Episode 29

Tim Challies

15 Years of Reviewing Books

Tim Challies joins me to talk about his work reviewing more than 15 years of Christian books, plus his own journey as a writer.
Tim Challies joins me to talk about his work reviewing more than 15 years of Christian books, plus his own journey as a writer.
00:00 42:55

Show Notes:29. Tim Challies — Over 15 Years of Reviewing Christian Books

Tim Challies has dedicated more than 15 years to blogging online. His site, challies.com, has become one of the internet’s leading sources for book reviews of Christian books. His site has archived more than 600 reviews.

But some may not realize that Tim is also a pastor and co-founder of a publishing company, Cruciform Press. In his online bio, he describes himself as a pastor and writer.

Along the way, Tim has not only inspired many to pick up new books, he has written several of his own. In our conversation, we cover not only trends Tim has observed in his book reviews, but also how his reading has shaped him as a writer.

Those who follow Tim’s writing will also know that his writing has not come easily. Tim suffers from nerve damage that often makes the act of typing extremely painful. We explore how not being able to write has impacted his identity as a writer.

Episode Transcript

The following is an automated transcription. It is recorded exactly as it was spoken.

Chase Replogle: 00:00 You’re listening to the pastor writer podcast, episode 29. Before we jump into our interview today, I just wanted to say thanks to those of you who have been joining and also sharing the Christian writers book giveaway that I’m running. I’m giving away 12 books on writing, many of them specifically for the Christian writer as well as a $50 Amazon gift card in case there’s anything I missed that’s on your list. If you haven’t already joined, you can do it in the sidebar of this episode or by going to pastor writer.com and clicking on giveaway at the top. Hopefully this is something that I can continue doing maybe in the future with other sets of books. I appreciate it if you’re participating. Jordan, me on the podcast today is Tim challies. Many of you will know him from his blog, [inaudible] dot com, where he spent more than 15 years blogging and sharing book reviews from Christian authors. It’s a great conversation. As we talk about what he’s learned from interviewing so many books, over 650 books, as well as how it shaped him being a pastor and a writer of many of his own. I know you’re going to enjoy this conversation. Thanks for listening.

Chase Replogle: 01:00 Joining me on the podcast today is Tim challies. Probably a familiar name for many of you. Tim is the author behind challies.com, one of the largest Christian blogs on the Internet. Uh, he oftentimes is known for his reviews of books and has been called by even some of our past guests. One in particular, the grandfather of Christian blogging, which seems like a little bit of an unfair title. I think he’s a pretty young guys. Maybe we’ll call him the father of Christian blogging, but some people may not realize. Tim also serves as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto. He’s the cofounder of cruciform press and the author of several books of his own, including the discipline of spiritual discernment, Sexual Detox, the next story, life and faith after the digital explosion and do more better. So it’s exciting to be able to have you on the podcast today. Thanks for joining us.

Tim Challies: 01:45 Yes, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Chase Replogle: 01:47 Well, maybe a good place to get started. As a lot of people are familiar with your blog, they follow maybe the book reviews that you do on there commonly kind of one of the things you’re known for, but maybe you could share a little bit about how you got into blogging and particularly how challies.com got started.

Tim Challies: 02:01 Chair. Yeah. I got into blogging just sort of by the buying. Guess my family had moved south. I live in Canada. They had moved down to the American south and I just started to. I started a website challies.com that was really meant for my family. So I put pictures of the kids up there and along the way ran into some stuff up here and the church context where I was starting to think things through and I decided to write about it mostly for the benefit of my family. And uh, they just sort of got picked up by Google or whatever as happens. And other people started reading them and so I basically just kept going with the blog, took down the pictures, and I kept writing. So yeah, it started that into it by happenstance. I don’t think I even really knew the word blogger. It was sort of just being the coined around that time. So, um, but yeah, I’m, I’m happy that it worked out the way it did.

Chase Replogle: 02:50 What year was that when you very first started with the blog? Two thousand one, I believe. Yeah. So in internet time, that might make you a grandfather of it. Right? That’s been a time to have been online.

Tim Challies: 03:01 Yeah. And that’s one of the reasons I’m convinced the site caught on is that it was just very, very early right. Today you can go online, you can find so much content. So many blogs. Back then there weren’t that many bloggers, there weren’t that many Christian walkers. And so it was. People were thinking about ideas. There’s a lot of people working through things like church growth movement and the purpose driven life and the passion of the Christ and reformed theology. There are all these different streams of things people are interested in. They were just starting to learn the habit of going online to look them up. I just happened to be one of the people early on it had that same interest in decided to write about it. So it was a just propitious timing in some ways.

Chase Replogle: 03:39 Well, I’m curious to hear you explain a little bit about when you sense that writing was more than just something you were stumbling into are doing for family, but when you recognize writing was really a part of your vocational calling that your work pastoring and writing were, were really something God was leading you into in a bigger way than just something casual on the weekends.

Tim Challies: 03:58 So yeah, at the time I started writing I was um, at a church locally here. I was not on staff. I had no real design to be a pastor or anything like that. So I was in the tech field as I’m running networks, doing websites, that kind of stuff. And so he came along nicely. I was already very quickly after I started self employed, so I had some extra time or ability to work on it during the day and so those things kind of went nicely together. But as the blog grew up, I started to realize again, it can be a part time gig and over time I think it could actually become a full time gig and just at the time where I was ready to jump and go in full time is when my church I had started at a new church by then, had been there for several years.

Tim Challies: 04:42 They said, would you like to be a, an elder of the church? And then a pastor at the church. So, um, I had to sort of step back from the full time thing for a time and was on staff at the church. And then after doing that for about five years, I just realized I’ve got a church, keeps growing up, getting the other responsibilities are getting greater. And the blogs growing up, their responsibilities are getting greater. And so that was a point where aspect could resign the pastorate, stay on as an elder. But really focus my attention on writing.

Chase Replogle: 05:10 Well, I’m curious. I’m kind of in both directions. One of the things we look at of the podcast is how these two callings, pastoral ministry, and then writing how they sort of intersect and support each other. How do you think your writing impacted you in the work you were doing as a pastor and then how do you think having the experience as a pastor is impacted the way that you write and who you are as a writer?

Tim Challies: 05:30 Well, writing is how I think. I don’t know what I believe. I don’t know what I think until I write about it. So our writing is for me, it’s my meditation and to some degree, just lately I’ve had some health challenges related to typing. I’ve got this pretty severe repetitive motion type thing going on in my arm so I can type the way I used to. And one of the big realizations coming out of that is I was feeling very spiritually dry. Why was that a? Because writing is my meditation and so I take truth and I write it out. That’s how I think it through. That’s how I drive it down deep inside of me, so I don’t think I realized until it was kind of pulled away to some degree what an important discipline it was and how, how it shapes my thinking. Um, so yeah, I think it was tremendously important that way.

Chase Replogle: 06:16 Uh, actually, uh, I knowing a little bit from following your blog about some of the physical struggles you’ve been going through is one of the areas I was interested in exploring was, uh, you know, you find yourself full time writing, you’re running this ministry online and then all of a sudden you begin to experience problems. You can sort of explain them in your own words, but the physical act of typing itself is becoming at times almost unsustainable for you. What does that do to you in your identity as someone who says, I am a writer, this is what I do, this is my ministry, and then all of a sudden you find yourself just challenging day to day to actually physically do it. What was that experience like and how did you find yourself kind of beginning to trust God and my faith moving beyond the limitation?

Tim Challies: 06:58 Yeah, I think it was sort of a gradual thing because what happened is not like one day my arms got just cutoff, which in some ways, okay, now I was this, now I am that a instead what happened was there was a slow building of pain until one day it was just, you know, I really, I came to this realization that this is bad enough. I don’t think I can work today at all and I don’t know that we’ll be able to work again tomorrow. And that sort of opened up that, okay, so what is the future, you know, after a time, if it doesn’t get better, what does that look like? And so over the past year or so it’s sort of been up and down days where I can just go ahead and I’m feeling good and top of the world and three days later I’m in severe pain and can’t write at all.

Tim Challies: 07:37 So I think it’s done. It’s done a number of things. It really has gotten me wondering about what does it mean to be a writer who can write, you know, I’ve defined myself this way and this is what I love to do. I think this is what the Lord called me today. This is where my gifting seems to be. What would I do if I just can’t physically do it? That’s been something really difficult to work through. And definitely in terms of identity, it’s been a challenge as well. I’m almost anything I would want to do in life involves writing, um, even being a pastor involves, at least in my case, tremendous amounts of writing, whether that’s on the administrative side or the sermon prep side. So, uh, yeah, it really sent me back a lot and you know, lately, over the last week or so it’s been a fair bit better.

Tim Challies: 08:19 So I’ve been doing okay and feeling good, but I know by next week I might be completely unable to go again. So it’s a, I think mentally I’ve sort of gone back and forth between doing well and then at times being pretty significantly, I don’t want to say depressed, but just really down and wondering what it means and I can’t help every now and again, just wondering is there something that the Lord wants me to learn from this and I’ve learned that will go away and sort of let my mind go down those paths as well. So it’s been a, it’s been interesting. It’s been tough.

Chase Replogle: 08:49 Yeah. Well, I think sometimes people, uh, they see success or they see someone with sort of a large platform and they imagine everything goes so smoothly for you as a writer. And it’s been encouraging to hear. I actually, I haven’t shared this with very many people on the podcast, but about a year and a half ago, I got diagnosed with a tickborne disease. It’s an autoimmune disease called Alpha galactose. It’s actually, believe it or not, this is a real thing. It’s called the Mammalian meat allergy. So in other words, from this tick bite, you develop Anna filactic reactions to mammal meat and dairy as well. And um, it’s created, if I have cross-contaminated exposures, severe migraines and my throat will swell up, nothing I’ve ever experienced before and all this is hitting sort of as I’m working on my last writing project and I found myself sort of wrestling through the same questions like, well, how do you be a pastor or a writer if for two days you’re sort of locked up in a dark room with migraines and well, even beyond that, how do you be a good father when you don’t feel like, you know, you can even open the door from these migraines and coming to trust that somehow some way I wrestled through some of those same questions you’re describing of um, God is doing something in this.

Chase Replogle: 09:49 And part of what this call to write is, is not to just have everything about writing come easily, but to be able to bring whatever is broken, whatever is difficult, whatever is really just true of me. And find ways to be able to walk through that by faith. And I think this is Paul’s point, right? A grace is sufficient. It’s enough to just do what God has called me to do. And so, um, I’ve appreciated how open you’ve been about that process in your own writings through the blog and as I know it continues to be a struggle.

Tim Challies: 10:16 Yeah. Yeah. Thanks. I think with, with these things, as you would understand why you think it’s an important part of who you are and therefore you should mention it on the other hand and maybe this is just pride. I don’t want to be known as the guy or I don’t want to whine about it a because I know there are people out there enjoying the things that are much, much more serious and, and all that, but I also just don’t want to make excuses for myself or I just don’t want to be that guy. So yeah, that’s probably a lot of pride wrapped up in that. But um, so I mentioned it sparingly, but I do know that people are concerned and want to know about it as well. So

Chase Replogle: 10:51 yeah, one, I think it’s a helpful reminder that, uh, there, there is no ideal writing life. Correct. Like you sort of, you, you are what you are, you’re a human with all the same flaws and you, you, right, because you find a way to do it however you can do it because it’s in you to do. And I think for a lot of listeners who are struggling for a whole sort of reasons, some physical, some not at all. So I’m just emotional, some spiritual to really practice this thing they’ve been called you. I think it’s a good reminder that we bring who we are and what we have with us. It’s never something a perfect. We just do the work God has called us to.

Tim Challies: 11:20 Right? And we all have our ideal writing life that we’ve mapped out and maybe for weeks or even months at a time, we get to live it. And it’s amazing when everything works out well. You’re in your routine and you’re getting up when you want to get up and you’re sleeping well and you’ve got that creative spark and you can just go. Um, but so much of life in any vocation is lived in distraction and mass and chaos and trying to make the most of rough situations and so on. So writing is no different, you know, most of the time where we’re not at our peak and I, one of the things I look forward to and in eternity as what would it mean to have a truly sharp mind. I don’t think we ever experienced that on earth. There’s always some background illness or suffering or pain or distracting or something. So I’m looking forward to learning what that would actually look like.

Chase Replogle: 12:05 Yeah, I think a c, s Lewis in one of his writing says there’s some people’s personalities that will surprise us when we get to heaven because we didn’t realize how much of who they were was sort of worn down by the limitations of this body or our own mental abilities or sicknesses. But when those things are off, you know, who knows, who knows who will truly be and what it will be to have a sharp mind to be able to just take in everything that God is doing around us.

Tim Challies: 12:28 Right? Yeah, it sounds amazing.

Chase Replogle: 12:30 Uh, well I was doing a little digging on your blog, trying to come up with a number for, about how many book reviews you have done that. Uh, so my, my, I think it’s safe to say over 15 years you’ve been reviewing books and just sort of by counting the pagination on, on the Book Review Section of your site, I came up with something around 680 book reviews that are posted. Do you have any sense of how many book reviews you’ve published on the site?

Tim Challies: 12:54 No, not at all. I really don’t follow statistics for my site, so I don’t really have, I don’t count those things. Yeah, I don’t know. That sounds significant number.

Chase Replogle: 13:03 Yeah. I’m curious. That’s number one. It’s obviously a lot of books to review, but what it reflects is a lot of reading that you’ve done and the seriousness which you give to reading. What is the role of reading for the rider and how is reading like that over the last 15 years impacted the way you’ve written for the blog, but really your own books as well?

Tim Challies: 13:23 Well, first I used to do a lot more reading than I do now, at least toward reviews, um, and uh, and I think partly that was a pre youtube world and pre netflix world, so it was maybe a little easier to read back then. Um, but yeah, I was reading probably two books a week at one point and then sort of whittled it down to one book a week and now I think it’s probably even less than that though. I am doing a lot of reading now directed towards projects and uh, other things so that not actually reviewing those books. Um, but reading is what fuels the writer and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just felt dry as a writer and I just have nothing to say and my wife will just say, go read a book. You idiot. Like, you know, you need to be reading, need to keep filling your mind.

Tim Challies: 14:07 You need to keep finding ideas and when you find ideas they, they spark other ideas. So writers absolutely need to read and read consistently and read. I’m just vast amounts of material. Hey. So we have, uh, examples to imitate, you know, you want to read good writers, you want them to help you become a better writer. Um, but also just so you’re living in the realm of ideas, just constantly bringing ideas into your life so you can turn those ideas around, you can think about them, you can write about them, you can analyze them. Uh, they, they really do fuel us in every way.

Chase Replogle: 14:45 What are the benefits, I think of following your review work in the books, uh, on your, on your site, is that it really figure out what to read, which is a challenge. There’s so much being published today, there’s so many publishers putting out even good books that trying to make decisions about what to read next and what’s important to stay caught up with can be a challenge. I’m curious how, how you plan out your reading and then also as a part of that, how you store, how you come up with the ideas you’re going to write about because often you’re publishing multiple times, sometimes a day a week through the, through the blog. So how do you, how do you plan out reading, how do you plan out writing?

Tim Challies: 15:19 So again, reading, I haven’t planned out much, so at my best a couple of years ago, I was just looking at what is coming out, I was keeping tabs on what’s new and what might be interesting and then trying to figure out what are the best of the books and what are the worst of the popular books and I’ll review those. So, uh, having tourism genre was in full swing. I was really trying to keep closely attuned to that and his new book and come out like let’s take a look at them and let’s analyze them. A lot of what I’ve tried to do all along is to serve as a resource for pastors. Pastors get asked all the time, what books should I read, what’s a good book on this subject? And I know that many don’t have the time or inclination or ability to read the books.

Tim Challies: 15:59 Um, plus they all just show up at my door. So I thought if I can do a lot of that reading and put out reviews, these are simple reviews there, you know, I’m not an academic, I’m not reading on an academic level. These are general level reviews by a general level writer. I’m just try and serve the church by getting that stuff out there and especially serve pastors. Um, so yeah, I, I had planned those out again this year especially. I’ve got this project going on that’s got me majorly distracted from my other reading and um, so I’ve been focusing a lot on church history but not reviewing those books because honestly, most people aren’t that interested in it. Um, in terms of planning out the blog, I use Trello, which is a great little app, uh, set it up as an editorial calendar and I just keep throwing ideas into there and then sort of, it’s one, it’s a, the way you use Trello to move things from the left to the right across boards as he developed the ideas. And so I throw the ideas in and over time develop the map until I can have a fully formed idea.

Chase Replogle: 17:00 As you think about some of the work you’ve done reading and then also engaging, which is sort of what’s happening across Christianity, sort of the themes right now. Um, what are some of the things that encourage you about Christian writing? Um, the work you see happening across publishers, the books that are being published, uh, things that you see are just positives or, or things you’d like to continue to see grow and build that had been happening over the last few years.

Tim Challies: 17:24 Oh, there’s just so much right and going on and that’s encouraging. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of writing and a lot of good writing. I don’t know that we’re doing a lot of original writing right now. I think most of it is daretta derivative and I don’t exclude myself from that. Uh, so I’d like to see maybe a little bit more originality and be this little more quality. Um, there’s so many people eager to buy books at the bars and very high and with social media in its infancy, but such an important part. Uh, we’re willing to handle book contracts. The people who will be popular, even if they are particularly good, maybe that’s always been the case as well. So, um, you know, I think the, the Christian market could use a quality overhaul in some ways, um, but I’m very encouraged by people wanting to write it and covering lots of topics, covering a massive variety of topics and really I don’t think there’s too many topics where we can’t say we’ve got at least one really solid book and almond, two or three really solid books on the subject.

Chase Replogle: 18:25 Yeah. It’s always a question that I hear people pose is um, because it’s at the heart of what you’re describing or do we need more writers or less writers? Uh, so it’s interesting to sort of wrestle through that because you’re right, we’re probably publishing more than we ever have before. Right now I’m probably the access. Even if you just take how much writing is being done online, it feels that way. It feels like there’s a lot of really good small presses that are coming up and it’s more achievable for people to publish today than in many ways before. But you’re right, because of that, it seems like so much is getting published off of platform or getting published off of the existing audiences that not only is it make it hard to know what to read or to find, um, but you’re right, like the, the market seems to sort of instead fys speed being prolific, the more, the faster you can get it to market, the better. Uh, so it is an interesting sort of benefit and also sort of a warning or in some ways a negative that we’re in right now.

Tim Challies: 19:19 Yeah. Yeah, I’d agree with that. And you know, the main benefit in a book is the person who writes it, right? All the effort that goes into it all the time, all this study, it benefits the author. So, Hey, if somebody writes a book and it only sells a few hundred copies, but that person got a lot of benefit, then great. You know, that’s, that’s not a wasted project. Uh, I think a lot of what we, as the reader needs to think about is just a, how many books do I need to read on this subject? And B, am I giving too much priority to modern books and there may be something better that was written a long time ago and we certainly have some that chronological snobbery that many people have written about, uh, today where we do give a lot of preference to newer books rather than older ones. And maybe the people we like ’em as well give a little too much preference to their books rather than somebody may say it better in a way that challenges us in a deeper way.

Chase Replogle: 20:15 Yeah. You’ve sort of already alluded to it a little bit, but one of the big themes that people discover pretty quickly once you get into writing, particularly publishing is this idea of platform publishers are looking for authors to have platform. People are trying to grow platform. Um, I think it’s safe to say that through the site and even as you’ve put it just through time, the work you’ve put in challies.com as a pretty good audience behind it, a large platform a lot of people would strive for trying to build towards. I’m interested to hear you talk about maybe some of the things people don’t realize about what goes into managing an audience that size or maybe some of the things that make writing difficult because of having an audience that side, just maybe behind the scenes. Everybody’s after a bigger audience. Everybody wants a bigger platform. What do you see as some of the things that maybe people overlook or don’t think about when they just blindly start pursuing that audience, that platform?

Tim Challies: 21:03 Sure. I don’t want to be careful that I’m not complaining about it because as you said, many people strive for it and it is a great blessing. Bullet people might not understand is that you definitely hit a point where anything you say will make somebody angry and so basically any topic you write about, somebody going to send you an angry email, somebody is going to go off when you and social media and um, that, that, that is a burden after a time and not just a burden for you, your kids, your spouse may see that stuff as well. And it just becomes part of the background of, of the whole thing. And then also as a site grows up like that, so too does the administrative overhead. Um, so there’s a lot of administration that goes into keeping a site like mine ongoing, which essentially means people need to be hired to do some of that because otherwise you’re now spending all your time being an administrator instead of being a creator. The very same thing pastors run into, right? If the pastor isn’t careful to guard his study time and his people time soon it’ll get run over by just a cares of running this organization that is a church. So very similar to that. I’ve had to, uh, get some people around me who can take care of that stuff so I can bring what I think is the best value, which is just to be creative.

Chase Replogle: 22:18 Well, it’s one of the subjects we explore in the podcast a lot because, um, it, it seems like there’s so many ways to stumble in the process. You’re, you know, you are writing out of an act of calling in ministry and trying to contribute. And as an audience begins to form around that, um, it can quickly sort of a overwhelm you and it can start tempting you in new ways and you can start writing for the fame or writing for the success of it. And I’m, I’m curious as you see, and I’m sure you see this a lot as you’re interacting with new authors, are new books as you see authors that are working to build platform to build an audience. What are some warnings you have about guarding their soul watching for temptations? Really trying to do it in an honest sort of reverent and faithful way before the Lord. Warnings you have about building a platform.

Tim Challies: 23:02 Sure. Um, I’d say one thing would be, uh, this is, this is hard to explain, but write for yourself not for other people. And what I mean is if there’s no benefit to you in the article, I think you’re just being pandering to other people. And so there’s vast amounts of material that are being written out there that really doesn’t do anybody any good. You yourself would have made it, right. You’ve just created it because you know, it will gain, it’ll gain clicks. So you know, you’ve got to be so careful that buzzfeed kind of approach, you know, have a great headline and a great graphic, but nothing behind it. As Christians especially, we’re eager to serve people, right? We’re, we’re eager to do what truly good and beneficial for them and I know that their time with a big headline in a great graphic, but nothing behind it that’s not serving them.

Tim Challies: 23:50 So, um, so I think be very, very careful with that to make sure you’re backing those things up and asking yourself, would I actually read this? Is there some benefit to me in this? If there isn’t, then what are you actually doing? What’s, what’s actually the point of it? So I think a lot of people go wrong in those waves. There’s, there’s so much material out there that it’s just empty. And you can go to any site about blogging and find how to create a great headline in your five easy ways to are nine things. You won’t believe about all of that stuff. I think in general there might be a place for that every now and again, but in general just write good material. Um, another thing would be don’t, don’t condescend to much to the blogging medium, which is to say, you know, you’re supposed to write according to the experts, no more than 250 words or 500 words or whatever and have lots of subheadings and it’s Hallux and a very short paragraphs and all that kind of stuff.

Tim Challies: 24:47 But I just say what you went in with is what you send them to. You know, if you treat people like adults and write good content and expect people that over that over time people will come to your site and learn to actually appreciate that. We’ve seen lots of churches who have preached there sermonettes for Christian ethics and marveled later on that there are people aren’t growing. They’re not growing strong in the Lord. Whereas churches that are just giving people the meat of the word, I think over time see not only did they draw more people that the people are really. They become strong people and I think as bloggers we can do the same. You know, we don’t condescend to much to what people think they want or what we’re told people want, but give people something really substantial. Something that will be beneficial to them.

Chase Replogle: 25:29 Yeah. I think there’s this big sort of tight rope. This tension you walk where you say you start off with something to say something valuable to say and then you’re sort of told initially, well before you can say anything, you need to build an audience and have a platform and a readership and an email list and then you’ll be able to sort of put that thing out there. You want to say, and so you go about this work sort of building the platform and then you start picking up all the ways that people build platform and build email lists and by the end you’ve sort of built an audience that doesn’t really hear what you had to say. To begin with, and I’m not sure you really have anything left to say because so much of it’s just become what everyone else is saying, what everyone else is doing.

Chase Replogle: 26:04 And um, you know, if I could part, part of what impresses me about the work you’ve done on challies.com is you really have years and years and years of just daily showing up and putting in the work behind you. Um, there’s a kind of perseverance and a kind of patience and, and sort of lack of desperation. Just a willingness to be faithful to it. That I think is really worth people paying attention to. How do you cultivate that in your soul? The sort of patience and diligence that just continues to show up and do the right work and sort of trust that over time God will do what he’ll do with it.

Tim Challies: 26:37 I mean, that’s what we’re doing at the local church level, right? Is we’re doing, we get what, an hour and a half a week in public services. If you’ve got an evening service, you get maybe three hours a week and you’re trusting that we just keep doing these simple things the lord calls us to. Then over time we will see people growing in the Lord, so there’s always this temptation to start this program or to jump on this new exciting thing that’s going to bring great, huge immediate results, but that’s just not life. I mean, think about marriage. You think about parenting. So much of life just takes time and patience and so I think I’ve learned that elsewhere in life and then just applied that to the blog. I also really took my eye off of statistics. There’s times when I was really obsessed and constantly comparing a, but instead I just said, I’m not going to worry about the numbers.

Tim Challies: 27:25 I’m just going to do what I think is helpful for people. I’m going to create good content or what I think is good content and what I think will be helpful to people and I’ll just keep putting it out and I’ll just trust that the numbers will come. So it might be once a year. Now I open up Google analytics and actually take a look at who’s been visiting the site and that kind of stuff, but I do that. I do that deliberately because I just know how quickly my heart can, can want to do things for the numbers. It’s such a quick shift from creating content that’s good. Good to creating content that will get people and you know, I know there’s things I could do on my site where within a month I would be able to massively increase my traffic. There are tricks I could do and they would really, really work, but I think I would be doing those to some degree at the expense of my own soul and that the expense of the benefit of the people who are visiting my site. So, uh, I think a slow approach and is very, very good. Just give people good content.

Chase Replogle: 28:25 Yeah. It’s helpful and I appreciate you sharing that perspective because you go online and you start digging into, okay, how do I start building a platform and audience? And pretty much immediately you’re met with all the tips, all the tricks, all the sort of in roads to sort of build it fast, do it quicker, do it cheaper. And so to hear you say that, look, it’s not something I’d give that much attention to. I do my best to stay out of it and just be faithful to the work is I think a reminder, a we don’t need to be checking google analytics every single day, every single post that we put up. But really the work is what matters first and foremost and faithfulness to it.

Tim Challies: 28:59 Yeah. And how do you measure that? Right? So I’m number. It’s just like in the local church level, you know, we had like a church growth movement telling us numbers matter so much, look at the numbers and trace your growth and all of that. But they had to come back later and there is no relationship between the number of people in the church on Sunday and actually discipling people. There’s none whatsoever. So we’ve done this whole movement and it really has not delivered the most important thing which is disciple making. And I think within the, within blogs, it can be very, very much the same. You can get the people. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything to benefit them. So how will you know if your blog is effective? Well, is that article, if you labor on an article for three hours and very few people read it, but it makes a significant impact on one person.

Tim Challies: 29:49 He’s got to rejoice of that. That’s a, that’s a great thing. Just like if you preach a sermon, what, what’s the likelihood you’re ever going to preach a sermon and see mass conversions? But if one person grows closer to the Lord, one person comes to face through a sermon. I mean, praise God, right? What more could you want than that? So it’s okay to measure small and to measure and very non quantitative lays just what am I doing? What benefits other people? How can I serve them? How can I help them grow closer to the Lord?

Chase Replogle: 30:20 Yeah, I do think, um, as I think about my own preaching, pastors have an opportunity here to sort of recognize that connection with writing. I’m one of the things I tried to do with preaching was to stop, uh, stop paying as much attention to how good was that particular sermon and start paying more attention to what did, what, what developed over a year of sermons, you know, where am I from four, five years ago to where I am today, and taking that same approach with writing to say I’m just going to continue to be faithful to it and then be able to look over larger periods of time or not necessarily single blog posts, but what is God doing through it and using continually faithfully into that. Um, I think it’s a good reminder. I appreciate it.

Tim Challies: 30:59 Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And there’s so much in life we’d like to easily measure, and that’s part of our lives now in this modern world is everything can be quantified. We got numbers for everything. You know, everywhere we go, there are metrics, uh, but there are some things that are far more important than that and just can’t be quantified. I think we need to really resist that trap of making everything numbers and gaging our success and setting our moods. And all of that accordingly.

Chase Replogle: 31:27 Yeah. You started at the beginning when you answered that question. Um, you mentioned sort of, you know, your own heart well enough and I think one of the big keys is to know where you are to know how looking at the numbers impacts you to know, to know where you tend to stumble and fall towards this pride because um, you know, you think back through the, the little characters and there’s some that preached for decades and say nothing come of it. And there are others who in their first sermon see thousands converted and you sort of begin to recognize you can’t fall into one or the other camp. It’s not a sort of, you know, I will not care about any number I will not ever look, which tends to be the debate, right? Or all that matters is the numbers, the pragmatics of them. But sort of the ability to hold that tension and say at the end of the day what matters most is not one side or the other, but to know my own heart, to know my own tendencies, to know what one action versus the other does to me and does to my faith, and to be able to sort of navigate that personally is a really important skill set that I think hopefully we’re mastering God, help us before he does give us a large audience or does give us that temptation, that responsibility.

Tim Challies: 32:29 Yeah, and to maintain a clear conscience before the Lord. Right. The end of it all. To be able to say, I’ve done what I believe honors and serves you and you take these poor efforts and use for your glory.

Chase Replogle: 32:40 Yeah, that’s exactly right. Well, let me ask this. As you think about your development as a writer, or are there certain authors, so maybe some of them are Christian authors, are maybe some of them are just a writers on writing, but books or voices that have impacted you and helped shaped who you are as a writer?

Tim Challies: 32:56 Yeah, probably I don’t ever have one person I can point to or even just a couple of people I can pull to. Um, you know, I, I’ve, I love Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve read all his books and would love to be able to write like that. So in some ways I think he’s somebody I aspire to is his ability with the pen, his ability to just take complex ideas and make them simple. Um, but no, I don’t, I don’t have certain people. I, I, I really come back to her and I’ve read very few books on writing now and again I have, but mostly I’ve just tried to read other good books and to grow through the craft. So one of my concerns with writers is that we are amazing procrastination. We can always find a reason not to. Right. And one of the best reasons we find not to write is to read about writing. Um, but at the end of the day, you’re only ever going to become a better writer by writing books can help courses, can help all of that. The end of the day you got to put your fingers on the keyboard and just go for it. So I really think that’s, that’s what I focused on is just writing, writing, writing and hope. And along the way I developed skill.

Chase Replogle: 33:59 Yeah. I sort of chuckled the, uh, there’s, there’s so many courses online about writing that you could literally just spend everyday learning to be a writer and never actually just sit down and actually write a huge decision.

Tim Challies: 34:13 Yeah. Yeah. Lots of great tools. I mean, I love some of the tools that are available. Um, there, there’s some great stuff out there, but the end of the day you hit, there’s nothing like just playing, doing it. So that’s where we have to put the bulk of our effort and I just know my own temptation to procrastination and it can feel really, really good to, to think about writing or talk about writing or, or tweet about writing. But at the end of the day I got to open up my app and I got to get going.

Chase Replogle: 34:44 Yeah. Yeah. And don’t even need the right APP. Right? Like at the end of the day, a pad of paper and a pen, if that’s what it takes, just something in front of me,

Tim Challies: 34:52 right? Yeah. No, exactly. Though I tell you, I am really thrilled with the writing apps we have available to us today and I’ve seen development in this area from when I began until now and I would not want to go back. So there’s, we’ve got some amazing tools that really do in their own way help us. They do foster writing, uh, they serve us well in that way. So I want people to take good advantage of those tools.

Chase Replogle: 35:15 Yeah. Not to invalidate our last point, but uh, I’ve seen online you typically write in ulysses. Is that still true?

Tim Challies: 35:21 That’s still true, Yup.

Chase Replogle: 35:22 Yeah, that’s actually my favorite as well. So that’s the same one that I use and yeah, I found it to be a phenomenal tool. So especially if you’ve, if you have any experience, it’s not hard, I don’t think to get behind the sort of markdown language for writing, but I find it to be really, really helpful just to get everything else out of the way. But the words.

Tim Challies: 35:36 Yep, exactly. An empty

Chase Replogle: 35:38 screen with a cursor and nothing else to distract you. And that’s especially important when there’s so much we do through our computers. If you’re writing with a notebook, you’re good. You know that notebook is never going to buzz or by notebook paper notebook. You’re never going to have notifications flashing on it, any of that. But if you’re running on a phone, an Ipad, a computer, these are extremely multifunctional device. So all you can do to turn that stuff off and go full screen and avoid all the other windows. Um, I don’t know how many good ideas, and I’m sure you can relate to this. You’ve had great ideas. You’ve been in the, in the moment, you’re right in that state of flow. They call it that we all love. And then boom, you get interrupted by some notification and it just, it knocks you out of the city back.

Chase Replogle: 36:21 So, um, we’ve got to learn that discipline of shutting other things down so we can focus on the words. Yeah. Well, let’s, maybe a good way to sort of wrap up is this too, um, as you think about, a lot of people listening to the podcast are sort of in the place we’ve been describing. They, they’re sensing a call to ride, maybe they’re practicing it, they’re doing it, they’re trying to get more disciplined about it. Um, what is some advice you would give to people who are wanting to improve as a writer or wanting to take their writing more seriously and maybe do have some aspirations to someday publish advice you have for young writers? Are beginning writers.

Tim Challies: 36:55 So first, just right. Again, there’s so many reasons not to and none of us are as good a writer as we want to be. All of us are very self conscious about our words, very embarrassed by our words. All of that. You just got to get over it. Um, and you just got to right, so, so write, write and write some more. That’s really the path to growth. Second is find someone who will read your writing and you know, I developed a writing group at our church out a bunch of people get together once a week and we just read our stuff out loud to one another. It was, it was tough at the beginning. It was awkward at the beginning, but I think it was really beneficial for us to learn to evaluate one another’s reading, one another’s writing. Have some friends who are willing to read it, especially if you’re uncertain about it, you know, if it’s edgy or if it’s critiquing something or um, you know, if you’re not totally sure of your theology, bounce it off some people and then search out and use really good tools.

Tim Challies: 37:49 I think people can grow frustrated because they’re using poor tools. Um, but if you this, this was one of the areas where I think we don’t allow ourselves to take advantage of good tools because for some reason we don’t want to spend $5 99 on an app or something. But if writing is important to you, put some good money, invest some effort, or invest some funds into getting a really good app. I have really good font. If you need to make an environment that’s very conducive to creativity, into writing, and I think you can find even right there, it’ll make a really significant difference to you.

Chase Replogle: 38:23 Yeah. I always add A. I remind myself, nobody reads what I write. They usually read what I revise. So if I can get myself past the insecurity of just sitting down and writing and recognizing I don’t have to show this in what, I don’t have to hit publish the moment that I’m done. Right. The act of writing is not something that exposes me. So let’s stop for a second. And it’s just me, right? It’s just me and these words in front of me that maybe we can begin to break down some of that insecurity to forms and blocks us.

Tim Challies: 38:50 Yeah. One of the things I’ve had to do lately because of my inability to type at times is I’ve had some of the ladies from the church come over and for me, um, and that was, that was hard because not only is that a completely different form of communication, but there is a certain intimacy in writing where it’s there, there’s this relationship that exists between me and my screen and I’m pouring out my heart onto the screen and now suddenly I’m sitting in a chair over here and this friend from church is sitting at my desk and I’m talking to her and she’s typing words on the screen and until I found that very difficult, it became easier over time, but it did show me some of the relationship I have to my words into my word processor. And it was strange letting somebody else into that very early stage of writing rather than, hey, here’s a pretty well developed drafts for you to read. So I think it was healthy in the end. Uh, but interestingly as well.

Chase Replogle: 39:42 Yeah. Well let me sort of wrap up by just saying thanks. I know I speak for many, several of the guys in my church that have just particularly found some of the work that you do on pornography and struggles has just been really valuable to them. They were excited. I was getting a chance to talk with you and I know for myself, I love the reviews you do on books and so for so many who enjoy following the blog, I know it’s a lot of work, but we appreciate it in the ministry that it is and what are ways that maybe people who are just hearing you for the first time or haven’t come across your work ways that they can keep up with what you’re doing. Um, read the work you’re putting out, but also the books plans you have in the future as well.

Tim Challies: 40:16 Yeah. I think if you just go to [inaudible] dot com now and again, or subscribed to twitter, facebook, youtube, google slash challies. Um, I think it’d be a stay in any of those channels. You’ll see the highlight of some of what I’m doing and I’m generally this, this time around this time on publishing a few articles a week and a couple of videos a week and intend to stay in that, that balance for the time being, uh, some of the videos or just me working out an idea, some of the travel videos as I’ve been going around the world this year, and then we’re working towards a new book and video projects in the future. So a lot’s coming up.

Chase Replogle: 40:51 Well, we’ll be following it and I’ll make sure I get links shared for people to be able to and just want to say thanks again for your candor, the work you do and being on the podcast with us.

Tim Challies: 41:00 Oh my pleasure. Thanks for it.

Chase Replogle: 41:04 As always, you can find show notes for today as well as links to Tim’s blog and his books by going to [inaudible] dot com slash 29. Also, if you haven’t already, I would really appreciate you leaving a review, particularly on itunes. It’s easy. You can just leave a star review or take the time to write out a review, but it’s a great way to help other people find the podcast as well as for me to be able to get feedback about the show. As always, thanks for listening. Until next time.

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