There’s this viral Simpsons meme that perfectly captures my feelings about the word “platform.” The image shows a newspaper with a photo of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at the sky under the headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD.” People post it to mock those who are resistant to change, typically older folks who refuse to accept the new-fangled technologies young kids are using these days.
I can sympathize with Grandpa Simpson’s defiance. Since starting to explore the book publishing market, I’ve mentally shaken my fist at the Publishing Powers That Be for requiring writers to build a platform. While I understand that authors need to find their audience and that book sellers need to sell books, I bristle at the objectives to “gain followers” and “grow a brand,” activities that strike me as absurd and terrifying. Why would anyone want or need to follow me? I’m just a girl, sitting at her laptop, trying to eke out coherent strings of words to spread hope.
The both-and of vocation
Angst over platform is a dilemma even seasoned authors face. Shortly after releasing her third book, “Surprised by Paradox,” Jen Pollock Michel posed a question to herself and fellow writers: “How do we write without losing our soul?” After praying and receiving confirmation from the Lord that she should continue, Michel kept unraveling this turmoil that ties writers’ stomachs in knots.
“On the one hand, you know the sick and self-preoccupied pleasure you take out of the likes and the retweets and the shares of your posts. On the other, you feel the pleasure of God when you spin words, and, by unexpected grace, they sometimes turn to gold. Tempted as you are to the solutions of either and or, you know that what you really need is a both-and. You understand that you’re both corrupt AND called.”
Corrupt and called. Check and check. This is why I’ve hesitated immersing myself in social media engagement that feels like self-promotion – posting selfies, recording live videos, curating an Insta-worthy feed. It’s a fear that keeps me wondering if I should ditch this writing gig and go stock shelves at Costco.
I resist building a platform because I know how much I lap up praise and approval, and I worry I might drown in it.
More of him
Platforms have their place: to raise something to prominence. If I’m that something being raised, it’s likely my head will either fill with hot air or explode with worry. I might think too highly of myself or lose sleep wondering if others don’t think highly of me. Such is the temptation for anyone who steps onto a stage. How do you put your name out there and not hope that people will remember it?
The problem begins and ends with the wrong focal point: me. Jesus belongs on the platform. Of course I know this, and in my innermost heart, want to acknowledge his rightful position there. But instead of locking eyes on him, I drift back to myself. I forget he cleansed me from evil and erased the stain of pride that used to pollute my decisions. I let fear of sin become a sin itself, dwelling on how wretched I am instead of how glorious Christ is.
More of him, less of me. That was John the Baptist’s approach to public ministry. Paul also took the low road, boasting about his weaknesses and counting his strengths as worthless trash. Yet neither man would be considered a wallflower. They spoke to crowds boldly, fearing God more than people, fulfilling their calling instead of fixating on their corruption. Paul even commended himself to the church at Corinth when critics challenged his authority. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
Paul’s example helped author Whitney Capps reframe her perspective on speaking from a platform. In her book, Sick of Me, Capps confesses how early in ministry, the Lord convicted her of trying to appear unimpressive. Seeing that Paul commended himself to proclaim Christ led her to reevaluate her motives and shift the focus of her messages. “Rather than trying to deflect glory from ourselves, what if we focused on reflecting glory back onto him?”¹
That’s it, friends. That’s what I decided is my way of escape through the pitfalls of platform building. Accept that the vocation of writing requires an amount of attention that scares and tempts me, and prayerfully press on to direct that attention toward Christ.
Serve the caller
How will this change the way I engage on social media? Wouldn’t we both like to know. It depends on what the Lord nudges me to do. Clearly, it should not involve campaigning for others’ approval. Sharing the gospel isn’t a popularity contest from which I emerge as the winner.
As of now, I’m viewing this as an attitude adjustment more than a behavioral change. My curmudgeonly self is gone, or at least restrained; my new life has come as a reluctant yet willing platform occupant. For the sake of Christ, I can use platform as a tool to elevate him in the eyes of however many people read my words. As I strive to proclaim his fame, my fist-shaking might give way to knee-knocking, as I try silly things like talking to my face on a screen.
In this world flooded with temptation, it helps to remember one of the both-ands of our lives as Christians. We’re corrupt – hardwired to make ourselves look and feel important. And we’re called – cleansed of our self-sickness and set apart to declare the excellencies of our king.
If I had any say in the matter, I’d vote to scrub the platform lingo in favor of more accurate terms: writer instead of influencer, readers instead of followers. Because as much as I appreciate you, dear reader, you really shouldn’t follow me. We’re both much better off following Jesus.
¹ Capps, Whitney. Sick of Me. B&H Publishing, 2019, p. 143.