and equivocation is not. Consider carefully the needs of the potential audience, and choose article topics accordingly.

  • Quality is better than quantity.
    Do not be in a rush to fill your internet site with material. While it is important to continue adding material to your site to encourage repeat visitors, the quality of writing is what will keep them coming again and again. Articles which are not concise, cogent and well-crafted will not keep the attention of readers. Grammatical blunders, misspelled words, and other presentation errors that come from rushing undermine influence. How can a man be trusted to know what the Bible teaches if he can't spell or write competently?.

  • Presentation is always important.
    Some bulletins are almost unreadable because the type is blurred, the print is faded, or the font is inappropriate. I have actually seen some bulletin articles written IN ALL CAPS, SOMETHING WHICH IS VERY IRRITATING, AND DIFFICULT TO READ!

    Some web sites are not well designed. Garish colors are chosen, which make the text almost unreadable. Generally, a light background and black text is most appropriate. Simple is better, and a consistent look is more appealing to the reader.

This is an example of what you don't want to do! And yet, we see it all the time. The reader does not want to strain his or her eyes when studying God's word!

    We recently visited a web site which had the article appearing on the page in two columns. The article looked nice, but we had to scroll to the bottom of the page, then back up to the top again to read the second half of the article. It should be remembered that what works on paper does not always work on a computer monitor. Take the time to present your teaching in a pleasant and simple way, and your point will be remembered.

  • Always remember your target audience when writing.
    When preaching and writing to the lost in the world, you need to understand that your audience may not be familiar with either the word of God, or the language we use to describe Bible concepts. Terms, such as "hermeneutics", "necessary inference", "trinity", "autonomy", etc., will need to be defined. It is best to type out the entire scripture reference, rather than use abbreviations. Those not intimately familiar with the use of references in writing may have a difficult time deciphering "1 Th.", "Jn.", or "Jas." Much better is "1 Thessalonians", "John", and "James." Always read what you have written from the point of view of the targeted audience. Will this be clear? Should I define this term? Have I skipped some important or illuminating detail?

  • Research your topic thoroughly before beginning your article.
    Some articles seem to have a particular theme at the beginning, and then to shift gears to another point entirely as they progress. This can happen if you begin to write, and research as you go. Even if you have a good idea of what you want an article to say, make sure you have studied the topic thoroughly, and have your topic distinctly in mind, before putting a word to paper.

  • Make an outline, and stick to it.
    After your study and brainstorming, construct the skeleton of your article. A full outline makes writing both easy and effective. An outline will keep you on course in your writing, and allow for the most good to be done in the least amount of space. Concise, tight writing can be consistently achieved if an outline is developed before the article is written.

  • Use, but do not exclusively depend upon a spell checker.
    This is almost too obvious to include. But, ... it is amazing how many misspelled words we find in manuscripts submitted to Watchman. The use of a spell checker, (a standard feature on most Word Processing and email programs), is invaluable. The spell checker serves as an extra pair of "eyes", to use as a proof reader. Remember that the spell checker does not catch words that are misspelled, but whose misspelling results in another word. For example, a writer may accidentally type an "i" for an "o", or vice-versa. Such typos can slip by the spell check. You would not want to write an article about the "Sin of God", or the "Dangers of Son." A spell checker would not catch either of these errors. Do not rely exclusively on either a spell checker or a grammar checker.

  • Write, rewrite, and rewrite yet again.
    Be concise. This is perhaps the most important suggestion of all. Read the article out loud. Look for the same word used too often. Listen for awkward sentences. Remove superfluous words. If you have time, set aside the article for a few days, and then return to it. The best writers don't settle for a first or second draft. They continue working with the article until they can make it no better.

  • Always proofread a final time.
    Before submitting or uploading the article, go over it one final time with a fine tooth comb. Read each paragraph out loud, and listen to how it sounds. Examine each word for spelling, each sentence for structure, each paragraph for thought. Does the article serve its intended purpose? Is the premise clearly stated and defended? Is the scholarship good? Is it understandable to its intended audience? Such questions and careful consideration will go a long way toward filtering out the incompetent offerings we sometimes see on the internet.

Writing requires discipline. It is a most rewarding activity, and can be very beneficial not only to the reader, but also to the writer. An old adage is apropos here, "If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right!" It is our desire that the preceding will help someone not only to write, but to write right!