The blogger interviews: Marshall Jones, Jr.
Marshall Jones, Jr. is a young man from Louisville, Kentucky who’s already done some significant things in his young life. He is a writer, a teacher and a blogger who earned two bachelors’ degrees before he turned 20. Marshall blogs at bondChristian; The Lens (an unofficial blog about Southeast Christian Church in Louisville); and his personal blog, Marshallogue. The About page at bondChristian summarizes very well who Marshall is and what he is, well, about You can connect online with Marshall in several ways, all of which are linked to here.
Marshall’s answers are as I received them, with some minor editing for grammar, punctuation and style.
Explain briefly, please, who you are and what you do.
I try to encourage people to encourage people.
In practical terms, I serve at my local church through music, speaking, and the children’s ministry. I run a couple blogs including bondChristian.com. And I spend hours each day connecting with people via Twitter, Facebook, and Google Chat.
What got you into the ministry?
I like to say that my father is a pastor, but I’m a Christian anyway.
Growing up in it, I didn’t know much difference between ministry and everyday life. When I got a little older, I noticed it, but by then I was wondering why Christians separated the two.
I think everyone’s made for the ministry, even if that means pursuing a career in a Fortune 500 company instead of moving to Africa or something. It’s just a matter of breaking down the distinctions between “ministry” life and normal, everyday life (whatever that is). I think that’s the most natural ministry anyway.
So the most direct answer, for me anyway, is that I got into the ministry because I gave my life to Jesus. It’s just a matter of making myself available for what God wants. Once that happens, the opportunities are everywhere.
What does blogging do for you?
One, it helps me hash out ideas I have that otherwise would only end up in my journal somewhere. The public aspect has downsides. I don’t share everything I would write in a journal. But having an audience forces me to structure as I write so I get decent feedback.
Two, it gives me a home base where (almost) anyone can find me. A static website doesn’t offer much reason to come back, but a blog hopefully does. Through that home base, I’m able to stay in contact with people who’d normally slip out of my life or who I might have never met in the first place.
That snowballs when we take it back offline. I see people and speak, and they already feel a connection to me and what I have to share because they’ve read my thoughts already.
Why blogging, as opposed to one of the older methods of getting your views out to a mass audience, such as radio, TV, magazines and/or books?
The most obvious reason, in my case at least, is that I couldn’t get into the other mediums as easily, especially without losing control over what I want to say. That’s why so many of us choose blogging, right?
I mean, if someone’s up for offering me a radio or TV show or a book deal, I’m not opposed to that.
Meanwhile, though, as a blogger I like the ability to connect with people daily. Other mediums have too many gatekeepers, including costs, to provide that kind of constant interaction.
Also, I think the other mediums are excellent for building authority and even grabbing some eyeballs for now, but those mediums lack the potential to scale over the coming decade.
How has blogging been beneficial to you and your calling/ministry?
First and foremost, as I said already, the connections. I think friendships are the core unit of ministry, and blogging plus other social media lets me make hundreds of them instead of one or two.
Secondly, I can test ideas. If I think I have an amazing idea, I can write up a quick post about it, publish it, and then gauge the reaction. If I get a good response, I can continue to push it or look at it from other angles. Otherwise, I can drop it.
In a way, I’ve tested hundreds of ideas like this through my posts. It would take years of public speaking or perhaps longer if I only spoke one-on-one with people to get the same feedback.
I get ridiculously excited when I hear back from readers who try out something I wrote about and then tell me their amazing results. Those emails are a wonderful confirmation that it’s all worth it.
What have been some of the drawbacks?
The major drawback for me is the time commitment. Friendships take time. Those friendships are accelerated with social media, but it’s easy to let those connections throw the rest of my life off balance because I love it so much.
The other drawback is that my blogs are free. While that’s also one of their strengths, it’s a weakness because people take the content less seriously than if they paid for it or had to show up in person. It’s a trade-off between reach and depth.
What are your impressions of how the church at large has engaged the internet over the past decade?
I think it reflects our offline culture fairly accurately, though the early adapters certainly still have a huge share of the influence.
Right now, as with our offline culture, we like to squabble among ourselves…and I’m as guilty as anyone here. I’d like to see more of us connecting to those outside the church. But again, that’s an offline issue too…and overall, we probably are doing a better job of that online than off.
That said, I’d love to see us leveraging the Internet more, but yeah, that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.
What do you make of the Internet’s ability to give any number of voices a venue for expression, and a mass audience to hear those voices…no matter how solid or crazy they might be?
It’s pretty crazy now. We’re still sorting out who all the big players are. Someone can start a blog tomorrow and build a huge following in a couple months, especially if they start with some offline traction. Many of the fastest growing blogs (Christian or otherwise) started in 2008 or something.
Like anything, though, we’ll settle down in a few years once the big players are established. Then the online world will more closely resemble the offline world instead of how it is now where it’s skewed toward the early adopters.
Until then, I love that everyone has a voice. That’s not what concerns me. I’m more concerned about all the ears. “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear,” right? Now more than ever, each of us need the gift of discernment. But I’m concerned that now more than ever that gift is downplayed as being close-minded or irrelevant.
Is the Internet a good venue for community and fellowship or not?
The Internet is a lot like money: by itself, it’s not good or bad — it just accentuates who you are already.
So in general, yes, the Internet can be a great place for fellowship. I think it can also be a great source of information, even if it’s more of a broadcast and receive model instead of an interactive model.
The downside of online, though, is that we have little incentive to unify with those we’re not comfortable with. We can be pickier.
A huge problem in church culture, at least in the U.S., is that we have a church on every other street corner. If we don’t like a particular style of worship or we don’t like a particular group of people, we move on.
Now multiply that by thousands, perhaps millions, and take away the barriers to entry, like actually having to brave a visit to a new congregation. That’s what the Internet does.
It’s not the Internet’s fault, but I think each of us need to be aware of that tendency to individualize instead of unify online. We need to be aware of those major accountability issues.
I think many of us can see this happening in a general sense, we see others making these mistakes, but when it come to our own personal decisions, we forget.
How do you see the church continuing to develop on the web over the next 10-15 years?
The biggest change I see coming over the next couple years – and it’s already started – is in our expectations. A couple years ago, members of small churches might get a call from their pastor once a month. And that was pretty good.
With the social aspect of the Internet taking off, we’re starting to expect giants like Starbucks to read our tweets about them and maybe even respond. That expectation will carry over into the church. We’ll start expecting our pastors and leaders to connect with us on an almost daily basis.
That’s both bad and good: bad because it means more for us to keep up with, but good because it means people will expect connection, which is what ministry is all about. It’s permission marketing at its finest.
But that’s just over the next couple years. Ten or 15 years? I have no idea.
Will blogging continue to be a legitimate forum or will it give way to Twitter- and Facebook status-type updates?
I don’t see Twitter or Facebook replacing blogs. They’ll just integrate more, the way we’ve seen comments and link sharing move to Twitter and Facebook.
To me, blogs are home base and micro-blogging platforms and sites like YouTube or USTREAM or even StumbleUpon are outposts for reaching people where they are. I think we’ll always have those two parts, home bases and outposts. But the distinctions will continue to blur.
That said, I’m very bullish on Facebook pages, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they build out.
Which websites do you use frequently?
Facebook and Twitter for getting in touch and staying in touch with people. Google for almost everything else (Gmail, Docs, Reader, Chat, Search, etc.).
My computer and operating system don’t even matter anymore as long as I have Google Chrome and Internet access.
I probably use 10 or 20 other sites on a regular basis during the week for video, research, or analytics, but I spend at least 90 percent of my time in those big three.